Can Faith and Science Co-Exist?


This past weekend we explored the question, “Can Science and Faith Coexist?”, with our message showing how they not only coexist, but also complement each other; studying the world helps us to live as God’s people – loving God and loving our neighbors. Pastor Jason DeVries’ interview with Dr. Tom McCall from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL (where my masters degrees are from) gave further insight into this topic in light of his leadership of The Creation Project at Trinity’s Henry Center for Theological Understanding. In this post I want to share four models that people have used for integrating faith and science as we continue to ponder this question. (This taxonomy is adapted from the one developed by Ian Barbour in Religion in the Age of Science and has been made popular over the years.)

Model #1- Conflict

Some people find religion and science to be in constant conflict with each other; this includes both Christians and non-Christians. Some Christians reject scientific claims and dismiss any attempt for Christians to be involved in the sciences, while non-Christians sometimes claim that one cannot be a rational person in serious study of the sciences and a person of faith. This model leads to Christians and scientists being on opposite sides of a war for truth, and at times, creating caricatures of the other side or skewing their data to make stronger claims than are justified. At times, this model receives the most publicity in our culture and leads people to believe that faith and science can’t coexist.

Model #2 – Independence

In some ways, this model agrees with the conflict found in the previous model but resolves it not by proclaiming a victor whose claims defeat the other, but by stating that they are in completely different realms and need to stay in their own realm — religion is spiritual and science is physical. There is a sense that religion and science mostly do operate in different spheres — theologians do not discuss how the atom is constructed, and scientists are not interested in what spiritual gifts God gives a Christian (J.P. Moreland estimates that 95% of science and theology are “cognitively irrelevant to each other” in his book Scientism and Secularism). In addition, science and religion may approach similar topics but from vastly different angles;  for example, religion may look more at the questions of why, while science is only interested in the what and how. However, there are times where they will discuss the same sort of things, and one must determine what to do in these situations. In addition to ignoring some of the data we see in life, this view also diminishes religion by not really allowing it to speak into the physical world and thus, rather than elevate religion, actually relegates it to a certain pocket of life.

Model #3 – Dialogue

A third approach is to see science and faith in dialogue, having a conversation with each other about various topics and each contributing to the conversation. This view typically sees religion and science as mostly addressing different topics, but at times discussing the same thing. A major challenge in this approach is that both theologians and scientists have to be willing to listen to the insights offered by the other; dialogue is good, but it can be very difficult to do as one must be willing to listen to the other side and see if it might cause you to rethink your position (otherwise it is basically dueling monologues). In addition, a danger in the dialogue approach is that it can make it sound like the dialogue itself is the goal as opposed to the discovery of truth.

This approach itself is not problematic for Christians, as Christians believe that “all truth” is God’s truth and that God reveals Himself both in the world by what we see and also in His Word; Psalm 19 discusses both of these forms of revelation. In Moreland’s Scientism and Secularism, he notes that there are about 3% of places where science seems to affirm Christian theology. However, he also notes that there are about 2% where scientific claims can seem to undermine the Christian faith. What happens when we come into those places? Who wins the dialogue? 

Model #4 – Integration

The fourth model is one that sees science and religion as ones that can be integrated as we seek to understand the “whole” truth. This model seems to be where we want to land, but the question would remain how we come to this integration — what happens if there seem to be mutually exclusive claims coming from science and religion? An integrationist view will cause us to re-examine what we are observing to discover if there is a way of integrating the views, which may happen through re-examining the views of either or both fields. Christians who believe that the Bible is God’s Holy Word that never errs or misleads will need to make sure that their interpretation of the Bible is in line with what the text is meant to convey. Christians believe that the Bible is inerrant and infallible, but our interpretations are not. At the same time, this requires going back to scientific claims to confirm if they are valid and recognizing that scientific thought is always provisional on the current state of data and various interpretive movements from it. 

In discussing integration, however, it is good to remember that there aren’t as many places where scientific claims appear to undermine or contradict Christian theology – as noted above, this is 2% of claims according to Moreland in Scientism and Secularism. Some of that might be tied to places where there are illusions of conflict, but the conflict is not real on further examination. While it is important to think about the 2%, it should not cause us to forget that there is also more in agreement than in difference and that our primary task is not to integrate conflict claims, but how to integrate what we learn from the world and from God’s Word into our lives.

From Theory to Practice

We have looked at some ways that people have sought to relate science and religion, but how do we move from talking about the subject to the actual practice? What I think this whole discussion calls for is rigorous study of both “books” of God’s revelation and also humble and hopeful dialogue between those who are studying them in hopes of seeing how it all fits together. If we come from a posture that assumes hostility between the Bible and science, we will likely find it; however, when we come expecting to find continuity between what we discover in studying the world and when we study the Bible, we will likely find it. As Christians, we should expect to find this. When we don’t, we need to be careful not to move too quickly to dismiss the views of others that we may find threatening until we have examined why they are saying and confirming that we are not missing something in our own reading. At times, we might discover some things that are difficult to reconcile. When we do so, we should come back to a different truth that is difficult to reconcile in a different way — there was a man who was dead who then came back to life! Can we fully understand how that works? I don’t think so, but we know that it DOES work, and in that process we are freed from having to find all the answers in this world. We are reminded of our finitude (so we should expect to find things we can’t answer) as well as the hope that there is one who has all the answers and ultimately the solution to our sins and shortcomings. May even the dialogue of faith and science lead us to know Jesus and His grace for us more and in deeper ways.

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