A quick Google search of “Science and Faith” brings up 144 million matches in half a second. Many of these sites repeat the “conflict” narrative—science and faith are at war, and science will ultimately win because it has reason and evidence on its side. Though this story is very popular, it is also wrong.
In this series, I will identify three assumptions underlying this narrative. I will then share reasons why these assumptions are wrong, and therefore why there is no conflict between science and faith—we should be talking about the “and” not the “or”between Science and Faith.
Why This is So Important
This story of conflict is more and more common because these underlying assumptions have become deeply embedded in our culture. As a result, they are how we now naturally think about the world and we seldom stop to question them.
Ignoring these assumptions is very dangerous for Christians. They lead us to set up a false dichotomy between science and faith and so believe we must choose between the two. Some choose “science” and conclude what they believe about God is at least “less true.” They may hang on to some belief, but it is marginalized, minimized, and emasculated. In short, it is no longer a robust, energized faith worth pursuing.
Others Christians choose “faith” over science, deciding to take a “blind leap of faith” and reject evidence and reason in their pursuit to know God. This sort of intellectual laziness is equally dangerous. It rejects the biblical notion of faith as trust grounded in evidence and reason (I’ll say more about this later in this series). In its place is substituted a counterfeit definition of faith. This counterfeit definition of faith cannot satisfy. In either case, the Christian who assumes he must choose between science and faith will have a hard time maintaining a robust and flourishing spiritual life.
This “science vs. faith” narrative is equally dangerous for non-Christians. By setting up this as an either/or choice, most non-believers choose science. In doing, so they assume the Bible is not trustworthy and not worth further study. They never consider how Jesus offers the solution to their deepest needs. As the great twentieth-century theologian, J. Gresham Machen so aptly put it, “False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the Gospel. …” We must do all we can to remove false obstacles such as this science vs. faith narrative so that non-believers can consider the truths of the gospel.
Our Task: Challenge the False Assumptions Underlying this “Science or Faith” Narrative
Therefore it is vitally important we identify the underlying assumptions that lead to this “science or faith” narrative. Once we identify these assumptions, we must understand them well enough to see where they go wrong. By understanding this wrong thinking, we will then know the true story of the relationship between faith and science—one not of conflict but congruence (in most cases)—one of “and” not “or.”
The result of reframing these issues as faith and science will help us answer some questions we may struggle with as Christians. It will also help us have productive conversations about faith and science with non-believers.
False Assumption #1 “Science is about facts and Christianity is about faith, and facts win.”
The Story We Are Told
The story goes something like this: Science is all about knowledge (it is a knowledge tradition). It is about “the facts, all the facts, and nothing but the facts.” For instance, chemistry is the study of facts related to chemical reality. Chemistry professors write textbooks on this subject. Students study hard and are examined on how well they understand these facts. It is an area you can be right or wrong about, can be corrected on, and should want to learn more and more about. No one would ever say, “That’s just your belief about chemistry. It may be true for you, but it is not true for me!” Chemistry is about knowledge.
On the other hand, the story we are told says Christianity is all about faith—it is a belief tradition, the exact opposite of knowledge traditions such as chemistry. Christianity is not about facts. There is nothing to study and learn regarding theological reality. Textbooks aren’t written on the subject that should be studied and mastered. You can’t be right or wrong about your Christian beliefs, you can’t be corrected, and it is perfectly reasonable to say, “That’s just your belief. It may be true for you, but it is not true for me!” In sum, Christianity is about belief, not knowledge. It is on a par with your belief about the best flavor of ice cream or the best color.
Many Churches Actually Reinforce This Story!
Unfortunately, many churches reinforce this idea that Christianity is a belief tradition, not a knowledge tradition. When a high school student wants to learn about chemistry, she takes a course in high school and is assigned a textbook. The textbook will be about 300 pages and will at first be hard to read. It will have “big” words like “nonredox combination reactions” and “titrations.” She will be expected to spend hours studying to learn the terminology, core concepts, proofs, and applications of chemistry to other areas of study.
However, when she wants to learn about Christianity, does she have the same experience in most churches? Is she assigned a 300-page textbook on Christian theology that is hard for her to read? Will it contain “big” words she is not immediately familiar with, such “substitutionary atonement” and “soteriology”? Will she be expected to spend hours studying to learn the terminology, core concepts, proofs, and applications of theology to other areas of study?
No, this will probably not be her experience in most churches today. Instead, she will usually be given a short, easy-to-read pamphlet sharing some stories and a few bible verses. No challenging words or concepts. The message she hears loud and clear is that in Christianity there is nothing to learn and nothing to master. Christianity is not about knowledge—it is not like chemistry or other areas requiring study to learn facts. Instead, she is implicitly taught that Christianity is only about belief—nothing more. Her church is guilty of reinforcing this first myth and damaging her soul. As God said in Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”
So how do we change this and begin rewriting the narrative to one of “Science and Faith”—that both are knowledge traditions that can and most often do complement one another? First, we must challenge head-on this false assumption (inside and outside our churches) that Science is about only facts and Christianity is about only faith. I’ll offer three responses over the next few weeks. Until then, grace and peace.
For a good introduction to many of the issues surrounding faith and science I suggest Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton’s The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy.