God and Science

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The relationship between theism and science has been debated for generations. All too often, people are given the impression that one cannot believe in the existence of God and at the same time believe what science says about nature. In reality, science does not require atheism, as indicated by the following statements by scientists.


Stephen Jay Gould, evolutionary biologist: “Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings and values –subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate but can never resolve.”

“Darwin did not use evolution to promote atheism or to maintain that no concept of God could ever be squared with the structure of nature. Rather, he argued that nature’s factuality, as read within the magisterium of science, could not resolve, or even specify, the existence or character of God, the ultimate meaning of life, the proper foundations of morality, or any other question within the different magisterium of religion.”

“The universe, for all we know, may have an ultimate purpose and meaning . . . and these ultimates may be set by a rational transcendent power legitimately called God, but the resolvable subject matter of science falls into another realm below the purview of such philosophical (and probably unknowable) generalities.”


Ian G. Barbour, nuclear physicist: “Another way of separating theological from scientific assertions is the distinction between primary and secondary causality, which is common in Catholic and neo-orthodox thought. God as primary cause is said to work through the secondary causes of the natural world that science studies. God is omnipotent and uses natural laws to achieve particular goals. Primary causality is on a totally different level from the interactions among entities in the world.”


Kenneth R. Miller, biologist: “Does evolution really nullify all world views that depend on the spiritual? Does it demand logical agnosticism as the price of scientific consistency? And does it rigorously exclude belief in God? These are the questions that I will explore in the pages that follow. My answer, in each and every case, is a resounding ‘no’.”

“My friends and colleagues in nonscientific disciplines will often claim science as their authority. Clearly they believe that scientific inquiry has ruled out the divine. Unfortunately for them, as I will argue, nothing of the sort is true. Their attitude towards religion and religious people are rooted not so much in science itself as in the humanist fabric of modern intellectual life.”


Mark Buchheim, biologist: “Science is indeed a powerful tool, but science is, by default, mute with regard to anything outside the natural world. The late Stephen J. Gould introduced the concept of NOMA, or non-overlapping magisteria, to describe how science and faith co-exist in “mutual humility.” The point I’m making here is that science, stripped of any philosophical assumptions about the exclusivity of the natural world, can tell us nothing about our faith. Therefore, anyone who tries to link an acceptance of evolutionary theory with atheism or agnosticism is promoting a false dichotomy.”


Mark A. Foster, sociologist: “Because a scientist recognizes the operational limitations of science does not make her or him an atheist.”

“Like virtually all scientists (physical, biological, or social), I am a methodological naturalist. However, I am not an atheist (an ontological naturalist). As a methodological naturalist, I reject that science can be used to demonstrate the existence of God. I do not reject that the existence of God can be demonstrated through other means.”

“There is as much evidence for evolution (most of it genetic) as there is for the heliocentric model of the solar system (that the sun, not the earth, is its center). There is no other side of the coin. Accepting evolution, however, does not mean that one rejects of God or the soul.”


John Polkinghorne, mathematical physicist: “There is much cloudy unpredictable process throughout the whole of the physical world. It is a coherent possibility that God interacts with the history of his creation by means of ‘information input’ into its open physical process. The causal net of the universe is not drawn so tight as to exclude this possibility.”


Scientists are not the only people who acknowledge the fact that atheism is not a requirement of science. Non-theist philosophers also acknowledge it.


John Wilkins, agnostic philosophy professor: “A final form of naturalism is ontological naturalism. This is the opinion that all that exists is natural. Many scientists are also physicalists. They argue that if we do not need to postulate the reality of non-physical processes for science, then we can conclude that there are no such things. This argument is too quick. The claim that ‘if A then B’ explains B may be true, but there may also be a C that explains B. Moreover, many things in the physical world are cause by many things together rather than just a few. So, we might say that a physical event is caused by both God and by physical causes, without being logically inconsistent.”


Keith Augustine, atheist philosopher: “In utilizing methodological naturalism, science and history do not assume a priori that, as a matter of fact, supernatural causes don’t really exist. There is no conceptual conflict between practicing science or history and believing in the supernatural.”


