Battle of Science vs. Religion: Necessary or Evil?

Red vs. Blue. Alabama vs. Auburn. Ford vs. Chevy. Two rivals enter the arena. Only one rival will leave victorious.

church-history-volume-two-from-pre-reformation-to-the-present-day-the-rise-and-growth-of-the-church-in-its-cultural-intellectual-and-political-context_7314_500Heated though these rivalries may be, they don’t compare to the winner-take-all struggle for the soul of the West. Science vs. Religion dictates our debates and defines our times. The closely watched debate on the origins of life between Ken Ham and Bill Nye confirmed this adversarial narrative. As did a recent essay in the New Yorker, in which Adam Gopnik observed, “Surprisingly few people who have considered the alternatives—few among the caucus who consciously stand up, voting aye or nay—believe any longer in God.” Writing in his widely influential book A Secular Age, the eminent philosopher Charles Taylor argues that Science is winning the argument against Religion not primarily on the facts so much as the intuition: would you rather be on the side of reason and progress or dogma and repression?

Has the argument always been shaped this way? Will it always be this way?

For these answers and more I turned to John D. Woodbridge, research professor of church history and the history of Christian thought at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Along with co-author Frank A. James III, he recently published Church History Volume Two: From Pre-Reformation to the Present Day. Among other topics in this 30-minute interview, we discussed the decline of Christianity in the West, challenges to biblical authority, and the damage of Darwinism. Stay tuned for the end of the interview when Woodbridge offers hope for Christians who feel under attack by philosophers and scientists.

You can stream the full interview below, download the mp3, or subscribe to TGC’s podcast on iTunes or through your other mobile devices.

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  • Ryan Loyd

    The media may have portrayed the debate as religion vs. science, but I am sure Mr. Ham didn’t make that argument. Actually the debate was about whether Biblical Creationism’s understanding of science was acceptable in our modern education system, or only the tactically atheistic version of Mr. Nye. Two definitions of science, not religion vs. science.

  • TrueScotsman

    Christians often confuse methodological naturalism, which scientists use, and ontological naturalism which is supported by atheists. Due to this, we often wrongly accuse science as it is employed today to be purely atheistic.

    That is not the case, just merely that the natural sciences are unable to speak to the metaphysical realm in any way that is useful for science. You begin to make interpretations about the natural which pertain to the metaphysical and you have departed science into religion.

    Also, people’s rejection of the Evolution fuels this debate, as it turns into straight up science denying and semantics. If we were more scientifically literate, we would be invited to the table, but as it stands we have people like Ken Ham to represent Christianity…

    • Ryan Loyd

      I would argue that the rejection of Evolution is the very point where Christians must make a stand against “ontological naturalism” as you labeled it. Now it does depend on your definition of Evolution, but as commonly understood this is the explanation of how seemingly designed creatures developed through random unguided processes without a Supernatural hand guiding it. There are all sorts of other things that fit under the name evolution that do not need to be rejected such as diversifying of species within a kind that starts with an already complex designed creature, but the common naturalistic (atheistic) definition above must be completely rejected by the Church, even at the cost of seeming to reject “Science”.

  • Diane Woerner

    At the end of their conversation, both men express optimism that by careful engagement with the arguments that currently undermine Christian faith we might once again steer history at least somewhat back on course. I could be wrong, but I think the “jury” in our day is not the same as it was, say, in the 18th century.

    If we are measuring cultural health by what the majority accepts as valid, there is noticeably less concern for things like rational integrity these days. Rather, we are conditioned to evaluate our worldview based on immediate “results,” perceived personal constraints, and other such criteria that the persuasions of truth don’t readily touch.

  • Steve Cornelll

    The line “Science is winning the argument against Religion not primarily on the facts so much as the intuition” struck me as strange.

    We need more transparency about what science can and cannot do/prove. But this will end up requiring more honesty about ways that Theophobia has bound the academy to a philosophy of naturalism (theophobia –

    I am troubled by the use of the tag “science” for what is really philosophy or religion. When scientists claims that the physical world is a self-contained system of impersonal natural laws without any outside involvement from a God or a Creator, they should have the intellectual integrity to admit that this opinion is beyond the reach of science and belongs to the discipline of philosophy or even religion.

    Such a claim cannot even be offered as a “theory” because, in terms of science, this word implies a tested and proven postulation (which obviously can’t be done).

    When scientists are willing to acknowledge the shift of categories on questions of ultimate origin, then we can have an honest debate about the data used to suggest the plausibility of the philosophy. This would also require more honesty and humility about the validity of discovering truth in disciplines outside of science. A valid epistemology is not bound by one discipline.

    Truth about “how it all began” cannot be resolved in scientific labs, but faith offers a different kind of evidence on the subject. A helpful line from Scripture states that, “every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything” (Hebrews 3:4). Whether one visits a construction site or a nature site, the logic consistently demands the same conclusion.

    The science of evolution is not meant to offer a “story” that parallels the biblical account of creation. It’s not that scientists cannot postulate on the subject based on assumptions or patterns. They can do this in the same way that the science of intelligent design postulates origins based on design.

    When we confuse faith and science, we fail to respect what each one contributes. On the science end of the discussion, perhaps a better question to ask is whether the idea that the material universe is all there is, was, or ever will be is more rational than believing an intelligent being created the world.

    Steve Cornell

  • Jim Thornton
  • Pingback: Battle of Science vs. Religion: Necessary or Evil? – The Gospel Coalition Blog | The Great Exchange()

  • Michael Snow

    The sad fact is that is that those like Ken Ham get the attention of Christians because most pastors avoid the exegesis of Genesis One like the plague. Where do Christians go for help? They go to those who are speaking to the issue. And what do they hear? They hear about ‘science’ rather than Scripture, which ought to be our starting place. When I was in seminary (and these YEC organizations were in their heyday) this subject was never touched on.