Scaling the Gulf Between Scientific and Religious Knowledge
There is a tendency in our increasingly secular society to see a wide gulf between religious and scientific knowledge. Scientific knowledge is viewed as true knowledge, while religious knowledge is viewed as tentative knowledge at best, if not just plain 'ol fantasy. The two are categorically separate, the one having nothing to do with the other. While Christians decry this wall of separation and demeaning of the epistemological status of religious knowledge it is just as common for us to erect a wall between science and religion. Many Christians oppose the scientific endeavor as somehow anti-Christian at its core, or dismiss out-of-hand specific scientific assertions in light of religious presuppositions. It is to this issue I wish to speak.
Science is not the enemy of religion anymore than religion is the enemy of science (from the perspective of outsiders). Science is our friend when the discipline is approached properly. The book of revelation (Scripture) and the book of nature will not contradict one another because both have the same author. If they appear to contradict it is only the problem of the interpreter of the one, the other, or the both. While it is clear that not every scientific position floating around out there is in line with Christianity, the process of doing science itself is not opposed to Christianity.
What can be opposed to Christianity are the men behind the scientific endeavor, who are guiding the process and evaluating the results in light of their particular philosophy of science. The naturalistic philosophical underpinnings of modern scientific theory can skew what we come to call scientific knowledge, but our objection to any particular claim of science should not be based on religious considerations per se, but scientific and philosophic persuasions. Why? Because if the scientific claim is truly false it is only so because it fails in at least one of those two areas.
To give an example of what I am speaking about consider the theory of evolution. I am personally opposed to the theory, but my objection to evolution is not based on religious considerations (although I certainly have those). My objection is based on scientific and philosophic considerations. I am persuaded that evolutionary theory is simply bad science and bad philosophy. We need to be careful not to erect a wall between science and religion as though the two endeavors are somehow inherently opposed to one another, and be sure that any objections we may raise to specific scientific ideas are grounded in more than religious concerns.
If we are going to object to a specific teaching of science we must have evidence upon which our objection is based. Religious persuasions and pre-commitments do not qualify-at least not in the eyes of our detractors. Why? It is because religious considerations are mere assertions in their eyes, not arguments or true evidence. To argue against a scientific assessment or theory with a mere assertion of one's belief to the contrary is both futile and silly. Any valid objection to science must be backed by solid arguments from science or philosophy.
Religion itself is supported by philosophy. That is how we as Christians are able to argue for our position over against other religious positions. If it were not for philosophy there would be no way to mediate the truth between the competing religious claims out there in the market place. We would all be left with mere belief, possessing no mechanism in which to think critically about and evaluate our own beliefs, nor the beliefs of others. Only the tools of philosophy can guide us into choosing which religious claims are true and reasonable, and which ones are false and unreasonable. As the old saying goes "philosophy is the handmaiden of theology." This is where the art of apologetics comes in. Apologetics marry good philosophy with religious belief, both to support and convey one's own religious persuasions to outsiders, and also to defend one's religious persuasions from the same.
In sum, Christians need to recognize both the worth and weaknesses of the scientific endeavor. We must not oppose it, but welcome it as a source of gaining true knowledge about God's creation. When science and revelation contradict we must seek a resolution by reexamining both "books." If upon reexamination our interpretation of Scripture is found to be sound, we must examine the facts upon which science has made its claims and/or the methodology employed in the scientific endeavor. If the facts are sound and the methodology was properly employed the problem lies with the philosophical presuppositions of the scientist(s). In the spirit of love and humility we can expose these flaws, invalidating the scientific claims that were founded upon them, and restoring balance between scientific and religious knowledge.
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