Challenges and possibilities of theological dialogue with the sciences.

Challenges and possibilities of theological dialogue with the sciences.

The sciences have a long time tradition where scientists are able to integrate faith as a natural part of their systematic pursuit of knowledge and truth. The sciences owe much debt to the work of many who were, are and continue to be people of faith.  For instance, in the books, “Real Science, Real Faith” a book first published by R.J Berry in 1991[1], and another which he published in 2009 called “Real Scientists – Real Faith”[2] they contain testimonials from high ranking and well credentialed scientists from across the vast arena of science, who hold to a strong Christian faith.

More recently however, a popular militant arrogance has risen, resulting in a term coined in 2006, calling it “New atheism.” This includes the likes of popular scientists such as: Hawkins, who proclaims philosophy dead.  Dawkins, who through a form of educated snobbery, promotes that any kind of belief in the supernatural is delusional, and that faith will only be held onto by the uneducated.  Coyne’s insistence that science is reliable and because faith is unreliable, untestable, and leads to conflicting views of science, is incompatible with science, and who furthermore states that because of the differing views of ‘faith’ between science and religion – faith is incompatible with science!

Then there are the third group of Young Earth Creationist Christians who are as militant as the New Atheists, spear headed by the likes of Ken Ham and Ray Comfort.

It would be easy to think that the social, ethical, moral, and reasoning consequences of the propaganda and polemic stance of the new atheist movement through western media – combined with the militant evangelistic zeal for literal Biblical understanding, means that science and faith; and more specifically in our context, ‘Christian faith’ are at odds with one another.

But, I would like to suggest, as it appears to me, that it’s the New Atheists and the Young Earth Creationists who really seem to be at logger heads with one another; though the New Atheists tend to lump every Christian group into the one. The main sticking points are that one group believes in an evolutionary creation story, and mocks the Bible as being anti-scientific (and therefore wrong); and the other is vocal against evolution and adheres to a literal understanding of the Bible – particularly the creation stories and flood told in Genesis.
It’s at this point we need to stop, breathe deeply, reflect, and then acknowledge that Evolution and Creation is only a small part of the vast scope of the arena of the sciences. And therefore, we need to acknowledge that Young Earth Creationists are not an anti-scientific movement – rather they noisily disagree with a small; but arguably important scope that comes out of the vast arena of the sciences.

Regarding the nonsense that the New Atheists promulgate in that faith is relegated to the uneducated; the sheer existence of a large number of highly educated and leading global scientists, who are not only Christian; but can articulate well the reasons for their faith, puts paid to the notion that Christian faith belongs in the so called sub-realm of the uneducated.

Interestingly I once worked for an employer who said that he has a family life, business life, and a religious life – and rarely do they connect. Following his example, it would be easy to assume that the easy way forward to harmonise science and faith is to continue the traditional rationalism from the enlightenment, and hold them as “non-overlapping magisteria,” as taught by Stephen Jay Gould. However, McGrath dismisses this as laziness, which results in “intellectual isolation and conceptual complacency.”[3]

The challenges that science and faith face, is that science cannot prove (and nor disprove) the existence of God. Yet, in acknowledging this, Alister McGrath continues to note that faith is extremely easy to harmonise with science. For example the Bible shows the world to be made in a certain organised framework that we can observe, explain and uncover through the lens of science. [4]

[1] R.J. Berry. Real Science, Real Faith (Monarch Books, U.K,1991)

[2] R.J. Berry, Real Scientists Real Faith (Monarch Books, U.K 1999)

[3] Alister McGrath, Conflict or Mutual Enrichment? Why Science and Theology Need to Talk to Each Other, on ABC RELIGION AND ETHICS (ABC RELIGION AND ETHICS, 21 OCT 2014) [accessed 15/05/15]

[4] Alister McGrath. Faith in a Scientific Age, (You Tube)  15 mins:24[accessed 20/06/015]

About Craig Benno

I'm an average aussie guy who has lived perhaps a not so average life.
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