The Historic Alliance Between Christianity and Science

January 15th, 2009, Robin Lloyd, Senior editor for LiveScience.com wrote a popular news article discussing the Jesse Preston of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her colleague Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago psychological experiments on the trouble with reconciling Science and Religion. Her conclusions highlight the need for careful thought on integration.

When it comes to the ultimate questions, it’s really just one thing at a time, Preston says. People rarely think about these problems, however, so most people live their lives without paying much attention to how the universe started or how life began, Preston said. 1

Salman Hameed responds to her findings,

However, Hampshire College science historian Salman Hameed says Preston and Epley’s framing of the issues and interpretation of their findings are bound up in a particular view of science and religion known as the “conflict thesis.” Yes, sometimes particular scientific and religious claims conflict, but there are numerous examples of individuals, such as Isaac Newton, who saw no inherent conflict between their scientific and religious convictions, Hameed said.

The experiment’s results actually may reveal cultural forces – a specific way of thinking about science and religion – dating back to the 19th century, Hameed said, and these have shaped people’s thinking about science and religion. 

If society has been primed that science and religion have been in conflict, and that is the dominant narrative, then maybe all we are seeing is the effect of that priming, rather than the actual conflict,” Hameed said. Society and journalists like conflict stories because they grab attention, but science and religion interactions are more complex and defy over-simplistic oppositional categories, he said. 2

Reasons to Believe respond in their latest podcast of Science News Flash, 21 Jan 2009. There Kenneth Samples references the article of his, The Historic Alliance Between Christianity and Science 3. He serves as RTB’s Vice President of Philosophy/Theology.

Kenneth Samples gives four reasons why historically science and Christianity have been allies rather than enemies. Contrary to the claims of the “New Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens science and Christianity are not at war, but enjoy a healthier dialogue today than they ever have. The “Conflict thesis” suffers from a lack of support from historians and philosophers of science, and serves today as sensationalist fodder from the news media. 

Samples writes,

Conflicts between scientific theories and the Christian faith have arisen through the centuries, to be sure. However, the level of conflict has often been exaggerated, and Christianity’s positive influence on scientific progress is seldom acknowledged. I would like to turn the tables by arguing for Christianity’s compatibility with – and furtherance of scientific endeavor and arguing against the compatibility of naturalism and science. 4

The four reasons he supplies are as follows. 

(1) The intellectual climate that gave rise to modern science (roughly three centuries ago) was decisively shaped by Christianity.

(2) The principles underlying the scientific method (testability, verification/falsification) arise from the Judeo-Christian Scriptures. The experimental method was clearly nurtured by Christian doctrine.

While Christians have plenty of room to grow in the virtues of discernment, reflection, and vigorous analysis, the wisdom literature of the Old Testament consistently exhorts God’s people to exercise them, and the New Testament teaches the same message (see Col. 2:8; 1 Thes. 5:2 1; 1 Jn. 4: 1). These principles served as the backdrop for the emerging experimental method.5

(3) The philosophical presuppositions foundational to the study of science are rooted in Christian theism’s claims of an infinite, eternal, and personal creator who has carefully ordered the universe and provided man with a mind that corresponds to the universe’s intelligibility. This Christian schema served as the intellectual breeding ground for modern science.

 

Christian philosopher Greg L. Bahnsen argues not only that naturalism fails to justify its underlying presuppositions but also that naturalists illegitimately rest their scientific endeavors on Christian theistic principles. Naturalists borrow from Christianity. Consider this insightful observation by physicist and popular author Paul Davies:

People take it for granted that the physical world is both ordered and intelligible. The underlying order in nature-the laws of physics-are simply accepted as given, as brute facts. Nobody asks where they came from; at least they do not do so in polite company. However, even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith that the universe is not absurd, that there is a rational basis to physical existence manifested as law-like order in nature that is at least partly comprehensible to us. So science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview.6

One may wonder if science would have arisen had the dominant metaphysical views of the time been naturalistic and materialistic. Would naturalism have been able to sustain the scientific enterprise that Christian theism generated? The eminent Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga gives his opinion: “Modern science was conceived, and born, and flourished in the matrix of Christian theism. Only liberal doses of self-deception and double-think, I believe, will permit it to flourish in the context of Darwinian naturalism.”7, 8

 

(4) The prevailing scientific notions of big bang cosmology and the emerging anthropic principle seem uniquely compatible with Christian theism.

 

Footnotes:

1. Robin Lloyd, “God and Science: An Inner Conflict” (http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20090115/sc_livescience/godandscienceaninnerconflict; Retrieved 27 Jan, 2009), 15 Jan 2009

2. Ibid. 

3. Kenneth Samples, “The Historic Alliance Between Christianity and Science” (http://www.reasons.org/resources/apologetics/christianscience.shtml; Retrieved 27 Jan, 2009), 1998.

4. Ibid. 

5. Ibid. 

6. As cited in Michael Bumbulis, “Christianity and the Birth of Science,” August 4, 1998, p. 21, http://www.ldolphin.org/bumbulis/

7. Alvin Plantinga, “Darwin, Mind and Meaning”, November 17, 1997, p. 8, http://www.veritas-ucsb.org/library/plantinga/Dennett.html

8. Kenneth Samples, “The Historic Alliance Between Christianity and Science” (http://www.reasons.org/resources/apologetics/christianscience.shtml; Retrieved 27 Jan, 2009), 1998.

5 replies
  1. Roger Stancill
    Roger Stancill says:

    There is no conflict between Religion and Science if you simply recognize that

    Science is the pursuit of discovering and gaining knowledge of ourselves
    and the Universe around us

    Religion is the pursuit of a relationship with Wisdom, and the practice of
    a ‘system of beliefs’ guided by and within the scope of that evolving
    process

  2. Ken
    Ken says:

    And because of their different approaches to knowledge each has to protect itself from the other if it is to remain true to its own domain. This is particualrly relevant at the moment where there are attempts being made to re-introduce religious epistemology into science as in the Wedge strategy used by the intelligent design proponents.

    Humanity benefits from science and obviously does not want that interference to succeed.

  3. Stuart
    Stuart says:

    Re1: Roger Stancill,

    The problem with your comment is that science and religion do often possess contradictory and conflicting claims. That means the different roles and definitions you ascribe to science and religion is not the reason why the “conflict thesis” suffers from lack of support. But in any case, religion so defined is sufficiently vague to accommodate many religious beliefs, but it is not the relationship between religion and science the above article is referring to. It is more specific than that. It is the relationship between historic Christianity and science. I’m quite open to science refuting the claims of religion in general, but with respect to Christianity when there is a conflict or ‘overlap’ there needs to be some sort of integration for the sake of a coherent worldview. Where there is a seeming contradiction either the science is bad or the interpretation of scripture is bad, and one of them needs adjustment.

  4. Mark Colvin
    Mark Colvin says:

    If Christians are going to have a fully integrated worldview, then we must take the injunction from scripture that God’s word is to be a “lamp unto our feet.” There is no “neutral” epistomology. There is no scientist that works without commitment to presuppositions. The way that much of science is set up requires that a naturalistic commitment is the only allowable way to do science and that truth is not the goal but only playing the “game” according to the rules. Science is the “gold standard” for empirical truth but it is not the source of all truth. Methodological Naturalism excludes any possibility for speaking to the indications of design in nature. That’s very strange since we can search coded messages for information, evaluate fires for signs of arson, separate artifacts from mere rocks in archeology, but we can’t look at complexity and pattern in living things and infer intelligence. Maybe there’s no design to life, but an observational mechanism that can evaluate that question might be a good thing.

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