Science and religion are two of the most important components of contemporary society. The Spokane area is no exception. Unfortunately, I have found many in this area believe these forces to be in conflict. Since the most prominent religion is Christianity, I will make the claim that this is wrong: Christianity and science are not in opposition. Furthermore, there are no necessary points of disagreement between a traditional and orthodox interpretation of the Bible and an educated understanding of the scientific theories such as the Big Bang (please see my post on the Big Bang) and Evolution (please see my post on Evolution). 

To support my claim, I make three arguments:

1) Augustine is considered an important church father for most varieties of Christianity. He described a bird which flies with two wings. In the same way, he wrote, Christianity flies with the help of both faith and reason. Faith does not work without reason, and reason does not work without faith.  Science and Christianity are not in opposition; they were meant for each other. 

2) Science was first called natural theology and was originally a branch of the church. Science broke away in the 19th century and became an independent discipline from theology. But the founders of modern science — Isaac Newton (physics), Robert Boyle (chemistry), Blaise Pascal (math) for example — considered themselves as theologians, not scientists. Today they are retroactively called scientists, but this doesn’t change that they believed themselves to be doing the work of God and the church. 

3) The interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis by many of the church fathers and scholastics (Origen, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, for example) was not a literal seven-day creation account. Most academic theologians today see Genesis as a response to the Enuma Elish, the ancient Babylonian creation myth. Augustine wrote that the correct understanding of Scripture was very difficult. Each of us should hold to our interpretations only provisionally. Furthermore, because Scriptural interpretation is so difficult, Augustine said it must be informed with the latest knowledge from science (then called natural theology) and philosophy. 

If you agree, please lend your support in the comments below and on our Science page and contribute to the dialog. If you disagree, please explain your position and discuss your viewpoints. I hope we both will be changed by this dialog. Thank you either way for your time and consideration.

 

29 Comments

  1. Bruce – I would simply point out that none of those are really arguments. They are assertions. (1), for instance, says nothing about whether there is a conflict between modern scientific theories and traditional Christianity. All you have given is Augustine’s opinion that reason and faith are not antithetical. But this is irrelevant to the matter at hand and also stating his position doesn’t mean he is correct.

    For (2) all this shows is that there are/were people who practice science and hold to religious beliefs. But again, this says nothing about whether religion and science are actually compatible. At best it shows that there are people who believe that the two are compatible, which is something that is already known.

    Finally, (3) says something about some current views of Genesis, but does not address the issue at hand.

  2. Bruce –

    I’m also curious as to why this matter is so important to you. Really, reason should not matter to you at all, since you believe God to be irrational and unpredictable. Reason is of no consequence.

  3. Ryan- I’m interested in dialoging with you on why I am a Christian and committed to the Church, but this is not the best place for that discussion. I would appreciate if we could take that to another post.

    My purpose for this dialog is an open forum among the Christian churches to address the conflict between science and Christianity.

    Thanks

  4. Biblical revelation and science are not in opposition. Scientists’ presuppositions are in opposition though. Biblical scientists begin with God the Sovereign Creator of the universe as revealed in the Bible and attempt to discover the beautiful intricacies of His creation. Naturalist scientists begin with a natural explanation of the cosmos as a closed system and try to explain reality as they see it apart from a Creator. The opposition lies in the presuppositions.

  5. Thanks for your contribution to this science and religion dialog! I would assume that one of the natural sciences to which you are referring is Darwin’s Theory of Evolution? If you see Biblical revelation in conflict with Darwin’s theory, are you aware that this is a different interpretation of Genesis than was held by such Church fathers Augustine and Church Scholastics such as Thomas Aquinas? Also, most theologians from Ivy league schools would disagree with this interpretation of Genesis? I make this statement because I’m not sure if its common knowledge or not?

  6. The Church Fathers and Church Scholastics are not the final authority on the Bible. I interpret the Bible from a historical, grammatical position, believing the Bible to be without error and authoritative for faith and practice. Based on the Hebrew grammar, the seven (six of creation and one of rest) days in Genesis are six literal 24 hour periods. The Bible is most certainly in conflict with Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.

  7. Thank you Mark. I really appreciate your willingness to dialog on science and Christianity. I just wanted to make sure you were aware of what Augustine had said about the difficulties of Biblical interpretation? For example, over the two thousand years of Christian history, the creation account has been interpreted in so many different ways I think it would be impossible to enumerate them all. Even among young earth creationists today, there is debate about the meaning of passages and the order of creation. If scientists were required to go by a particular interpretation of Genesis for their research, which one would they be expected to follow? I understand you look to the Bible as the authority on science, but who do you look to as the authority on what the Bible does and does not say?

