A Theory on the Relationship Between Science, Religion and Theology



Bill Honsberger

This paper will outline how I see the relationship between Theology, Religion and Science. As I see the problem in the many views that we have looked as primarily an epistemological one, I will start there and then proceed to define science. Then I will give an explanation for why science and Christianity “appear” to be at war and briefly describe how this historically developed. I will then respond to Griffith’s critiques of the Intelligent Design/Supernaturalism point of view as exemplified by Alvin Plantinga and Phillip Johnson. Finally I will sketch out a framework for a harmonious relationship between science and the Christian faith.

It is important to note at the start of this paper that one critical factor in how I see this issue, is related to my contention that the “war” between science and Christianity is in some ways a media creation and in other ways the byproduct of certain philosophical currents which have given rise to the present situation. This needs to be unpacked a bit. Notice that I am not saying that there is an actual break between science and Christianity. Indeed as Whitehead said, Christianity is at least partially responsible for the rise of “modern” science. Many others, including non-Christians like Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer and Carl Sagan, have affirmed this. And since Whitehead and others acknowledge that the overwhelming point of view of scientists prior to Darwin was orthodox Christianity, then it is obvious that it is possible to assert that Christianity and science were and can be complimentary as opposed to conflicting.

Another distinction I am making is that it strikes me that the way this entire discussion is framed in the western academic world is that it is not “faith” that is at war with science but rather orthodox Christianity. The discussion is not about Buddhism, or Hinduism (and certainly these religious perspectives, apologists notwithstanding, are problematic for science, given the acceptance of the idea of Maya or the illusory nature of the universe by many prominent eastern religions), or ever other western religions such as Islam or Judaism, but seems to be rather strictly orientated towards orthodox or conservative Christianity. There are of course benign reasons for this, such as the mere preponderance of Christianity in the western world. In other words we wrestle with the issue as western people because it is our own issue. But some other reasons may not be quite as benign. It is clear from the statements of atheistic philosophers and theorists that it is important that Christianity be seen as the enemy of science. This will be explained later on in the paper. It is also interesting to note that all of the perspectives we looked at in class did little more than give a hand-wave at the orthodox perspective, as if to say that it’s dismissal was a foregone conclusion- “now where do we go from here?”

My primary argument at this point is that the larger issue involved in this discussion is an epistemological one. Because if the point of the study is to show how science and religion can have a harmonious relationship, then the question of what kinds of warrant and justification either side of the discussion has for their own respective positions is critical. I will try and show this in two ways. First to establish what it is that counts for knowledge, and then apply that insight to the areas of science and religion and or Christianity.

Knowledge or justified true belief is based on what is called foundationalism by many philosophers. This simply means that there are certain basic building blocks that give support to what we normally call knowledge. (1) For example, when I perceive visually a tree outside my screen door at this moment, I believe that I am justified in saying that there is a tree there. If I go into the next room and think about what I saw, then I have a distinct memory of the visual event of the tree. In this way both visual perception and memory serve as foundational blocks towards knowledge. There are other basic building blocks as well, such as other sensory perceptions, the laws of logic (identity, non-contradiction, excluded middle), and so on.

Some critiques of foundationalism have centered on the complaints that simple coherence is equally justified in claims for knowledge in that if there many cohering planks, like on a raft, and they go work together in such a way that they all agree, then that is as justifiable as foundationalism. It is also possible for one’s sensory perceptions or memory or rational argument may in fact turn out to be wrong or spurious and therefore the position is flawed. I would respond that what is called fallibalistic foundationalism or soft foundationalism is able to allow for misperceptions to be corrected by more correct information that corresponds to reality. Also mere coherence is not a sufficient basis for knowledge, as it is more than possible to have a very elaborate lie, which while all the parts of the lie may cohere with each other; it is still the case that it is a lie and therefore does not correspond to reality. For example Louie may claim that he was playing cards with several hundred of his friends at the same time the police say he murdered someone. All of his friends may give stories, which cohere with each other. But the police counter with video-cam evidence, footprints, fingerprints on the murder weapon, etc. Mere coherence in this case should not be substituted for evidence. Incoherence can be a defeater of a proposition or knowledge claim but mere coherence while logically necessary, by itself proves nothing.

