Is Science an Enemy of the Christian Faith?

by | Culture and Spirituality, Faith and Reason | 4 comments

Editorial Note: We’re pleased to welcome PETER KUPISZ as our guest contributor for this post. Peter has 20+ years of experience as a Christian apologist studying, teaching, and speaking to audiences around the world. He has taught at universities in California and South Korea, and served 5 years as a staff apologist with Power to Change. Now based in Canada, Peter speaks at churches, schools, and universities in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. You can find Peter at worldviewsummit.org.

An area that has caused a great deal of confusion is the division created by our modern culture between faith and science. In the popular way of thinking, faith deals with beliefs or feelings, whereas science deals with facts and knowledge. In this view, at best, people feel that faith and science have nothing to do with each other. At worst, they view faith as the enemy of science, as if faith encourages belief without—or in spite of—knowledge or facts.

In this article, Peter Kupisz helps us combat this artificial division between faith and science, helping us see that rightly understood, faith and science are not at war, but in fact science can provide a great deal of evidence in favour of belief in God.

Does Science Disprove God?

Does science disprove the existence of God, souls, spirits, and the supernatural? The problem with answering this claim in the affirmative is that science, as it is currently defined, cannot acknowledge any evidence for the supernatural. This is because scientists, while doing their scientific work, are told that they must assume supernatural causation does not occur.

Science is not an unqualified search for truth, but rather a search for the best explanation assuming that supernatural causes do not exist. But science cannot “prove” what it assumes.

This view is known as “methodological naturalism” and it prevents scientists from following the evidence wherever it might lead. If any scientist does try to use science to point to the supernatural, it is immediately dismissed as “pseudoscience.”

What this means is that science is not an unqualified search for truth but rather a search for the best explanation assuming that supernatural causes do not exist and that natural causes are the only causes.

But science cannot “prove” what it assumes. For an atheist to use science to disprove the supernatural (i.e. without appreciating the limits of science) is to simply make a circular argument. The philosopher and atheist, Bradley Monton [1], points this out:

If science really is permanently committed to methodological naturalism, it follows that the aim of science is not generating true theories. Instead, the aim of science would be something like: generating the best theories that can be formulated subject to the restriction that the theories are naturalistic. More and more evidence could come in suggesting that a supernatural being exists, but scientific theories wouldn’t be allowed to acknowledge that possibility.

Does Science Lead People Away From God?

Does science lead people away from God? In at least one scientific discipline – cosmology – the answer is, no.

In the early 20th century, Albert Einstein developed his theory of general relativity in such a way that it required a static universe; that is, the universe was neither expanding nor contracting.

For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream

However, a Roman Catholic priest named Georges Lemaître, found that Einstein’s theory could be formulated so that the universe was expanding; and that the universe began as a “primeval atom.” Shortly thereafter, the American astronomer, Edwin Hubble, used his state-of-the-art telescope to discover that distant galaxies were receding from the earth. This provided evidence for both the universe’s expansion and, by implication, its beginning.

In the mid-20th century, the atheist cosmologist, Sir Fred Hoyle, opposed this new view with his “steady state” theory. Hoyle, who was at least partially motivated by his atheism, derisively named the opposing view the “Big Bang” theory.

But what started as a pejorative (i.e. negative) label eventually became accepted as standard terminology. And over the next few decades, evidence for the Big Bang theory continued to develop so that it is now the consensus view within the scientific community.

Robert Jastrow, who worked for many years as a NASA scientist, described this development as follows.

For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.[2]

Do Scientists Become Atheists Because They Study Science?

A higher number of atheists, compared to theists, choose to become scientists

Elaine Howard Ecklund, a sociologist at Rice University, has done extensive research on how the study of science affects the worldview of scientists. Her research is based on a survey of 1,646 scientists at 21 elite research universities and in-depth interviews with 271 of the scientists. Her conclusions are very interesting:

Our study data do not strongly support the idea that scientists simply drop their religious identities upon professional training, due to an inherent conflict between science and faith, or to institutional pressure to conform…[3]

So why (in the United States) are there a higher proportion of scientists who profess atheism, than in the general public?

