Are Science and Faith Compatible?
Well are they? Can one believe in the concept of a universe that was created by God, and not be considered an anti-science ignoramus?
Many people have been led to believe that faith in God and the facts of science are mutually exclusive propositions. In one of his books, Vance Packard declared that “the discoveries of astronomers, geologists, and space explorers have undermined the faith of all but the most devout.” He asserted that most of those who still believe in God probably see him as some sort of “force,” rather than a Person who is observing human behavior (1968, 27). Has the god of “Star Wars” replaced the God of the Bible in the minds of many? Apparently so, but without justification.
Some writers suggest that the advent of Darwin’s evolution theory made it no longer necessary to believe in God. In the book, The Blind Watchmaker, which argues for “a universe without design,” Richard Dawkins asserts that “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” (1986, 6).
Steve Allen, the comic whose dubious entertainment skills have given him a platform for the advocacy of his skeptical ideas, contends that “the inability to believe in God as traditionally defined has indeed become increasingly common in the intellectual and scientific community during the past two centuries” (1993, 328).
These quotations are typical of those whose “god” has become pseudo-science.
The historical reality is this: atheism did not bring us the age of science. A recent writer concedes:
It is widely accepted on all sides that, far from undermining it, science is deeply indebted to Christianity and has been so from at least the scientific revolution. Recent historical research has uncovered many unexpected links between scientific enterprise and Biblical theology (Russell 1984, 777).
Professor J. Macmurray, certainly no friend to Christianity, confessed: “Science is the legitimate child of a great religious movement, and its genealogy goes back to Jesus.” Similarly, N. Berdyaev says, “I am convinced that Christianity alone made possible both positive science and technics” (Smethurst 1955, 21).
Atheists, to some extent, have attempted to hijack the domain of science within the past hundred years or so. But in reality, some of the greatest scientific leaders of history have been religious people. Many of them were driven to explore the mysteries of the creation because they were intrigued with the genius of him whom they acknowledged as the Architect of the universe. Not a few of these luminaries were serious students of the Bible and revered it as the Word of God. Let us reflect upon some of these dignitaries who have bequeathed a rich legacy to our modern era.
Johann Kepler (1571-1630)
Johann Kepler was “one of the greatest astronomers that ever lived” (Wright 1962, 398). Though he made numerous discoveries (e.g., the tides are caused by the moon), he is most famous for three astronomical laws which he recognized. First, he noted that the planets travel around the sun in an elliptical orbit, with the sun at one focus of the ellipse. Second, he found that a planet’s speed increases as it nears the sun, but decreases as it gets farther away. But no matter what its speed may be, a line drawn between it and the sun will always sweep over exactly the same area of space in the same length of time. Third, the time a planet takes to circle the sun depends on its distance from the sun. The square of the time it takes will be exactly in proportion to the cube of its average distance away. Kepler’s discoveries prepared the way for the work of Isaac Newton.
As Kepler studied the heavens, he was awed by the power and wisdom of God. He once said that in his discoveries he was merely “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” He wrote:
I thank Thee, my Creator and Lord, that Thou hast given me this joy in Thy creation, this delight in the works of Thy hands; I have shown the excellency of Thy works unto man, so far as my mind was able to comprehend Thine infinity (Northrop n.d., 266).
Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
A very remarkable French mathematician and philosopher was Blaise Pascal. Pascal had taught himself geometry by the time he was twelve years of age. At sixteen, he had completed a book on the subject. He was the first to set forth what is called the theory of probability. Pascal is best recognized, however, for his discovery that liquid in a vessel exerts equal pressure in all directions. This is known as Pascal’s Law. The principle is used in hydraulic jacks, vacuum pumps, air compressors, etc. This brilliant man of science also invented a calculating machine.
As fascinated with science as he was, Pascal was even more intrigued with religion. He certainly did not subscribe to the notion that faith and science are incompatible. In fact, Pascal maintained that “the only perfect knowledge [comes] through Christian revelation” (Jones 1979, 167). His famous book, Pensees, which reflected his thoughts on religion, was subtitled, “An Apology for the Christian Religion.” “Apology” signifies a defense.