The notion of correspondence is also critical here, especially when we later relate these points to the question of science and religion. By correspondence we mean something as simple as this, if I claim that I am writing on my computer at this moment, then it means that it is the case that I am actually doing that very thing. So a proposition is true if and only if the truth-value of the proposition corresponds to reality. (2) The very notion of truth itself is then defined as correspondence. Again it is possible that I could receive more data later on which might in fact undermine my current position, but it would again have to verified in the same way and so on. I could receive testimony, which can be falsified or verified as to the veracity of events. Other ways of giving justification would allow for aesthetics and for history and other categories as well.

Now how does this apply to the areas of science and religion? In the case of science it is almost axiomatic. Working science is based on sensory perception and rational argumentation. Mere coherence, as in the example of “cold nuclear fission”, cannot be substituted for correspondence to reality. Objects or processes must be perceived in some way or fashion to qualify as scientific knowledge. Normally for something to be considered a scientific “fact”, it must be observable and repeatable. There are things which science deals with that are singularities such as the Big Bang, initial formulation of enzymes, etc. Normally, both of these knowledge conditions are consistent with the basic premises of foundationalism. None of this seems to be very controversial, excepting the possibility of “postmodern science” as identified by McFague. (3)

The more contentious arena is the application of foundationalism to the religious arena. On Bultmann’s account, he appears to endorse foundationalism as it is buried within logical positivism. It is on this philosophical basis that he rejects supernaturalism and insists on an existential reading of the Christian faith in order to harmonize faith and science. Some strict empiricists like to read “foundationalism” and somehow see Hume’s empiricism and logical positivism as all synonymous ideas. As mentioned in my earlier paper, logical positivism is self-referentially incoherent, but this does not mean that rejecting LP is the same as rejecting empirical data. On the contrary fallibalistic foundationalism affirms all empirical data. What I am rejecting is the limitation of knowledge that LP entailed, that only what is physically verified counts for knowledge. It is possible to have knowledge of things that cannot be physically verified, for example in the cases of inductive, deductive and abductive arguments or aesthetic sensations etc. This involves some complicated arguments that cannot be drawn out here, but generally the limitations that LP involves have been rejected by most analytic philosophers, but sadly not by scientists. The question now arises, was Bultmann correct in assuming that science precluded supernaturalism?

My response is that he was incorrect in this matter. One could argue that the strict dualism presented by Bultmann, with existential faith in one category and scientific truth in another, is itself inconsistent in that it requires empiricism with regards to the scientific category but denies the need for empirical verification at all in regards to the religious category. Herein lies the problem. Religion or faith, or Christianity, now appears to have a separate and even privileged status of knowledge. Everything that counts for knowledge in ones life has to correspond to reality in some way, but religion, prima facie, now does not. At least that is what the situation seems to be. I want to argue here that even given Hume’s parameters, Christianity still can assert supernaturalism. Put briefly Hume’s arguments against miracles hinges on two controversial claims. The first is that no interruption of natural law has been observed and the second is that even with evidence postulated contravening the first claim, as in people who claim to have seen someone rise from the dead, the sheer “nature” of the claim overrides the potential evidential claim. He has other arguments as well but these two seem to me to be the most troubling. The first claim is problematic in that Hume commits the fallacy of begging the question. He is merely gainsaying the claims of people who are saying that they physically observed the very thing Hume is denying in principal. On even closer examination it seems troubling that Hume, whose epistemological position was based on experience or sense perception, could then out of hand deny the sense perception of other human beings. This inconsistency sets up the second problem. In the face of the claims that people have in fact observed supernatural events, then Hume makes an extremely non-empirical move, in denying in principle the mere possibility. This is something that empiricism qua empiricism claims cannot be done.

In reaction to Hume, Kant “rescued” faith from science and reason. He separated them into two distinct categories and never the twain shall meet. I am convinced that this philosophical move gave us the very contemporary discussion we are having in our class. Kant’s limiting of reason to make room for faith seems to have instilled hostility between the two. Both can now make truth claims that are totally contradictory towards each other, and ultimately both often seem to be talking past each other. But I think that Kant gave way too much ground over to Hume’s epistemological argument. Even saying that though, it seems like regular empiricism, which contrary to Hume does not rule out in principal the “miraculous”, can allow ground for the supernaturalist world-view. For example, we cannot determine the historical claim that Julius Caesar lived on scientific grounds, if we mean that the event must be observable and repeatable. By the very nature of what history is, single events cannot be repeatable. However they are observable and therefore can be validated within a foundationalist perspective. Now although the meaning of history is often quite subjective, generally single events are view-independent. By illustration Caesar’s existence is not predicated upon some a-priori commitment to some position. Positivists, Republicans, Buddhists and truck drivers or anyone else can assert the factuality of the claim based upon the evidence available. With some notable exceptions most historical events have verification possible because of empirical evidence of some sort – testimonies, engravings, photographs, etc. I do not see why religious claims should not be put through the same stringent requirements as all other knowledge claims. The Hadith claims that Muhammad rose to the moon and slice it with his scimitar. Did the Red sea part at Moses’ command? Did Jesus rise from the dead? All controversial knowledge claims to be sure, but mere controversy or blind acceptance by the faithful should not require that special privilege be given to a whole category of claims.

At this point my strategy should be clear. The claims of Christianity are in fact not merely metaphysical, but instead are based at least in part on real historical events. Since it was the claim of the early Apostles that they had in fact seen and talked with and ate with the risen Christ, then these knowledge claims should be treated as all other claims. Either there is sufficient evidence to warrant the claim or there is not. The presence of faith should not be a shield for false claims. Since historic orthodox Christianity was based on historical claims, subject to verification or falsification, then their epistemic merit stands on the exact same basis as those of modern science. The Apostle Paul argues in First Corinthians 15:12-17 that the resurrection of Jesus is critical to the Christian faith. Either it happened or it didn’t. There is no claim of privilege claimed or demanded. This resolves the philosophic issue between the two positions of science and faith/religion/Christianity. In science and religion all knowledge claims are then open to verification and they all stand or fall on that basis.

Is this the case with the other claimants that we have examined in class? It strikes me that all of them at least in part demand a surrender of one side or the other, and it is usually the faith or religious side that must yield the ground. As we saw earlier, Bultmann does this in a matter of fact way. No one can take supernatural claims seriously who uses a transistor radio. His argument is that the scientific worldview precludes the miraculous worldview of supernaturalism. But does the presence of technology preclude miracles? In what way? Not only is this position philosophically flawed but also upon empirical grounds alone it is easily disproven. In fact perhaps hundreds of millions of people do that very thing. Or at least with a CD player instead of a transistor radio! Are they all just inconsistent or perhaps instead they don’t see the contradiction that Bultmann does? In fact on merely pragmatic grounds it is hard to argue that people of faith whether Christian or most other religious groups are somehow alienated from science. I believe, on the basis of evidence, that the supernatural world-view is correct. As I believe this, I am writing on a P3 personal computer, answering the phone and watching the hated Red Sox beat my beloved Yankees! Bultmann’s contention seems rather arrogant at this point. Nor is this merely a contemporary reaction, it was also true in Bultmann’s day. Some of the earliest proponents of the relatively new invention of radio, which Bultmann was able to witness from afar, were in fact preachers. Whether Catholics like Bishop Sheen or fundamentalists like Charles Fuller, Christians were not opposed to technology, which is certainly the most important proof of the scientific endeavor. So how does this idea that Christianity is opposed to science become so popular, the Amish aside, in light of what is so empirically obvious?

A problematic area with the epistemology of Peter Berger, which I will elaborate more on later on, is the issue of methodological atheism. His argument, mirrored by many others and assumed as gospel in science classes throughout the country, is that if one wants to do science, then one must assume an atheistic stance, not allowing for divine interaction in the world, or else it is not “science”. Since this is clearly an a-historical point of view, given what we have already mentioned before, then perhaps there is a logical issue at hand. But no logical contradiction entails from the belief that God can work in the world, as positivists claim. In fact in reading about this question for several years now and even from an interesting discussion with “Bergy” in our own class, the only response I have heard on this is that “it wouldn’t be science” if one did not start with this methodology. I know of no other explanation than a-priori commitments as to why this should be seen as true, philosophically or methodologically. So for Berger to argue that all religion is merely a construct, and that his “science” requires him to argue that way, must be seen as the byproduct of a flawed epistemology. Even on the grounds as given by methodological atheism, a sociologist is supposed to study a society, and that society might in fact includes claims by some of its members as to some sort of religious phenomenon in the past or even presently. It is hard to see how a sociologist could logically exclude these claims and make the incredibly broad statement that all religions are constructs, and therefore have the epistemic value of a fairy tale. Does that methodology exclude historical experiences of a society as well? Like Bultmann, Berger’s epistemology, even granting his openness towards transcendence hinted at in other books, separates science and Christianity in such a way to privilege one over the other.

I think that Sally McFague’s epistemology is a fascinating study in itself. I had not even heard of the phrase “postmodern science” until I read her book. I think the reason for that is postmodernists in general (which is problematic to say as well!) have been highly critical of the scientific endeavor. Especially the hubris of scientists who as the penultimate “modernists” claim to have possible access to all knowledge. Postmodernism usually attacks all claims that even come close to claiming “certainty”. This has created a rather radical subjectivity in terms of knowledge. This is my mind is antithetic to science. Cold fusion cannot be scientific and true for some and false for others. The scientific method of verification must be applied to all claims. But most postmodernists reject this claim, seeing it as the very essence of modernity’s hubris. This is seen from within this camp as “epistemic humility”. Interestingly enough one of the common earmarks of this view of “epistemic humility” that I keep running into seems to be the much stronger claim that not only do we not have any certain knowledge, we are certain of it! And we are certain you don’t either!

McFague’s view is very sympathetic to the qualified non-dualism of Hindu scholar Ramanuja (c. 1017-1137) who argued quite forcefully for seeing the universe and creation as the body of God. I think most orthodox Christians would see her position as too close to paganism, which is not to argue that the position is wrong at this point, but it is to say that it is not been a Christian option and historically has been actively opposed by the Church. If as she argues that God “is in the young woman killed in the accident and in the baby with birth defects” then the logical entailment of her position is that God is also “in” Stalin and Dahmer and so on. The Bhagavad-Gita could not have said it any better. Also, since her argument is that her position is merely one perspective in a larger quilt, then she seems to be arguing the position is not necessarily available to epistemic critique. She claims that she is not putting forth “truth” but rather a story with a dominant metaphor. But this is an epistemological claim in itself. Throughout her book she assumes the truth of science but insists that the scientific naturalists accept “God”. However, if one grant as she does that there can be no supernatural, then why would a scientist see any reason to “let God in”? Once you have separate grids for understanding the two categories of faith and science you have special privilege somewhere. Also, as we discussed in class, it is very difficult for her to make an ethical case for environmental protection, when one starts with a postmodern view. It is hard to argue from the perspective of epistemic humility that one must do x or y to save the earth. If one is a perspectivalist about knowledge, that prior commitment logically undermines activism, for the earth or any other cause. People are wonderfully inconsistent on this point but a serious theology and/or philosophy should not contain obviously contradictory planks. But this is exactly what she does in several places in her book. (4)

I think there are epistemological problems from within the view of Whitehead and Griffith as well. If science is based on what is observable and repeatable, it is therefore a physical activity, it seems that it is a leap of faith to argue for things like “prehensions” given that we have no evidence for such things except for their place in certain arguments. Whitehead could be right about the prehensions but it is contrary to scientific perception and therefore no more harmonious with science than any other faith claim. The strength of Whitehead’s claim is that his view is very parallel with the scientific worldview. But his epistemological stand gives privilege to science and Christian faith must be dramatically altered to fit the new paradigm. However, if it cannot be shown to have some correspondence with reality in some way, then like Bultmann, Whitehead’s rules for science differ from his rules for religion. As I argued earlier, this type of philosophical dualism places some knowledge claims apart from others with differing standards and verificational qualities. Much like Platonic “forms”, merely arguing for their logical necessity from within one’s position does not protect them from their lack of correspondence to anything actually existing in the universe. A Whiteheadian response at this point might be that this view actually helps because it fits in so well with quantum mechanics, but I would argue that there are many orthodox Christians who are physicists (for example Hugh Ross, The Creator and The Cosmos, 2nd Ed. Navpress. Colorado Springs, CO 1995) who see quantum mechanics as perfectly acceptable within a supernaturalist perspective so Whitehead can make no ground here.