Ecklund writes, “It appears that those from non-religious backgrounds disproportionately self-select into scientific professions.” In other words, a higher number of atheists, compared to theists, choose to become scientists. This means that science does not turn people into atheists; rather, it simply draws atheists into its fold.

One other interesting result from the survey is that younger scientists are more likely to believe in God than older scientists, and they are more likely to attend religious services.

If this holds throughout the career life-course for this cohort of academic scientists, it could indicate an overall shift in attitudes toward religion among those in the academy.

Conclusion

Christians should be emboldened to follow the facts where they lead them, confident that the careful study of God’s creation will in fact reveal the Creator’s fingerprints

We want to thank Peter for some great examples and insights into the growing shift in thought concerning the relationship between faith in God and scientific inquiry. The naturalistic assumptions which reinforced the scientific dismissal of belief in the supernatural have been questioned and found wanting.

This is great news for Christian young people who are passionate to pursue scientific disciplines. No longer is there a need to assume that one must desperately hold onto faith in Christ despite the facts. Instead, young Christians should be emboldened to follow the facts where they lead them, confident that the careful study of God’s creation will in fact reveal the Creator’s fingerprints. As David said so long ago,

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.

Psalm 19:1-2

Related Reading

Notes

[1] Bradley John Monton, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design (Peterborough, Ont: Broadview Press, 2009), 58.

[2] Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers (New York: Norton, 1992), 107.

[3] “Study Examines Religious Beliefs of Scientists – UB Reporter,” accessed July 14, 2020, http://www.buffalo.edu/ubreporter/archive/vol38/vol38n43/articles/EcklundReligiousScientists.html.

4 Comments

  1. Rob Sadler

    Hi Scott,
    Nice short article. Likely need more of the same. My very, very limited knowledge of science’s three principles is: observe, repeat, predict.

    However, since money rules the world, I sometimes think that science (like so many other fields) tends to find the conclusion that the monied people are paying for.

    Just my little paranoia kicking in.

    Rob

    Reply
  2. Bob Mcdonald

    Imagine if scientists just assumed supernatural causes for everything? What would be the point of trying to find explanations for things? Do you have any evidence of the supernatural that you would like to put forth?

    Science has been zeroing in on the true nature of reality for a few short centuries. a blink of an eye in terms of the big bang cosmology you are hijacking to make poor arguments for your religion.

    “For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”

    This is laughable. Big Bang cosmology is not the final rock, its still in the valley before the mountain even starts. With any luck by the time humanity is ascending the mountain, all religions will be taught in history class. Those theologians have been too busy arguing (or warring violently) amongst themselves for the last 1700 years while scientists have been busy actually figuring things out. Georges Lemaître was the real deal as a scientist and deserves respect. Just curious as a side question and maybe a good topic for 1 of your posts: Do Catholics get to go to heaven?

    Reply
    • Scott Stein

      Hi Bob,

      Thanks for your interest and taking the time to interact with our material.

      I’ll just point out that the point of Peter’s article was not that science has proven God, but that science is not an enemy or defeater to belief in God. In fact, quite the opposite.

      Obviously if someone assumed supernatural causes for everything, they would not be doing science. No one is suggesting this.

      I think it’s worth pointing out that the historical record is really clear. The entire scientific enterprise that we have inherited was born out of a Judeo-Christian view of reality. The very assumptions of science that the universe is ordered, rational, and explorable is based on a biblical view of God and creation. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to what Melvin Calvin, Nobel Prize-winning biochemist says:

      “As I try to discern the origin of that conviction [i.e. that the world is rationally ordered], I seem to find it in a basic notion discovered 2000 or 3000 years ago, and enunciated first in the Western world by the ancient Hebrews: namely, that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science.”

      – Melvin Calvin, Chemical Evolution (Oxford: Claredon Press, 1969), p. 258.

      I can’t quite make sense of the rest of your comments. No one is hijacking big bang cosmology. The whole problem for a materialistic worldview IS big bang cosmology because it points to a beginning point for space and time. Lemaitre (who you seem to like) was key in this discovery and refuting Einstein’s insistence that the universe was eternal. Lemaitre’s observation of an expanding universe and its implications pointed to a starting point for the cosmos, which theistic scientists were delighted to discover because it affirmed the Bible’s view of a beginning point to creation. (cf. Genesis 1)

      Reply
      • Bob Mcdonald

        I’m sorry that you couldn’t make sense of my comments. Lets try to clear some things up. Maybe you can clarify some things for me from the article and then I will move on to the comments.

