Faith and Science - Can They Agree?
Traditionally, proponents of faith and science have been either in outright conflict or have held contrasting sides, agreeing that each is important but mutually exclusive. These conflicting and contrasting views have led to very public debates throughout time. More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccination disputes underscored opposing views that caused us to revisit this question: “Are science and faith at war?” “Can they ever agree, or would it be as impossible as attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole?”
Through this series of articles on faith and science, written for Nova Perspectives, I will examine some fundamental standpoints and highlight how faith and science can agree to benefit the Church, the scientific community, and broader humanity. Let’s dive in!
Conflict: opposing views
Richard Dawkins famously quoted that “Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence." On the other hand, the fundamental creationist Henry Madison Morris (1918–2006) used the Bible to condemn scientific consensus, mainly rejecting the scientific community. Like them, those who believe that science and faith conflict, sit on either side of the fence, advocating strongly that the two are opposed and not reconcilable.
Contrast: mutually exclusive
Stephen Jay Gould (1941–2002) upheld that science and faith occupied “non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA)" or "non-overlapping" teaching authority in the Church. Many support this, saying, “Let science deal with materials of nature and faith deal with immaterial/spiritual things. They are both valid but answer different questions and serve different purposes. Hence, they should remain separate!” Unfortunately, this viewpoint stops short of unifying them.
Convergence: The way forward
Dr. Francis Collins, former Director of the NIH and the Human Genome Project, said, "One of the tragedies of our time is the impression that science and religion have to be at war." Once atheist, he describes his faith journey in “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief." Upon observing the faith of his dying patients, he was forced to acknowledge that their faith had power beyond physical suffering, giving them peace and assurance that science couldn’t. His atheistic views were further challenged upon reading “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis, particularly the law of altruism described by Lewis. Thus, with other scientists such as Dr. John Haught, Dr. Stephen Meyer, and leading theologians, Dr. Collins, now a Christian, sees no conflict or contrast between science and faith. As a Christian and a scientist, I also believe that we don’t have to leave our brains at the church door or disregard our faith when engaging the world of science. They can agree!
How can science and faith agree?
The Science Council defines science as the pursuit and application of knowledge about the natural and social world, the evidence of natural truths and laws, tested and proven through scientific methodology.
The Holy Bible defines faith as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). Substance is the Greek word “hupostasis," meaning - that which has actual existence; a real being; the substantial quality and nature of a person or thing; a substructure, foundation, assurance. Evidence is the Greek word “Elegchos," meaning - proof, by which a thing is proved or tested.
The glaring similarities, that both require substance and actual evidence that is tested and proven, and that both require pursuit, cannot be overlooked. Furthermore, to strengthen the convergence viewpoint, a non-exhaustive list of ways science and faith agree is given below. We will examine the first more closely in this article and the remaining aspects in later writings:
Six ways science and faith agree:
1. Truth is objective.
2. Evidence is necessary.
3. We do not know it all.
4. The world was designed.
5. The universe had a beginning.
6. Prayer works.
1. Truth is Objective – Both agree that truth is not relative and arbitrary but is objective and based on laws. The Christian faith is upheld by the spiritual and moral laws in the Bible, just as science is built on physical laws, constants, and theories. God, the author of all truth, has given principles for our natural and spiritual worlds. Biblical laws are not man-made and have endured the test of time, providing grounding principles that guide us to choose the right paths in this life; similarly, scientific laws such as gravity keep us grounded in the natural realm. As is stated in 2 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life (natural laws) and godliness (spiritual/moral laws) through our knowledge of Him who called us by his glory and goodness." Hence, scientific truth deepens our understanding of God and life and through science and faith, God has provided all the truth we need for successful holistic living.