Science and Religion, Faith and Reason – These Are Not the Same, Dr. Hannam!

Ophelia Benson, over at Butterflies and Wheels, put me onto an interesting post by James Hannam. Hannam “has a PhD in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge and is the author of The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution (published in the UK as God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science).”

The post makes me feel my own Cambridge degree is worth a little less.

In short, Hannam argues that Christianity and Science have long coexisted and even worked together, and therefore there is no tension between faith and reason. This simply doesn’t follow. Hannam here commits a classic error of conflating the relationship between “science” and “religion” with the relationship between “reason” and “faith”. These, as I responded to the post, are seperable issues and should not be confused.

Here’s my response:

Hannam says:

The award of the Templeton Prize to the retired president of the Royal Society, Martin Rees, has reawakened the controversy over science and religion.

He then immediately claims:

Few topics are as open to misunderstanding as the relationship between faith and reason.

I agree with both statements. But in this situation it is clearly Hannam who is misunderstanding the issues. He begisn by promising to tackle the “controversy over science and religion”, but immediately shifts to talking about “the relationship between faith and reason”. These are separable questions – they are not at all the same. That Hannam conflates them at the start of the article and veers between the two throughout demonstrates his confusion regarding this issue (this is a common failing of those who wish to maintain a cosy relationship between religion and science).

The rotten fruits of this confusion are evident in the following statement:

“The ongoing clash of creationism with evolution obscures the fact that Christianity has actually had a far more positive role to play in the history of science than commonly believed. “

The “clash of creationism with evolution” is best seen as a clash between faith and reason: the creationist position rejects reason and evidence and essentially assumes creationism must be true and seeks to find “evidence” to support that a priori commitment. The relationship of Christianity (a broad institution, including much more than simply the Christian faith) to the “history of science” is really the other question, about the relationship between the human institutions and practice of science and the institutions and practice of religion. Here, of course it is possible to paint a rosy picture.

But the fact that scientific and religious practice can coexist does not disprove (or even speak to) the notion that faith and reason are fundamentally antagonistic. By tangling these issues in a messy skein Hannam has shown that he misunderstands the central concerns of those opposed to the encroachment of faith upon reason.

If this is the sort of sloppy thinking we can expect from his book, it certainly won’t be on my shortlist.


About James Croft

James Croft is the Leader in Training at the Ethical Culture Society of St. Louis - one of the largest Humanist congregations in the world. He is a graduate of the Universities of Cambridge and Harvard, and is currently writing his Doctoral dissertation as a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is an in-demand public speaker, an engaging teacher, and a passionate activist for human rights. James was raised on Shakespeare, Sagan and Star Trek, and is a proud, gay Humanist. His upcoming book "The Godless Congregation", co-authored with New York Times bestselling author Greg Epstein, is being published by Simon & Schuster.

  • LucienBlack

    Interesting. I hadn’t considered that “religion v science” is different than “faith v reason.” Thank you. I need to think about that some more.

  • Bryan

    There is not the slightest truth in the idea that creation rejects evidence. The reality is nearly the reverse. Atheism and evolution reject the reality and fact that in most fields, creation science (if you accurately understand what it is and it’s major claims…something that almost no atheist or evolutionist does) has more direct and indirect evidence than evolution does. It’s precisely because of this that many atheists and evolutionists have become creationists.

    See these sites:

    The Genesis Conflict (by former hardcore atheist Dr. Walter Veith with a Ph.D. in zoology and one of the top scientists in South Africa)
    also see:
    and many other pages on his site.

    I have ~200 videos of evidence on my youtube site as well. This playlist has some of the best ones and more academic ones. See esp. the debate by Dr. Meyer.