As mentioned briefly before, I would argue that the misperception of the war between Christianity and science is in some ways a media creation. One good illustration of this is the movie “Inherit the Wind”. Based on the news reports of the Scopes trial in 1925 as shaped by Baltimore Sun writer H.L. Mencken, the movie clearly caricatures the Christian perspective and by the end of the movie, any “reasonable” person would, as a matter of course, understand that to be a thinking person one must embrace evolution and discount the Bible. That is certainly how my friends and I reacted to the movie when it was shown in my high school. As a non-Christian, I was amazed how anyone could be so stupid as to deny the truth of evolution and believe in something as ridiculous as “miracles” or a book about them or a “God” that couldn’t be seen. As the Scopes trial is constantly referred to in the larger discussion of why Christianity is anti-intellectual and anti-scientific, then perhaps it can be seen as to why on a popular level people think that Christianity is in principle opposed to science. While this is a patently shallow way to think, it is a popular one. In the same way, I found out literally decades after I had initially studied about Isaac Newton, that he had in fact written much more about theology than he had about physics. The Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, considered by many to be one of the great minds in American history, wrote numerous papers on Newtonian science and other scientific subjects. But you would never know this from reading history books in public school today. Conspiracy theories aside, one might at least question the possibility that cultural understandings has been sculpted in certain ways. (5) Mencken’s anti-Semitism only became known years after his death. Is it not a possibility in this post-modern world to think that perhaps it is possible that his views might not have colored his work? At least it is possible and might give a clue as to why Mencken would write such a biased report about the actual trial.

Regardless of these fun speculations one clear thing to come out in the past twenty years is that the once imposing theory of evolution is showing some huge cracks in its edifice. As Griffith reports in his book, Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis was the first major admission from within the evolutionary camp itself, that all was not well. The war between Dawkins, representing orthodox Darwinian gradualism and Gould and Eldridge representing punctuated equilibriumianism, has become really interesting from the perspective of an outsider like myself. The net effect of both Dawkins and Gould yelling at each other that the other has no evidence for their point of view is such that another committed evolutionist like Francis Crick, admits that both are right in that respect and turns to pan-spermia for answers to the dilemma. I agree with Crick’s assertions about Dawkins and Gould but I don’t think aliens or space spores do anything to solve the problem, they merely push it back one step. Whichever way you want to look at it, it is at least problematic to assert that evolution is a proven theory or fact. It is not repeatable nor is it observable. As Phillip Johnson has repeatedly documented in his books, taking a contrary position to one or another of the major Darwinian views can cost one their career and reputation. (6) But if as Johnson suggests and I have argued earlier, this is really a philosophical debate and not an evidentiary question, then it becomes much clearer as to why good people from all sides can look at the exact same evidence and come away with markedly different conclusions.

I now want to look at Griffith’s particular arguments against the supernaturalist view as given in chapter three of Religion and Scientific Naturalism: Overcoming the Conflicts. The heart of Griffith’s critique is what he calls “the equation of theistic realism with supernatural interruptionism.” He argues that Johnson and Plantinga’s strong view of divine interruption is problematic in that it 1) is not a model which will likely offer a harmonious reunion between science and religion; 2) it does not “reconcile theism with evolution”; 3) it interrupts the mode and tempo of creation and finally 4) the theodicy problem. His argument asserts that these problems make his “naturalistic theism” view much more attractive as an option which will bring about the desired reconciliation. Let me respond to each of these critiques.

First, the fact that the Supernaturalism claim will not be well received within the scientific community does not argue one way or the other for its truth-value. Either the view is true or false based on the merits of the arguments and evidence alone. If there is no evidence and the claim is still taught or in the other case where there is evidence for a claim and yet it is not accepted, then other explanations like philosophical commitments and prejudice seem to be in the mix. There are many historical examples of scientists being slow to accept the new (or old!) ideas. As Kuhn points out paradigm shifts take time. If you were to look for serious books and articles on intelligent design twenty years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find a handful. But there are numerous published articles, books, study groups and scientists with serious credentials who are either on the ID bandwagon or heading that way. Whether it again becomes a dominant mindset is yet to be see, but even if it does, that does not prove that the view is true or not. Only evidence and sound argumentation do that work.

