Whether or not science and religion are compatible is arguably the most overdrawn debate in the history of humanity. It is indeed a very interesting debate but for precisely the wrong reasons that are commonly purported. Very few would argue that there is anything inherently contradictory in the idea of a personal God who intentionally brought humanity into being by natural processes. A more appropriate theme of conversation might be, “Does science give more credence to theism or naturalism?”
Theism is the view that there exists a personal God who brought the universe into being in order to seed humanity. In contrast to theism is metaphysical naturalism. Metaphysical naturalism is a slightly more difficult term to define. Many people take naturalism to mean “nature is all there is.” However, this definition is unsatisfying since it leaves undefined what exactly nature is. For all intents and purposes, the following defines metaphysical naturalism as the belief that the universe is a closed system; meaning the laws of physics are never violated. This being the case, there is no God that constantly suspends the laws of physics.
Science abides by a process known as methodological naturalism. Methodological naturalism is the view that science must only appeal to natural processes to explain natural phenomena. This method does not rule out the possibility of the supernatural. Rather, it is merely concerned with scientific matters. This is in contrast to metaphysical naturalism, which claims that there are no supernatural entities that interact with the world.
There is nothing incompatible with methodological naturalism and theism; however, metaphysical naturalism and theism are at odds with each other. Methodological naturalism has been fantastically successful in explaining the world around us. The argument is that the success of methodological naturalism gives credence to metaphysical naturalism. In particular, a universe that evolves over time by acting in accordance with fixed, physical laws is to be expected if metaphysical naturalism is true. Thus, although science and religion are compatible, there is tension between the two.
Others argue that science is actually dependent upon theistic presuppositions. In particular, science is based upon the assumption that the universe is rationally intelligible. If the universe is merely “atoms in the void,” there is no sufficient explanation for why the universe should be rationally intelligible. The fact that the universe is rationally intelligible implies that it is the reflection of a rational mind; a mind that we commonly attribute to as God.
To pedal along the same lines of reasoning, some theists have argued that belief in evolution is incompatible with metaphysical naturalism. According to metaphysical naturalism, our cognitive faculties have been shaped by the blind forces of natural selection. Our cognitive faculties include the ability to discern truth propositions. Yet natural selection is concerned about survival rather than the ability to discern truth. Therefore, there is no reason to trust the beliefs that stem from our cognitive faculties, including the belief that evolution is true.
The science versus religion debate is overdrawn. However, by weeding out rehashed arguments and focusing on specifics, progress can be made. Usually their is a middle ground between any two extremes. Both theism and naturalism seem to contain their fair share of difficulties. Who knows? Maybe there is a third option.
By Nathan Cranford