Religion & Science
Both religion and science are concerned in some way with how people can know what is real, what is true. Christianity makes certain claims about, for instance, the nature of God, and his ‘miraculous’ involvement in the world, and science makes other claims that either contradict the claims of Christianity or even denies that they exist. One of the great debates of the present age involves issues of controversy between science and religion and science and Christianity, in order to see whether there is a position where both can co-exist, or even grow from each other.
The controversy between science and Christianity began in earnest in the 19th century with significant discoveries in geology and then biology. Geologists began to establish that the world in which we live was many millions of years old and could not be just 4000 years old as suggested in the Bible. Charles Darwin then published his ‘On the origins of species’ which established that humans had evolved over many hundreds of centuries, and had not been placed intact into the Garden of Eden merely thousands of years previously. What these two discoveries established was that the claims made in the Bible which people took to be literally true, were in fact incorrect from a scientific point of view. People therefore asked, if these claims are incorrect, how much more of the Bible is incorrect – including the central claims of Christianity?
It has been the task of modern scientists and Christian thinkers to tackle this issue. Some fundamentalist Christians refuse to accept the findings of science, and although still a powerful body in some churches, are viewed as extreme. Other, more moderate, Christians however, accept that scientific findings have demonstrated a need to re-interpret the Bible and that the claims made about the world and God are written in a language exclusive to religion. To interpret this language scientifically is therefore viewed as about as similar as trying to play football with a table tennis bat.
Religious belief requires a ‘leap of faith’ at some point in the thinking and perception of the believer. In the same way that an analysis of human emotions such as ‘love’ can only be fully appreciated only through experience, so science can only lead so far in explaining the nature of faith. Although studies in the sociology and psychology of religion offer scientific explanations of man’s need for religion (e.g. Weber, Marx, Freud, Jung), many still feel that a life lived according to faith makes more sense and is more meaningful than a life without it.
Albert Einstein, although sceptical about a personal God, said, ‘A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man’. However, many eminent scientists are deeply devotional and find the co-existence of faith and science is complimentary. It is possible for a scientist to say that the story of creation in Genesis Chapter 1 is a myth relating the relationship between God and humans and still hold that the cosmos was created 14 billion years ago in a Big Bang.
Conflict between scientific discoveries and faith – such as that made by Darwin and Lyle – are due to the conflict between world views upon which so much is invested. Some philosophers have coined the term ‘paradigm shift’ to explain that humans retain concepts of a by-gone age into the present and this results in an inevitable conflict.
Empirical language, or the language of science, is descriptive and analytical. Religious language is often emotive and poetic. It is important to understand the context within which language is used and apply rules that maintain clarity.
Christianity makes claims that suggest a reality beyond the empirical. Its beliefs about the self include a model of the ‘soul’. Christianity also teaches about an after-life, or an eschatology. For Christians there is faith evidence to support this. Although science can attempt to deny them, it can also work to clarify them. That is the important role of science, to work alongside religion to make better sense of what humans talk about and consequently believe.