Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Why I don't think science and faith are in conflict

Here's the text from a talk I gave at one of our Alpha evenings last year. I've rewritten a few bits, added to it and included a few references at the bottom.

OK, I'm not a qualified scientist. I have, however, researched the work of those that are and in this article I've tried to gather material together in a coherent form that hopefully most people can understand. I concede that scientific theory is ever-changing and goes to the kind of depths that makes the brains of most ordinary people go to mush, so I'm certainly not saying it's final and conclusive (but then, is anything ever?).

It's interesting to note that the attendees on the course all agreed that it's a shame things like faith are never really talked about. It's such a taboo subject in many ways. People feel threatened or get angry when the topic of 'religion' surfaces and have often acquired a range of misinformed ideas about the subject, sadly living their lives ignorant of the actual truth. The church has, admittedly, been responsible for a lot of this by quashing attempts to question or challenge faith, so organised religion should share some of the blame for this.

That's what I love about Alpha. It's designed to allow people to say what they think and ask those difficult questions without fear of reproach. Looking back at the courses we've run, I still find the discussions fascinating. Not only that, they can be quite challenging to me personally and my own faith, but that's a good thing. Too often we allow ourselves to default to passive mode when it comes to thinking about stuff and the more we question, push or prod, ultimately I believe that's better for everyone.

Anyway, that's enough rambling for yours truly. Let me ramble some more, but not in italics:

Tonight's subject is about faith and science and asks the question: are they in conflict? My view is that they aren't. In fact, science and faith have gotten along quiet nicely for centuries. Admittedly there have been a few issues along the way, but generally they have existed side by side in relative harmony.

I think the idea that faith and science are in conflict, and that you have to pick between one or the other, is a fairly new concept and not particularly helpful.

Faith and science are very different disciplines, different fields of study. Faith deals with issues of belief, yearnings of the soul and it ponders the meaning of life. It gives great comfort and hope to millions of people – fuelling a purpose to their lives and lifting them above the sometimes cold, harsh realities of life.

Science is about discovering the world around us, learning how things work and seeking ways to overcome problems facing humanity. We have so much to thank science for: just look at the advances in medicine, computing, biology, mechanics and telecommunications. Our lives have been vastly improved over the past century thanks to scientific endeavour.

One useful way of looking at the two disciplines is this: science is about the 'how' and Christianity is about the 'who' (i.e. Jesus).

Science cannot answer the question “Does God exist?” Some might argue that God’s existence is actually a scientific claim that can be tested in a lab somewhere. But science studies the natural world, not the supernatural. No amount of scientific testing or theorizing could prove or disprove the existence of a supernatural creator. God is not bound by the physical constraints in the same way we are, so why subject Him to tests that are limited to something He is not? Saying “God exists” is a metaphysical statement, not a claim about nature or physical laws.

Science and faith, however, are not mutually exclusive and can benefit from one another greatly. For example, science can benefit from the input of faith when it come to things like ethics. Faith can benefit from science when it comes to things like superstition.

Many atheists have hijacked science to further their cause, claiming you can't have reason or logic if you believe in a higher being. They accuse the church of being anti-science and stuck in the dark ages. But interestingly, the growth of science and education over the centuries was pioneered by Christians eager to explore God's creation and discover how it works.

And today, there are many scientists who have a faith and who are at the top of their game in a variety of scientific subjects. Given that they are obviously very clever people, and don't have a problem with what they believe and what they do for a living, then the idea that having a faith means you have to leave your brain at the door when it comes to science is clearly nonsense.

I now want to briefly touch on three areas of science which, I believe, pose some interesting questions about God. I tentatively regard them as 'evidence' that point to, rather than conclusively proves, His existence:
  • The Big Bang Theory: The big bang theory states, in its simplest form, that the universe began at a single point in time billions of years ago. This theory has been around since the 1920s but didn't gain widespread acceptance for several decades. Prior to this, the scientific consensus was that the universe had simply just existed without beginning or end. The book of Genesis, however, which was written millennia before we had the technology to delve deep into the cosmos, gives an account of how creation came about with a very definite starting point – very much like the currently held scientific view.
  • Human DNA: DNA is a code of 3 billion letters in a sequence that determines the actions of the cells in which is it found. This code has been compared to a computer programme and the idea that this code came to be through a series of random events seems far-fetched to me. The presence of a program suggests the existence of a programmer – and who is that programmer? In my view, God!
  • A fine-tuned universe:  There are numerous physical constants such as gravity, electromagnetism, nuclear force etc. which are required for the universe to exist. These constants require extremely precise values (or settings), and if any of these were to change even slightly then the universe as we know it could not exist and would be incapable of sustaining life. This is known as the anthropic principle. A creation fine-tuned for our survival seems so improbable that the idea of a super intelligent being responsible for dialling the settings to be just right aren't that ludicrous.
When we look at how life began on Earth, the chances of life randomly forming on our planet four and a half billion years ago are infinitesimally small. Some have suggested life was brought here by a comet or some ancient, alien race. To believe this takes just as much faith as a Christian who believes an all-powerful God created life, if not more – so why is the Christian viewpoint so regularly ridiculed?

The universe is immensely vast and chances are we are the only intelligent beings in the entire galaxy, and if there is other intelligent life out there it may be so far away they might as well not exist. This, therefore, makes us incredibly special, if not unique. So, that leads us to consider two options: life is just a cosmic accident or it has purpose and meaning as part of a wider story.

So, as I close, let me finish with a deep question: Who are you? Science might give one possible answer: You are a collection of atoms forged in ancient stars billions of years ago and one day in the distant future those atoms will return to the open vastness of space. Nothing more. Nothing less. Your life is insignificant and will not affect the universe one iota. If you happen to breed and have children, you will be keeping the human race going and adding to the gene pool. But that's about it.

If I ask God the same question, he might begin by saying this: Yes, you are a collection of atoms, but you were 'fearfully and wonderfully made' (Psalm 139). You are not an accident and your life has significance. More importantly, God knows you and desires for you to know him.

In conclusion, I think science is awesome! And it isn't, I believe, at odds with my faith. But what do you think?

References / Links


Prove to me that God Exists: http://www.cvm.org.uk/blog/demolition-squad/prove-it-to-me/?platform=hootsuite

List of Christian Scientists

If Bacteria's so fit, why evolve into Mozart? (cached article)

10 Reasons Christians should love the big bang theory

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