should we put faith in science or derive science from faith?

I’m sure you’ve noticed the two ‘going’ popular stories about the relationship between science and faith — particularly Christian faith. Matt has recently posed the question in relation to the resurrection.

On the one hand, there’s the one that plays faith off against science. In this story, reason and individual autonomy triumph over dogma and institutional authority. The so-called New Atheists love this story. Especially because it appears to justify their faith in science (and opposition to faith). Galileo is the hero here.

On the other hand, there’s a competing story which keeps telling us that we should — and that in the course of Western history we have in fact — derive our science from faith. In his book, God’s Undertaker, John Lennox sounds like he’s working with this story when he says:

…the rise of science would have been seriously retarded if one particular doctrine of theology, the doctrine of creation had not been present.

The Protestant Reformers are usually the heroes in this story.

My problem with both of these stories is that (as ever) things are more complex. For the faith in science story, I would have thought that even not very recent work in the history and philosophy of science had popped the Galileo = Science Trumps Faith balloon.

As for deriving science from faith, I wonder: if it’s belief in creation that’s the key to developing modern science then…

  • Why didn’t modern science develop long before it did (since Christians believed in creation well before the Protestant Reformation)?
  • And why did the Reformers — with the possible exception of Calvin — not actually have that much to say about creation (there are big gaps here in the Protestant Confessions, etc)?
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6 comments

    1. Hey Matt,

      Good question. As far as the Nicene and Pro-Nicene fathers go, a number of them have things to say. But I’m not sure any of them really qualify as a fully-blown ‘theology of creation’.

      So, in On The Incarnation of the Word, Athanasius (echoing Ireneus against the Gnostics) is at pains to stress the unity of creation and redemption. Gregory of Nyssa also gives it a red hot go — and comes up with some interesting stuff along the way. And Gregory Nazianzen’s Five Theological Orations — especially the second, from memory — dwell on the complexity and wonder of the created world (although he goes there to prove a point about how limited our understanding is).

  1. –”The Protestant Reformers are usually the heroes in this story [Christian underpinning of the Scientific Method].”–
    I’ve also seen some fairly decent RC accounts along those lines; in particular, I’d commend the works of the late Mariano Artigas.

    1. Cheers, Michael. I guess this further reinforces and nuances what I was saying — the typical accounts (either of science trumping medieval gullibility or of Reformed faith underpinning science) don’t really cut it.

  2. um stumbled across your blog. Good points.

    Peter Harrison has recently documented how the rise of modern science was consciously fuelled by specifically Christian theology of the Fall of Man, and the Protestant Reformation emphasis on the interpretation of texts

    if you’re interested, I’ve jotted some notes down in 2 posts here.

    or if you dont want to read the books, Harrison has two papers online:
    Fixing the Meaning of Scripture and the Origins of Modernity (2002)
    The Bible and the Emergence of Modern Science

    1. Thanks Chris. I’ll definitely have a read of a few of those essays — a little robust intellectual history is good for the soul now and then. And I feel that it’s really important not to pit Science simplistically against faith. I certainly find my biblically informed wonder at the world as God’s gracious handiwork is something that dovetails nicely with a scientific curiosity about how the world works.

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