William Lane Craig on the relationship between science and religion

Chris Shannon shared this article from Reasonable Faith on Facebook. The faster we get used to this material, the better off Christianity will fare in the marketplace of ideas.

Here’s the introduction:

What has happened, however, in the second half of this century is that historians and philosophers of science have come to realize that this supposed history of warfare is a myth. As Thaxton and Pearcey point out in their recent book The Soul of Science, for over 300 years between the rise of modern science in the 1500’s and the late 1800s the relationship between science and religion can best be described as an alliance. Up until the late 19th century, scientists were typically Christian believers who saw no conflict between their science and their faith—people like Kepler, Boyle, Maxwell, Faraday, Kelvin, and others. The idea of a warfare between science and religion is a relatively recent invention of the late 19th century, carefully nurtured by secular thinkers who had as their aim the undermining of the cultural dominance of Christianity in the West and its replacement by naturalism—the view that nothing outside nature is real and the only way to discover truth is through science. They were remarkably successful in pushing through their agenda. But philosophers of science during the second half of the 20th century have come to realize that the idea of a warfare between science and theology is a gross oversimplification. White’s book is now regarded as something of a bad joke, a one-sided and distorted piece of propaganda.

Now some people acknowledge that science and religion should not be regarded as foes, but nonetheless they do not think that they should be considered friends either. They say that science and religion are mutually irrelevant, that they represent two non-over-lapping domains. Sometimes you hear slogans like “Science deals with facts and religion deals with faith.” But this is a gross caricature of both science and religion. As science probes the universe, she encounters problems and questions which are philosophical in character and therefore cannot be resolved scientifically, but which can be illuminated by a theological perspective. By the same token, it is simply false that religion makes no factual claims about the world. The world religions make various and conflicting claims about the origin and nature of the universe and humanity, and they cannot all be true. Science and religion are thus like two circles which intersect or partially overlap. It is in the area of intersection that the dialogue takes place.

Here are his six ways that science and religion overlap:

  1. Religion furnishes the conceptual framework in which science can flourish.
  2. Science can both falsify and verify claims of religion.
  3. Science encounters metaphysical problems which religion can help to solve.
  4. Religion can help to adjudicate between scientific theories.
  5. Religion can augment the explanatory power of science.
  6. Science can establish a premise in an argument for a conclusion having religious significance.

Part 2 was my favorite part. Here’s part of it:

When religions make claims about the natural world, they intersect the domain of science and are, in effect, making predictions which scientific investigation can either verify or falsify. Let me give some examples of each.

[…]Another interesting example of science’s falsifying a religious view is the claim of several Eastern religions like Taoism and certain forms of Hinduism that the world is divine and therefore eternal. The discovery during this century of the expansion of the universe reveals that far from being eternal, all matter and energy, even physical space and time themselves, came into existence at a point in the finite past before which nothing existed. As Stephen Hawking says in his 1996 book The Nature of Space and Time, “almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the big bang.”3 But if the universe came into being at the Big Bang, then it is temporally finite and contingent in its existence and therefore neither eternal nor divine, as pantheistic religions had claimed.

On the other hand, science can also verify religious claims. For example, one of the principal doctrines of the Judaeo-Christian faith is that God created the universe out of nothing a finite time ago. The Bible begins with the words, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth” (Gen. 1.1). The Bible thus teaches that the universe had a beginning. This teaching was repudiated by both ancient Greek philosophy and modern atheism, including dialectical materialism. Then in 1929 with the discovery of the expansion of the universe, this doctrine was dramatically verified. Physicists John Barrow and Frank Tipler, speaking of the beginning of the universe, explain, “At this singularity, space and time came into existence; literally nothing existed before the singularity, so, if the Universe originated at such a singularity, we would truly have a creation ex nihilo (out of nothing).”4 Against all expectation, science thus verified this religious prediction. Robert Jastrow, head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, envisions it this way:

[The scientist] has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.5

This is a popular-level article, and I recommend it. It really speaks to what I see as the biggest problem that I find among my co-workers who call themselves theists. There is a strange view of faith out there that says that faith is about life enhancement. God’s job is to provide us with a happy life, via mystical coincidences. God’s job is to make us happy – to make our plans work out and to protect us from suffering in this life. On this view, God is part of a subjective experience. When people who have this view talk about God, they talk about him as a kind of rabbit’s foot or lucky charm. They are not trying to know if God exists objectively, or to know his character objectively. They are trying to run their own lives, and they want to believe that the there is a mysterious force in the universe that orders everything to make them happy. And perhaps they sing praise hymns in church to reward this mystical God. Praise hymns make them happy, so it must make him happy, too. There are Christians in my office who have this postmodern view of God as cosmic safety blanket, and they do not see it as incompatible with other views like pluralism, universalism, pro-abortion, pro-gay-marriage, pro-socialism, and so on. This subjectivist view of religion is, of course, nowhere in the Bible.

Enter science. Scientific evidence (and its partner, historical evidence) is the antidote to this subjective, life-enhancement version of Christianity. Scientific evidence establishes premises in arguments for God’s existence. These arguments make the existence of God knowable apart from private experiences, personal preferences, mysticism and singing praise songs. If God really exists, then he is not just a projection of our own minds that serves our needs for comfort. God is not a crutch that we pull out by force of our own will – he is out there and he is real. Historical evidence, and the theology that is based on it, is also important, because it establishes the character of God objectively. Now instead of pushing our views onto God, and making him serve us, we can get to know him and serve him. Instead of having God arrange things mystically to serve our needs, we can use our wills to achieve the things that matter to him, while working within the rules of engagement that he has set out.

Science helps us know that God is real regardless of our personal preferences, our communities, our feelings, our desires and all that subjective stuff. And if God is real, then we find out what he is like by looking outward, not by looking inward, and not by agreeing with the people around us. Not everyone who claims to be a Christian is happy about the idea of God being real and knowable, because it threatens their autonomy to invent their own God. That’s why it’s important to know the science to correct even Christians, who have somehow adopted this postmodern, personal-preference view of religion.

3 thoughts on “William Lane Craig on the relationship between science and religion”

  1. Great article, I am quite surprised how the “theory of evolution” whether Darwins view or adaptive came into scientific/academic circles.. There is NO scientific empirical evidence.
    I suggest reading up on the “scientific method” and the 5/7 step process involved and ask to review the observable findings to see how it arrived at the “theory step”.
    In short, evolution is a “speculation about the unobservable and unrepeatable past”.


    1. Well said, Michael. Darwin himself later admitted that his theory was “beyond the realm of science.” In the UK today, many worship his statue, admiring how he “freed them from religion.” But, it would be more accurate to say that he freed them from a reasonable faith to become slaves to an unreasonable religion.


  2. One question that atheistic materialists cannot answer is “Why is there something rather than nothing.” The Christian finds his answer to this most fundamental and life critical question in the very first verse of the Bible.

    If atheistic materialism is true, no one will ever know it. If Christianity is true, we will ALL know it. It seems to me that an individual who finds himself equipped with an stunningly powerful brain and located in a personal universe (by definition) is being more logical when siding with knowable truth claims than unknowable and unverifiable ones.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s