Science and Faith: The Budding Romance
“Science Finds God”—so the headline announced in a recent issue of Newsweek magazine (Begley 1998, 47ff). The piece began:
The achievements of modern science seem to contradict religion and undermine faith. But for a growing number of scientists, the same discoveries offer support for spirituality and hints [sic] of the very nature of God.
Earlier, U.S. News & World Report produced an article of similar import titled, “Scientists and theologians discover common ground” (1998).
In March of this year, Gregg Easterbrook, senior editor of The New Republic, had an article in The Los Angeles Times, which noted: “[I]f there’s one intellectual topic that is starting to blaze red hot, it is the relationship between science and religion” (1999, M2).
Easterbrook noted that several universities, e.g., Princeton and Cambridge, now have established new departments for the study of the relationship between science and religion.
But to be honest, this new romance between science and religion is not all it’s cracked up to be. It tantalizes believers, but, upon closer examination, it evinces considerable compromise and leaves conscientious Bible students disappointed—if not disgusted.
A Long-standing Battle
In 1874 J.W. Draper , a professor of chemistry at New York University, wrote his book, The Conflict Between Religion and Science. Following him in 1896, Andrew White (founder of Cornell University) produced his volume, History of the Warfare of Science with Theology, in which he sought to show that the Christian religion, across the centuries, vigorously opposed scientific inquiry. Though this book is still in print—a century after its publication—I could locate but a single copy in the several libraries of this metropolitan area of a third of a million people.
According to Dr. Robert E.D. Clark (906), White’s work was “effectively demolished” by James Young Simpson, professor of natural science at Edinburgh, in his formidable volume, Landmarks in the Struggle between Science and Religion. Professor Simpson argued in depth that both Draper and White were unfair in their charges that historic Christianity discouraged and suppressed “the investigation of natural causes” (1925, 96).
It is simply an indisputable fact that many of the greatest scientific minds of history were believers in God. And not a few of them revered the Scriptures, identifying themselves as “Christians.” Several recent authorities have conceded this.
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). For a more detailed discussion of this matter, see our article, Are Science and Faith Compatible?.
Yet, for more than a century, science has drifted into a highly skeptical mode. This discipline, in fact, largely has been hostile to Christianity. Much of the opposition has resulted from the influence of the dogma of evolution, as popularized by Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species.
As science discovered more of the “laws” by which the universe operates, there seemed to be little need to appeal to “God” for anything. As the late Carl Sagan, an avowed atheist, expressed it: there was “nothing for a Creator to do.” Thinking people, therefore, were forced to admit “the absence of God” (Begley 1998, 48).
It apparently never occurred to the skeptics that those very “laws” imply a “lawgiver.” [Note: Easterbrook says that shortly before his death, even “Sagan himself began to advocate science-and-religion studies” (1999, M2). Unfortunately this is a classic case of “too little, too late.”]
The Budding Romance
In recent decades a strange phenomenon has developed. As our understanding of the universe has expanded, and the cosmos has been shown to be far more complex than previously believed, it has become increasingly difficult to explain “nature” in terms of random chance. This is why scholars like Stanley L. Jaki, one of the world’s foremost philosopher-historians, are speaking more and more of “the anthropic principle,” i.e., the idea that, in view of its unique and intricate qualities, “the universe may have after all been specifically tailored for man” (Varghese 1984, 72).
There is another factor that has generated a revival of interest in religion among scientists. In his book, Science Returns to God, Dr. James Jauncey says that “Scientists throughout the world today are largely frightened men.” He observes that they are fully aware of the dangers that modern technology poses to humanity, and that there must be some sort of moral restraint if civilization is to survive. Jauncey asserts that scientists “are returning to God as a final and only answer to the problems of the world” (1971, 10). Easterbrook notes that complex issues like, “Is an embryo human?” and “genetic engineering,” have forced scientists to approach the theologians with questions regarding ethics (1999, M6). Materialism simply hasn’t a clue as to how to deal with moral problems.
The Subtle Seduction
While this gravitation toward faith may be encouraging to some, the adulation is premature. Some of those who profess a tolerance for “faith,” are deceptive to the core. Their “friendliness” is feigned for purely pragmatic reasons.
Consider the case of Stephen J. Gould, the Marxist paleontologist at Harvard University. Christianity probably has no greater enemy today than this evolutionary firebrand. And yet Gould recently produced a book titled, Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life. In this treatise the atheist professor contends that while science rules the earth, religion may be tolerated in the realm of the “spirit.” The two disciplines, though, must remain wholly segregated.
The professor even argues that Genesis and Darwin need not be enemies. Each merely offers “parallel understandings of different realms.” What phoniness! To anyone really familiar with Gould, it’s downright laughable.
Moses and Darwin are light-years apart! But Gould coins the acronym NOMA (Non-Overlapping Magisteria) which hints of separate-but-equal authorities over these respective realms. He says that advocates of these differing viewpoints should approach one another “with respect and interest.”
Are you encouraged? Don’t be. Believe me, Gould is not offering an olive branch. America’s leading apostle of evolution confesses that when he contemplates the notion that “the facts of science reinforce and validate the precepts of religion,” he has “difficulty keeping a straight face or a peaceful pen” (Grossman 1999, 9D).
This disposition exposes the publisher’s hypocritical claim that Dr. Gould merely wants folks to “opt for a golden mean that accords dignity and distinction to each realm” (Publisher’s statement via Barnes & Noble website).
Incidentally, Dr. John Robert Russell, who holds the Ph.D. in physics, has characterized Gould’s position as “silly.” Professor Russell says that “science needs religion to rid itself of idolatry. And humanity needs both” (Long 1999, 15).
The tragic fact of the matter, though, is this: most of these scientists who are talking about discovering “God” in the various phenomena of nature are still radically estranged from many aspects of biblical truth. For example, they believe the so-called “Big Bang” merely was God’s method of creating the cosmos. Unfortunately some religionists have fallen for this propaganda line (see Hoover 1992, 34-35).
Too, evolution supposedly is a divinely initiated process of biological development. The advocates of this new “scientheology” repudiate the biblical miracles. They do not acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the virgin-born Son of God, nor the fact that he was raised from the dead. And certainly the biblical documents, as viewed by them, are not verbally inspired revelations from Heaven.
Sharon Begley, who appears to be entirely sympathetic to this mongrel ideology, cites several instances of the sort of “faith” that is entertained by these new apologists for God. For example, according to John Haught of Georgetown University, the workings of organic evolution reveal a “humble retreat on God’s part,” much like when a parent backs off and lets his child develop on his own. Even so, he says, “God let the creation make itself.” Similarly, George Peacocke, a biochemist, has no quarrel with evolution. In the process he finds “signs of God’s nature.”
Carl Feit, a Jewish cancer biologist at Yeshiva University in New York, argues that the “only pathway to achieve a love of God” is by understanding the natural universe. Where does that leave Jesus Christ and New Testament revelation?
William Stoeger, an astronomer who teaches at the University of Arizona, says that he once had a real conscience-conflict in attempting to reconcile Genesis with evolution. He was able to resolve that difficulty by coming to the conclusion that the Mosaic record can be interpreted “metaphorically.”
These represent flagrant examples of compromise. Let me cite another case that has excited some interest in the last few years.
Behe’s Black Box
In 1996, Michael J. Behe, an associate professor of biochemistry at Lehigh University, released a book titled, Darwin’s Black Box. It was subtitled “The Biochemical Challenge To Evolution.” The term “black box” was employed as a symbolic expression “for a device that does something, but whose inner workings are mysterious.”
Professor Behe sought to capitalize on Charles Darwin’s challenge:
If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down (Darwin 1859, 174).
Behe then proceeded to argue that if an organism is characterized by irreducible complexity, it could not have evolved by chance. By irreducible complexity he refers to
a single system composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, wherein the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning (1996, 39).
The professor illustrates his concept with the common mouse trap. A household mouse trap has only nine components: a platform, a spring, a hammer, a catch, a holding bar, and four staples. If only one of these pieces is missing, the trap is useless. It is not that one will catch fewer mice; he will catch no mice!
Similarly, Behe contends, the living cell consists of numerous parts which require interaction in order for the cell to function. The living cell, therefore, could not have developed in piece-meal fashion over time. Behe’s conclusion ultimately is this: life must have been designed by an intelligent designer, though the identity of this designer, he says, must be ignored by science (1996, 251).
Some, who profess friendship with Christianity, have practically drooled over Behe’s “black box,” and yet they have all but ignored the fact that the professor really is nothing more than a theistic evolutionist. He is not an old-line Darwinist, but he is an “Intelligent-Cause” evolutionist—who hardly deserves the commendation of those who revere the Scriptures. Behe, who was reared a Roman Catholic, describes his personal theology as follows:
Evolution is a controversial topic, so it is necessary to address a few basic questions at the beginning of the book. Many people think that questioning Darwinian evolution must be equivalent to espousing creationism. As commonly understood, creationism involves belief in an earth formed only about ten thousand years ago, an interpretation of the Bible that is still very popular. For the record, I have no reason to doubt that the universe is the billions of years old that physicists say it is. Further, I find the idea of common descent (that all organisms share a common ancestor) fairly convincing, and have no particular reason to doubt it. I greatly respect the work of my colleagues who study the development and behavior of organisms within an evolutionary framework, and I think that evolutionary biologists have contributed enormously to our understanding of the world (1996, 5).
That is sheer nonsense. Evolutionists have done more to obscure the true meaning of science than all of the world’s voodoo witch-doctors combined. The unfortunate truth is, Behe’s view is more akin to paganism—which worships and serves the creature, rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25)—than it is to biblical creationism. Does any knowledgeable student of the Scriptures think for one minute that the Creator of the universe is flattered by these putrefied morsels flung at his feet.
One intriguing question has to be this: why have so many creationist writers virtually given Behe a “pass”? Here is a sample of the sort of accommodation Behe has been accorded. Joel Belz, chief executive officer of World magazine (which professes to reflect a commitment “to the Bible as the inerrant Word of God”), openly gushed over Behe’s book in the March 1996 issue of that journal.
He told of reading Darwin’s Black Box in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport and wanting to sing praises out loud to God for the “simple delight” of this literary effort from a “masterful teacher.” At the same time, he acknowledged that Behe’s intelligent design position “by no means requires the God of the Bible—or any God at all.” Where is the value in such an approach? There is none!
Maybe, though, the staff at World has learned something in the past three years. A recent article in that journal by cultural editor, Gene Edward Veith, takes a more sensible approach. Veith observes that this new romance between science and religion is based upon compromise.
For example he alludes to Allan Sandage of the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution as one who would clothe the Big Bang Theory with a supernatural aura. But big-bang cosmology cannot be harmonized with the biblical narrative (see Jackson 1993).
Veith also cites the article by Easterbrook who contends that one of the major reasons that men of science and men of “faith” are now in dialog is due to the fact that “mainstream faith is beginning to accept evolution” (1999, 26).
The “mainstream” is a polluted stream! Mr. Veith wisely notes:
Attempts to “save the appearances” of evolution by spiritualizing the process will only undermine both the Bible and, ultimately, science itself (1999, 27).
Ancient history spawned the proverb: “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” To modernize that saying: “Beware when materialistic scientists begin talking as if they would make friends with God.” There’s a foul aroma in the laboratory!
The truth of the matter is pure science and uncorrupted religion are the best of friends. There is no genuine conflict between them. But skewed “science” will never harmonize with true biblical revelation, and flawed “faith” will not bond with scientific fact.
- Begley, Sharon. 1998. Science Finds God. Newsweek, July 20.
- Behe, Michael J. 1996. Darwin’s Black Box. New York, NY: The Free Press.
- Belz, Joel. 1996. You just have to sing. World, October 12.
- Clark, Robert E. D. 1974. James Young Simpson. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, J. D. Douglas, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
- Darwin, Charles. 1859. The Origin of Species. Sixth Edition. London, England: A. L. Burt Co.
- Easterbrook, Gregg. 1999. Grappling With Science and Religion. The Los Angeles Times, March 14.
- Gould, Stephen Jay. 1999. Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life. New York, NY: Ballantine.
- Grossman, Cathy Lynn. 1999. Reconciling science and religion… USA Today, April 20.
- Hoover, Arlie. 1992. God and the Big Bang. Gospel Advocate, September.
- Jackson, Wayne. 1993. Is The “Big Bang” Theory Biblical? Christian Courier, March.
- Jauncey, James. 1971. Science Returns to God. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
- Long, Karen. 1999. Science, Religion Questioning One Another Again. The Christian News, May 3.
- Russell, Colin. 1984. Nature 308, April 26.
- Simpson, James Young. 1925. Landmarks in the Struggle Between Science and Religion. New York, NY: George H. Doran Co.
- U.S. News & World Report. 1998. Scientists and theologians discover common ground. July 20.
- Varghese, Roy Abraham, ed. 1984. The Intellectuals Speak Out. Chicago, IL: Regnery Gateway, Inc.
- Veith, Gene Edward. 1999. Science and religion. World, May 1.
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.