German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, famously said, “God is dead.” He reached this conclusion because he held to a philosophy that grew out of the Enlightenment known as materialism or naturalism. Naturalists, or materialists, believe all that exists is the material world. Hence, “God is dead.” Many scientists have adopted this worldview and hold that it is the only appropriate worldview for conducting science.
Over the years it has become common place to believe that science and faith are at odds with one another. Somehow, it is popularly believed that you cannot be a real scientist and a person of religious faith. However, I would argue that historically, faith has driven scientific exploration and that there is no logical reason that science and faith must be at odds. Once we define the terms, it becomes obvious that science and faith are not enemies. In fact, faith becomes necessary for science.
What is Science?
A short definition would be: the study of the natural world through observation and experiment. When I think of science I think of physics, biology, and chemistry – my favorite sciences. Science seeks explanations for physical phenomena. If something goes up, why does it come down? Gravity. Why do certain things react the way they do? Chemistry provides wonderful answers.
You’ll notice this definition does not necessitate one to hold to philosophical naturalism. Naturalism and materialism are not equivalents of science itself. It therefore follows that one not need hold to these philosophical worldviews in order to do science. Science is something we do, not something we believe. Science is a mechanism that we use to better understand the universe we live in. Science’s aim is to arrive at truth. What if the truth is that there is an Intelligent Creator that caused the universe and its physical laws? Philosophical naturalism would never arrive at the truth because it precludes this conclusion a priori. Shouldn’t we hold to a more inclusive method that allows truth, and not assumption, to win the day? Why would you have to hold to philosophical naturalism in order to study science?
What is faith?
My short definition would be: belief based on evidence. I believe Jesus rose from the dead because of historical evidence and philosophical reasoning. The debate about science and faith is largely misleading because of bad definitions. Faith is often touted as being belief in something despite a lack of evidence. This is not how any Christian I know characterizes faith. If faith were believing something despite the evidence then it might follow that science and faith are at odds. However, this isn’t the case.
Faith is something that all people have – even atheists. Yes, I said it. The definition of the word atheism may very well be the lack of belief in God. That’s fine. Nonetheless, atheism as a worldview has many beliefs. Ask an atheist how they think the universe came into existence and I doubt they will say, “I lack a belief in how the universe came into existence.” If all you had were lacks of beliefs then you wouldn’t be able to have a serious dialogue about any of the questions we as human beings value the most.
Faith is necessary for science.
Furthermore, you must have faith to do science. Before you set-out to do science, you must believe that we as human beings are capable of making sense of the physical universe. You must believe that the physical constants of the universe will hold the same today as they did yesterday. You must believe that your brain can comprehend that which is true. After all, if my mind is only the production of natural selection of random mutations, why would I trust the thoughts that it produces to be true? You might say, “Well, I have good reasons to believe those things.” And that’s exactly my point! We believe things based on evidence. This is what is meant by “faith”. Again, properly understanding faith as justified belief helps one to understand that faith and science are not at odds. Everyone has faith of some sort, and therefore, everyone should be invited to the enterprise of science.
“The heavens declare the glory of God.” -Psalm 19:1
So far, I hope I’ve shown that faith and science are not at odds. I would suggest that Christians have all the reason to participate in scientific exploration. The Bible claims that God created the universe orderly and understandable. It follows that natural laws would exist. It is often claimed that you can’t be a scientist and a Christian because of the Christian belief in miracles. However, a belief in miracles necessitates a belief in physical laws. A miracle is a supernatural violation of physical law. But the physical law must exist and be acknowledged in order to believe that it has been violated. It follows that Christians believe in the physical laws of the universe and are just as capable of understanding them as anyone else.
Is the atheist without belief in miracles? It would be one heck of a miracle for the universe to come into existence from nothing. It would be a miracle for the universe to “create itself”. It would be the mother of all miracles for life to come from non-life. And it would certainly be miraculous if accidental causes could account for the genius that is biological life.
I conclude that there is nothing to suggest that science and faith are at odds, or that Christians must stay out of science. Christians have a long history of contributing to the sciences and many have argued that it was Christianity that provided solid footing for the scientific explosion to happen in the first place. Faith should be defined as justified belief based on evidence, and is therefore necessary for scientific exploration and explanation.