I am an Evangelical, and I am ashamed of Evangelicalism, specifically the American brand of conservative Christianity, and its approach to science as something to be feared. Whether its evolution, or global warming, or psychology, a large number of evangelicals approach science with needless credulity, undermining the scientific process, harming children, and fostering a faith built on a carefully constructed facade where questioning is disallowed, doubt is frowned upon, and the highest calling of a person is to the pastorate. I reject this form of Evangelicalism and if it were the true Christianity, then I reject Christianity too because I firmly believe that God is not such a liar as to make people forgo their faculties of reason and knowledge for “faith” so-called. And I am greatly happy to know that the broader tradition of Christianity agrees with me in saying that science and religion are not in conflict.
I am a student of chemistry, and in chemistry today atomic theory is dominated by theories formulated by professing and active Christians. From the modern atom, with John Dalton, to Rutherford and J.J. Thompson to Max Planck and Heisenberg, many of the formulators of modern atomic theory were indeed practicing Christians. And not just chemistry: microbiology had its founder in Pasteur, genetics in the Augustinian Monk Gregor Mendel and the human genome project with Evangelical Francis Collins (founder of BioLogos), the standard cosmology of the universe today is dominated by the big bang theory (which was neither big, nor a bang) formulated by Georges Lemaître who also independently described an expanding universe, and even evolution, the trigger point for so many, has had one of its most famous phrases (derided by Christians, and often propagated without context by those who don’t like religious belief in science) “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” (itself an essay about the science and religion’s unity) formulated by Theodosius Dobzhansky, a communicant of the Eastern Orthodox Church. I won’t say that these things wouldn’t have been found if it wasn’t for Christians, but what I will say is that for many of the scientists who worked on these things, religion, and specifically Christianity, was at the core of who they were and yet science was not in opposition to their beliefs. And this shouldn’t be surprising, because even today 17% of scientists consider themselves to be Evangelical, with just over half attending weekly services.
Christianity cannot be opposed to right science because a monotheistic God is a god of order. Indeed, the Bible says that by Christ all things consist (Colossians 1.17). Christians must believe in order, because we believe that God has ordered all things, and where there is order, science can find principles. These are not exclusive things. I am in science and I believe in this universe of order. I do not think that a religious belief that is unable to stand up to the scrutiny of this world, of the world that it says was ordered by a being, has principles that are antithetical to the belief itself, or if it does, that belief needs to carefully consider all the evidence so that it may honestly treat natural revelation with proper reverence. Perhaps this is an unpopular view among conservative Christians, but science has done far more for those Christians than in many cases they have been doing for society. Science has brought medicine and wealth where the church has grown stagnant in its mandate to care for the poor and proclaim the gospel.
Religion and science should mutually strengthen the other, if they are to be used at all. For the religious, science is the study of natural revelation, it is the worship of a God of order. For the scientist, religion strengthens a conviction in the reality that there are patterns waiting to be discovered in this world. They shouldn’t contradict each other. I am a scientist; I am a Christian, these are both integral to who I am, and I, like so many Christians before me, see no contradiction in this. I hope and pray that Christians might similarly fall in love with science because it is a recognition that God is truly a God of order. Perhaps it is best to leave off this quote from J.J. Thompson, discoverer of the electron:
As we conquer peak after peak we see in front of us regions full of interest and beauty, but we do not see our goal, we do not see the horizon; in the distance tower still higher peaks, which will yield to those who ascend them still wider prospects, and deepen the feeling, the truth of which is emphasized by every advance in science, that ‘Great are the Works of the Lord’.
J.J. Thompson in Annual report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution, 1909 Progress in Physics (p 205)
I have previously talked about science and religion in this past blogpost here