Saturday, 5 June 2010

What Does Science Offer Christianity and Vice Versa?

In the modern intellectual climate there is often a gap between science and Christianity, and Christians themselves take more than one approach to science. Communication can be difficult with a chasm between the two, yet it should be necessary. One obstacle to communication is the rise of young earth creationism which creates the view that secular science and Christianity are incompatible; a view that some outspoken atheists are also keen to espouse. Another obstacle can be the compartmentalising of the two, giving them separate domains such as in the NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria) view of Gould, also known as the independence model of science and faith. Neither of these views provides for proper dialogue between the two.

The Gifts of Science to Christianity

The most obvious benefit of a Christian worldview which acknowledges and embraces the sciences is that it can give a litmus test for some religious claims. When there are competing interpretations in Scripture for a verse which mentions the material world a good grasp of science can swing the pendulum in favour of one over another. This most obviously applies to any claims about creation, though also to questions such as the soul.

The scientific view of the world is one of grandeur, of great depth and intricacy, along with an air of mystery. Scripture teaches of this grandeur, yet can it truly be appreciated without taking a peek at the findings of science? One can learn all about a beatiful location such as the Grand Canyon, but this surely cannot match the awe felt when visiting it. Christians should feel at least a little interested into the incredible insights science has to offer. 

Science does bring with it some questions, which we should of course embrace. One such question is whether or not the natural world can give us insight into the Creator. Although this might be the province of theologians, it is nothing but intellectual flailing about unless there is a solid understanding of science to back it up. Science can expand theology. 

Many Christians look to science for evidence of God. If they want a gift from science then evidence to back their position would be most welcome. This is another debate where a scientifically informed position would be more robust. My own position is that this is a misguided view; something I believe has both theological and scientific backing (another topic entirely). 

Science itself utilises a rigorous methodology and never stops asking questions when practised properly. Although theology cannot be subjected to the same sort of experimental methodology, the development of a scientific theory is a model which can be utilised in theology. Both disciplines are interested in discovering truth, almost necessitating an overlap in methodology.

Christians have certain "duties" on Earth and efficiency in achieving these would not go amiss. Advances in medicine, agriculture and conservation all help achieve the common Christian goals. Science can be a tool for achieving God's goals, but it must be embraced in order to be most effective. 

Christianity's Gifts to Science

In contrast to what science offers Christianity, what Christianity offers to science is of a different magnitude. Science offers gifts which can be universally accepted and are not confined to Christians. Christianity offers more to the individual and for the most part the benefits are nil for the non-Christian. This is not a blow to Christian belief, but merely the acknowledgement that science has a universality which goes beyond Christianity.

Science is, in simple terms, the collection and interpretation of data; it does not comprise a whole world view, though it can form a substantial portion. Christianity offers a philosophical world view within which science can find its home. Of course, each individual has their own world view and Christianity is one among many, but for the Christian it provides the broader picture within which science is but one facet. 

Christian voices, often sadly uninformed, are very often heard on issues of bioethics. Christianity, as with many major religions, offers a moral framework for the believer and so it becomes almost mandatory that Christians address ethical issues. Science does not answer ethical issues despite raising many. Christianity's moral framework provides key information for ethical decisions, whether in everyday life or in huge scientific issues. Many Christian concerns are relevant even outside of Christian circles.

One question which crops up is whether or not Christianity stifles science. It is capable of it, and has certainly done so in the past. This is why it is crucial for Christians to better understand it. A lack of understanding can be a source for fear or apathy, both of which risk putting a stop to science. Christians often also need to drop the mindset of having all the answers. 

If the animosity towards science is removed then this paves the way for Christianity actually motivating scientists. Many scientist Christians are driven by their Christian views, but sadly there often seems to be a gap between this view and the more stifling views which see science as dangerous ground. 

Embracing Christianity is often seen as a stop to the search for truth. It certainly offers answers to some questions which may otherwise have remained unknown, but at the same time it opens up more questions just as good science does. As both are a search for truth they can both be likened to a journey, one which may never end. This, to me, is an exciting prospect. 

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