Friday 3 July 2009

The God of Science

The latest edition of Case magazine is out, and if you’re not a CASE associate then you’re missing out on some great articles. As I write in my introduction to this issue, at a time when Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Peter Atkins are seeking to negate the place of faith in understanding the origins and purpose of life, it is important to assert that there are varied views on the compatibility of science and faith.

The theme in this issue is ‘The God of Science’. This should signal that we believe that rather than God and science being in opposition, that science can help us to understand the ‘what’ of creation while still allowing us to accept that God is the ultimate answer to the ‘why’. God has knowledge of all the answers to the questions that science explores. The efforts of scientists to pose questions and then to try and answer them should strengthen our insights into the wonder of God’s creation. The aim of Case #19 is to stimulate discussion about the fundamental question, can faith and science complement one another, or are they inevitably in conflict?

Articles and reviews on the theme

Kirsten Birkett offers a valuable historical foundation in her piece 'I Believe in Nature' and explores how naturalism became entrenched as the predominant discourse. She shows how key scientists managed to drive a wedge between science and faith to create the common perception that science is all that there is.

Michael Murray’s article ‘Belief in God: A trick of our brain?’ considers scientific evidence that humans are naturally disposed towards religious belief, ritual and moral behaviour as an outcome of natural evolutionary processes. Atheists like Dawkins take this evidence and conclude that religion is a by-product of the built-in irrationality mechanism in the brain, and that humans would believe in God even if he did not exist. But Murray suggests that all the science demonstrates is that natural causes are involved in the origin of religious beliefs. He concludes that there is no evidence to counter the Christian belief articulated by John Calvin 400+ years ago, that God as creator built within us a desire to know him.

Dennis Alexander argues in his article ‘God and Evolution’ that science and faith are complementary and that Darwinism is not at odds with belief in a creator God. His article will challenge some readers but like Birkett, Lennox and Frankenberry, Alexander argues for compatibility between faith and science; that science and faith can coexist. Alexander suggests that you can accept the science as an explanation of the origins of biological diversity on the earth, but still see it as the outworking of God’s will as creator. “If there is a personal God with intentions and purposes for his creation, then we expect order, directionality and the emergence of personhood.”

Alexander’s position is that man evolved from an archaic species of homo sapiens, and that God in his grace, chose a couple of Neolithic farmers to reveal himself to mankind. He called them into fellowship so that we might know him as a personal God. These he argues were “divine humans”, who the Bible gives the names Adam and Eve. But rather than being the ‘first’ humans, they were chosen to be representatives of a new humanity. There will be dissenters from this view. As well, there will be some who will question whether Alexander’s view can be reconciled with the Scriptures.

Lewis Jones concludes our discussion by bringing us back to a fundamental point, that science cannot answer questions about the purpose of creation. Jones suggests that the relationship between science and purpose is more rightly seen as the relationship between the nature of things and the rightness of our actions. “God is the sole revealer of his purposes for creation."

We also have two reviews on books relevant to the theme. Andrew Kyme reviews John Lennox’s book 'God’s undertaker: Has Science Buried God?' Patrick Chan reviews Nancy Frankenberry’s book ‘The Faith of Scientists: In their own words’ which offers an insight into how twenty one scientists relate matters of faith to their science.

Collectively, the writers who have contributed to this edition of Case support the truth that God is the God of Science as well as creation:

“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers” (Psalm 24:1-2).

Our God owns all and founded all. Furthermore, as Paul reminds us in Colossians 1:15-16, God sustains all things by, for and through Christ:

As the writers in this issue demonstrate, knowledge of science need not weaken faith; in fact it might just strengthen it. It is possible to understand what science teaches and to seek to reconcile this to our knowledge a God who seeks to reconcile us to himself through Christ.

Related links

You can read Roberta Kwan’s reflections on the topic as she worked on this edition of Case (here)

From the CASE vault - Cells and Souls, Kirsten Birkett (here)

From the CASE vault - Can Science see the end? Ross McKenzie & Greg Clarke (here)


Timaahy said...

Science and faith are incompatible by definition.

Science makes statements about the universe based on available evidence. Faith is used to make statements about the universe without evidence, and sometimes even despite the evidence.

It is simply illogical to suggest that the two are somehow compatible.

Trevor Cairney said...

Hi Timaahy, thanks for your comment. Of course faith and science are different, but are they compatible? Can we be people of faith and consider the evidence of science, learn from it, and still find no inconsistency with our faith? I think the answer is yes. And if the science, because of its limitations fails to offer all the answers, can we still reconcile its (at times)less than infallible claims with our faith? Yes. You should read the whole edition of the magazine. Email me and I'll send it to you. As I write in the introduction to the magazine (in quoting John Polkinghorne and Nicholas Beale):

‘There are…important differences between science and religion, but there is also an important cousinly relationship. Both are concerned with a search for truth, and both seek truth through a quest for motivated belief.’

Cheers, Trevor

Timaahy said...


Thanks for responding. I sent you an e-mail, and look forward to reading the entire edition of Case.

It is not quite true to say that 'both are concerned with a search for truth'. Science is, indeed, concerned with the search for truth. The problem is that faith works on the premise of already knowing what the "truth" is.

Science as a learning method is quite happy to admit to errors and correct accumulated knowledge in light of new evidence. This is never allowed by faith. Faith says Jesus was god made man, and no evidence would ever be enough to convince a Christian otherwise.

A true scientist attacks a problem with no bias, and will follow the evidence to wherever it takes her. A scientist who is a devout Christian, however, will always have her investigations coloured by her faith. This is why, for example, the Catholic Church cannot admit to the evolution of man, despite the overwhelming evidence.