A. How many of you enjoy learning about science? Was science your favorite subject in school?
B. I like the story told about a teacher who was giving her second-grade students a lesson in science.
1. She explained all about magnets and showed how they would pick up nails and other pieces of metal with iron in it.
2. She then asked a question to see if they understood, she asked: “My name begins with the letter 'M' and I pick up things. What am I?”
3. A little boy proudly answered, “You're a mother!”
C. This cute story illustrates that sometimes there are several correct answers to a question.
1. The word magnet begins with “M” and magnets pick up things.
2. But the word mother also begins with “M” and mothers also pick up things.
D. But what about our primary question for today: “Do Science and Faith Conflict?”
1. We could answer that question a number of ways.
2. Do science and faith conflict? Yes they do.
3. Do science and faith conflict? No they don’t.
4. How can both of those answers be correct, since they are opposites?
5. What we will learn today is that science and faith do conflict, but they don’t have to.
E. We are in a sermon series called “Got Questions? Answering Faith’s Great Questions.”
1. So far we have addressed several important questions.
2. We have answered the question, “What does God think about the questions of doubters and skeptics?,” by saying that doubt is a universal experience and that God is okay with us having doubts, asking questions, and looking for good answers.
3. We have answered the question, “Does God Exist?,” by looking at the evidence of moral law, and the clues of the cause, design, and regularity of the universe. All of these point to a God who caused, designed, and sustains the universe and who placed within us a strong sense of right and wrong.
4. We have answered the question, “Is the Bible Truly the Word of God?,” by looking at the internal evidence: the Bible’s claim of divine origin, its’ unity, and its’ fulfilled prophesy, as well as the external evidence: the Bible’s indestructability, its’ reliability its’ accuracy, and its’ dynamic impact. All of this is strong proof of the Bible’s divine origin.
5. If you missed any of these sermons, they are available on CD and online.
F. So let’s turn our attention back to the question for today: “Do Science and Faith Conflict?”
1. The answer that I want us to wrestle with and come to an understanding about is this: “Science and faith do not have to be in conflict with each other. When there is conflict, it is either because of bad science or bad religion, or both.”
2. Let’s begin by realizing that the Christian faith birthed modern science and that almost all of the earliest scientists were Christians.
3. The Christian faith has done much to make scientific investigation possible.
a. Many peoples and cultures, outside the Christian faith, have approached nature in ways that inhibited scientific investigation.
b. Pantheism is the belief that god is not only in everything, everything is god.
1. The Disney movie, Pocahontas, has many pantheistic ideas in it.
2. Pantheism hindered scientific research because it considered the natural world objects to worship rather than objects to study.
c. The ancient Greeks went in the other direction and equated the material world with evil and disorder.
1. They believed it was futile to try to make sense of it, so this stifled scientific research.
4. But then along came Christianity which brought new thoughts into the minds of people.
a. Christians taught that nature is good, but it is not a god – it is God’s creation.
b. Christians taught that nature is not sacred, but it is to be used as a gift from a good and loving God.
c. Christians understood that nature can be studied without fear.
5. As I mentioned earlier, the earliest scientists were people of faith.
a. People like Copernicus, Galileo, Isaac Newton, Kepler and many others were men of deep personal faith and conviction.
6. These men of great faith paved the way for modern scientific thinking.
a. They understood that at the center of the universe was a divine intelligence.
b. They understood that life is not random and chaotic, but is rational and ordered.
c. They understood that the world is not subject to the whims of thousands of gods, but that there is one God who is good and who has built the universe and life with design and purpose.
G. So if early scientists were mostly Christian, why does there seem to be such a conflict between science and religion today?
1. The history of the secularization of American institutions is treated in an important and influential book edited by Christian Smith named The Secular Revolution.
2. Smith argues that the conflict model of the relationship of science to religion was a deliberate exaggeration used by both scientists and educational leaders at the end of the 19th century to undermine the church’s control of their institutions and to increase their own cultural power.
3. The absolute warfare model of science and reason was the product not so much of intellectual necessity, but rather of a particular cultural strategy.
4. Many scientists see no incompatibility between faith in God and their work.
5. Two famous studies that support this contention were done in 1916 and 1997.
a. The American psychologist James Leuba conducted the first survey in 1916 of scientists, asking them if they believed in a God who actively communicates with humanity, at least through prayer.
b. 40% said they did, 40% said they did not, and 20% said they were not sure.
c. In 1997, Edward Larson and Larry Witham repeated this survey asking the very same question of scientists.
d. They reported in the scientific journal Nature that they had found that the numbers had not changed significantly in 80 years.
6. But if you paid attention to the original question posed to the scientists in both surveys, you notice that they are not being asked if they simply believe that there is a God, they are being asked if they believe in a God who personally communicates with humanity.
a. Those who have a more general faith in God are forced into being listed as an unbeliever by those surveys.
b. Many of the 60% of the scientists would have been listed as believers if the question had been posed in a more general way.
