Science versus Faith?

I was appalled recently when one of my children was asked in class to choose between the scientific and the biblical explanation of the beginnings of the universe. “What if I think they are both true?” asked my conflicted offspring. The teacher didn’t seem to be able to cope with this possibility and was either unwilling or unable to adjust the lesson plan to accommodate a surprising turn of events. So she insisted on sticking with the dichotomy; science or religion was the choice. And that is the way many people think today, but is, I believe, based on misunderstanding.

If I were to come into a kitchen to find a kettle boiling, I could explain what is happening in terms of the electricity from the cable causing the element to heat up, the heat energy being transferred to the water molecules, increasing their kinetic energy to the extent that the vapour pressure of the water exceeds that of the ambient atmosphere, and the liquid therefore boiling. That is a scientific explanation. But it is also true that the water is boiling because someone is intending to make a cup of tea. Both explanations are true. One is concerned with process and mechanism and is ‘scientific’, the other is concerned with purpose and meaning. It would be a nonsense to be forced to choose between the two explanations.

earth sun moonWe live in an area of wonderful scientific research and technological innovation, and our local communities and churches are full of those who happily call themselves both scientists and Christians. This month’s Broadsheet back page interview features one of them, Dr Tony Hughes.

Feeling the need to somehow have to choose between science and faith is a relatively new thing, and certainly not shared by many scientists, past and present. The possibility of science itself – the discovery of orderly laws by which the universe is governed – is underpinned by Christian beliefs that there is a divine Creator, who has ordered all things, and created human beings in his image with the ability to understand how things are and then creatively apply that knowledge. It can be argued that it was the Christian worldview that gave rise to the scientific revolution in medieval Europe, with scientific pioneers across the disciplines, such as Boyle, Galileo, Mendel, John Ray, Newton and Faraday, being inspired by their faith, as are many leading scientists today.

Kepler expressed it well for those in his field: “astronomers are the priests of God called to interpret the book of nature”. The founders of the Royal Society considered the study of nature to be a form of religious worship and devoted the Society “to the glory of God the Creator and the advantage of the human race”.

Both science and theology are concerned with the search for truth. If you are interested in thinking about important things and exploring the relationship between science and the Christian faith, why not consider coming to the talk advertised on the front cover, or the fortnightly discussion group, or the monthly Family Science Club? There is lots of good material online and in print, too.

As it says in Psalm 111:2, and inscribed above the main door of the Cavendish Physics Laboratory in Cambridge,

“Great are the works of the Lord;
they are pondered by all who delight in them.”


Let’s ponder together!

Revd Dr Jonathan Mobey
Rector of Harwell and Chilton
February 2017