Book Club Channel
The Language of Science and Faith: An Excerpt
NOMA, while certainly helpful and broadly applicable, is too limiting. Its definition of science breaks down at those murky theoretical boundaries where observation becomes impossible, like the claims about other universes. Likewise, religion in almost all of its manifestations is more than just a collection of value judgments and moral directives. Religion often makes claims about "the way things are."
Can Religion Contribute to Science?
Religion has been in meaningful dialogue with science for centuries. The development of modern science is a good example.
Most people, including many scholars unfamiliar with the history of ideas and bewitched by the warfare metaphor, believe that religious belief hindered the early progress of science. The dis- agreement between the church and Galileo is invoked to make the point, with no recognition that this was an idiosyncratic case, and not remotely representative of the times.
Recent scholarship, most of it conducted by secular academics, has established that religious belief was entirely compatible with scientific progress, even encouraging it in many cases. For example, when the top fifty-two natural philosophers during the emergence of modern science in seventeenth-century Europe were surveyed for their religious beliefs, 62 percent were labeled as devout, 35 percent as conventionally religious, and only two scientists, 3.8 percent, could be classified as skeptics. Given that these thinkers laid the foundations for modern science, there is hardly room to posit any incompatibility between scientific advancement and Christianity. Many scholars would go even further, arguing that the Christian worldview played a significant role in nurturing the development of modern science:
Their belief in God gave them confidence that the physical world, in all its complexity and vast extent, could be understood. . . . As a matter of historical fact, modern science has developed from an understanding of the world as God's ordered Creation, with its own inherent rationality.
The great twentieth-century philosopher Alfred North Whitehead made similar arguments. He saw the seeds of modern science in the "medieval insistence on the rationality of God." Confident that the world was the product of a single rational mind, the earlier pioneers of science—all of them Christians—were imbued with an intuition that the world was orderly and lawful.
This is not to say that modern science would never have developed without the aid of religious faith, although there is lively debate on that. However, if the religious belief deeply woven into the European worldview functioned as a framework nurturing the birth of science, then the burden of proof is certainly on those who would claim that religion retarded the growth of science.
Furthermore, religion has not only served to advance scientific discovery, but it also exerts a significant influence on the practical application of scientific discoveries. With the constant advance of technology and medicine—providing drugs that alter the personalities of troubled mental patients, techniques to address issues related to reproduction, new weapons and eavesdropping techniques and so on—new questions are continually raised as to applications should be deemed ethically acceptable. The scientific method alone does not provide a way of answering these ethical questions but can only help in mapping out the possible alternatives. Such ethical concerns are addressed more naturally from the perspective of religion.