This is an important question, especially in light of the successes of modern science in the last four hundred years. Science is an unquestionable good to human flourishing. How does it fit with faith?
When we think of the term science, we may have in mind the scientific method, whereby we construct a hypothesis, test it, and modify our hypothesis until we have repeatable results that conform to our predictions. In general, this process attempts to determine how reality works through observation. Put another way, we use science to discover truth about nature.
The Bible also makes truth claims. Sometimes its teachings pertain to the world of nature, so there is overlap with what can be discovered through science. However, the Bible often speaks of realities beyond the reach of scientific observation. For example, it is not really possible to use the scientific method to prove the existence of God. It is not like we can put God in a test tube!
Is it possible to be a person of faith and also support the process of modern science? Yes, certainly! In fact, truths best known through faith are essential foundations that make science work in the first place. In other words, if science and faith were incompatible, then science would not work at all. Let me explain.
The great scientists of previous generations called their endeavors “natural philosophy,” and they recognized that science, like any other branch of philosophy, has a set of preconditions. Unless the preconditions are in place, the scientific process cannot even begin. Philosopher J.P. Moreland gives a helpful list of these preconditions in his book Scaling the Secular City. They include:
- Truth exists
- Truth may correspond with the physical world
- The laws of logic exist
- Numbers exist
- Numbers and mathematics may correspond with the physical world
- The mind is rational
- The universe is rational in such a way that we can know it
- The universe is uniform, thereby justifying induction (inference)1
Try as we might, we cannot use science to prove these things to be true. However, if we deny any of the above, we either fall prey to self-contradiction or to the destruction of the scientific method. For example, we cannot deny that truth exists, because that amounts to saying that it is true that truth does not exist. Likewise, if we deny the correspondence between mathematics and nature, we have just destroyed the major branches of science.
The question we must now pose is, “Where do these preconditions come from?” It is here that we get a profound window into the interplay of science with faith. Mathematician and cosmologist Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) once wrote, “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics.”2 Likewise, Sir Isaac Newton, the great physicist, wrote, “This most beautiful system of sun, planets, and comets could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.”3
These scientists were leading us to look up at the stars and down to the mathematics on the page in order to consider that it is the good, rational, orderly, and all-powerful God who is the precondition for all preconditions. As Aristotle famously argued, we cannot have an infinite regress of preconditions; no, there must be an Unmoved Mover who stands outside nature and gives nature its motion and being. These significant insights have led many scientists to believe in God, such as famous organic chemist Dr. James Tour, a Jewish scientist who believes in Jesus.
So, are science and faith compatible? Absolutely—in fact, any scientist who lacks faith in God is like a person who climbs to the top of a roof using a ladder, then kicks the ladder out from under him and declares that he got to the roof by himself. Unfortunately, he is mistaken—he needed that ladder to get to where he stands, just as we need faith in God to rationally justify our belief in science.
Much more could be said about the relationship between science and faith. Sometimes, science cannot say anything about what is included in the Bible. The existence of God, the presence of divine providence, and the evil nature of sin are not things that fall within the reach of science. Likewise, the Bible has nothing to say about the molecular composition of water or the wavelength of infrared light. In most areas, the Bible and science have no overlap at all. However, when it comes to the deepest questions, and the most fundamental realities, science must stand on the shoulders of faith if it is to stand at all.
- J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1987), 198.
- Nancy Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy, Turning Point Christian Worldview Series (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 126.
- Nancy Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy, Turning Point Christian Worldview Series (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 91.