  8. The Bible is the authority for faith and practice; it is not a science book. The Bible speaks of reality, of which the scientist is trying to discover. The Holy Spirit is given to the believer in Christ to teach him all truth (1 John 2:27). The Holy Spirit is the authority for interpretation of the word He breathed (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). There is only one interpretation to any passage of Scripture. I may not have the right one, but there is only one.

  9. Awesome dialog. I don’t have anything else to add. I’m working to get others involved, so I hope you’ll check back from time to time and continue to offer your thoughts?

  10. Mark –

    On the one hand you say that the Bible is authoritative on faith and practice, that it is not a science book. But then you immediately turn around and say that the Bible speaks of reality, which the scientists try to discover. This seems inconsistent to me. So, which is it? Does the bible only deal with faith and practice or does it makes statements about reality, which need evidence?

    As for interpretations, if the holy spirit is the authority for interpretation and believers supposedly get the holy spirit to lead them to truth, then how is it that you don’t know what the right interpretation is? How is it that nearly every believer comes to a different conclusion? This would seem to be evidence against your claim.

  11. Bruce –

    I would say that religion and science are fundamentally at odds. They are founded upon mutually exclusive philosophies and have vastly different methods. Science proceeds upon a foundation of reason, inquiry, testing and skepticism. Religion proceeds upon faith, presumption and authority. It presumes to begin with truth, whereas science is willing to be corrected.

  12. Ryan-

    Thanks for your contributions. I’m in agreement with you that science and religion are founded on different philosophies and have vastly different methods. That religion (Christianity in this case) refuses to be corrected is a problem to me. Christianity has been corrected in the past, and will be again if she refuses to listen to science and the higher critics. Ultimately by God (see Balaam’s donkey, Numbers 22).

    I see science and religion as mutually complimentary instead of fundamentally at odds. Take the existence of evil. Science can say nothing for or against evil. Science cannot even ask the question. God and evil are only the domain of religion, but talking about both is fundamentally important to society.

  13. I think science can ask questions relevant to considerations of “evil”. But the matter is not simply one of science or religion. I would therefore disagree that “evil” is a strictly religious concept. It is a human concept and, so, falls into the category of general philosophy.

  14. rob.hinkforth

    Hello Bruce, as requested I am posting my comments here…

    (To everyone: please note I am not here to debate. Only to contribute my thoughts as former religious studies major.)

    I liked your article, Bruce. Here are some reflections.

    Our English for religion comes from the Latin ‘religere’ meaning “reunite”.

    Even though most people define religion as belief: in all reality that is not what the totality of religion. Belief is only aspect of the overall picture.

    Religion is about reuniting oneself with the sacred through ritual. Most of the world’s greatest religions emphasis ritual more then they do with the belief.

    Ritual is something that human beings do everyday. From the moment we wake up to the time we fall asleep. It is part of our nature. Life is also a huge ritual. There is no way around it. Why do we get married? Why are there graduation ceremonies? Even the most secular among likely participate in these rites.

    The scientific method is also another kind of ritual; different to be sure. A ritual it remains. It’s aim is about reconnecting oneself with the cosmos. The measuring of the sacred transcends the scientific method; yet there are some who relate to it as sacramental. Allow me to explain…

    In some sense what is being done via the scientific method is related to the part of us that ultimately makes us an incurably religious species.

    Even Richard Dawkins in the first chapter of the God Delusion calls himself a religious non-believer. In the final chapter however Dawkins uses the idea of a telescope as likened to secular religious awakening. Even so: the telescope has the ability of revelation: looking at the expense of the cosmos and revealing the depths thereof; disclosing to the human mind what would otherwise be hidden realities of outer space.

    My thesis is that the primary place where science and religion meet is in the human endowment of using ritual. More can be said, but this will probably do.

  15. Bruce – I’m not sure I understand your response. Will you elaborate? How is Christianity corrected by God via inspiration? Also, how can one tell?

  16. Ryan- Consider the reformation. I think many Protestants and perhaps Catholics would consider that an event that was inspired. Abraham Lincoln considered the Civil War as correction from God. However, inspiration is not something you can put under a microscope and define it like scientific fundamentalism. In my viewpoint, it is more like relationship. One must humbly ask and not to arrogantly demand.

  17. Bruce – That seems much too subjective to be definitive. Some might consider the push for gay marriage to be a correction by God, while others view it as an apostasy meriting divine judgment. It seems awfully suspicious to merely assume that your religion had it right all along, it was just the interpretation that was off. To say that God is correcting the belief structure is quite ad hoc. At what point might you just realize that maybe your religion just isn’t true?

