Faith and Science: Which Is Right?
By Barry Cooper
In the war between science and religion, which side is right?
Science and religion cannot be reconciled. . . . Religion has failed, and its failures should stand exposed. Science . . . should be acknowledged king.Peter Atkins1
The words of the British chemist Peter Atkins express the idea that faith and science are mortal enemies. Each threatens to swallow up the other. Only one can win.
Science—particularly evolutionary science—has made belief in God an anachronism. Religious faith is a throwback to an intellectually primitive, anti-scientific past. We once believed in God because we had nothing else to illuminate the dark places of our ignorance. But as scientific knowledge grows, God will shrink—until finally, the argument runs, he will shrivel into non-existence.
As Carl Sagan once said, “As science advances, there seems to be less and less for God to do. . . . Whatever it is we cannot explain lately is attributed to God. . . . And then, after a while, we explain it, and so that’s no longer God’s realm.”2
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But is that true? Are science and belief really mutually exclusive? Or might there be a more complementary relationship at play?
Faith vs. Science
If scientific knowledge drives out religious faith, we would expect to find very few exemplary scientists who believe in God. But that isn’t the case.
Copernicus, Kepler, Pascal, Galileo, Faraday, and Newton are some of the most celebrated scientists in history, and they were all theists. Their faith in God didn’t inhibit or threaten their scientific endeavors. If anything, the reverse seems to have been true.
For example, Robert Boyle (the founder of modern chemistry) argued that the study of science would only increase our wonder at the way God had ordered his creation.3 Far from posing a threat to faith, then, science fueled his theistic convictions. And far from posing a threat to science, faith motivated his scientific curiosity…