Science and Religion

Why are some Christians so suspicious of, or even antagonistic towards, science?  All genuine truth comes from God, whoever  communicates it to us. So I fail to understand how these Christians can be anxious about the discoveries of science or see any essential conflict between science and religion.

On the contrary, we live in such a complex and awesome universe that I am fascinated by every successful attempt to push back the boundaries of our current knowledge.  To be closed to new knowledge, however disturbing it may be to cherished prior views, is to be obscurantist.

For those of us who believe Scripture to be the inspired and authoritative Word of God, openness to new truth, including scientific truth, should create no anxiety. If Scripture really is true God-revealed knowledge, as we believe, it follows that it will not be threatened or undermined by any new truth about God’s world discovered by scientists.

Problems are only caused by either religious or scientific prejudice. So we Christians can (wrongly) elevate our particular interpretation of scripture to the level of scripture itself. Scripture is God’s Word, but our interpretation of it may be wrong. 

We are greatly influenced by our upbringing and background and by our denominational affiliation. Personal factors also influence us. We have a tendency to see God in our own image and to make scripture fit our experience. This is one reason why we need the church – to correct our prejudices and assumptions. But even the church can be wrong.

So when the church silenced Galileo over his view that the planets orbited the sun it was elevating not the actual teaching of Scripture, but its interpretation of Scripture to the level of absolute truth. Scripture merely uses the normal convention of “sunrise” and “sunset”.

But scientists can fall into the same errors too. Oxford scientist Peter Atkins is a case in point. He is a militant, and rather offensive, atheist. In fact he is so passionate about his atheism that there must be some non-rational influences in his life, perhaps hurtful experiences or even self-doubt.

Atkins wrote: “Religion is a weapon of oppression that thwarts the aspirations of humanity … Religion closes off the great questions of existence to further enquiry by proclaiming that human minds are simply too puny … Religion effectively scorns the human intellect, claiming true knowledge can be achieved only by sentiment reinforced by written authority and popular acclaim.”

Now I don’t doubt that some religious people fall into those errors. But to make such sweeping and manifestly false statements about religion in general says a lot about Atkins’ hang-ups and little about religion!

The history of science is littered with discarded theories which should inspire humility in scientists about their current ideas.

Problems are caused when Christians without scientific expertise pontificate on science or when scientists without theological expertise stray into theology. The latter happens when, for example, some evolutionists (illogically) say their theory does away with the need of God. They are merely proving their ignorance of theology and the narrowness of their vision of reality. 

It is interesting that some scientists clearly feel the need, explicitly or implicitly, virtually to make evolution into a god. The idea of God dies hard, even amongst atheistic scientists.

© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction