There has always been a conflict between science and theology. I am not supposed to say that. But it is true whether I say it or not. And that is the reason there is a conflict. Assertions by so many of us that there is no real conflict, is wishful thinking. Right now wishful thinking is killing people. I have the Covid-19 virus. I will probably not die from the disease. It appears that I got it at the time I conducted a wedding for a couple of good friends. Everything was good, upbeat, positive, and holy. We tend to think in either or terms. If something is good, then there can be no bad result. But we know better. The proverb, “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions,” was said for a reason.
Why There Is A Conflict
Science and Theology conflict because all disciplines make conflicting claims. The great astronomers, Brahe and Kepler, made their livings as astrologers. They made observations and assertions about the same phenomena in two different ways. We have their astronomical works preserved.
I enjoy reading popularized science. If I had the skills of a geneticist, I would also be able to read about epidemiology. I would not be expert in the field. As a Christian divinity scholar, I use reading skills that help me follow an author’s explanation of a line of reasoning. It does not allow me to make declarations about the truth or accuracy of a theory. But it does give me insight into the history of scientific thought. Modern scientific thought has given us an important understanding of the Universe as something separate from us. In other words, the cosmos is not affected by our desires or whims of fancy.
The Human Problem of Science
We are told that science is “self-correcting.” The claim is curious. Human beings do science after all. Human beings do not like to self-correct. Fred Hoyle spent a better part of his career fighting against the idea of the Big Bang development of the Universe. He defended the Steady State model of the Universe because he preferred it.
Science historians often excuse the lack of self-correction. Outside influences stop corrections. This is true in the case of Lysenko’s erroneous genetic theory becoming official policy in the Soviet Union. Galileo’s discovery of moons orbiting Jupiter was opposed on religious grounds. But Hoyle had none of these concerns when he opposed the Big Bang. Agassiz was not mounting a religious opposition to Darwin’s theory. They were being human.
The Human Problem of Theology
Theology is as human as science. A religion may be divinely revealed. I certainly believe mine is. But humans express theology in human words. Answers provided by theological reflection are human answers.
Science cannot prove or disprove the cosmos is the product of a God who is a loving divine being. Scientists may rightly ask the theologian if a deadly epidemic is the work of such a God. The theologian could by using a scientific understanding of epidemics confidently say no. God is no more responsible for an epidemic than God is responsible for a famine. Humans cause famines. Humans make epidemics worse. It is either the action of humans or inaction of humans that makes the disaster. Theological considerations can play a part in how humans respond to the tragedy.
Genesis tells an amazing story about humans rationally planning for and responding to a famine. The Patriarch Joseph interprets the visions of Pharaoh to claim a famine will come to Egypt. There is nothing in the vision telling Joseph what to do about it. He urges Pharaoh to plan for it. Planned actions save the people. Joseph responds in a way that does not view God as one desiring the death of the Egyptians.
The Conflict Is Among Humans
When we understand thought systems are actually based in how humans approach reality, then we recognize we have our own assumptions, prejudices, and superstitions. This basis for a theological anthropology is an understanding of humans in relationship to a Divine Other with a different perspective.
Alienation is the state of human beings regarding everything. Humans are constantly attempting to overcome that alienation with its resulting conflicts. Christianity asserts that God has made the attempt to reconcile humans to everything through Jesus. Progressive Christianity is a theological approach to this reconciliation. It interprets and applies this belief with knowledge drawn from the modern disciplines of the sciences, theories of political and social organization including economic thought, and psychological and philosophical inquiry.