On the Origin of Controversy: Religion and Science
All the Controversy
When Ken Ham and Bill Nye debated creationism in 2014, both religious and non-religious people watched eagerly (1). Some were on the edge of their seats, waiting for their favorite debater to crush the other. Others bit their nails in horror, afraid that everything they stood for would be misrepresented. Most people probably gave little thought to the facts and arguments they disagreed with, having already made up their minds one way or another.
This debate was not the first time science and religion had been pitted against one another. Anti-theism has existed for centuries, with its proponents bashing the belief in God and mocking religious people for being small-minded and incompetent. Many religious people have historically disregarded scientific advancements on the grounds that these new ideas are contradictory to the fundamental tenants of their religion. Both sides get angrier and angrier, ignoring arguments from the opposition and stubbornly pressing forward with their own often uninformed ideas.
What Scientists Think
Despite all the controversy and ill-will, many scientists are easily able to reconcile their faith in God with what they study. In one survey by sociologist Elaine Ecklund, 40% of scientists in America were found to practice some religion. Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health and former director of the Human Genome Project, even created a foundation called BioLogos for scientists who are Christian. One of the official stances of BioLogos is to “embrace the historical Christian faith, upholding the authority and inspiration of the Bible” (2). Another one of their stances? The belief in evolutionary creation that occurred over billions of years, an idea that many anti-theists spout as evidence against God.
Somehow, these Christians, who spend their lives studying topics that supposedly disprove God, still hold fast to Christ. How are they able to do this when the two topics are often thought of as polar opposites?
In her talk titled “What University Scientists really think about Religion,” Elaine Ecklund discussed the religious views of international scientists (3). She mentioned an interview with a Hindu scientist who was bewildered and a bit annoyed at the topic of controversy between religion and science. He claimed that this is a western idea and that he did not think of the two as contradictory.
Her other findings support this – over half of the scientists interviewed in India, Turkey, Taiwan, and Italy are religious. Most of these scientists support the claim that God is outside of the scope of science. They practice science and their faith without a problem. This is the point that both anti-theists and anti-science people miss.
The Bible is often misinterpreted as a scientific textbook, something meant to explain the physical world and how it functions. Anti-theists laugh at the Bible for its pseudo-science while Christians reject all science in favor of their own interpretation, leaving others confused and unsure of what to believe.
But such extreme reactions show a complete misunderstanding of the purpose of the Bible. The Bible isn’t meant to be an alternative science. It doesn’t talk about physics or DNA or chemistry because that was never the intent of God’s Word. The Bible is a message from God to mankind about how to live in relationship with Him, revealed through the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It contains vital information meant for us from God, regardless of whether Genesis chapter 1 is a figurative story or a literal history. Whether God created mankind through the slow process of evolution over billions of years or in mankind’s present form today, the power of the Gospel still remains.
Similarly, science can be misapplied to religion. It’s impossible to disprove a claim that there is a being beyond our observation, whether through science, logic, or any other form of human thought. In the same way, the claim that there is a being beyond our understanding doesn’t disprove modern science.
To think the two are so intimately entwined is to ignore the main purpose of both. Science can never explain one of the most fundamental questions of human existence: what is our purpose? And it was never meant to; it only explains rules about the natural world. God, on the other hand, gives us purpose through the message of the Gospel: to live our lives in a way that honors and glorifies Christ.
In some ways, science even alludes to God. The beauty of creation and the complexity of life exemplify God’s creativity. Our understanding of physics, the process of evolution and the study of DNA – these things are almost miraculous and incredibly complex. God gave us modern science so that we can begin to understand how His creation works. If we can come to understand this, then we can glean so much more about God and His wonder by studying His creation.
We Need Unity
The controversy between science and religion is not just a debate between Christians and atheists – it has created splits within the church as well. Christians who believe in evolution and the old earth mock those who don’t, while those who believe evolution contradicts the Bible doubt the faith of the former.
But evolution, or science in general, is not the main tenant of Christianity. The unifying principle is the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that those who profess this have salvation. Many doctrines outside of this are up for debate. And ultimately, nobody save God will have all the answers in this lifetime. In the meantime, for Christians to maintain unity and exemplify Christ, each person striving for a relationship with God needs to respect the beliefs of their brothers and sisters in Christ, not create needless divides.
1. Answers in Genesis, Bill Nye Debates Ken Ham – HD (Official), accessed March 23, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6kgvhG3AkI
2. “About BioLogos,” BioLogos, accessed March 23, 2019, https://biologos.org/about-us/
3. Elaine Ecklund, “What University Scientists Really Think about Religion” (public lecture, September 20, 2018), https://www.christianityandscholarship.org/event/science-and-religion-antagonists-in-the-end/.