Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Science/Faith Disconnect

The title of one of our first blog posts in 2007 was “The Science/Faith Connection.” Our modern secular culture does not take kindly to the concept of a connection between science and faith. The formerly strong association between science and theology began to break down after the American Civil War.

Prior to the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, most science was still influenced by Aristotelian thinking. Science was then known as “natural philosophy.” Aristotle was an ancient Greek philosopher whose teachings about the natural world relied primarily on reason and argument. He theorized about “purpose” (telos) and derived universal rules from particular examples. Although Aristotle introduced a few ideas which may be considered scientific in a modern sense, he would have been uncomfortable with modern scientific methods.

The Scientific Revolution relied on mathematics more extensively. New scientific methods used controlled experiments to simulate events in the real world. It also initiated methods of discovery which could be duplicated by other researchers. These science experiments confirmed the operation of our world according to predictable, natural laws. Metaphysical speculation, typical of Aristotelian thinking, yielded to concrete understanding, providing scientists with solid knowledge and a sense of empowerment.

Early pioneers of the scientific method were, for the most part, theologically Christian in their worldview. They understood nature’s orderly laws as a manifestation of the authorship of God. Galileo, Descartes, Pascal, Boyle and many others openly acknowledged God’s authorship of the creation and its operation. The sense of empowerment resulting from their knowledge did not deter them from connecting the creation with the Creator. They described the precision of nature’s laws and the apparent design manifest in both living and non-living things as God-affirming. They did not hesitate to publicly acknowledge the connection between the physical universe and its Creator. Theology was often described as the “Queen of the Sciences.”

The situation changed dramatically just after the Civil War. In the early days of Darwin’s milestone publication of Origin of Species, American universities were quickly becoming secular institutions. In 1861, in school sample, 59% of American college presidents were clergy. That number fell to 15% by 1890 and to 0% by 1915. Theology, formerly in a complementary relationship with science, was summarily booted out of this exalted relationship. One example of the abrupt, deliberate certainty of this takeover is illustrated by an 1872 article in Scientific American: “Science, by experience made conscious of her own superiority, has lifted up her head, and in place of being the handmaid of theology, and being judged by theologians, has placed herself in position to judge the teachings of theology, and to decide which are true and which are erroneous.” It was not only education becoming secular; science was dragged along in the flow. The victory of secularism was sudden and unequivocal in the last decades of the 19th century.

In modern times many would say the secularization of science is a recent phenomenon. In reality it has been ongoing for 150 years. In political imagery one might term it a coup. Science has been declared the domain of naturalism by the secularists who have captured it. Most current philosophers of science view the scientific enterprise in this light, as do the scientists themselves. These facts account for the fact that science as a profession has great appeal for those who already possess a naturalistic worldview. Their worldview is affirmed by those who have formed the “rules of the game” of science in the last 150 years.

Christians who choose to work in science professions must operate under the banner of methodological naturalism. Even when scientific methodology signals intelligent design as an explanatory option, the science community stridently denies that possibility as a subject for serious investigation. One of the best examples is the coded information in the DNA of living cells. The origin of such information has no credible naturalistic explanation because codes are always the product of a mind.

Science is skillfully insulated against any theistic intrusion. We are counseled that science is science; religion is religion. The two domains shall not meet, the edict states. The science profession in the 150 years has been remarkably successful preserving the purity of science as a totally naturalistic enterprise. Curiously, some scientists are beginning to realize that their “game rules” may rule out any possibility of truth discovery. Although the primary function of science is not instruction in theology, the pivot toward secularization, in retrospect, has been enforced with deliberate, purposeful zeal. The natural science/faith connection has been portrayed as unnatural. Many early pioneers of the Scientific Revolution viewed science and religion as a single, self-consistent whole. To them the relationship of the domains was completely natural.