Science and Faith

There’s this odd idea that there is a contradiction between science and faith. There are of course a couple of famous stories why this is thought to be true: Galileo claiming that the sun was the centre of the universe got him killed, and the Scopes trial over evolution in the American school system. But those are a couple of exceptions that to me prove the rule that the conflict is drastically over-exaggerated or even entirely fabricated.

History of the Conflict

Historically, this supposed contradiction is pretty recent. Almost all of the most significant early scientists were Christians who were motivated by learning more about the world God had made. Equally ironic, it was secularists later in the modern era who first started saying that we must interpret the Bible by its literal meaning only and that this meaning was the same for all time in all contexts. Then a lot of conservative Christians started debating those terms instead of sticking to how they had previously interpreted things. Prior to this, including for many of these early scientists, Christians understood Scripture to have multiple levels of meaning and thus did not presume that the Bible was a science textbook. It’s even in the New Testament as those authors clearly find different interpretations for many Old Testament texts than the clear meaning as they view everything through the lens of Jesus. Furthermore, as we now enter the postmodern age which involves a reclaiming of these other layers of Scripture, the supposed contradiction is fading away again.

Nevertheless, for those who are in the late modernity mindset which buys into the contradiction, here I am to try to clear it up.

Evolution and Creation

The most commonly cited example in late modernity is that of evolution. This is how the conflict is explained. A real Christian interprets the Bible literally-only and the Bible says that the earth was made quickly in 6 24-hour days. The rest of us, of course, are not real Christians. On the other hand, any real scientist believes in millions of years of evolution. Therefore, the real Christians and the real scientists must disagree. What’s crazy is how many people on both sides have bought into this.

Here are the flaws in this thinking:

  • Not all scientists believe there is conclusive evidence for macro-evolution. Most do, but some don’t. So by saying that real scientists must accept evolution they are dismissing lots who don’t.
  • Not all Christians believe that the Bible can only be interpreted as a science/history textbook and thus don’t assume that those things that are being interpreted as scientific facts were ever meant to be scientific facts.

The main thing to keep in mind is that evolution is a question of how and creation is a question of who or why. Now if you take a materialist philosophy, which assumes that there is nothing that is not physical, then you have a problem. But that is not the same thing as science and it is not the same thing as the scientific theory of evolution.

So here’s 3 perfectly legitimate Christian explanations as to how the world came to be as it is now:

  1. Young-Earth Creationism: the most literal reading of the Biblical text, that God created the earth relatively recently in a short time with no evolutionary mechanism. It goes against the majority of scientists, but I still consider it valid since it isn’t all legitimate scientists.
  2. Intelligent Design: Basically, God used micro-evolution over a long period of time but still stepped in miraculously to speed up the process for macro-evolution. The reason for this is that micro-evolution and the age of the earth are well established scientifically, but macro-evolution is more contentious and unproven. I also call this the “God of the gaps” theory because it relies on essentially saying that whatever can’t be explained naturally we’ll explain supernaturally instead, which I think is a dangerous position to be in.
  3. Evolutionary Creationism: God created the world and used the mechanism of evolution to establish things to be as they are now. I personally side with this one since it is most open to science and because it is most in line with my theological emphasis of God working with and through creation rather than unilaterally.

However you answer it, the conflict is exaggerated at best and completely made up and perpetuated by the media until people started to believe it at worst.

Complementary Disciplines

The only way there is an actual contradiction is when one tries to make decisions over the other – when theologians deal with how or scientists deal with why. On the one hand, some Christians feel the need to state precise scientific views. These views have nothing to with Scripture and nothing to do with church positions throughout history. On the other hand, scientists occasionally feel the need to philosophize about the metaphysics behind what they have seen. There isn’t any obvious connection between saying that creatures evolved and that there is no such thing as God. So more accurately, science and faith are not at odds, but materialist philosophy and spiritual philosophy do clearly operate on different assumptions (there is no possibility of anything non-physical, or there is a possibility). And that’s a completely different discussion

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

2 Responses

  1. December 7, 2012

    […] general I think the conflict is over-exaggerated. I’ve talked about it before, such as in my Searching Issues post on science and faith. I do think there’s a big difference between scientism and faith, something that Kinnaman […]

  2. January 30, 2014

    […] Compatibility of science and religion […]