    A couple examples of the evidence creation science has:

    Dr. Ann Gauger&Dr. Douglas Axe, investigated examined the members of a large enzyme superfamily to find a pair with distinct reaction chemistries&high structural similarity. They then attempted to convert one of these enzymes, Kbl2 to perform the metabolic function of the other BioF2 . Successful functional conversion would in this case require seven or more nucleotide substitutions. But evolutionary innovations requiring that many changes would be extraordinarily rare,&could only happen on timescales around 10^30 years which is much longer than even the evolutionary estimate of the age of life on earth (~10^9 years)&even more than the estimated 6 nucleotide substitutions that could happen during the entire history of the earth. Since this is a problem for even close homologs like Kbl2&BioF2 , this result&others like it raise gigantic problems that Darwinian levels of evolution could ever be produced in nature. Go to: (see the May 12 & 16 episodes)

    Darwin stated that evolution proceeds along the path of the most efficient and most helpful adaptations. But, the origin and maintenance of sex and recombination is very hard to explain by natural selection. Evolutionary biology is unable to reveal why animals would abandon asexual reproduction in favor of more costly and inefficient sexual reproduction. Exactly how did we arrive at two separate genders-each with its own physiology? Evolutionists need to demonstrate a materialistic answer for Why sex? Is sex the product of a historical accident or the product of an intelligent Creator? The current article reviews some of the current theories for why sexual reproduction exists today. Yet, as these theories valiantly attempt to explain why sex exists now, they do not explain the origin of sex. We suggest that there is no naturalistic explanation that can account for the origin and maintenance of sex.
    Full article here:

    This is especially true of 2 person sex and the female orgasm which serves no evolutionary purpose.

    If sexual reproduction in plants, animals, and humans is a result of evolutionary sequences, an unbelievable series of chance events must have occurred at each stage.
    a. The amazingly complex, radically different, yet complementary reproductive systems of the male and female must have completely and independently evolved at each stage at about the same time and place. Just a slight incompleteness in only one of the two would make both reproductive systems useless, and the organism would become extinct.
    b. The physical, chemical, and emotional systems of the male and female would also need to be compatible.a
    c. The millions of complex products of a male reproductive system (pollen or sperm) must have an affinity for and a mechanical, chemical,b and electricalc compatibility with the eggs of the female reproductive system.
    d. The many intricate processes occurring at the molecular level inside the fertilized egg would have to work with fantastic precision—processes that scientists can describe only in a general sense.d
    e. The environment of this fertilized egg, from conception through adulthood and until it also reproduced with another sexually capable adult (who also “accidentally” evolved), would have to be tightly controlled.
    f. This remarkable string of “accidents” must have been repeated for millions of species.

    Either this series of incredible and complementary events happened by random, evolutionary processes, or sexual reproduction was designed by intelligence. Furthermore, if sexual reproduction evolved even once, the steps by which an embryo becomes either a male or female should be similar for all animals. Actually, these steps vary among animals.e

    Evolution theory predicts nature would select asexual rather than sexual reproduction.f But if asexual reproduction (splitting an organism into two identical organisms) evolved before sexual reproduction, how did complex sexual diversity arise—or survive?

    Finally, to produce the first life form would be one miracle. But for natural processes to produce life that could reproduce itself would be a miracle on top of a miracle.g

    In humans and in all mammals, a mother’s immune system, contrary to its normal function, must learn not to attack her unborn baby—half of whom is a “foreign body” from the father. If these immune systems functioned “properly,” mammals—including each of us—would not exist.

    The mysterious lack of rejection of the fetus has puzzled generations of reproductive immunologists and no comprehensive explanation has yet emerged. [Charles A. Janeway Jr. et al., Immuno Biology (London: Current Biology Limited, 1997), p. 12:24.]

    “So why is there sex? We do not have a compelling answer to the question. Despite some ingenious suggestions by orthodox Darwinians (notably G. C. Williams, 1975; John Maynard Smith, 1978), there is no convincing Darwinian history for the emergence of sexual reproduction.” Philip Kitcher, Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1982), p. 54.

    “The evolution of sex is one of the major unsolved problems of biology. Even those with enough hubris to publish on the topic often freely admit that they have little idea of how sex originated or is maintained. It is enough to give heart to creationists.” Michael Rose, “Slap and Tickle in the Primeval Soup,” New Scientist, Vol. 112, 30 October 1986, p. 55.

