22 August 2012

Science and faith - again

How do science and faith stack up against one another as ways of knowing the truth? Science provides truth about the physical universe while faith provides truth about spiritual things. Is there any overlap?

Sarewitz article in Nature
Nature has just published a short article entitled 'Sometimes science must give way to religion' by the atheist and scientist, Daniel Sarawitz.

In it, he argues that there are scientific concepts we cannot really understand except mathematically. He offers the Higgs field as an example.

This field provides other fundamental particles with their mass, preventing them from travelling at the speed of light. The famous Higgs particle is associated with the field, and is the evidence that such a field does, indeed, exist.

Sarawitz is right, it is difficult to visualise such things, or understand them in the way we might understand that gravity causes things to fall towards the ground. The Higgs is not part of our everyday experience, falling objects are. But Sarawitz goes on to say that therefore faith is involved in accepting the evidence for the Higgs.

But the early comments on his article take Sarawitz to task, pointing out that this is nonsense. They argue that accepting the Higgs is not a matter of faith, it's more a matter of accepting that the scientists involved in the discovery have track records of good science, honest hearts, and deserve our trust. The conclusions are rational and are based on evidence.

I agree with them. Faith has no place in science, and evidence (in the scientific sense) has little or no place in religious belief.

My career began in biological research. I have a BSc and an MSc, I understand the principles and practices of science. I am also a follower of the Way, a follower of Jesus. It's not a blind faith, I have my reasons for thinking and acting the way I do.

I would argue that there is a knowledge of material things that is advanced by science building on what is already known, but that there is also knowledge of spiritual things that is given from above. Many people accept one or the other, some people accept both.

To me, accepting both seems the obvious and right thing to do, and I find no conflict in doing so.

I'm interested to hear  your views on this. Please scroll down and leave a comment. Are science and faith incompatible? Do you have difficulties with one or the other? How do you deal with those issues? Does science show faith to be false? Must we reject science if it appears to contradict the Bible?

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  1. I am a non academic individual...!! It is all over and above me Chris so I will stick to the basis that Jesus wants us to be child like and innocent! On that basis I will accept what you academic clever people conclude with the science bit and I'll be child like and simple with my faith :-)

  2. Hey Chris, I'm new to your site, and I came here via Alan Knox's. This topic has always fascinated me as well. As a matter of fact, I'm completing my B.Sc. in mathematics, so I've been thinking about these issues in a number of math and science classes I've been required to take. I think part of it's intrigue lies in the reality that it feels as though, as Christians, we have been given the task of trying weld two massive pieces of steel together without the use of any welding equipment. How do we put these two seemingly unconnected pieces together?

    Right off the bat, I would say that we need to be historically sensitive to the fact that prior to the Enlightenment, this question simply wasn't asked. It wasn't until critical scholarship made its debut, stating that part of it underlying assumption was that God simply doesn't act in the world. "Perhaps God did create, but he certainly isn't here now, so it's up to us to figure out where to go from here." William Dembski described it in terms of "methodological materialism" in which you assume something like the statement above, with or without God, and hold that science must be done under the rhetoric that everything originates strictly from natural causes. Right at the outset, any possibility of God involving himself in Creation is ruled out. How can we move forward when that's the underlying assumption? I don't think you can.

    A Hebraic understanding of the matter would lead us to say with the Psalmist that "He feeds the young ravens when they call to him." God is intimately involved in His creation. It isn't simply that we turn around and say, "Well, what that really means is that God has given his creatures an instinct that causes them to look for food in certain places." That's true, but it misses the fundamental point: God loves his creation and is closely tied to its functioning on a day to day basis. This is an underlying them in the Scriptures that simply can't be written off as metaphor for "natural laws" or the like since there was no such thing as a concept of "natural law operating apart from the Creator" until the seventeenth century.

    How do we square that with much Enlightenment science? That's a question that isn't getting much press time, but it certainly needs answering.



  3. Don't worry Ashley, you don't need to be an academic to know the truth about Jesus. :-)

  4. Thanks for your reply, John. Perhaps we don't need to 'weld [physical and spiritual truth] together' after all. Maybe all we need to do is recognise that they're different ways of 'knowing'. Not incompatible, but just different.

    Think of a fine pasta dish, you can look at it or you can smell it. Two different ways of knowing.

    I agree with you that we get nowhere by assuming that the Most High is not involved in any way in the physical realm. That would rule out Jesus' claim to be the Son, it would rule out much that he did and make him out to be either a liar or mistaken. We cannot take that route.

    And I also agree that he 'loves his creation and is closely tied to its functioning on a day to day basis'. Amen and HalleluYah! He is in all things and works through all things. In just the same way he is in me and works through me; he is in you and works through you. But for those who don't know him or reject him life carries on according to the natural processes he set in place.

    I'd say science investigates those natural processes but does not (and cannot) see his presence behind them. I doubt that he tinkers much with the rules he has set in place, but he certainly influences those who follow him. For me his involvement is not in question, but I suspect he is usually subtle and gentle in his approach.

    Think of a human mum or dad. Sometimes they will interfere with their child's choices, especially when the child is very young. But wise parents interfere as little as possible, provide great freedom, and influence by example. They enormous great love and restraint, allow the child to learn by experience, and are always willing to forgive, answer questions, come to the rescue and have conversations about issues.

    Do you think our heavenly Father might be like that too? If so, is that sufficient to explain the science/faith dilemma? (If it is a dilemma.)

  5. There's also another look at this on a recent Jesus Creed post - http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2012/08/30/ignorance-does-it-drive-both-science-and-theology-rjs/

    An interesting approach.



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