Robert Boyle (1627-1691)
The “father of modern chemistry” was Robert Boyle. Boyle experimented with the expansion and compression of air and other gases. This led to the formulation of an important law in physics (known as Boyle’s Law), which suggests that in a gas at constant temperature the volume is inversely proportional to the pressure. This law has had tremendous significance for science and industry. Boyle was the first to suggest the idea of a chemical “element.” He argued that atoms of one kind of matter make up all substances, and that the differences in substances are the result of the differing arrangements and movements of the atoms.
As Boyle matured, his interest in religion accelerated. He became convinced that the Bible is a divine revelation. He studied Hebrew and Greek in order to be able to read the Scriptures in their original languages. He contributed to the distribution of Bibles in several different languages. One biographer observed that his thinking became
more devout the more he studied the wonders of nature. . . At his death Boyle left a sum of money to found the Boyle lectures . . . intended for the confutation of atheism" (Hall 1970, 382).
Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727)
Sir Isaac Newton has been called “one of the greatest names in the history of human thought” (Cohen 1979, 306). Albert Einstein once paid tribute to Newton by suggesting that his own work would have been impossible but for the discoveries of Newton. At the age of twenty-seven he was known as an “unparalleled genius.” Isaac Newton’s achievements were remarkable in a number of areas. In mathematics, he invented the discipline known as calculus. He was the first to describe the concept of universal gravitation, and to note that the planets are held in place by this force. Newton’s discoveries in the area of optics were also phenomenal. By examining sunlight as it passed through a prism, he showed that white light is made up of the colors of the rainbow. He also invented the reflecting telescope.
In addition to his scientific contributions, Isaac Newton was a deeply religious man. He was as much a student of the Scriptures as he was of science. He authored several theological works. As a result of his studies of the universe, Newton wrote:
This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being (Hutchins 1952, 369).
He was buried beneath the floor of Westminster Abby in London, where a monument reads: “Let mortals congratulate themselves that so great an ornament of human nature has existed.” Interestingly, he “sleeps” beside Charles Darwin!
Michael Faraday (1791-1867)
Michael Faraday “is ranked as one of the most brilliant experimentalists science has ever known” (Sewell 1949, 146). Each time you ride in an automobile or switch on your lights, you owe him a debt. He made the first electric motor, the first dynamo, and the first transformer. He discovered benzol, the basis of aniline dyes, and he was the first to detect the phenomenon known as polarization of light, which established a connection between light and electricity. For more than a half century he did astounding work in the fields of chemistry and electricity at the Royal Institution in London. He authored 158 scientific papers listed in the catalogue of the Royal Society.
Faraday’s religious convictions were widely known. An agnostic associate said of him:
I think that a good deal of Faraday’s week-day strength and persistency might be referred to his Sunday Exercises. He drinks from a fount on Sunday which refreshes his soul for a week.
A biographer notes that Faraday’s sense of the “unity of the universe derived from the unity and benevolence of its Creator” was the motivating factor in his scientific drive. He devoutly believed that God was the maker and sustainer of all things (Williams 1981, 527). Another writer notes: “Like Pasteur, Faraday was inspired in his scientific work by his simple but steadfast belief in the will of God” (Wright 1981, 385).
Louis Pasteur (1822-1895)
The father of modern bacteriology was Louis Pasteur. His contributions to medicine, chemistry, and industry were profound indeed. Pasteur “was the first to show that living things come only from living things” (Dubos 1979, 170). This, of course, is the basis of the scientific Law of Biogenesis (life comes only from life). The law is dramatically antagonistic to the evolutionary concept of spontaneous generation, which argues that somehow life must have come from non-life originally. Pasteur, who is acknowledged even by atheism as “one of the greatest scientists in history,” was a strong opponent of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection (Asimov 1982, 425).
This renowned scientist discovered that the sterilization of drink/food substances will kill the microbes. The process, known today as “pasteurization,” has saved countless lives. This great man also discovered that diseases are caused by germs that invade the body. He found that if one’s body is inoculated with a weakened form of the microbe, it will produce an immunity. The process of vaccination resulted from his work.