7. Rodney Stark in his book published by Princeton University Press titled For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-hunts, and the End of Slavery concluded: “A majority of scientists consider themselves deeply or moderately religious, and those numbers have increased in recent decades.” (pg. 192-197)
8. So there is no necessary disjunction between science and devout faith.
H. So what do I mean by the statement I made earlier: When there is conflict between science and faith, it is either because of bad science or bad religion, or both?
1. Let’s spend a few minutes talking about what we mean by science and religion and how that each of them have their own realms and limits.
2. Conflict results when either of them attempt to go beyond their realms and limits.
I. Science is a means to discover the underlying laws which govern the natural world using empirically-generated data as well as theories and models to explain that data.
1. So science is a process, not a series of facts.
a. Scientific inquiry works is like this: someone comes up with a hypothesis or theory by which they can explain natural phenomena, and then by repeating experiments the hypothesis is tested.
b. If the hypothesis is supported by a certain result enough times, then it is considered “proven.”
c. But any scientific theory is only one experiment away from falsification.
d. That’s why good science stays in the realm of theory, but bad science jumps to conclusions and represent them as facts.
2. Science provides us with physical explanations of physical phenomena.
3. Science, by its very nature, is limited in the kinds of knowledge it can give us.
4. It is very good at answering certain questions and very bad at answering others.
a. Science is really quite effective in answering questions like: Where? When? How? How many?
b. But science is completely unable to answer the ultimate question: Why?
c. Science cannot answer questions like: “What is the value of human life?” “Is that the right thing to do?” “Am I here for a reason?”
5. Humans find themselves asking these kinds of questions about meaning, justice, and purpose, but science is not able to help in this area.
6. That does not mean that science has no value – through science we have cured diseases, and understood the working of nature.
J. Religion, on the other hand, is the means of understanding the “whys” of life – why are we here, why are some things right and wrong?
1. Whereas science seeks tentative explanation and rejects authority, religion is the opposite.
2. Religious truth and knowledge are based on authority - what God has revealed.
3. Scientific knowledge changes and grows. Religious truth is unchanging and permanent.
4. God is the same yesterday, today and forever and the Word of God stands firm forever.
K. As you know, boundaries are important.
1. Humans are social beings, but we are individuals as well.
2. Generally, in a social sphere, we will concede space to others; but in our own personal space, we will defend our territory vigorously.
3. I couldn’t help but think of the violations of boundaries that occurred in our home when I was growing up – I was second oldest of 10 kids and we would run to mom and say, “sister or brother went into my room without asking!” Going into someone else’s bedroom without permission was a big “no, no”!
4. In a general sense, science and religion have their own separate spaces or “bedrooms.”
5. As long as religion does not enter the “bedroom” of science and science does not enter the “bedroom” of religion, then there will be peace.
6. But it should not surprise us that when religion invades the natural territory of science, it evokes a reaction and vice versa.
7. So the conflicts between science and faith come when either make pronouncements outside of their realm and do not respect the appropriate boundaries.
L. One of the earliest conflicts between science and religion occurred back in 1500 A.D. when Nicolaus Copernicus, who was both a scientist and religious leader, concluded that the sun was the center of the universe.
1. This went against the church’s position at the time.
2. The church believed that the Bible declared that the earth was stationary, and that the sun moved around it.
3. The church based its’ belief on Psalm 104:1, 5 that says, “O Lord my God, Thou art great indeed…Thou fixed the earth upon its foundation, not to be moved forever.”
4. Copernicus was forced to keep his views secret for 30 years for fear of persecution by church authorities.
5. Galileo began where Copernicus left off, and claimed that the earth was not the center of the universe, but revolved around the sun.
6. Because Galileo held this belief, he came under intense criticism and persecution from the church. Pope Urban VIII personally gave the order in 1633 that Galileo, then an old man of 70, should be threatened with torture if he did not renounce the heresy that the earth revolved around the sun.
7. In the face of mounting evidence, the church held to this one verse falsely interpreted – that’s what I mean by bad religion.
8. Today we accept that the earth revolves around the sun without sacrificing our faith.
M. An example of bad science is when science says that evolution is not a theory, but is fact, even when there is little actual evidence that supports the theory of evolution.
N. Let’s consider how science and religion might complement each other by remaining in their realms.
1. Science may solve the problem of how the universe began, but it cannot answer the question: why does the universe bother to exist?
2. The Bible tells us God brought the world into being and why He did it, but the Bible does not give us much information about how God did it, other than the fact that He did it in an orderly way.
3. Science can trace and explain the human biological process, but only the Bible can speak to our value and purpose and future.
O. Let’s consider the question of alcoholism and see how science and religion might work together.
1. If we only listen to “science,” we will notice the genetic predisposition of some to alcoholism, but fail to give hope to the alcoholic.