    “Sex is something of an embarrassment to evolutionary biologists. Textbooks understandably skirt the issue, keeping it a closely guarded secret.” Kathleen McAuliffe, “Why We Have Sex,” Omni, December 1983, p. 18

    “From an evolutionary viewpoint the sex differentiation is impossible to understand, as well as the structural sexual differences between the systematic categories which are sometimes immense. We know that intersexes [organisms that are partly male and partly female] within a species must be sterile. How is it, then, possible to imagine bridges between two amazingly different structural types?” Nilsson, p. 1225.

    “One idea those attending the sex symposium seemed to agree on is that no one knows why sex persists.” [According to evolution, it should not.] Gardiner Morse, “Why Is Sex?” Science News, Vol. 126, 8 September 1984, p. 155.

    “In the discipline of developmental biology, creationist and mechanist concur except on just one point—a work of art, a machine or a body which can reproduce itself cannot first make itself.” Pitman, p. 135.


    As far back as 1994, pro-ID scientist and Discovery Institute fellow Forrest Mims had warned in a letter to Science[1] against assuming that ‘junk’ DNA was ‘useless.’” Science wouldn’t print Mims’ letter, but soon thereafter, in 1998, leading ID theorist William Dembski repeated this sentiment in First Things:

    [Intelligent] design is not a science stopper. Indeed, design can foster inquiry where traditional evolutionary approaches obstruct it. Consider the term “junk DNA.” Implicit in this term is the view that because the genome of an organism has been cobbled together through a long, undirected evolutionary process, the genome is a patchwork of which only limited portions are essential to the organism. Thus on an evolutionary view we expect a lot of useless DNA. If, on the other hand, organisms are designed, we expect DNA, as much as possible, to exhibit function. And indeed, the most recent findings suggest that designating DNA as “junk” merely cloaks our current lack of knowledge about function. For instance, in a recent issue of the Journal of Theoretical Biology, John Bodnar describes how “non-coding DNA in eukaryotic genomes encodes a language which programs organismal growth and development.” Design encourages scientists to look for function where evolution discourages it.(William Dembski, “Intelligent Science and Design,” First Things, Vol. 86:21-27 (October 1998))

    In 2002, Dr. Richard Sternberg surveyed the literature and found extensive evidence for function of certain types of junk-DNA and argued that “neo-Darwinian ‘narratives’ have been the primary obstacle to elucidating the effects of these enigmatic components of chromosomes.”[1] Sternberg concluded that “the selfish DNA narrative and allied frameworks must join the other ‘icons’ of neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory that, despite their variance with empirical evidence, nevertheless persist in the literature.”[2]

    Who was right, Behe or Miller, in their predictions about junkDNA??
    In the News: A Functional Pseudogene?: An Open Letter to Nature
    “If at least some pseudogenes have unsuspected functions, however, might not other biological features that strike us as odd also have functions we have not yet discovered? Might even the backwards wiring of the vertebrate eye serve some useful purpose?”
    (several creationists were predicting that most junkDNA would be found to have function long before Behe was)

    Ken Miller said
    Life’s Grand Design:
    “From a design point of view, pseudogenes are indeed mistakes. So why are they there? Intelligent design cannot explain the presence of a nonfunctional pseudogene, unless it is willing to allow that the designer made serious errors, wasting millions of bases of DNA on a blueprint full of junk and scribbles. ”

    Full discussion here:

    Here’s a new article on so called “junkDNA” from nature which sure seems to me to be vindicating creation science’s predictions..
    Also see Signature in the Cell, a mammoth 700 page work:

    This as well as the countless falsifications of the fiction of vestigial organs, are extremely solid scientific vindications of creation science. Evolutionists predicted that these things were useless, creationists were on record LONG ago stating that that we would find function for the vast majority of them.
    See also this short video:

    There are MANY other reasons why creation science matches the evidence of science far better than evolution.

  • Matt

    Good stuff James. You’re probably already familiar with this, but if not, check out Stephen Jay Gould’s essay, “Justice Scalia’s Misunderstanding,” in Bully for Brontosaurus.