Is Science an Enemy of the Christian Faith?

by | Culture and Spirituality, Faith and Reason | 1 comment

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.

1 Comment

  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

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