  18. rob.hinkforth

    Thanks for welcoming me, Tracy. And thanks Bruce, for your encouraging word.

    Much of what I was sharing is rooted from standard scholarship on the subject. If anyone is interested I can offer names of credible religious studies scholars. I am a layperson compared to them but I try to make it as user friendly as possible.

    The whole theory of religion I appeal too is based in the sacred and the pro-falum conceptions credited to Rudolf Otto ( A German Lutheran Theologian and Comparative Religion Scholar). His groundbreaking book The Idea of The Holy is a standard in the field.

    In Roman times the falum was the name of the temple and religious acts done outside the falum were considered pro-falum. This is where the English profane comes.

    What religion scholars will tell you is this…
    The purpose of a religious system ultimately will make sacred; find the sacred; and/or distinguish the sacred from the pro-falum.

    In comparative religion this understanding is elementary. It is comparable to what arithmetic is in mathematics, perhaps.

    In the Idea of The Holy; however, Otto basically spoke more on the Mysterium Tremendum. Otto only used the sacred and the pro-falum as his backdrop. Basically, what Otto was getting at is what remains the single attribute of God that the Great World Religions find agreement.

    Mysterium Tremendum is the numinous (it’s a great word)…this is a wholly other persona that is terrifying and attractive at the same time.

    In other words, when the idea of God is addressed…whether it’s in polytheistic; henotheistic; and/or monotheistic terms: regardless of the brand of theism, all religions essentially agree on this. The Holy is a persona wholly other to human experience as is also an unconditioned reality (not conditioned to space-time but transcendental to it).

    A book that really gets into this rather well…though I’m not a reformed theologian…is by reformed theologian R.C Sproul. It is called If There’s a God, Why Are They’re Atheists.

    In that book Dr. Sproul argues that the question of God’s existence cannot be answered through psychological terms.

    This is because; according to Sproul, the idea of God can arguably be nothing more but fantasy fulfillment rooted in psychological need: where one turns to religion and/or theism for comfort. Like one would a narcotic for escapism from a world that has no lasting meaning apart from existential purpose.

    Yet what is good for the goose is good for the gander…as Sproul maintains.

    There are other psychological pressures within the human psyche that causes one to NOT want to be around a deity that promises to hold a him or her accountable for what they do. That the idea of the Holy is so offensive and repulsive, it can cause one to run and hide. Rationalizing to such a degree that this wholly other persona becomes irrelevant and meaningless.

    The point that Sproul was making is that when it comes to arguing God’s existence on psychological categories; it is draw. If theism can be the crutch for one leg, atheism can be the crutch for the other. It’s like comedy meeting tragedy.

    The whole reason why I labored all this is because in chapter one Sproul demonstrates good scholarship on what a theory of religion ought to look. For a reformed theologian, his use was radical to say the least.

    A good theory of religion will always take into consideration what human beings naturally do. We love to separate and distinguish the sacred from what is ordinary. Is the sacred nothing more but a change in mood; is it pure sensory: or is it something that is wholly other.

    Who is the sacred?

    Well, Moses once asked that; for him it was an epiphany of a fire that was scary and intriguing. The Buddha for instance experienced it as tranquility of mind, the presence of the sacred surrounding and encompassing. For Lao Tzu called it was the Tao; the mother of 10,000 things. For the Christian, Jesus embodies what IT means. Whatever It Is…all religions will tell you it is a HOLY, WHOLLY OTHER reality ultimately non-rational.

    (On a side note in logic there are three categories: irrational, rational and non-rational)

  19. rob.hinkforth

    Bruce-you’re welcome.

    There is one more author I would suggest, his name is Marcus J. Borg. He is a historical Jesus scholar and a member of the Jesus Seminar. I mention him because the sacred is a phrase he uses throughout his books and articles.

    What makes Marcus Borg unique is that he studies the historical Jesus in the context of world religions. Everyone on the Jesus Seminar has a unique perspective on the historical Jesus.

    I have met Marcus Borg in person; heard him lecture on occasion. He is genuine and I admire his work.

    I suggest…as one additional item for your writing projects (if you have the times….is The God We Never Knew by Borg. The theory of religion I advocate is found in this book.

    Unlike Sproul who is a conservative reformed theologian, Borg is a liberal protestant theologian. Yet, they both use an identical sacred / pro-falum understanding of religion. Both are great scholars in their own right.

    What Borg really is, is a throw back to the great philosopher Friedrich Hegel.

