Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Science versus faith, Science versus religion?

How much does terminology matter?
What is the dialogue (or conflict) between?
When discussing the relationship between science and Christianity, a number of different terms are often used:

1. science and theology

2. science and faith

3. science and religion

I strongly prefer 1. to 2. and 3. Why?

"Science and theology" is appropriate because (as Barth emphasized) both
are concerned with the study of an object, and use methods, concepts, and language appropriate to that object. I think this phrase puts the two on more of an equal footing as intellectual endevours, albeit different ones.

I wonder whether 2. and 3. are unnecessarily conceding ground and slanting the debate. I think that "science and faith" is easily mis-represented as a dialogue between the rational and irrational, and between evidence and wishful thinking. In a lecture to the 1992 Edinburgh International Science Festival, Richard Dawkins claimed:
Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence... Faith is not allowed to justify itself by argument.
Whereas I think both science and theology involve faith and "rationality", albeit of a different nature.

My problem with "science and religion" is that I dont think Biblical Christianity is a religion! Religion and theology are distinctly different. Religion is man seeking after God and trying to earn God's favour. The Gospel is God seeking after man and giving the free gift of favour.
Religion often means ritual, superstition, and legalism.

I think parallel issues would apply to the alternative titles

science and literature
science and romanticism
science and mythology


  1. I sort of agree that "science and theology" is the least bad of the three awkward phrases that you mention. To me, the problem with "science and religion" is that it implies that all religions have the same problems with sicence. This is clearly untrue. An animist religion will have different issues than, say, one that refuses to distinguish primary from secondary causality (not naming any names!). That is why my own blog on science and religion is called "science and religion in a Catholic context." I am not going to waste my time over problems that, to me, are not problems.

    Ideally, when discussing "science" and "religion", one should specify the particular dogma and the particular theorem that are creating the difficulty.

    As an example, St. Thomas Aquinas had problems with the Catholic dogma of temporal creation and the Aristotelian theory of the eternity of the world. Nowadays, that's not an issue for most people.

    Each one of your phrases is dangerous since they all imply that science, as a whole, could be at odds with the spiritual project, as a whole. That could never be true, unless one adhered to a very silly religion not much different from magic.

    Like your blog, by the way.

  2. If you approach to the whole problem is two methodologies searching for particular truth claims, then the points made I agree with.

    However, isn't it more accurate to talk about the 'science vs. religion' debate as how science interacts with a person's world view (especially the theistic components)? I mean, as I understand this post Ross, have you defined theology as a subject, the study of God? If so, then theology informs the world view, but is not equal to the world view. Therefore, whether theology and science is on equal footing is not quite the issue. They both inform the worldview.

    Saying all this though, I like the post since the question seems to be to me is how does the subject 'science' and its methods influence 'theology' the subject and its methods and vice versa. Where do we draw the line? Are the methodologies compatible? Where and when?

    I havn't thought this through yet, and if I didn't make sense, I apologize. Much of this are just gut reaction at the moment.