Pasteur’s accomplishments in industry were many. He saved the silk industry by isolating a germ that was destroying silkworms, he combated fowl cholera and anthrax in cattle, and developed the treatment for rabies. These are but a sampling of his astounding achievements.
Rather than destroying his belief in God, Pasteur’s brilliant discoveries made him humble as he contemplated the marvels of divine creation. He argued that the notion of “spontaneous generation (like materialism in general) threaten[s] the very concept of God the Creator” (Geison 1970, 371).
George Washington Carver (1864-1943)
In a discussion of scientists who sought to honor God by their endeavors, it is a difficult task to decide which ones to include for consideration. George Washington Carver is selected because his unusual accomplishments took their rise from such a humble background. Carver was born to slave parents whom he never knew. At the age of ten, he set out on his own to educate himself; which he did, finally receiving a master’s degree in 1896.
He became the director of agricultural research at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama the same year. From scrapheap odds and ends, Carver constructed a laboratory, out of which came some truly amazing developments.
For example, Dr. Carver (his only doctorate was honorary) developed 118 different products from the sweet potato (e.g., tapioca, starch, vinegar, molasses, library paste, rubber, etc.). From pecans he produced more than sixty different items. He made some three hundred synthetic products from the peanut, including milk, cheese, coffee, ink, dye (thirty kinds), shoe polish, cereal, soap, woodstain, insulation board, etc.
Carver once invited some friends to dinner. He served salad, soup, a creamed vegetable, “chicken,” coffee, cookies and ice cream. What his guests did not know was that he had made all of these items from peanuts!
George Washington Carver marvelled at God’s fascinating creation. He arose daily at 4:00 a.m. for solitary walks in the woods. He told a friend, “At no other time have I so sharp an understanding of what God means to do with me.” Every Sunday at Tuskegee he conducted an afternoon Bible class, during which he read from the Scriptures and talked of God and nature.
Dr. Carver was once asked why he developed such an interest in the peanut. Tongue-in-cheek, he told this story.
One day, while talking with God, he asked: “Mr. Creator, why was the universe made?” He said the Lord told him: “You want to know too much. Your mind is too small to know that.” “Well,” he inquired, “why then did you make man?” To which the Creator responded: “Little man, you still want to know too much.” Finally, he asked: “Well, Mr. Creator, what’s the peanut for?” And the Lord said: “That’s more like it!”
Carver said his work on the peanut was an attempt to discover why God made it (Moore 1971, 88). Dr. Carver received numerous tributes, both in America and abroad. He would never have entertained the notion that science and religion are mutually exclusive.
Wernher von Braun (1912-1977)
One of the pioneers of modern rocketry was Wernher von Braun. Dr. von Braun was perhaps the leading force behind America’s space program. His team developed the four-stage Jupiter rocket that launched Explorer I, the first United States satellite. Another of his projects was the launching of the Saturn V rocket which put the first astronauts on the moon. Von Braun was considered one of the world’s foremost rocket engineers.
Dr. von Braun recognized that science alone can never satisfy the soul. He wrote:
It is as difficult for me to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advance of science. Far from being independent or opposing forces, science and religion are sisters. . . There is certainly no scientific reason why God cannot retain the same position in our modern world that He held before we began probing His creation with the telescope and cyclotron (1981, 35,38).
Quack religionists and pseudoscientists (and some are an admixture of both) may be antagonists, but genuine religion and true science are not. The fact is, many scientists are giving serious consideration to religion in these times of technological stress. Science writer Lincoln Barnett, in his book, The Universe and Dr. Einstein, commented that the continuing discoveries of modern science have made it “more difficult” to ignore the idea of God (1959, 22). James Jauncy, who holds ten academic degrees, authored a significant volume titled, Science Returns To God. Therein he wrote: “The atheist or the hostile agnostic, even in scientific circles, is becoming a rare bird indeed” (1971, 17). May the species become extinct!
Agnostic science writer, Dr. Robert Jastrow, probably said more than he intended when he concluded one of his books in the following fashion:
For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries (Jastrow 1978, 116).
God has gloriously revealed himself in the book of nature, and in his Holy Book, the Bible. Explore his message, and honor him in your life each day.
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About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.