2. Science alone might even give the person an excuse not to change.
3. On the other hand, if we only consider the “religious” aspect of alcoholism, declaring it a sin, but ignoring the science, we may miss a chance to use a chemical treatment to help the person overcome alcoholism.
4. And we might also fail to show compassion, not understanding that for some it really is harder than for others, for reasons not completely within their control.
5. But if we allow science and religion to work together, especially in that limited number of questions on which they naturally overlap, much good can result.
O. Albert Einstein said, “Science without religion is lame, but religion without science is blind.”
P. Dr. James Tour of Rice University has said, “I stand in awe of God because of what He has done through His creation. Only a rookie, who knows nothing about science, would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God.”
Q. In the July 20, 1998, Newsweek article, “Science Finds God,” Sharon Begley told the story of Allan Sandage.
1. She wrote: “The 72 year-old Sandage has spent a professional lifetime coaxing secrets out of the stars, peering through telescopes from Chile to California in the hope of spying nothing less than the origins and destiny of the universe. As much as any other 20th century astronomer, Sandage actually figured it out: his observations of distant stars showed how fast the universe is expanding…But through it all Sandage, who says he was “almost a practicing atheist as a boy,” was nagged by mysteries whose answers were not to be found in the glittering panoply of supernovas. Among them: why is there something rather than nothing? Sandage began to despair of answering such questions through reason alone, and so, at 50, he willed himself to accept God. ‘It was my science that drove me to the conclusion that the world is much more complicated than can be explained by science. It is only through the supernatural that I can understand the mystery of existence.’ ”
R. Science and religion can coexist.
1. There is no need for science and faith to be enemies.
2. The more deeply scientists look into the secrets of the universe, if they are honest, the more the genius of the wondrous mind of a Creator and Designer will become obvious.
3. I believe the Bible when it says, “In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
4. I believe this, not because I want to believe it, but because all the evidence points to it.
5. I like what a scientist named Leon Eisenley said, “At the core of the universe, the face of God wears a smile.”
S. Why then do some people and some scientists remain unbelievers?
1. Alister McGrath, a theologian with an Oxford doctorate in biophysics, writes that most of the unbelieving scientists he knows are atheists on other grounds than their science. Many complex factors lead a person to belief or disbelief in God. Some are personal experiences, some are intellectual, and some are social.
2. In McGrath’s experience, most of his atheist colleagues brought their assumptions about God to their science rather than basing them on their science (The Dawkins Delusion?, pg. 44).
3. James Jack tells the story of his repeated attempts to help a friend become a believer.
a. Years later he discovered that his friend had become a Christian.
b. He asked his friend what it was that made him put aside his scientific objections to Christianity.
c. In response his friend said, “You know, it was never evolution or science that was my real objection to Christianity. I thought that was the reason, but the truth was I didn’t want to give my life to God. I knew there would be consequences for believing in Jesus and I wasn’t prepared to face them. Apologetics wasn’t what made me become a Christian. It was useful to have those conversations, as a way of getting into a conversation about Jesus. But what changed me was the gospel. I read the gospels and found that Jesus was worth following. All my questions about evolution didn’t just go away then, but they became far less significant.”
T. So as important as it is for us to do our best to answer the questions that people present about faith issues, we also need to point them to Jesus and allow Jesus to draw them to Himself.
1. Jesus said, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (Jn. 12:32).
2. Toward the end of John’s gospel, John wrote: Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
3. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. (Jn. 14:6)
U. Science and faith don’t have to conflict if they respect their boundaries and stay within their realms.
1. Let’s let science continue to explore and discover the “how’s” and “what’s” of the universe and life, but let’s keep all of the discoveries of science as theories and keep them tentative.
2. Let’s let faith continue to offer truths about the “why’s” of our existence based on the truth that God has revealed.
3. Remember that in many ways religion and science can benefit from each other.
4. As Einstein said: “Science without religion is lame, but religion without science is blind.”
Skeptics Answered, by D. James Kennedy, Multnomah Books, 1997
Questions People Ask Ministers Most, by Harold Hazelip, Baker Book House, 1986
The Reason for God, by Timothy Keller, Penguin, 2009
Do Science and Christianity Conflict? Sermon by Wayne Field, SermonCentral.com
Hasn’t Science Disproved Christianity? Sermon by James Jack, SermonCentral.com
Is There a Conflict Between Faith and Science? Sermon by Rodney Buchanan, SermonCentral.com
Faith and Science: Is There a Conflict? Sermon by Andrew Chan, SermonCentral.com
Science, A Friend of Faith, by Morgan Downing, www.doesgodexist.org
Science and Religion are not Enemies, by John Oakes, www.doesgodexist.org
Looking for Peace in the Science and Religion Relationship, by John Clayton, www.doesgodexist.org