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Science vs. Faith (Part One)

In his book Religion and Science, philosopher of science Ian Barbour describes four models of interaction between science and religion:

1. Conflict

2. Independence

3. Dialogue

4. Integration

The Conflict Model is popularized by many pop-scientists and religious fundamentalists who each insist that either faith or science can be true (but not both). Skeptics insist that religion is merely a mythical way of explaining the natural world that served a purpose prior to the Scientific Revolution. This story, while popularized by Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, and others, couldn't be further from reality. Historian of Science (and agnostic) Ronald L. Numbers says:

“The greatest myth in the history of science and religion holds that they have been in a state of constant conflict. No one bears more responsibility for promoting this notion than two nineteenth-century American polemicists: Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918) and John William Draper (1811-1882)… Historians of science have known for years that White’s and Draper’s accounts are more propaganda than history… As a first step toward correcting these misperceptions we must dispel the hoary myths that continue to pass as historical truths. No scientist, to our knowledge, ever lost his life because of his scientific views…”

Numbers, Barbour, and others point out that the conflict narrative regarding the historical interaction of religion and science is merely a propagandist myth. In fact, Barbour makes the case in his book that Theistic presuppositions were the necessary background for the development of modern science.

In their book The Soul of Science, Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton argue that, in addition to other factors (such as the growth of trade and commerce, increased circulation of journals, and the founding of institutions like The Royal Society), Christianity provided the proper intellectual framework in which modern science could be conceived. Biblical teaching about the intrinsic goodness of creation, systematic order in creation, a rational God who builds order into natural systems, and the rationality of the human mind (being made in God's Image) promoted the intellectual curiosity and enterprise that developed into modern science. In fact, many of the important figures of the Scientific Revolution were not shy about stating their religious convictions and motivations for scientific investigation. Consider Isaac Newton's words from his Principia:

“The true God is a living, intelligent, powerful being … He governs all things, and knows all things that are done or can be done … He endures forever, and is everywhere present … As a blind man has no idea of colors, so have we no idea of the manner by which the all-wise God perceives and understands all things.”

Science and faith are not in conflict with one another, so what of the other models of interaction that Barbour discusses? Next week, we will consider the Independence Model.


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