Medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) described theology as “the queen of the sciences.” In his day, all scientific study was subordinated to the theologian’s higher research into the nature of God. The temporal natural world was of a lower order than the eternal and supernatural. Theology was queen because it sought to discover ultimate truth.
But today, theology has been dethroned, and there is a consensus among scientists that science and theology should not mix. For the “new atheists” the reason they should not mix is that the two are directly opposed. Sam Harris writes, “The conflict between religion and science is unavoidable. The success of science often comes at the expense of religious dogma; the maintenance of religious dogma always comes at the expense of science.” Christopher Hitchens wrote, “All attempts to reconcile faith with science and reason are consigned to failure and ridicule.” Richard Dawkins said, “I am hostile to fundamentalist religion because it actively debauches the scientific enterprise […] It subverts science and saps the intellect.” Atheists generally look to science as the source of ultimate truth.
The conflict between science and religion is due to a misunderstanding of the realms they explore and roles they play. Some atheists believe religion is mainly an attempt to explain the unexplainable in nature. From this they argue that the more science explains, the less there is for religion to explain. For example, some atheists believe religion was originally invented by cavemen to explain thunder and lightning. Now that science has discovered the natural explanations for these natural phenomena, religion has one less thing to explain. But such perspective only acknowledges a natural world that can be scientifically observed. If human knowledge was limited to what was observable scientifically, then the atheists could be correct. But, theology and its cousin philosophy remain important because human experience and knowledge is larger than science. Science can answer questions about how, but only philosophy and theology can answer the questions of why.
Science is good at answering the “how” questions. The scientific method forms a hypothesis and then tests the hypothesis through experimentation. The results of the experiment are analyzed. If the evidence shows the hypothesis is falsifiable, then a new hypothesis must be formed and tested. The near religious belief in science and its methods that many atheists and others hold is called scientism or logical positivism. This perspective claims that if something cannot be proved in the laboratory, it should not be believed. The problem with such thinking is that it fails to acknowledge the limitations of science for covering areas of knowledge that cannot be scientifically examined—such as history, ethics, aesthetics, philosophy, and religious experience.
For example, it is impossible to do experiments in the laboratory to prove historical events. Using science, one cannot prove that George Washington was the first president of the United States or that Ronald Reagan was the 40th. One cannot prove that Julius Caesar or Shakespeare ever lived. One cannot prove scientifically that Jesus rose from the dead. The facts of His existence or His resurrection are not a repeatable experiment.
There are many things that humans know that can never be scientifically tested. Science can measure the saliva transfer that happens during a kiss, but not the love of two individuals. Science can predict the exact time of the sunset, but it cannot explain why it is beautiful. Science can unwrap the DNA helix, but it cannot tell us why we are here on this earth. Science can discover ever more effective ways for us to kill people, but science has no ability to tell us why we should not kill. Science is good at answering the question of how, but it often doesn’t have an answer for why.
Answering the question of why is the role of religion. Galileo (1564-1642), the scientist, astronomer, and theologian wrote: “The Bible shows the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.” Isaac Newton, the scientist and mathematician, said, “Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion.” Science can explain natural things, but it cannot explain the supernatural. It can explain the observable, but not what is unseen. It can explain the human body, but it cannot perform experiments on the human spirit. For this reason, science has not disproven miracles. In fact, it is impossible for science to disprove miracles. Science deals exclusively with the natural world and does not acknowledge a supernatural world. A miracle, by definition, is something that does not happen naturally. Because human experience is larger than science, science cannot be the source of ultimate truth. Believing that science has the answers to all life’s questions may seem comforting, but as Carl Sagan, an atheist and scientist said, “It is far better to grasp the universe as it really is then to persist in delusion however satisfying or reassuring.” To insist that science is the source of ultimate truth is to persist in a delusion.
Ultimately, there should be no conflict between theology and science. Both are concerned with seeking truth. Albert Einstein said, “A legitimate conflict between science and religion cannot exist. Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Certainly, science has been a great blessing to society. Because of scientific progress the world enjoys electricity, motorized transport, and cell phones. Science has cured tuberculosis, given us vaccines, and extended our life spans. But for all the good things that science has achieved, it has also enabled great evil. From gunpowder, to land mines, to atomic bombs, to unmanned drones, science has continually invented more efficient ways of killing other humans. Crimes, like identity theft and many forms of fraud are enabled by the technologies created from science. Science doesn’t have the power to set the world free from evil. Truth, not science, is the remedy for error.
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About the Author: Dr. Daniel King is a missionary evangelist who has traveled to over seventy nations in his quest for souls. His goal is to lead 1,000,000 people to Jesus every year through massive Gospel Festivals, distribution of literature, and leadership training. Because of his experience and research on evangelism, he is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading experts in mass evangelism. As an evangelist, he has a deep interest in using apologetics to convince skeptics that God is real.