Faith and science, it doesn’t have to be either/or

In an article entitled Science vs. God: Does Progress Trump Faith? Wynne Parry shares some of the points made in a debate held on December 5, 2012, in New York.  The debate pitted Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist at Arizona State University, and Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, against Dinesh D’Souza, a self-styled Christian apologist, and Ian Hutchinson, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT.

At the outset let me make a couple of points that should be clear. First, the existence of God does not hinge on the outcome of a human brain brawl.  His existence transcends human debate.  It is like two ants fighting over whether or not I exist, the outcome will have no bearing on the fact of my existence.  A debate is not the final arbiter of truth.

Second, there is this assumption that faith in God precludes the ability to be scientifically objective, and that is absurd.  Sir Isaac Newton is considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist that ever lived and was a devout Christian.  I hold there is no contradiction between true belief and true science, both are compatible.  The purpose of faith is to better understand God, and the purpose of science is to better understand His creation.  While these are two different paths, they will ultimately arrive at the same destination.  Past and present conflicts between faith and science have arisen because of a failure to understand each other’s place in the scheme of things.

I could address the various comments made by each team and discuss the merits, or the lack thereof, of each, but that would not bring us to the heart of the matter.  D’Souza made a statement to which Krauss responded and these two statements bring us to the crux of the issue.

D’Souza said, “The questions to which God is the answer are not scientific questions.”  He goes on to point out that faith tries to answer the “why” of things and science tries to answer the “how” of things.  Krauss asked a trenchant question, “Why, presupposes purpose, what if there is no purpose?  Does there need to be a purpose?”

Krauss framed the issue as being fundamentally teleological.  Is there purpose in what we observe?  If there is purpose that would infer an intelligent design of the universe by an intelligent designer.  Simply put, if things have a purpose, that purpose comes from a creator.

About a month ago I wrote an article about how scientists cannot seem to avoid explaining natural phenomena from a teleological perspective.  Boston University had a team of psychology researchers ask various scientists to evaluate explanations for natural phenomena.  When these geologists, physicists, and chemists from schools such as Yale, MIT, and Harvard were asked to explain natural processes they received the following type of responses.  “The Earth has an ozone layer in order to protect it from UV light” or “Trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe.”

These kind of teleological or purpose-based answers indicate there is “a bias for purpose-based reasoning that even scientists can’t escape.”  Associate professor of psychology at BU Deborah Kelemen stated, “Even though advanced scientific training can reduce acceptance of scientifically inaccurate teleological explanations, it cannot erase a tenacious early-emerging human tendency to find purpose in nature.  It seems that our minds may be naturally more geared to religion than science.”

Krauss argues the idea of purpose in the natural order is questionable, but his colleagues cannot seem to rid themselves of purposeful language.  They intellectually deny the existence of God, and then lapse into the unpardonable sin of godless science by speaking about nature as being full of purpose.  They seem to fulfill Paul’s words, they cannot help referring to nature as having purpose, but deny God and “suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18).”

Coincidentally, Rick Warren is promoting his best-selling book, over 32 million copies sold, The Purpose Driven Life on its tenth anniversary of being published.  I wonder how Krauss and others of his ilk explain the longing in the human heart to understand why we are here.  How does science explain the evolution of abstract thought?  From where did the concepts of purpose, morality, etcetera, come from?  How did we come to conceive the abstract concept of eternity that is not a part of our evolutionary finite experience?

While Krauss and his buddies are thinking on that I’ll close with this thought.  I have said religion without science is blind faith, and science without religion is godless knowledge.  Mankind can ill afford either.  When it comes to faith and science it doesn’t have to be either/or, it could be both.

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