Saturday, September 6, 2008

Science and Religion in Conflict?

Many adult Christians have a less than positive view of science. Likewise, many scientists disrespect religion. This phenomenon is complex and difficult to explain. It has deep historical roots reaching back hundreds of years. Certain 17th century Enlightenment thinkers were anxious to condemn the church and accuse it of suppressing philosophy and the sciences. Similar sentiments were expressed by two well-known academics in the 19th century. Scientist John William Draper and Cornell University president Andrew Dixon White both wrote treatises concerning the conflict between science and religion. In particular, President White’s work is still powerfully influential in promoting the view called the “warfare thesis.”

Surprisingly, according to historian of science Dr. Ronald Numbers, “Throughout most of modern history science and religion have not been in a state of conflict. That has emerged, at least the perception of a conflict, roughly within the last 130 years or so.” Dr. Numbers mentions that in the late 20th century, some creationists “hate the fact that science has been high-jacked by agnostics and atheists to offer such speculative theories as organic evolution.” Perhaps science gets a bad name among some church members not only because evolutionary scientists relentlessly promote beliefs which collide with their worldview, but also because in their past experience, scientific principles have been ignored, under-stressed, or poorly explained. Discussion of science topics in the context of faith-building instruction is often relegated to a distant or inaccessible realm, perhaps because our pastors do not feel confident drawing spiritual lessons from the world of science.

Having fear, suspicion, or distrust of science may be tantamount to diminishing our understanding of one of the two revelations by which man comes to know God. Man knows his creator by virtue of God’s dual revelation: general revelation and special revelation. Ken Samples, in A World of Difference, explains general revelation, stating, “God’s existence, power, wisdom, majesty, and glory are made known in a general way to all people at all times in all places through the created order.” This truth is set forth in Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:19-20. Furthermore, Samples, speaking of special revelation, explains that “God’s more specific self-disclosure comes in and through his great redemptive acts, events, and words.” Special revelation is expressed in Hebrews 1:1-4. Science is an exceptional vehicle for amplifying our understanding of God’s general revelation. For pastors and church members, science should be satisfying and rewarding, not just because of its intrinsic fascination, but also because it can help reveal the existence, power, wisdom, majesty, and glory of the Father.