Many who are critical of religion seek to justify their stance by presenting a contrast between science and religious faith. To illustrate the kind of argument I’m talking about, consider the following excerpt:
“Science often traffics in doubt and readily welcomes revision. And these are precisely the attributes that make it deserving of our confidence. This may seem contradictory, but give it a second thought. It is just those systems of thought that would have us believe that they know the answers with certainty because they have been received from an unerring supreme being and interpreted by a chosen priesthood, that should give us pause. Creation myths from the ancient Greeks to the Old Testament give complete descriptions of how the universe was created. No doubt there. Alternatively, science – cosmology, geology, archaeology, biology – give incomplete descriptions filled with open questions…Revision is a victory in science, and that is precisely what makes it so powerful.” (continue reading)
Or this succinct quote from atheist comedian-musician Tim Minchin:
“Science adjusts its views based on what’s observed. Faith is the denial of observation so that belief can be preserved.”
This argument asserts that science is superior to religion precisely because it is self-correcting. Science is constantly evolving to reflect our growing understanding of the universe, whereas religion is stubbornly committed to its ancient truth-claims.
If one accepts that faith requires the denial of observation (hint: it doesn’t), then this argument might seem entirely sensible. Science is, indeed, a powerful tool for understanding the universe and improving the quality of human life. And religion does, by its nature, hinge upon the accuracy of its truth-claims.
Yet there’s a glaring problem. This argument presupposes that every religious system of thought is entirely man-made. The entire force of the argument rests on this presupposition.
If, however, such a system of thought is actually received from an inerrant Supreme Being, then it would be far more worthy of our confidence than any truth derived scientifically. Science may be self-correcting, but Truth revealed directly by a perfect God wouldn’t have any need for correction in the first place. The criticism that religious systems lack science’s capacity for change assumes that there is (and will always be) a need for change.
I say this as someone who deeply values both science AND my religious faith. I spend most of my waking hours absorbed in either one or the other, and I find it perplexing when people seek to portray them as conflicting and mutually exclusive domains.
If anything, I would attest that my Christian faith provides an even more exciting framework for my scientific pursuits. Rather than seeing the universe through the objectively meaningless lens of materialism, I recognize it as a meaningful and beautiful (yet fallen) work of creation. To quote the Irish theologian (and former molecular biophysicist) Alister McGrath:
“If you do believe in God, it gives a new intellectual depth to your science…The more I appreciate the beauty of nature, the more I appreciate the beauty of God, so studying nature is all about gaining a deeper appreciation of God.”
There’s a sense of mystery and humility that comes with studying God’s creation, and applying that knowledge toward the relief of human suffering. In my view, science and faith are more than just compatible. They’re synergistic.
See Also: The Science News Cycle