Is science in conflict with faith?

Many believers think that science is a threat, since it represents human knowledge. Since faith is not so much about human knowledge. Therefore it seems that the two are in conflict. However, they do find it logical that the lights go on when flipping the switch, that they are reachable anywhere by cell phone and that they always have Internet connection. These are all ‘fruits’ of science. They are unaware of a love-hate relationship. What is written about it in the Bible?

By Marco van Putten

Science is philosophy put into practice. Philosophy is the theoretical description of the (‘higher’) reality of nature. Faith is a belief aimed at the sure hope and the proof of things that cannot be seen (Hb 11:1). Philosophy and faith thus seem to address the same subject. So, is there really a conflict between the two?

Science versus faith
Science and faith have a number of fundamental differences. In the first place faith comes from outside man [1], while philosophy is wrought by the human mind. Faith is the recognition of God as a Person outside and ‘above’ man. Also, God is not the subject of science. It can ‘stumble upon’ God, but is not interested in Him. Science is interested in studying and explaining nature [2] to extract from it experience and wisdom [3]. These – experience and wisdom about nature – are central to science; it wants to understand nature. The Greek word combination philo – sophos means ‘getting acquainted with wisdom of nature’ or ‘love for wisdom about nature’. Science requires a mind that wants to seek out and ask (thorough) questions. It is based on the positive stance that man is able to understand nature and will be able to control it. Rather naive.

Science is subtracted from this theoretical wisdom of nature and from science all kinds of uses originate, such as technologies. Science assumes ongoing philosophical thinking and practical use. Science wants to gain knowledge through (experimental) research and systematic reporting of its results. This is done in a somewhat agreed (academic) way, by which assumptions are to be avoided since it can only be based on facts. Philosophy and science are in principle unreligious activities. It does not serve religion. Its purpose is to gain human knowledge.

Theology a branch of science
Originally Christianity did not have much interest in the Creation. It also rejected theoretical philosophies on matters of faith or on God Himself. These originally were the field of mysticism and superstition. But Christianity did not remain passive towards science or against it. Eventually it has embraced it and has developed its own scientific area; Theology. The greatest Roman-catholic theologian Thomas of Aquino (13th century) even stated that a-religious science precedes religion. According to him, God is revealed in Creation/nature in general terms and that precedes the specific revelation of God in the Bible. This became a principle in Catholicism. This is supposedly based upon the Bible (Rm 1:20; 1 Kor 15:46).

Theology, like the a-religious sciences, is as a branch of science and therefore also focuses on getting acquainted with Creation and enlarging knowledge about it. Theology uses the languages and culture of science. But this is only superficial. Because in reality Theology tends to limit its scope to God. Science however accepts nature as it is, with no regard whether or not God exists. Scientists tend to reproach Theologians [4] lack of open-mindedness and having a fixed and limited agenda. Theology should however first of all needs to be used to serve and honor God and thus the aim is religion. Science however is bent on humanity. Science thus has a different viewpoint and area of interest. The open-mindedness of science, like the assumption that everything found in nature is evenly useful, has however also a disadvantage. It makes the way of doing research a matter of ‘good luck’ and a search for the needle in a haystack. Theology on the other hand assumes to have certain pre-knowledge. Has a somewhat fixed starting-points. It has based its questions upon these and therefore has the potential to make discoveries in comparison with light-speed. Science is doomed to search ages for answers only to stumble on some facts just by sheer luck and these help it to make the important discoveries. Or maybe will never make them.

Theology is not limited to the study of God as Person. It also has other areas of interest. For example, Practical Theology to which Biblical Archeology is categorized. This kind of Archeology tries to understand archeological finds in connection with the Bible or does research to questions raised by other Theological expertises. Theology also challenges general science about the purpose of certain research and brings forward arguments from Biblical norms and ethics. Theology cannot appreciate all scientific research and should reject some of it. In that sense Theologians should be alert and should make its voice heard when needed. Theology is supposed to be critical on behalf of God. But on the other hand Theology can sometimes also justify, explain and support secular sciences. Theology should be the faculty of brave believers, who are often ‘further’ and ‘deeper’ informed than most believers. But Theologians must also serve Gods people.

It is important to stress that Theology is in principle a work of man. That explains why also unbelievers can also be Theologians and thus they can draw very wrong conclusions. Often Theology is bound by a denomination or religious institution. Jewish Theology for example is often conflicting with Christian Theology and Protestant Theology with Roman Catholic. Is Theology to be useful for God, then God’s Spirit and His blessing are required. If Theologians want to please God, they have to do His will with their profession and not follow other purposes, like self-indulgence or contribute to anti-Christian goals.