Secondly, I am somewhat surprised that given that Griffith is well read on the tumult going on within the evolutionary camp itself that a critique of supernaturalism would be made on this particular point. Why would one want to reconcile theism with a scientific theory that is so problematic from within its own writings? If the evidence is so overwhelming, as many claim, then why are the preeminent representatives of Darwinian thought so deeply at odds with each other? The usual response is that “everyone” agrees on the facts of evolution, it is merely dickering over the how. If this is the case then as mentioned in class, the “evolution of the gaps” theory is protected from its own internal contradictions. If this discussion were going on a hundred years ago, would it be an appropriate critique to say that because theism is not reconciled with ether theories that it is disqualified in the arena of ideas? Perhaps one might say that it is evolutionists who need to worry about not being reconciled with Supernaturalism.

Third, the argument concerning the time and mode of the development of the universe and the planet. This one seems to be speculation based on estimates. Without going into a very long and protracted argument about the dating methods, suffice it to say that there are several illustrations of these estimates being shown to be patently wrong. For example the case brought out a few years ago when a particular star was dated and the date was actually older than the current estimate of the universe itself! (http://www.astro.ucla.edu/~wright/cosmology_faq.html#age – this article claims that the discrepancy is now cleared up, but I think my claim is the softer one of problematic dating methods is still operative here) (7) All extended discussions of dating techniques include the fact that all the current methods involve certain assumptions about uniformity over time. It is very problematic to argue from estimates to hard facts. As an aside here, several times in the writings of the class and within the class itself it was brought up that supernaturalists believe that the earth is six thousands years old. Without taking any more cheap shots than necessary at Bishop Usher, I have spoken in churches all over the country and at numerous colleges and universities and I can’t remember even meeting someone who takes that idea seriously. I know that there are, but it is a straw man to argue that serious scientific discussion within the Christian community is beholden to Usher’s dates. The discussion of whether there are more problems for creation ex nihilo or billions of years of development is quite a raging discussion in some philosophical circles and there is no time for that here, but it is not easily shown that Griffith’s point here has any merit.

The fourth argument is an interesting one to be put into this discussion. As Griffith admits it is not a normal part of this discussion, but since he brought it up as one of his critiques, then I will try and respond to it as well. Simply put, one can make a strong case that the theodicy question can only be put forth consistently from within the Supernaturalist/Christian framework and can only be answered, however problematically, from within the same. The eastern world-view in almost all it variations denies the real existence of good and evil. It is intrinsic to the enlightenment message as given by numerous Gurus and philosophers that good and evil are part of the illusory nature of the universe (Maya) and once a person realizes this, they are enlightened and recognize the relativity of this world’s morality and nature and so on. So it is hard to see how this view can even ask the question in a real way. On the other end of the spectrum, a naturalist world-view has a hard time putting forth the question in light of their philosophical assumptions. Given naturalism’s leveling of ethical concerns and methodology, as seen in very problematic schemes like emotivist ethics or G.E. Moore’s ethical non-natural indefinable qualitative things, etc, one could say that since there is almost no consensus on meta-ethical issues (especially in western philosophy since Nietzsche) then the question of God being blamed for allowing “evil” seems especially problematic. (8)

