Saturday, June 2, 2012
Are Science and Religion Compatible? – II
In our last blog post we noted that Dr. Jerry A. Coyne challenged the notion that science can accommodate religion. Science, he says, is grounded in a naturalistic worldview, and as such cannot be made compatible with religion.
We would have to agree that, insofar as a naturalistic philosophy goes, "science," in the broader sense in which Dr. Coyne uses the term, most certainly is incompatible with Christianity. It is, in fact, an anti-Christian ideology. But is a naturalistic philosophy an essential component of science?
Dr. Coyne certainly thinks so. He argues that a naturalistic philosophy is a logical corollary of a naturalistic methodology. The problem here is that he is expanding the scope and reach of the scientific method to include too much. According to him the scientific method does not just study nature, it seeks to understand and interpret the universe. It aims at nothing less than a comprehensive explanation of reality. But there is a problem here. Since the scientific method relies on the physical senses, it can discern only physical matter. And if it can discern only physical matter, any worldview built exclusively on the senses will inevitably be a materialistic one. But the problem here is not that the immaterial world does not exist, but rather that a naturalistic methodology cannot recognize it. It is a limitation inherent in the method. What we have here is philosophical overreach.
There is something more to reality than just bare physical matter. Nature points to something beyond nature, to a first cause and an organizing principle, and divine revelation is necessary to elucidate the ultimate purpose and design of things.
The scientific method works perfectly well within the framework of Christian Theism. Thousands of physicians, many of them devout Christians, use the scientific method every day to diagnose their patients. Their belief in God does not compel them to discard the germ theory of disease. Indeed, their faith has provided them with the motive to devote their talents and energy to science and the healing arts. Many hospitals were founded by religious organizations.
Evolution, of course, remains a problem. However, if we set aside the naturalistic worldview, would evolution still be "proven"? Dr. Coyne would no doubt argue that the idea of a supernatural first cause is superstitious nonsense. But we reply that the idea that matter can bring itself into existence without the aid of an external force is even greater nonsense. Matter does not create itself.
The stakes could hardly be higher. Dr. Coyne himself says "Evolution, of course, contravenes many common religious beliefs – not just those dealing with Biblical literalism, but those dealing with morality, meaning and human significance" (p. 2). But science and religion are completely compatible as long as science confines itself to the observable facts of nature. It is only when science tries to become the exclusive method of discerning truth and an all-encompassing worldview that it becomes "scientism," and comes into conflict with Christianity.