    Hegel answered Kant in the sense that though one cannot get to God from the world of ordinary experience, God can nevertheless be omnipresent and understood as being like a natural element to creation.

    The theological perspective that Hegel adopted is panentheism: different then pantheism. I am sure you might have heard of this.

    In panentheism the sacred is understand in terms I have already used. Whereas in pantheism the sacred and creation are seen as mixed together without clear boundaries. St. Paul would likely call pantheism idolatrous.

    Well, for Hegel God was an evolving deity in a process of becoming. History was seen as God working it out and getting it right. In this respect it’s similar to some contemporary Jewish theological perspectives.

    When Hegel lived the idea of evolution had become very popular.

    The whole concept of evolution was originally a theological idea. As evident by Hegel (August 27, 1770 – November 14, 1831) who lived before Charles Darwin (February 12 1809 – April 19 1882).

    I got lost on a tangent. Sorry. Staying on par

    Like Hegel, Borg is one of many who has contributed to an deity in process perspective. And as any good liberal protestant theologian does: argues rather well that supernatural theology is the problem. According to Borg supernatural theology can make God feel like God is far, far away: on vacation somewhere in a distant cosmos.

    For Borg, the sacred (when it is understood that anthropomorphic language used for God is inadequate…St. Thomas Aquinas demonstrated this rather well): once the sacred is seen as a layer of reality part of the here and now. Thus removes what Borg would likely consider the major trapping of supernatural theology. That God is somehow remote to the natural world; not part of it.

    Kind of Neo-Platnoic. Even so: Borg appeals to the sacred /pro-falum theory of religion when making these claims. The God We Never Knew shows this rather well and is a good balance to the book I mentioned earlier by R.C Sproul.

    Final note…
    If you really would like a theological tradition that is unique. The theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church is very is very different than what one would find other types of Christian theologies. For real.

    In theology there are two main ways of doing it. The way of negation and the way of affirmation.

    Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians (for the most part) are accustomed to relate to God through the way of affirmation. This is the approach that St. Thomas Aquinas preferred, for instance. As well as Martin Luther and John Calvin. Also John Wesley and the list is endless.

    The Catholic Church of East…as well as other ancient Christian traditions that have also survived…in spite of their liturgical appearance, use the way of negation. Ultimately the writings of the Church Fathers and Mothers (at one time women were ordained as deaconesses in the Eastern Christian World): the writings of these theologians are very compatible with modern day physics. It’s amazing. I am not just saying this to score brownie.

    What I am amazed about is how theologians from over a 1000 years would conclude many of the same concepts that are similar to contemporary theories in physics. This is another tangent so I will close here…if interested in knowing more about this a good book to consult would be The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church by Vladimir Lossky.

  20. rob.hinkforth

    sorry for the typos. The following is corrected

    Final note…
    If you really would like a theological tradition that is unique. The theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church is very different than what one would find in other types of Christian theologies. For real.

    In theology there are two main ways of doing it. The way of negation and the way of affirmation.

    Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians (for the most part) are accustomed to relate to God through the way of affirmation. This is the approach that St. Thomas Aquinas preferred, for instance. As well as Martin Luther and John Calvin. Also John Wesley and the list is endless.

    The Catholic Church of East…as well as other ancient Christian traditions that have also survived…in spite of their liturgical appearance, use the way of negation. Ultimately the writings of the Church Fathers and Mothers (at one time women were ordained as deaconesses in the Eastern Christian World): the writings of these theologians are very compatible with modern day physics. It’s amazing. I am not just saying this to score brownie points.

    What I am amazed is how theologians from over a 1000 years ago would conclude many of the same concepts that are similar to contemporary theories in physics. This is another tangent so I will close at this point…if interested in knowing more about this a good book to consult would be The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church by Vladimir Lossky.

  21. Rob- Thanks again for taking the time to elaborate on Borg and Hegel. I’ve studied a bit of Hegel, but I’ve not heard of Borg yet, so I appreciate the introduction. I’ll have to take some time to study all the information. I think this will fit in very nicely with my science fiction.

  22. Thanks Roger, I certainly will. I enejyod listening to Mr Lennox’s reasoning on science and religion in this video. He has a delightful demeanor.The history or evidence of Jesus raising from the dead is a very good point of what the atheist or agnostic needs to try and disprove in the reasoning of our faith. Simple proofs we sometimes overlook. Faith is a gift from God.It does not matter if your a scientist or a grocery clerk,we as believers should be prepared to answer questions like Mr Lennox does so effectively >Thanks again for this website

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