Historically Orthodox Christianity has dealt with this problem in numerous ways. Perhaps the most popular is some version of the free will defense. (9) That is that God allowed human agents to be truly free agents in that they can truly make moral choices and included in this great gift from God is the fact that these really are choices and therefore include the real option to choose to do evil. Now this is an extremely short version of a very important argument, but that is all we have room for here. Perhaps more importantly though is how Griffith thinks that process thought does not also have to deal with the problem. If process theology differs with orthodoxy in relation to one of the two planks (1. God is all loving, therefore He would help, and 2. God is all-powerful, therefore He would help.) of the argument as given, then it is hard to imagine why this view of God would be persuasive. If God were not all loving, then why would anyone want anything to do with such a God? If God is not all-powerful then we now are faced with a God who cares but can’t do much to help us. This neo-deistic view might keep the word “God” in our lexicon, but seemingly only with a sympathetic role. As I argued in my earlier paper, if God truly is in the Whiteheadian moments, holding the universe together, and if God truly is not synonymous with nature as Griffith claims God is not, then it seems the question is even more problematic in this scenario than in orthodoxy. If panentheism is indeed true then God is in everyone and everything, then why does this extremely immanent view not have some sense that God can control behavior? Seems like a free will defense would need to be available here as well. In either case the process view of Griffith has no edge on orthodoxy on the basis of a critique from the theodicy question.

Let me know briefly tie some of these thoughts together and outline a harmonious relationship between science and Christianity.

A rigorous objective science needs observability and repeatability. This eliminates many spurious claims to knowledge, but is open to new discoveries and paradigms. It also needs defeasibility, in that a theory ought to recognize the possibility of overthrow if new evidence becomes available which leads in a contrary direction.

Regular empiricism, as I am using the terms, is differentiated from Positivism in that it recognizes that empiricism is fine as far as it goes but aesthetics, justice, love, history and many other valuable things are not always observed with the five senses. Therefore additional criteria are necessary to judge things beyond the empirical scope, but we must not abandon the empirical.

The Christian faith, built upon the empirical observations of the people of God in both Testaments, is a truth claim that can be verified at least in part, even under the original Humean constraints. Shortly put, many people were willing to die for what they would have been in position to know better – that is the physical resurrection of Jesus. It is conceivable that I am being fooled and might give my life for the “lie” of Christianity, but it is inconceivable that the Apostles would die for something they knew to be a lie. I cannot even think of an analogy that makes sense out of that. None of the usual human motives are present here either. There is no trace of greed, sex, power, fame or insanity, which are the usual reasons why people lie. It has been argued by many who are far more qualified than I, that something had to happen historically to explain the existence and meteoric rise of the early Christian church, in the face of tremendous persecution. (10) It can also be argued that both believers and unbelievers observed the resurrected Jesus. Believers like Mary and Martha, and skeptics (at the time) like Thomas and Saul. Even if one responds by claiming that Thomas and Saul are really believers or at least pre-disposed to believe, than there is still the claim of hundreds of people, many of whom were willing to die for the claim, that they observed the physically resurrected Jesus. To discount their testimony would be analogous to a defense attorney telling the prosecutor, “other than your five hundred witnesses against my client what evidence do you have?” Now other evidence might be needed but the type of knowledge claim cannot be discounted a-priori (Hume) merely because of its “nature”.

If one applies consistently the same criteria for historical verification towards Jesus as one does towards Julius Caesar, than the case for Christianity is an empirically based claim and as such cannot be perceived as opposed to science.

The historical claims of the Christian church contain no logical contradictions or fallacies. By this I mean that although it is not a common event to have people raised from the dead, hence the natural “law”, there is nothing contradictory, as in the case of a square circle or the like.

If as in premise one, science is based on observability, then it must allow for observations, however inconsistent with previous observations, to be added to the mix regardless of their controversial nature. This does not commit one to believe all claims of observed events, but it does not commit one to some claims over others on the basis of philosophical pre-commitments. Scientific, historic, religious and all other claims are then put through the same grid. Are they internally consistent? (Do they have any internal contradictions?) Are they externally consistent with reality? (Do they correspond to what is observed?) One could even add aesthetical and existential questions to ask of the claim, but these would be secondary to the primary questions.

If there is something good to be learned from postmodernism, it is a healthy reminder that politics and philosophy do “infest” the world, that is the claim that all people are subject to bias, prejudice and hubris. This speaks well to both science and Christianity. However, the fact that we do not have all knowledge does not mean that we have no knowledge. So this should not preclude us from seeking and finding truth wherever it may be found. And we should not be precluded from calling it truth, even in the pluralistic morass that we live in now.

Christianity and even other religious views should be very wary of marrying the current science. How many times does the church have to be a widow before it will learn?

