January 5, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

Discussions Increase About Science and Religion

Cary McMullen, writing for the Lakeland Ledger (Florida), has listed some recent developments indicating that more and more scientists and theologians are becoming interested in the relationship between science and religion.  His list spans a spectrum from atheistic opinions of Stephen Weinberg to neo-orthodox views of Fuller Seminary, with a variety of voices and views in between: the United Methodist Church, John Polkinghorne, the Templeton Foundation, bioethics, spirituality and health, Consilience, and the Intelligent Design movement, which McMullen calls “one of the more controversial approaches to science and religion.”  He also reviews the history of thought on science and religion, polls of scientists, and whether there is any overlap between the two domains.

Few are the representatives on the list who regard the Word of God as authoritative.  Most of the opinions expressed are just that: opinions.  Liberal scholars and scientists have lots of opinions, but are there any, especially among those calling themselves Christians, willing to affirm that the Word of God is the final authority, even over science?  Without that anchor, the fogginess of talk about “spirituality” could leave people in the dark as much as any materialistic religion.
    It is simplistic to treat science and religion as separate realms (this was Stephen Jay Gould’s final campaign), because the Bible, and most religions for that matter, deal with natural phenomena, and science frequently makes philosophical and religious assumptions about origins and destiny.  The battle in the 18th century was really not about natural selection or evolution specifically, but about whether philosophical naturalism had sole authority to explicate the creation myths of the culture.
    For naturalism to usurp science, it had to invade the unseen past and future with imagination instead of observation.  The strategy that enabled Darwin’s defenders to take over a scientific enterprise that had largely been under theological dominion was to elevate naturalistic storytellers to the ranks of scientists.  This was illustrated in the contest between Richard Owen and Thomas Huxley in the 1860s.  Science used to be about proving things and demonstrating things.  One of Richard Owen’s first criticisms of Charles Darwin’s book was about this very point.  As a leading scientist in Britain in 1859 and a very religious man, Owen was not interested in what Charlie believed or thought had happened in the history of life, but what he could prove.  With the help of agenda-driven insurgents like Huxley, Lyell, Hooker and Asa Gray, (Janet Browne dubs them the “Four Musketeers”*), Charlie’s Just-So Storytelling Club gained the ascendancy, and science has been stuck supporting a welfare state ever since (12/22/2003).  Huxley, out of a personal anger at God for allowing the death of his son, was on a personal crusade to rid all science of consideration of God, and even startled Darwin with his brashness telling everyone, even working men, that they were evolved monkeys.  Huxley worked like a political revolutionary, not an impartial scientist.  He had an agenda.  He wanted empire: unsatisfied with natural phenomena that were testable, observable and repeatable, he worked fervently on a hostile takeover of the origins and destiny business.
    Think beyond the collapse of the Darwinian regime, which appears inevitable.  Will it be replaced by something better?  Probably not, as long as humans refuse to acknowledge the authority of their Creator.  That’s been the basic human sin since Eden.  If the scientific just-so storytellers ever get shamed out of science, what we don’t need, any more than another brand of cigarettes, is another group of storytellers from the religious side.  Liberal theologians and spiritual leaders have lots of opinions, but who cares what they believe or think is true, if they cannot prove it?
    This leads directly to the question, what is the source of ultimate authority?  We learned it is not Aristotle, but neither is it any other mortal, including a scientist.  If science returns to its empirical roots and gets out of the spheres of origins, destiny and ultimate meaning, that question may well prove to be the intellectual battle of the 21st century.  Unfortunately, Bible believers may find it more difficult to debate liberal theologians than materialistic scientists on this point.  At least materialistic scientists claimed to respect objective truth and logic.  But liberal theologians tend to become hypnotized on spirituality or their own imaginations rather submitting to the authority of the Word of God.  Getting them to prove their opinions, rather than tell religious just-so stories, will be like trying to nail jello to the wall.  Creationists might get nostalgic for the good old days.
Suggested reading:  Jer. 9:23-24, Rom. 3:4, and I Cor. 1:18-2:16.

*Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (Princeton, 2002, ch. 4).

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