In short, a person can believe in God and still be a good scientist.


Quote Sources

[In order of appearance]

Stephen Jay Gould, Rocks of ages: Science and religion in the fullness of life (Ballantine: 1999), p. 4.

Ibid., p. 192.

Ibid., p. 199.

Ian G. Barbour, When science meets religion (HarperSanFrancisco: 2000), p. 19.

Kenneth R. Miller, Finding Darwin’s god (Cliff Street Books: 1999), p. 17.

Ibid., p. 19.

Mark Buchheim, “Letter to the editor: an educated response”, The Collegian Online (University of Tulsa: 2005), http://www.utulsa.edu/collegian/article.asp?article=2569 .

Mark A. Foster, “The Captain’s Personal bLog”, My Looking-Glass Selves (Sociosphere: 2001), http://editorials.sociosphere.com/arc20020301.html .

Ibid.

Ibid.

John Polkinghorne, Quarks, Chaos & Christianity (Crossroad: 1999), p. 71.

John Wilkins, Naturalism: Is it necessary? (TalkOrigins: 1997), http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolphil/naturalism.html .

Keith Augustine, Naturalism (Infidels: 2009), http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/naturalism/ .

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  • jim_m

    While it is true that science does not necessarily exclude the possibility of the supernatural, there are many who have taken science as a replacement for the supernatural. Look at the left today and their screaching claims that people who disagree with them are anti-science.

    The reality is that their demand for acceptance of a consensus and their claim that on the issues that underpin their ideology, “The science is settled” are really religious statements. They believe that these things are evidence of irrefutability and yet the statements themselves are contrary to the ethos of real science.

    NO, there is no necessary conflict between religion and science but such conflict exists nonetheless. In fact the conflict is most severe for those who have made science their religion.

    • Commander_Chico

      The science is settled on a lot of things. The world is round and the stars and planets do not revolve around it.

      • jim_m

        The world is not round it’s an oblate sphere. It is exactly this sort of dumbing down of science that I point out.

        First there are parts of science that are in dispute. Yes the earth orbits the sun but gravity is a force that is not fully explained. Space and time are not fully understood. So even your own statements are only partially true. More exists to be understood. The very statement “the science is settled” implies that there is nothing left to understand. It is anti-scientific. It denies that there is anything left to learn. It’s exactly what we expect from such a person as yourself.

        • Commander_Chico

          “Round” in the sense of “she’s got a round ass,” not meaning it was a perfect sphere, so don’t be pedantic.

          • jim_m

            The point, which you still miss, is that science is never settled and even while there may be agreement on some items it is never truly settled. And while our understanding is limited to the means at hand to make observations, Good science accepts that as methods change our understanding of basic issues may change and therefore nothing is truly settled.

            As I said the assertion that it is settled is used solely to cut off debate on ideological issues. No one is arguing the shape of the earth, but they are arguing about issues where direct observation is not possible and the raw data itself is at question.

          • jim_m

            Note that Chico equates unmeasured, unquantitated, purely subjective observation without any analysis with science.

          • Apt analogy

          • Commander_Chico

            Now that is funny. Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Somalia right in the crack.

      • Scalia

        And the Bible does not say that the world is flat or that the universe revolves around Earth.

        • jim_m

          Another point that Chico would err on.

      • Ty Sacket

        Chico shows his ignorance of science. For one thing space and time is
        relative. So yes science can set earth as the “center “ (given the
        right definition of center) and have everything else rotate in
        accordance to it. Relative to the earth, it is the center, according to
        science anyway. However it is much simpler to think of and
        model the
        Solar system and Universe using other point of references. There are
        times though that using earth as the center point of reference is more
        beneficial.

        Also as it has been pointed out, science uses generalizations. Just because some of those generalization are “close”
        enough for some people or some research, doesn’t mean they are accurate.
        If it is not accurate then it is not “settle”. It is those who treat science as a religion instead of a method that use the term “settle science”.

      • iwogisdead

        Gravity isn’t settled yet, despite the fact that we’ve been studying it for thousands of years. Our equations for gravity don’t work. Our equations can’t be wrong, though.

