Monday, November 1

Science vs Christianity

It is a strange conceit of our age that we think science and Christianity are at loggerheads. In some small ways this is true, mainly because of misunderstandings from both "sides" of the fray. As I start, I feel a little personal disclosure of where I stand on the issues I will discuss is in order. I was trained as a scientist (specifically physics). I am a Christian. As to evolutionary theory, I am not an expert, but to be honest I remain agnostic with respect to the literal claims in Genesis 1, which are a bone picked clean by the two sides in this "conflict". I do take to heart the moral and ethical lessons of Genesis, e.g., God created the heavens and the earth. However, evolutionary theory is not an issue burning in my heart and mind, and as such, I see no compelling reasons to worry it to any sort of conclusion.

And now, gentle reader, I will at last get to the point.

For the first part, Christianity (wrongly I think) attacks science with respect to evolutionary theory. Yes, evolution has made many "large" claims, which as yet are unproven. Many of its claims scientists will admit are "marginal" with respect to good science. That is they make claims from theory which makes no predictions. I have not drunk deeply of the well of intelligent design theory, however, I suspect it too is short on making predictions. This naturally attracts the ire of the mainstream evolutionary scientists. It also attacks evolutionary theory in places where the fossil record is not just weak, but almost certainly will forever be lost, e.g., charting evolution of complex soft tissues such as the eye. This alas is not science, because no prediction is made. Predicting that you will not find something nobody expects to be preserved is not exactly a strong prediction.

At the same time, the evolutionary and other scientists (rashly) make the assumption that their theories of any sort are a true reflection of reality. Science as a whole does not make any claims on the nature of reality. Science gives birth to a multitude of models (approximations), which can be used to predict, often with astounding accuracy, how the universe will behave. However, when you work in a field of science for long, the mental shortcut of believing your theories becomes a habit. This habit becomes second nature and you forget that it is not real, just a model. Scientists who forget that often make claims against Christianity, many of which, just as the IDT against evolution, make no positive predictions with respect to Christianity. The irony of this seems to escape all involved.

However, this was not always the case, and indeed shouldn't be the case. For Christianity, it has long been held that Nature is a reflection of the wonder of God. Indeed to quote Augustine:
Your entire creation never ceases to praise you and is never silent. Every spirit continually praises you with mouth turned towards you; animals and physical matter find voice through those who contemplate them. (emphasis added)
St. Aquinas likewise pointed to a Natural theology, bringing Aristotle and scientific inquiry into the fold of Christian endeavour. We as Christians should not forget that.

Scientists for their part, should recall that the primary realm of Christianity is spiritual and ethical. It does make claims about reality. Science (good science at least) does not. Science is also mute with respect to ethics and to one's spiritual well-being. Finally, concerning the ire evolutionary scientists express at those who profess to believe in literal interpretation of Genesis 1, I fail to see how the gallery of evolution in the great edifice which comprises science is slighted if some persons choose to not peruse their contents. Imagine, a world in which high energy physicists became outraged because SU(5) quantum non-abelian gauge field theory was not introduced in high schools. Let's face it, belief in evolution (or not) affects no one in today's modern world. Like cosmology, evolution has little, if anything, practical to offer our world. And in fact, evolution, being part of science, makes no real claims on the true nature of the world. So lighten up, some people don't want to view your particular corner of the scientific world, I for one am puzzled at the heat it seems to draw.