Science vs. Religion

I recently read that in 1981 the National Academy of Science approved the following statement;

“Religion and science are separate and mutually exclusive realms of human thought whose presentation in the same context leads to misunderstanding of both scientific theory and religious belief.”

Ian Barbour, “Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues,” (1997), quoted in “The Right Questions – Truth, Meaning & Public Debate” by Phillip E. Johnson, Intervarsity Press, 2002.

I found it curious because as far as I know, no scientist has ever done the science to establish the truth of the claim. So what would happen if a scientist found evidence supporting a testable hypothesis that there is a God or a heavenly realm? Would following up on it to verify or falsify the hypothesis be forbidden?

Apparently so. A biologist wrote in the prestigious science magazine Nature

“Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such a hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic.”

Richard Lewontin, a Harvard evolutionary biologist and geneticist, expresses the idea more baldy:

“It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

And gave his objective:

“the problem is to get them [the public] … to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, science, as the only begetter of truth.”

Lewontin and, apparently, the National Academy of Science, adhere to a purely materialistic world view – that physical matter and energy is all there ever was or ever will be – a philosophical assertion that is unconfirmed by science. To me, this makes these propositions irrational.

Many civilizations have developed technologies, but only one developed the scientific method – a systematic approach to understanding the physical world. Science evolved out of the confluence of two world views – Greek rationality and the Judeo-Christian view that God was rational and had created a rational universe ultimately intelligible through the powers of reason He had endowed mankind with. The fundamental assertion of the scientific method is that the universe is rational. Most of the giants of science, Galileo, Newton and dozens more, were men of faith. Science, then, is a child of both faith and reason. Both faith and science seek truth and both make truth assertions. To be a scientist, you are not forced to abandon your faith, to be a theologian, you are not forced to abandon science.

Religion (here I limit it to Biblical religion as a parent of science) asserts that reality includes both heaven and earth – God’s realm and the physical universe we see and experience. Science, however, only examines the physical universe and has no ability (at least so far) to investigate if a heavenly realm in fact exists. But that does not mean that in the process of understanding the physical world, science could not confirm or refute theological truths such as did the universe or life require a creative act.

Assume for the sake of argument that religion’s assertion that reality includes heaven and earth is correct. Then the truths sought by scientists and those sought by theologians must necessarily overlap. A Creator with the power and knowledge to create the universe is hardly likely to create something unintended. Therefore, the nature of the universe, the laws that govern it and the physical and mental characteristics of humans must suit the Creator’s purposes and cannot be contradictory to theological truths, and vice versa. Given this, it may be correct to say that science and theology are different modes of thought, but the assertion that religion and science are “mutually exclusive realms of human thought” can only be so by the materialistic assumption that religion is superstition and only science produces truth.

Paradoxically, some recent science may indicate otherwise. Some scientists have proposed that what has been described as “dark matter” (so far undetected save by its gravitational influence) may actually be gravitational influence from galaxies in a another universe. Other scientists recently reported that a large group of galaxies appear to have a collective motion in one direction but there is no detectable mass that could provide the necessary gravitational attraction. They speculate that that the galaxies are possibly being drawn by gravitational attraction from another universe. If, at least theoretically, there can be other universes that interact in some way with ours, then how can one categorically deny the possibility of a heaven and an earth or that such concepts are excluded from science?

A little digression.
The universe had long been thought to be fixed and unchanging and possibly infinite and eternal. This view came to be called the Steady State theory. But early in the 20th century, Edwin Hubble discovered that galaxies were spreading apart. In all directions, the farther away a galaxy was, the faster it was receding. An inescapable conclusion was that the universe was expanding and in the past had been smaller and at some point in the past had occupied, a very small space as a very compact object or perhaps no space at all. About the same time Georges LeMaitre, a Belgian priest and professor of physics, based on analysis of Einstein’s equations on relativity, proposed what became known as the Big Bang theory and derived what is now known as Hubble’s Law. It began to appear that there had in fact been a Creation event.

The point of the digression.
When I was in college a long time ago majoring in physics which I suppose made me at least a putative man of science, the Big Bang theory still lacked confirming proof so we were taught both theories – the Big Bang and the Steady State. I don’t recall any scientists saying the Big Bang should not be taught because of its religious implications or that it was religiously motivated and not “real” science. Scientists felt free to take the initial evidence seriously enough to develop testable theories without worrying about any implications for religion.

But in recent years it seems that any development in science that might hint of providing support for religion generates an ever stronger reaction from materialists. Yet at the same time, developments in cosmology and biology seem to undermine some purely materialist assumptions. In cosmology, science is still quite unable to explain why there its something rather than nothing or why, in the words of theoretical physicist Steven Hawking,

“the values of these numbers (the basic forces of nature) seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.”

The antipathy is especially strong in the field of biology where similar puzzles have cropped up. Materialist groups like the Freedom from Religion Foundation have been suing school districts that attempt to teach that Darwinism may not be perfectly settled science. Perhaps the antipathy is strongest in this field because all kids get biology classes, but few get exposed to cosmology.

The similar puzzle in biology stems from advances in recent decades that unveiled the amazingly complex molecular machines that make up even the simplest single-cell organism. Darwinian theory, to be a complete and fully materialistic theory, must demonstrate that life could reasonably arise from non-life by the operation of chance and necessity where

  • necessity means the unbroken operation of natural laws (of chemistry, physics, etc.), and
  • chance means the random interactions of material things (energy, atoms, molecules, etc.) in ways and in conditions and environments resulting from the operation of natural laws.

In Darwin’s day and for most of the following century, the simplest life was assumed to be simple and not all that much thought was given to the question, nor did much of the technology needed to pursue the question exist. But since World War II, the field of molecular biology has exploded and discovered that far from being simple, the simplest life is exceedingly complex, making it exceedingly difficult and potentially impossible to formulate a viable answer to the question of how life could arise from non-life in the time available.

