Are Christianity and science at odds by nature? Does theism prevent rational scientific study?
I’d like to weigh in on one aspect of the science vs. religion debate. It comes up frequently in these discussions as an attempt to be dismissive of any point of view that suggests that there is a supernatural intervention. “This is religion masquerading as science,” so to speak. The nature of the objection is that religion is a science stopper—You stick God in there, and there is no place else for science to go. It’s like—now what? This is compelling to a lot of people, but I want to point out that this has not been the case historically. Theology wasn’t a science stopper. Theology was a science starter.
Did you ever wonder why modern science really flourished in the West and not in the East? It wasn’t because people in the West were smarter than people in the East. It was because they had a worldview that encouraged scientific exploration which said, “the universe is the product of an intelligent mind, and that mind made an orderly universe that we could discover, and that mind also gave us a stewardship over it so that we could discover ways to manage the universe and use it for our benefit.” That’s the Christian worldview.
Regardless of whether that view is correct or not, this is not the point I’m making. I’m simply saying that it was in the context of that worldview that something like modern science could flourish because that also entails the notion of the basic reliability of our senses. We can rely on our senses because a good God gave us sensory apparatus that was largely reliable.
Now think, by contrast, of the East. There, the prevailing religious view is one of monism, which is that all of reality is really just an illusion and there’s only one reality and that is a unity. There is the god—a kind of force— pervading everything and everything that is produced by that god is just an illusion. You can see how people who are convinced that the universe is an illusion are not going to be very interested in exploring it and harnessing it for themselves.
It turns out that the ‘God thing’ was a great starter for science. Let me read to you some of the names of the people who were Bible-believing theists who were foundational in the Western scientific enterprise: Georges Cuvier, for example, the great French naturalist founded comparative anatomy; Carol Linnaeus, founder of modern taxonomy—the classification of plants and animals—kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species, that kind of thing; Blaise Pascal, French mathematical prodigy, founded modern probability, advanced differential calculus, modern hydraulics, and invented one of the first mechanical calculators; Michael Faraday discovered electromagnetic induction and developed the first dynamo; Gregor Mendel established the foundational tenants of modern genetics! The Neo-Darwinian Synthesis entails the notation of genetic mutation. Who founded that? Gregor Mendel—a monk! Copernicus laid the foundation of modern astronomy with the heliocentric theory of planetary motion.
I’m not suggesting there haven’t been conflicts. There have been. The nature of the conflicts has sometimes been distorted. The idea, though, that God is somehow a science stopper, is just ridiculous. It is not sustained by the history of science when you just think of the nature of it. When you find a dead body lying in a room and you determine that the person did not die of natural causes but by foul play—in other words, it wasn’t event causation like dominos falling but it was rather an agent that took the life of that individual. Is that a ‘crime investigation stopper’? No, it’s a starter! Now you know that someone is responsible. There are all kinds of questions you can ask and pursue related to the one who was responsible for the action. Same thing, here, is true. It is just an arbitrary and vacuous—I would say—dismissal of one kind of answer to the evidence that we find. Any answer that smacks of religion to some people is just an arbitrary dismissal. To say that God is just a science stopper—this just isn’t true.