Science and God

by Andy Bannister

“Science has buried God!” an atheist friend remarked to me. That’s a claim I hear ever more frequently in the media, online, or on the lips of celebrity atheists. A few years ago I had the chance to interview one of the UK’s leading atheists, Dr. Peter Atkins of Oxford University, who put it bluntly: “Science gives you the promise of understanding while you’re alive. Religion offers the prospect of understanding when you’re dead.”

That kind of soundbite sounds impressive, especially when delivered in an Oxford accent and accompanied by the jangle of PhDs, but the problem is it’s wrong. Why? Well, for a start, it entirely ignores the history of science, which reveals that Christianity was the birthplace of science. The modern scientific enterprise did not arise in the Islamic world, or in China, or in any of the world’s other great civilisations: it has, according to historians of science, only arisen once: in medieval Christian Europe. Why? Because science requires a belief in a universe that is rational, staple, and coherent. The first scientists were deeply religious, they believed that a rational God had created a rational universe: and thus they were motivated to set out to study it.

Science is one of the most amazing tools that human beings have ever invented. But like all tools, it has limits. A hammer is a wonderful thing for banging in nails: it’s positively useless for making omelets, doing brain surgery, or explaining why we have nails in the first place. That science has limits is illustrated well by the existence of questions that science cannot answer. One such question is…

 

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Science and God