        Here’s an idea: let’s invent something called “dark matter.” We can’t see it, we didn’t even think it was out there, but it must be. If there’s enough of it, then we can make our equations work! We only need for dark matter to be 10 times of the stuff we can actually see!

        There’s invisible stuff out there controlling the universe!! We are smart!!

        • Brucehenry

          You snort with derision but your snark could easily be aimed at the concept of a supreme being. Same thing.

          “Let’s invent something called a ‘supreme being.’ We can’t see it…..”

          • Ha, ha!

          • jim_m

            Idiot. That was exactly his point. Some aspects of science are no different than religion. You just feel smug about it because you call it science instead of religion, but belief without evidence is still faith.

          • Brucehenry

            Was it?

            But yes, you’re right that belief without evidence is still faith.

          • Ha, Ha!

          • iwogisdead

            Maybe I should give up trying to make subtle points to liberals.

          • Try the Clue By Four, more effective and much more satisfying.

          • iwogisdead

            Snort?

  • JWH

    I once saw a DVD that is a serious argument against the notion of a benevolent god.

    • yetanotherjohn

      I once saw a DVD of talking animals. What is your point?
      There are a lot of people who look at the broken world as it exists and blame God for some part of that brokenness. The truth is that God created the world perfectly, man broke it through sinning and God will restore the world to perfection with the second coming. To look at the current broken world and say that with all the problems God can’t be benevolent is like looking at a clock that has been through a nuclear explosion and say that the clock maker couldn’t have been very good because the clock is broken.

      • JWH

        Well, the DVD was a compilation of twelve very special episodes of Blossom. I really don’t think a benevolent god would allow that DVD to exist.

        • yetanotherjohn

          The devil lives and makes our life miserable. This to shall pass.

        • Beer, on the hand, is a reason to believe in a benevolent God.

          • yetanotherjohn

            Kentucky Bourbon is a stronger reason to believe in a benevolent God.

          • Beware strong drink, as it would remove you inhibition about shooting revenuers, and cause you to miss.

            As Dr. Franklin noted: Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy

          • JWH

            I’m not one for hard liquor, but few years ago, I wanted to get my father some bourbon for his birthday. After researching ratings at several sources, I settled on a particular bourbon that offered the best quality for my dollar.

            By coincidence, I selected my late grandfather’s favorite bourbon. My father got a lot of memories from that …

        • John Hansen

          JWH – You mean a benevolent God who created s special race of people that have independent will would take a way that will so they could not make a film against him? Do you think this God should be a corrupt politician, silencing those who have contrary positions? God is above that. He allows free will. Deal with it.

          • JWH

            Have you ever actually seen a very special episode of Blossom? Those things must have been creating in the netherworld, by some malevolent creature. I mean, if this god wanted to protect us, it should have turned screenwriters into pillars of salt!! Or perhaps corroded the DVD presses!!!

  • Highly recommend this site for related posts.

  • yetanotherjohn

    Science and belief in God can coexist perfectly as long as you separate out fact from theory. That hydrogen masses less than helium is a science fact and not at all incompatible with faith. The theory of evolution is only incompatible with the creation account if you accept the theory as fact. Dates for evolution depend on geologic records which in turn depend on assumptions. None of those assumptions take into account a world created by God speaking it into existence.
    At some level, both science and belief in God rests on faith. Believers acknowledge that faith and the Bible (which also must be accepted on faith) tells us that faith comes from God. People with their faith in science tends to become more agitated when you point out how much their belief rests on faith.

  • retired military

    “In short, a person can believe in God and still be a good scientist.”
    Or not
    Pope Francis (paraphrase) “One of greatest threat to mankind is air conditioning”

    • What was actually said and more here.

      • jim_m

        Appropriately enough, there is no link, just blue letters and no substance behind Rick’s comment.

      • retired military

        “A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning. The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever greater demand. An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behaviour, which at times appears self-destructive.””

        Funny how no mention is made of the thousands of lifes saved every year due to air conditioning, mostly the elderly.

