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Are Science and Religion Compatible?

What Would You Say?

You’re in a conversation about faith, and someone says, “You can’t believe in God if you believe in science. You must choose.” What Would You Say? If you ever hear this argument, here are four things to remember. Number One: Many of the founders of modern science were Christians. According to historian Christopher Armstrong (i), “Modern science emerged out of the medieval encounter between Christian theology and the thought of Aristotle.” That’s why, he continues, “(when) such devout men as Roger Bacon (ca. 1214-92), Albertus Magnus (before 1200-80), and Thomas Aquinas [ca. 1225–1274] processed Aristotle’s natural philosophy through the Bible and Christian tradition, they laid the foundation for science as we know it.” In other words, modern science did not arise despite religious belief, but because of it. As C.S. Lewis put it in the book Miracles, “Men became scientists because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a legislator.”(ii) This is why science arose in the Christian West and not elsewhere. Other later scientists such as Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday, and Clerk-Maxwell were all firm believers in God. These men weren’t scientists despite being Christians. Instead, their faith moved them to discover more about the world they lived in. Far from hindering modern science, faith in God was a motor that drove scientific advancement. Number Two: Many excellent scientists today are people of faith. Between 1901 and 2000, over 60% of Nobel Laureates were Christians. Although the number of believers is shifting in sciences—over 60% of scientists at elite schools today currently either claim not to believe in God or are uncertain of His existence—Christian apologist Rebecca McLaughlin (iii) has pointed out that many excellent scientists still do, including nuclear science professor Ian Hutchinson, professor of aeronautics and astronautics Daniel Hastings, and electrical engineering professor Jing Kong. If these scientists are people with deep, sincere religious faith, there may be a misunderstanding by some about what religious faith is, but there cannot be an essential conflict between being a scientist and having faith in God. Number Three: Science and religion are complementary. Science and faith are not in conflict, in fact, they are complementary. Imagine there is a boiling pot of water, and someone asks, “Why is this water boiling?” You could say, “because heat energy from the gas flame is being conducted through the copper base of the kettle and is agitating the molecules of the water to such an extent that the water is boiling.” This is a true statement. But, you could also answer by saying, “Because I wanted a cup of tea.” Though very different, this is also a true statement. One answer explains “how” the water boils, while the other answer explains the reason for the water boiling. So, it is with science and religion. They are not in conflict; they are complementary as we seek to understand both “how” and “why”. Number Four: Science can’t explain everything. Science describes the laws of nature, but it can’t explain where matter came from. It can’t explain how life began. It can’t explain the purpose of our lives, what it means to love, or why we desire to do things we know we shouldn’t do. As C.S. Lewis wrote in “Meditation in a Toolshed,” “One must look both along and at everything.” (iv) The fact is, science or religion is not a mutually exclusive choice, instead it’s more like learning to walk and chew gum. So next time someone tells you science and religion are in conflict, remember these four things. Number One: Founders of modern science were Christians. Number Two: Many excellent scientists are people of faith. Number Three: Science and religion are complementary. Number Four: Science doesn’t explain everything.

(i) Chris R. Armstrong: Medieval Wisdom for Modern Christians

(ii) C.S. Lewis: Miracles (excerpt)

(iii) Rebecca McLaughlin: Confronting Christianity (excerpt)

(iv) C.S. Lewis: God in the Dock (A Collection of Essays)