Methodological atheism is not required historically in the field of science and is not a logical necessity either. If in fact an intelligent designer who is outside of the universe in some important sense, is the best explanation for some phenomenon then so be it.

A strong point of the Supernaturalist view is that there is now room for purpose and order in the universe. One of the results of methodological and philosophical atheism is that determinism and eventually chaos theory become live options. No purpose is needed in a meaningless universe. But if the universe is not a closed one then purpose and meaning and order are brought back in. I think the fact that the universe is an ordered one (the dominant view of scientists up until the 20th century) gives security and certainty to science, in that pure arbitrary chance does not upset the “laws” of science.

Aldous Huxley confesses that the evidence may not be the critical issue. He states “For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom…” (11) In light of this it is likely that the quest for universal harmony between science and faith or Christianity will not be solved in this life in such a way that all will fall into step. Too many competing worldviews and ulterior motives may color the way we look at things and given that, it seems like the quest for a harmonious relationship between science and religion will be a difficult one at best. But it is one of the most important questions and well worth the effort to continue to search out for the best explanation of all the evidence.


1) For a great primer on epistemological questions, I recommend Robert Audi’s Belief, Justification and Knowledge. Wadsworth Publishing Co. Belmont, CA 1988.

For a good discussion on the question of correspondence, I highly recommend Doug Groothuis’s recent book Truth Decay. Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL 2000

Good critiques of postmodernism include not only the above-mentioned Truth Decay, but also The Gagging of God, D.A. Carson. Zondervan Press, Grand Rapids, MI 1996

My best illustration of this is found on page 78 in The Body of God, where she states “While the attempt to see continuity between the Christian story of redemption and the cosmic story of the evolution of the universe is one that all Christians must support”… Hard to get a “must” out of just a “perspective”.

This is a theme that is often preached on but perhaps a book like The Long War against God, Henry Morris. Baker Book House. Grand Rapids, MI. 1988. is a good example. Even a Jewish critic like Michael Medved often comments about the anti-Christian bias often displayed in the schools and in the media.

Of Phillip Johnson’s many books on the subject in general, the pertinent ones here are Reason in the Balance and Objections Sustained. Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove, IL 1995 and 1998 respectively.

One of the classics in the field is Meditations at 10,000 Feet: A Scientist in the Mountains, by James Trefil. (Senberne Press. New York, NY 1986) He freely admits that all the major dating methods include estimates and assumptions about uniformity. Normally we like to call that “theory” and not fact, but I guess I am not a scientist.

For a good read on this subject, I suggest chapter four, “God and the meaning of life” by J.P Moreland in his book Scaling the Secular City. Baker Book House. Grand Rapids, MI1987 and Ethics – Approaching Moral Decisions. Arthur F. Holmes. Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove, IL 1984

A very balanced presentation of the argument is presented in The Problem of Evil. Edited by Marilyn M. Adams and Robert M. Adams. Oxford University Press. Walton St. Oxford, England. 1900.

One of the classis apologetic works discussing this theme is The Testimony of the Twelve, by Harvard law professor Simon Greenleaf. The Harvard School of law is named after him. He started his investigation of the subject as an atheist and converted during his research. Some other works, which document the rise of the Christian church during this time, include A History of Christianity Vol. I Beginnings to 1500. K.S. Latourette. HarperCollins San Francisco, CA. 1953 and Evidence for Faith. J. Warwick Montgomery. Probe Books, Dallas, TX 1991. As to the very controversial question as to whether the Gospel accounts themselves are trustworthy, I suggest A Ready Defense. Josh McDowell. Here’s Life Publishers. San Bernardino, CA 1990.

Aldous Huxley. Ends and Means. Chatto & Windus. London, England. 1946


Berger, Peter L. The Sacred Canopy. Anchor Books, New York, NY. 1967

Bultmann, Rudolf. New Testament & Mythology. Fortress Press, Philadelphia, PA 1984

Griffin, David R. Religion and Scientific Naturalism. Suny, New York, NY. 2000

McFague, Sallie. The Body of God. Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN. 1993

Whitehead, Alfred. N. Science and the Modern World. The Free Press, New York, NY. 1925

Love at the end of the rainbow