Must Science and Faith Conflict?

Many of the modern debates about science and religion revolve around the question: Is it possible to accept both scientific and Judeo-Christian teachings? Most seem to answer with an emphatic “NO!”

I publish scientific articles and review others for publication. I teach college courses in a rigorous, scientifically minded academic department. Yet, I have not found that my understanding of science and my faith conflict. On the contrary, they seem to complement and mutually support each other. Science has encouraged me to be curious in understanding “what” and “how” things work in the natural world. My faith has helped me to understand more ultimate questions of “why” and how to live. In all of this, I have sought to be skeptical, both about scientific claims and religious / spiritual claims. Science encourages this. So does my faith. For example, demonstrating a certain kind of empiricism, Moses stated, “If a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord and what he says does not come true, then it is not the Lord’s message” (Deuteronomy 18:22).

A common problem shared by many atheists, agnostics, and Christians involves overreliance on a literal interpretation of the Bible. This may be where many supposed conflicts between science and faith arise. It has helped me to appreciate that the Bible contains many books characterized by different literary genres. For instance, the Gospels attempt to provide eyewitness testimony to Jesus’s life. The Psalms are poetic. Much of the Old Testament contains stories that transmit profound spiritual teachings but that never were intended to express scientific truths. As one example of this, the Bible presents many passages that note that God is responsible for the rain. The basic spiritual teaching here is that God sustains us. Obviously, it would be a mistake to suggest that the water cycle does not occur on the basis of Biblical teaching or claim that scientific knowledge of the water cycle proves that the Bible is entirely false.

My reasons to believe in God are informed by science, but not proven by science. I am awestruck at the complexity of the universe. I am intrigued that the natural world is so ordered that it can be explained by predictable equations. I am astounded at the capabilities of humans. I have the sense that all of this points toward the existence of an intelligent creator. Yet, I realize that there are other interpretations possible, such as random processes of time and chance. In the end, I do not believe that science can tell us whether God exists or not. Science deals with the natural world. The supernatural, by definition, is beyond its scope.

I believe in God for reasons not amenable to scientific testing, however. They are grounded in other ways of knowing. For instance, it doesn’t make sense to me that the immaterial created the material, that non-life beget life, or that non-consciousness caused consciousness, unless something with these properties somehow guided the process along. I am fascinated that almost everyone I ask, no matter what they believe, wishes that there was a loving God on whom they could depend. Generally, when needs exist, there is a way to fulfill them. As C. S. Lewis concluded, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Surely, these arguments would be questioned by many, but my point is that none of them have been falsified by science. Indeed, I do not see any way that they could be.

In the end, I believe that both science and faith provide different windows to understand the world and myself. Neither window necessarily negates the other. My life would be lacking if either of them were absent.

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2 thoughts on “Must Science and Faith Conflict?

  1. Bryan

    This is such a great post, Andy. I have become increasingly frustrated by the rampant perception of conflict in this debate, with each side laying out arguments against caracatured versions of the other. No different than politics! You provide a well-reasoned, thoughtful, honest, genuine, and I believe spot-on reflection on this debate from someone who lives in both worlds at the same time.

    Reply
  2. Pingback: Exclusive and Inclusive Faith | The Quest for a Good Life

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