Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Uneasy Relationship

Modern science is often said to have been birthed in the Judeo-Christian concept that there is one creator, the God of the Old and New Testaments. We observe the created world and we see an orderly universe from the micro-cosmos to the macro-cosmos. The world of nature is orderly and predictable. Scientific methods are predicated on our ability to observe order and predictability. The modern scientific method, therefore, is supported by the Judeo-Christian God who authors the laws governing our world. Early in what has been termed the Scientific Revolution of the last several centuries, few scientists failed to recognize the connection between the reality of an orderly creator and the reality that scientific discoveries and theological truths reinforced each other in a powerful way.

The Scientific Revolution’s most powerful early figures remained faithful to their Christian faith. Dozens of early giants, including Copernicus, Kepler, Descartes and Newton, were unafraid to express their faith in God as the author and sustainer of the created order they studied. As the Scientific Revolution became blended with other modern movements such as the Enlightenment, there was newfound human empowerment in discoveries of science. Multiple volumes of history detail this story. Christians would do well to study the sequence of the relationship between theology and science as it has developed in the past four centuries. Startling changes have been forthcoming.

In a previous post I quoted Randy Isaac, executive director of the American Scientific Association (ASA), an organization of Christians in the science professions. He wrote a lengthy scholarly essay for BioLogos on “Science and the Question of God.” Isaac reminds us of the exalted relationship between theology and scientific discovery in the earliest days, reminding us, “On the one hand, the basic monotheistic Judeo-Christian concept of one divine creator of all things was a significant contribution that helped enable and foster scientific ideas and methodology.” Then Isaac raises an important caveat, “On the other hand, new scientific knowledge sometimes raised troubling questions.”

The discussion then launches into difficult topics which theologians have been debating for centuries. What about human free will? What about God’s providence in a deterministic universe? These topics do not fit neatly with the simple laws of behavior of matter a physicist may describe in his lab reports. Living biological systems, for example, “did not seem to be subject to the simple laws of motion of classical mechanics.” They seem to obey a more complex set of laws. Biology deals with a different set of concepts. Scientists, particularly since Darwin, attempted to resolve “troubling questions.” The troubling questions drifted toward naturalistic explanations for answers.

We now have created a new explanation for life’s origins. The orderly and predictable has been replaced by random mutations, natural selection, and plenty of time. The science profession has fully subscribed to Darwin’s grand theory. The theory of evolution is now the cultural icon explaining life’s origins, particularly since the movement toward secularization of public life between 1870 and 1930. Sociologist Christian Smith in The Secular Revolution has written about this struggle, describing it as a conflict of religious and secular activists for institutional control and authority. Smith and other writers have openly wondered who would be the most influential interpreting the discoveries of science? It now appears those bio-scientists with a naturalistic worldview have won the day for the theory of evolution. A search of high school and college biology textbooks will tell the story.

Randy Isaac continues: “Some secularists of the day did not wait for philosophical clarity and accuracy (Bowler, 2001). They seized the chance and proclaimed Darwin’s theory of evolution as a triumph of science over classical religious ideas. It seemed to them that the final frontier of science could now, at least in principle, pre-empt theological explanations. It didn’t matter that the details hadn’t been worked out. What mattered was that science had a path to answering the question of life without invoking a deity.” During the late 19th century two famous men popularized the warfare between theology and science. John William Draper in The History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science, and Andrew Dixon White in A History of the Warfare of Science With Theology, framed the warfare imagery.

It was later proved “that the supposed research reported in these books was not sound.” But among those who prefer to believe the “warfare” thesis, the damage has been done and is still ongoing. Many Christians are seen as anti-science. The authors of many theistic evolutionist publications such as those promoted by BioLogos frequently intone sentiments such as “getting on board with science.” It is implied that any pro-creation and anti-evolution positions are out of the scientific mainstream. The creationist positions, even if they are old earth creationists, are becoming less and less popular among some segments of evangelicalism while evolutionary positions are gaining a foothold. It is a major area of significant disagreement concerning what Christians actually believe, not to mention what is actually true.

Our blog has dealt with the uneasy relationship between theology and science in dozens of posts over the past five years on the central issue of origins. At the same time, we desire to restore the healthy relationship between theology and science which existed when the Scientific Revolution was in its youth. We long to restore a healthy harmony to the dual relationship of theology and science.