Science v. Religion

Rob over at Casual Musings wrote this article about whether Christians should be overly concerned with how we appear to the world. Specifically, he reflects on the statements of Paul in 1 Corinthians that the wisdom of God is foolishness to unbelievers. Since I posted a rather lengthy comment, there, I thought I’d put it here too…

This is an interesting post, Rob. I think you have raised a good point regarding what we might call religious epistemology (the study of how we know what we know).

The two biggest questions of science versus faith are these:

  • Where does our knowledge come from?

  • Is it justifiable to acquire knowledge from another sentient (and potentially fallible) being?

Scientists say…

Regarding the first question, scientists would say that knowledge comes only from empirical observations. Regarding number two, the scientist would say that information gained from another sentient being is acceptable if and only if the information can be traced back to an empirical source. This is the (claimed) scientific method. It is the basis for all scientific inquiry and is the rationale behind the way scientific articles are published.

Religious people say…

The person of faith, however, usually speaks of knowledge as that which is given to us by someone more knowledgeable than ourselves. The level of trust we have in the knowledge equates to the level of trust we have in the one who gives it. If the Bible comes from God, then regardless of what it says, we will trust it implicitly.

Middle ground?

I would like to propose a middle ground in this debate. As I see it, we can bring both sides together by answering these two questions in a somewhat existential fashion:

  • Knowledge is gained through incrementally greater approximations of the truth.

  • Every experience, observation, revelation, and teaching from other people is allowed to contribute a suggestion of the truth.

  • The suggestions are weighed together according to the trustworthiness of the source to develop an approximation of the truth.

With these three points, the discussion between the scientist and the person of faith can be more fruitful as we begin to discuss our system of weighting. What right does the scientist have to weigh empirical observation over all other things? What right do we have as humans to think we can synthesize all the bits of information we have into some approximation of the truth?

Those discussions would be a lot more fruitful than the name calling that happens so often.

I’ll make one more comment as well. I don’t believe there are any hard inconsistencies between the claims of the Bible and the claims of science, and one of the claims of the Bible is that human beings were created in the image of God with the mandate to “subdue” the earth. Our ability to subdue the earth has depended on our ability to use scientific thought processes.

Therefore, I conclude that rational thinking is an exercise of the image of God—as long as we realize that sin has damaged us, and only God’s revelation can fill in the missing pieces.