        • jim_m

          A few years back during the massive heat wave in Europe scores of people died from heat stroke in French hospitals because those hospitals were not air conditioned. The heat wave killed hundreds of people largely because they lacked AC. But the RCC is more concerned with looking pious than actually helping people. Rick is a prime example of that truth.

  • John Hansen

    OTOH – I don’t logically see how you can be a materialist and believe that any man can be a scientist.

    1. Materialism demands that their is nothing transcendent about man, That man is just a set of chemicals that responds to external output.

    2. Something that can only respond to external output can not be really said to be making a choice. Its choices are set responses, it can never take independent action. It has no free will.

    3. The design and execution of any well done scientific experiment involves ( see for example http://www.dummies.com/how-to/content/designing-experiments-using-the-scientific-method.html)

    a) formulation of a hypothesis

    b) design of an experiment to test the hypothesis.

    c) critical thinking of other alternatives to the hypothesis and careful design to rule them out.

    d) a detailed error analysis which must include a discussion of whether the results shown could just be according to chance.

    IOW – any scientific experiment involves many choices about abstract concepts. IMHO it does not seem that an entity that was only a collection of particles that can ONLY respond to external inputs could pull this off. It seems self contradictory.

    Thus my conclusion is that to believe in materialism is to believe that science can not be done.

    • jim_m

      Your hypothesis is flawed. If the concept that man is nothing more than the sum of chemical reactions and therefore only the result of external forces and free will is a fantasy is correct, then choice is an illusion.

      But then free will is also an illusion in a theistic model of the universe where an omniscient God exists. For if a God exists that knows everything from the beginning of time to the end, then everything is predetermined, man has no free will and science, as a system where we must make choices, does not exist, since all our choices are predetermined.

      Free will and choice are illusions regardless of whether or not you believe in a mechanistic universe or a theistic one. They exist only as an artifact of our point of view. Just as time and motion are relative dependent upon your point of view so is our perception of free will.

      Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether or not free will exists. It does from our point of view. We act as though it does. Everything else is just a philosophical game we play.

      • John Hansen

        jim_m Thanks for your reply, but I think your reasoning is flawed. It is very dangerous to judge the infinite by looking at finite cases. It leads to erroneous results. We can see how this works because our wonderful brains understand mathematics and homomorphisms.

        For example: in finite mathematics IF finite set A contains every element that is in finite set B… but set A also contains some elements NOT found in set B we know that the cardinality ( number of elements ) of set A is larger than set B. e.g. A = { 1, 2, 3 } B = {1,2}
        This just seems to be common sense.

        HOWEVER, the INFINITE set of all integers contains every element found in the set of all EVEN integers and there are definitely elements (in fact an infinite amount ) contained in the set of ALL integers not found in the set of EVEN integers (1, 3 5… are not EVEN ) yet these two INFINITE sets ( integers and even integers ) have the same cardinality. ( See work by Cantor who was able to define homomorphisms between all kinds of infinite sets to determine which ones were the same in cardinality ). If you simply try to use your common sense that thinks in finite sets, you will get the wrong answer.

        As a time bound entity, you may think that an infinite timeless being knowing future events makes it impossible for free will to exist. After all it follows just by common sense. What I think you fail to realize is that your time bound common sense does not operate correctly when considering eternal beings that can time travel. Being time bound we can’t imagine that time travel is possible without hitting a paradox. Don’t worry. The timeless eternal God has this one figured out. I suggest you stop letting your time bound common sense keep you from discovering the eternal God.

      • John Hansen

        Additionally, it matters very much whether there is free will or not. If there is free will then materialism is not possible. If materialism is not possible, some kind of creator seems necessary. If some kind of creator seems necessary, the God of Abraham seems the logical choice.

        I believe whole heartedly that God is just. He has given ample evidence that He exists. The fact that we have free will is part of that evidence. IMHO – on the day when people stand before God to be judged for their sins there will be no excuse. The very fact that the existence of scientific experimentation demonstrates we have choice, makes believing there is no choice something you can only choose to delude yourself about.