God and science
God is by definition ‘hidden’ for man. If God reveals Himself then often He represents a reality that is indefinable for humans. Most of His Self-revelations also come phased over time. Science however takes the observable reality as a fixed given. Despite the fact that it takes Evolution also as a given [5]. Thus, the continuous interference of God in Creation is ignored, but also the interconnectivity between the different revelations of God. Science therefore has no knowledge of the daily control of Creation by God, but also doesn’t appreciate its original design and the order in Creation. Science doesn’t determine a values to components of reality, but regards it neutrally and also positively. For science reality is what it is and that is regarded as ‘fit for purpose’. This is also naive. Not only is there clearly evil out there [6], but God also reject the current reality as corrupted [7] (Rm 8:22). This reveals that God sees Himself more knowledgeable than scientists. He is dominant to them. As Creator of reality He claims to know better than man. God’s Personality, Character and Will are being regarded by humans as ‘inhumane’. His acts of interference in reality, that humans think they can notice, are sometimes seen as illogical [8]. Some Theologians state that only believers are able to be proper scientists, because only they have the right mindset. Secular scientists however state that God is irrelevant or that (it would be better if) God is dead [9]. Still, it would be wrong to regard science as being satanic or untrustworthy, without providing evidence for such a condemnation. Denial of God is no proof of these.

The relationship of faith and science is problematic, but not the same as faith versus unbelief or Christianity versus paganism. It also doesn’t mean that science is irrelevant for believers. It can be a reference model for reality, have added value for missionary work and can even build up faith. Is there harmony then or at least added value? This is certainly the case in Theology. It is well known from the history of Christianity that Theology has straightened many crooked forms of belief and has also corrected superstition. It also proposed adjustments of faith.

But believers are not bound to only adhere to science. That is, as long as that science is within the framework of Christian Theology. But also secular science has in the past repeatedly brought forward amazing ‘proofs of faith’ or raised questions and answers relevant for Theology and faith. However, this often first needs to be brought within the framework of the Bible. But it must be clear that these contributions were explicitly not intended. They however do show that science in itself doesn’t have to be crooked and devilish by definition. Some believers are even convicted that science ultimately will end up discovering God and/or confirm the Bible. However, this is a too optimistic assumption, since that would suggest that God and faith could be objectively proven. No one has so far achieved that.

More and more governments demand a scientific certification. For example, there are laws out there that prescribe what is and what is not allowed in healthcare. As a result of that increasingly religious institutions are required to have an accreditation. Continuing to reject science would make rendering religious services ultimately impossible.

It’s a pity that there are philosophers, scientists and university institutions that have become ever more explicit with an anti-religious stance and some also purposely combat religions, especially Christianity. But in the same time there are also ‘Theologians’ who have very crooked ways of working, keep hidden agenda’s or seem to want to mock their own profession. These people are unreliable and use science to make a career. They not only create confusion, but also jeopardize trust in science which people need to have since it is explicitly meant to be a neutral activity. Honesty is also a scientific principle.

So, there doesn’t have to be a conflict between faith and science. But it isn’t harmonious either. Probable mutual respect and dialog is possible in some cases. It is also important to bring forward that science doesn’t have such a long history. Also, it is good to emphasize that many mistakes are being made in science, like overrating science in comparison to philosophy, whilst philosophy was at its origins. Science is never completed and often needs to be revised and improved. Asking questions is at the basis of good, healthy philosophy and religion. For some believers that is probable problematic. They find asking questions about faith not always proper and some even forbid it. These believers however create their own conflict, since even God asks questions and expects us to do the same (Js 6:8; 45:11; Mt 7:7).

[1] This is the first graceful gift of God to man.
[2] In science Creation is called ‘nature’ to emphasize the natural reality of man. Nature is seen as a given, but not as a result of creational works of God.
[3] In the Bible wisdom by definition originates from God, but it also hints to discover general wisdom to be used in the life of a believer, like life experience and knowledge of man. In science however wisdom is reasoned by man while studying nature. Thus, science is per definition non-religious.
[4] Theologians assumes those with a university degree (certification).
[5] The suggested solution of this problem is that ongoing evolution is suppose to create changes only over a very long period of time (millions of years). Thus, it is assumed that these changes have hardly any influence on scientific conclusions made today.
[6] Science sees ‘evil’ as a phenomena, which is irrational and illogical. But evil is not seen as purposeful or having a religious sense. It is seen as accidental and an aberration. Evolution theories state that evil will not maintain itself, but will be phased out naturally over time. This is also naive.
[7] Some Theologians deny this however and argue that God has made Creation perfect and that He has made sure that it remained that way. These Theologians however contradict Scripture.
[8] Unwanted even.
[9] What actually is meant, that it would be better for science if He wouldn’t exist. Since ‘dead’ would mean that He is lived and that is something that science won’t confirm.