Thursday, December 19, 2013

Are Science and Faith at odds? Books and comments

Last month in our brief series on the Bible, I attempted to address the conflict so prevalent in modern society between science and faith (my sermon can be found here). I wanted to simply follow up, give a few basic resources for people to check out, and to attempt to clearly state the fundamental problem between science and faith.

Let me start with the fundamental problem. The problem is an issue of knowledge. Is scientific knowledge the only kind of knowledge that is trustworthy? Is religious knowledge purely subjective and therefore personal, unverifiable, and unscientific? This falls under the subject of epistemology. Epistemology is the study of knowledge, it is the philosophical subject of how we know what we know. Therefore, the debate between science and faith is ultimately an epistemological problem. The focus in the debate almost always revolves around the issue of evolution. Over time I have essentially focused on that issue less and less, because it is not the primary problem but a manifestation of the primary problem.

Virtually any book that seeks to defend Christianity against its critics addresses this problem of knowledge. What is frequently pointed out is that scientific knowledge has limits and is not as objective as it seems. It is merely pointing out the assumptions about the claim that the only legitimate knowledge is that which can be observed through natural phenomenon. In other words, the belief that we cannot know anything that cannot be subjected to a scientific test. Among several arguments I tried to give (however successfully) is that scientific knowledge must assume a rational order to the natural world. This is a philosophical assumption necessary for science to work. Science itself is a subcategory of philosophy and epistemology. It is not something that can be proven through a scientific experiment. But it is a faith commitment necessary to support science, and a highly rational one. Faith is a means to knowledge, as Augustine famously said, "I believe in order to understand."

Personally, I go for a view that science and Christianity are compatible and can reinforce one another. Be careful when drawing conclusions on my opinion of the theory of evolution from that.

There are numerous books that address these issues in much more detail and with great clarity. Alvin Plantinga is one of the most prominent but his stuff is very academic (even worse is my preference, T.F. Torrance). There are also numerous books that address specific issues. So let me give three accessible ones I have read.

Redeeming Science by Vern Poythress
This is the first one I would recommend because it is clear, has good introduction, and attempts to address lots of specific issues (even carbon dating). My main reservation is that he makes significant use of an analogical view of the natural world to matters of God and faith. Analogical views have limitations and people as Reformed as Poythress sometimes avoid them altogether (which makes me think he is simply trying to make the concepts easier to digest).

Reason for God by Tim Keller
This is a general apologetics book that has a couple of chapters relevant to this topic. They are very clear and easy enough to work through. He cites all the best sources on both sides. Keller is a bit non-committal on whether evolution is compatible with Christian theism. He does think evolution as the "grand theory of everything" is a serious problem that should challenged.

Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
This book addresses more of the worldview issues and the reasons why our culture has divided science and faith. Nancy is a part of L'Abri, which is the ministry founded by Francis Schaffer. She spends a significant amount of time critiquing evolution. What is good about this book stylistically is that it is has lots of personal stories. She even talks about how she helps her children at a young age process this stuff. But it's still a meaty book.

I hope you find my insights and these resources helpful in your quest for clarity on this subject.

For more detailed information you can check out these links. I am giving a variety of links with opposing views on the issue of evolution. There is good and bad in all of these. (pro-evolution) (anti-evolution) (Intelligent Design people, a diverse group of people who are not all Christians but many are, mostly scientists who question evolution's dominance as the only view)

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