        “This is because scientists, while doing their scientific work, are told that they must assume supernatural causation does not occur. This view is known as “methodological naturalism” and it prevents scientists from following the evidence wherever it might lead.”

        I am unaware of this problem in science. Can you give some examples of scientists not following the evidence where it leads? is there a cover up of supernatural evidence going on?

        Bradley Monton is an atheist who defends intelligent design. Wouldn’t that make him a deist at the very least? Is he not convinced by his own arguments? I find this very confusing! From Monton:

        “More and more evidence could come in suggesting that a supernatural being exists, but scientific theories wouldn’t be allowed to acknowledge that possibility.”

        Evidence could come in of course. Has it? Where is it?

        To the comments:

        “The entire scientific enterprise that we have inherited was born out of a Judeo-Christian view of reality.”

        I would argue that the scientific enterprise we have inherited has come about in spite of the judeo-christian view of reality in many cases. The historical record is far more complicated and nuanced than you are letting on and if you have any grasp on history you will admit this. It is simply dishonest for you to twist and over simplify history is this way, you do your readers no service in doing this. I could easily accuse you of stealing enlightenment ideals for actually wanting to have a discussion on these matters in the 1st place. Throughout much of the common era, when religious zealotry and dogmatism was at its height, you could simply have me burned at the stake for heresy. There would be no need for debate. Science is in fact 1 of the many reasons I do not believe any religion to be true. For me, it certainly is an enemy of any religious faith.

        “I can’t quite make sense of the rest of your comments. No one is hijacking big bang cosmology. The whole problem for a materialistic worldview IS big bang cosmology because it points to a beginning point for space and time.”

        I have so many problems with that statement I hardly know where to start!

        1. Why don’t we start with Sean Carroll ( I highly recommend his podcast). He is an Atheist Cosmologist and has a far superior understanding of Big Bang Cosmology than you or I. From Carroll:

        “Given what we know about the universe, there seems to be no reason to invoke God as part of this description. In the various ways in which God might have been judged to be a helpful hypothesis — such as explaining the initial conditions for the universe, or the particular set of fields and couplings discovered by particle physics — there are alternative explanations which do not require anything outside a completely formal, materialist description. I am therefore led to conclude that adding God would just make things more complicated, and this hypothesis should be rejected by scientific standards. It’s a venerable conclusion, brought up to date by modern cosmology; but the dialogue between people who feel differently will undoubtedly last a good while longer.” https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/writings/nd-paper/

        2. The Big Bang is far from the end of scientific inquiry into the history/origins of the universe. cosmology and the field of physics is ever-evolving and highly complex. (look into the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics of which Sean Carroll is a proponent, MIND BLOWER!) The point I was trying to make in my original comment is that science is new, new in comparison with the worlds religions, new relative to humanity’s reign over our planet and quite new in terms of a universe that is 14 billion years old. Science is an infant. We need time to continue to flesh out these ideas, to gather and interpret data, to discuss and debate. Religious people can cherry pick from science all you want but don’t mistake that with actually contributing. If you want to convince scientists of your theory for god. Write and submit a scientific paper on it. See what happens. As Sean Carroll often says “God is not a good theory”

        3. Lets say for arguments sake that the Big Bang was in fact evidence for creation. Would that not be an argument for deism? How could you possibly make the jump to your specific god? How could you possibly provide evidence that a man from the middle east was actually that god? Suppose you could prove Jesus rose from the dead(you can’t), how would that in any sense suggest that he had anything to do with the big bang 14 billion years ago?

        4. I was raised in a very conservative christian house. I was taught the earth was 6000 years old, man co-exited with dinosaurs, every word of the bible was literally true. A flood LITERALLY covered the entire planet completely in water etc. The Big Bang was something to be scoffed at. It was LIES, EVIL, tricks by the devil! Listening to christians try to use it as an argument FOR christianity will always be hilariously ironic for me.

        Reply

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