The Unnecessary War Between Christianity and Science

The 2016 election season was an unfolding spectacle of divisiveness. It probably would’ve been easier (and cheaper) to just take a knife and cut everything in America in half.

But one of the less broadcasted duels provoked by the election was between faith and science. Never mind that President-elect Trump waged an “anti-science campaign” against Hillary’s failed “I believe in science” sloganeering. Neither of them appealed to faith to justify their scientific views. What has really inflamed the issue is that Ben Carson, an anti-evolution, young earth creationist was on the short list for Education Secretary. This, coupled with a Republican controlled Congress, has led to the fears that the Bible will be smuggled back into public schools and that scientific inquiry will enter a new dark age.

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So I figured that now is a good time to explain (or remind) why Christianity and science are not opposed to each other. Just like the Cuban Missile crisis or Romeo and Juliet’s deaths, this whole conflict could be avoided with a simple misunderstanding cleared up.

The misunderstanding is that “faith vs. science” is a battle of unprovable belief vs. verifiable fact. It’s not. It’s a battle of worldview vs. worldview. Science is merely an innocent bystander. If this is understood (on both sides), then the tension can de-escalate (to a tolerable point, at least).

Here’s my rationale.

Everyone has a worldview. Everyone. You, reading this article, have one. I, writing this article, have one. Scientists have one. People of faith have one. Worldviews are the eyeglasses through which we interpret and evaluate reality. These worldviews are shaped through a variety of influences, including age, gender, family history, and religious experience, to name a few. Yet they are often ignored because, just like eyeglasses, we don’t think about them when we are focusing on the evidence before us.

Naturalism is the dominant worldview of the scientific community, and it can be summed up by Carl Sagan’s statement, “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” It is what is at odds with Christianity. Here’s an illustration of how this usually plays out:

Fact: The universe is finely tuned to support life. If the dials were slightly changed, life as we know it wouldn’t exist. 

Christian: That shows the work of a designer!

Naturalist: That can be explained by the multiverse theory!

Fact #2: The odds that a self-replicating molecule not only sprung into existence, but met another one at the right time, is 10^120.

Christian: That shows there must be a creator!

Naturalist: Dumb luck!

And on. And on. And on. Same facts; different interpretations through competing worldviews.

So the problem in invoking “science” as the highest authority is that science itself doesn’t say anything. Scientists do. And they speak through their worldview. It could be scientifically proved beyond a doubt (if it hasn’t been already) that the climate is getting warmer, that Florida will be the new Atlantis, and that ski season is going to last for one week in February. But science cannot tell us that this is a bad thing. It also can’t tell us that we need to do something about it. Evaluations between good and evil or “thou shall” and “thou shall not” is the role of a worldview.

So if the role of worldview is acknowledged, then it can be seen that Christianity and science speak to different yet complementary aspects of what we know because they rest on different  foundations for knowing what we know. Not all faith systems are created equal. Christianity is founded on legitimate historical evidence, most notably Jesus’ resurrection and its aftermath. History is not subject to the scientific method because it cannot be repeated in a laboratory. Scientists are not capable of verifying whether or not Cleopatra was actually Egyptian  or figuring out that the Dark Ages weren’t actually that dark. That’s the job of the historian. Christians can believe that God created the universe and then seek to discover how he did so through the natural sciences without compromising a belief in biblical authority. Just because Psalm 104 says that God causes the grass to grow does not mean that this can’t be explained through a process like photosynthesis.

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Careful what you wish for, billboard. If religion (i.e. Christianity) should be kept out of government, then so should naturalism. As philosopher Alvin Plantinga says, naturalism should be granted an “honorary religion” status because, “It performs one of the most important functions of a religion: it provides its adherents with a worldview. It tells us what the world is fundamentally like, what is most deep and important in the world, what our place in the world is, how we are related to other creatures, what (if anything) we can expect after death, and so on. A religion typically does that and more.”

The fact is that the facts are not the issue— the interpretation of the facts is. Some say naturalism better explains the evidence. Some say it doesn’t. Actually, I’d argue that assuming naturalism and then claiming there is no evidence for God is like plugging your ears and saying that music doesn’t exist. But all of that is for another post. The point is that genuine scientific inquiry does not necessarily require naturalism nor oppose Christianity.

Now back to Ben Carson. The reason why he is charged with being anti-science (despite having forgotten more about neuroscience than his critics have ever known) is not just because he questions Darwinian evolution. There’s actually a “quiet paradigm revolution” currently going on in biology due to some brick walls this theory is running into, according to Biophysicist Harold Morowitz. The reason Carson’s views are frightening to the scientific community is because he turns Genesis into a science textbook, and thus operates on the wrong foundation for scientific knowledge. I will have more on this in a future post, but, in short, Carson’s unnecessary dogmatism perpetuates the divide between faith and science in the public sphere. Christians can calm the fears of the scientific community by reading the Bible as it was intended to be read (again, I’ll have more on this in a future post).

I know that some people agree with me that the Christian faith is compatible with science, and some people don’t. And I know that this conflict isn’t going away any time soon. But given the divisiveness of this election season, can’t we strive for peace on this topic?

Christian, husband, pastor, father. Occasionally, I try to arrange words into sequences that make a difference.