The problem is not necessity for the laws of nature don’t prevent complex biological structures from forming nor do they – as far as anyone knows – require them to form. The problem is chance. When biologists compute the chances of assembling the specific proteins needed and DNA with a functioning code and the various components needed to read and execute the code for creating and operating a living cell, the probability of it being created by chance falls to very near zero. This would not be a problem if one had a very long time and a very large number of suitable pre-biotic environments to allow an unimaginably large number of trials to take place. But the odds seem to be so low that the amount of time and the largest conceivable number of pre-biotic environments in the entire universe may not have been enough.

When I was still in college, the Big Bang and the Steady State theories each featured attractive arguments but, lacking compelling proof were understood to be incomplete. Darwinian theory is in the same fix of being incomplete for the lack of a compelling evidence for the chance formation of life.

This problem has prompted a number of scientists to propose a theory called Intelligent Design that asserts that there is evidence for intelligent design in nature, not based on the apparent impossibility of creating the life by chance, but on the argument that concepts of irreducible complexity, specified complexity and information theory, all signs of design in other scientific fields, can and should apply to the biology of the cell.

It is odd that in the years that intelligent design theories have been around, I have read and seen on TV many attacks on the theory, almost entirely focused on attacking the proponents of the theory and their motives, or claiming that “it’s not science!” a la Lewonkin, but not rebutting the theory’s arguments, or doing the science to prove it false. What’s wrong here?

Is science falling in line with the biologist’s letter to Nature? – “Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such a hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic.” If reality does in fact include a Creator and other realms, and science does not know if it does or not, then science, in the pursuit of truths about reality, has no business blinding itself to such a possibility. I suspect science is doing just that and that is bad for science.

The materialist asserts that reality consists only of an accidental and purposeless material world and that science is the only source of truth – neither of which has been established as true by science. I suggest that it is impossible for science to both be “the sole begetter of truth” and at the same time be restricted to serve unproven philosophical assertions. Materialists, in their effort to sell their philosophy, are corrupting science.

If science can be corrupted to serve one unproven point of view, it can be corrupted to serve any point of view, for unfortunately, science is performed by mere humans, and are no more perfect than carpenters or clerks, or me.

It may be that materialism is true. But let the materialists get to work and prove their assertions. By their own definition of truth, nothing is true unless it has been proven scientifically. By the same token, no hypothesis can be rejected out of hand unless scientifically falsified. So my advice to myself is never accept anything a materialist says that hasn’t been proven scientifically. Hold them to their own standard.

Finally, until materialists can meet their own standard, to insist that public schools teach the theory of evolution but not admit to any incompleteness or competing interpretations such as intelligent design, is an act of bullying, not a defense of scientific integrity.

In the meanwhile, a link to a listing of comments about religion by famous scientists might be entertaining. as well as a link to a letter from the National Association of Scholars to the National Association of Science outlining concerns about the objectivity of its flagship magazine, Science.


3 thoughts on “Science vs. Religion

  1. Edgar, you are obviously an intelligent man. I think the point you are trying to make is that materialists should prove their beliefs instead of presenting them as fact. Scientists have the unenviable position of having to prove everything they say. I listen to scientists but I filter their information through my own brain. Therefore I don’t accept their beliefs as fact, but when I assemble all the scientific information I have available, it certainly helps me determine the truth in my own mind. I do the same thing with religion. I listen to everything the religious have to say, and I filter it through my own brain. I don’t expect absolute truth from either side. But I use all that information to decide for myself what I believe. As a Roman Catholic child, I believed everything. I had never heard of any other possibility. As an adult I have heard many different religious theories and scientific theories. I do not believe all of the scientific evidence. But I do believe MOST of it. When I hear the story of Adam and Eve and all the other creationists beliefs, it’s the other way around. I suppose there is some small possibility that some of those fairytales are true. And I agree with the points they are intended to make. But I don’t believe MOST of it. You are ignoring a preponderance of evidence because of your religion. Please realize that all those creationist stories are completely unnecessary and irrelevant because you don’t need them to be a good loving person. Religion can still teach people to become better humans without relying on fictional tales. Why not teach the message of the story instead of the actual story? We are intelligent enough to understand the difference between right and wrong without having a little story to go along with it. If you would just replace the word God with the word Love, we wouldn’t have all these different versions of God. Everyone knows what love is.
    I don’t agree that science and religion are mutually exclusive. Science and religion must include each other because neither scientists nor theologians will ever know everything.
    And finally, Edgar, thank you for an intelligent conversation on this subject. Honestly, I think we all have more in common then we think. It’s just the words that get in the way.


    1. Charlie, thank you for your thoughtful comments – just the sort of thing I was hoping for. I was pretty religious up through high school, but I can’t remember what I thought, theologically. I sort of assumed Genesis was like an Aesop’s fable – a fiction designed to convey a truth. I remember a very funny Bill Cosby skit about Noah where poor Noah is trying to figure out what God’s telling him, not knowing what an ark is or a cubit or how to catch wild animals. I tried imagining how God could explain the origin of the universe to a late Bronze Age prophet. “Uh, Lord, what’s a singularity?”
      Still, I’m left wondering – are these stories some Hebrew prophet’s fables or are they God’s fables?
      Your comment about love also raises a tough question. The Bible says God is love. Can love – the agape selfless love it refers to – exist without God? It would then have to be an artifact of evolution. Don’t know the answer.
      Thanks again.


  2. Again, I think we actually agree. It’s just that when you use the word god, it conjures up entirely different images and beliefs for everyone. But somehow people seem to innately know what love is. P.S.: You sure are smart…I’m learning what I can.


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