Christian faith and science

Essays and web-links about integrating:
The teachings of the Bible and the results of modern science, and
The life of Christian faith and the everyday work of being a scientist.

Origins: A Reformed Look at Creation, Design, and Evolution by Deborah and Loren Haarsma. Published in 2007 by FaithAlive Resources

The Greentree Lecture Series. A series of ten lectures which I team-taught with Deborah Haarsma, at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges in the spring of 1999. These are the hand-outs which we gave with the lectures. They start with a general overview of the relationship between science and Christianity, and then examine in more detail various topics including cosmology, evolution, neuroscience, bioethics, and the environment. (Note: a few of the links in these pages have not yet been updated.) Complete lecture notes are available upon request.


Science and religion lecture and discussion topics

(Some of these titles have links to a full text of the talk, a published version of the talk or part of the talk, or an extensive outline.)

Parables for Modern Academia.

"Where is God in science?" (powerpoint file, 2003) A look at natural laws, random events, miracles, and "design" from the perspectives of both science and theology. (powerpoint file, 2004)

"Where Science Meets Worldviews" (powerpoint file, 2004) Scientists of many different philosophical and religions worldviews typically work together and reach consensus on all sorts of scientific quesitons. But that does not mean that the practice of science is independent of the worldview of the scientist. Our worldviews form a philosophical basis for how and why we do science, how we interpret the discoveries of science, how we approach scientific puzzles, how we integrate scientific knowledge with other kinds of knowledge, and the motives and ethics we practice when we do science.

"Who owns science?" You don't have to be a "practical atheist" to do science. The basic assumptions necessary to do science are compatible with many religious worldviews. In particular, there is synergy between science and the Christian worldview.

"Are science and religion at war?" The claim that science and religion are incompatible relies on a misunderstanding of science, of religion, or both. Unfortunately, there have been some nasty skirmishes in the past. Understanding them helps us resolve present and future disputes.

"Is Faith the opposite of Reason?" The modern caricature of religious faith is that "faith" means blind adherence to an opinion despite lack of evidence, or even despite contradictory evidence. This is not what Christians mean by "faith." For Christians, reasoned thinking -- including a scientific investigation of creation -- is part of a life of faithfulness.

"Why should a scientist believe in God?" (powerpoint file, 2004) Some people claim that there is compelling evidence to believe in God; others claim that no such evidence is possible. Scientists are trained to seek and evaluate evidence in nature. Christians see evidence for God not only in nature, but also in history, scripture, community, and personal experience. This has intriguing implications, not only for how one should seek evidence for God, but also for why one should seek God.

Four myths about Intelligent Design and four myths about Theistic Evolution

"Is the Creator infinitely lazy?" God's activity isn't limited to just "getting the universe started" and then performing a few miracles along the way. If science can explain how something happened -- whether by deterministic "natural law" or by "chance" -- God is not excluded. It's still part of the Creator's ongoing and personal interaction with the Creation. E-mail me for text, or read Chapter 5 of Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, Keith Miller, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003)

"Providence and chance." The apparent conflict between Chance and God is illusory and unnecessary. "Random" events in nature are no obstacle to God's providential action. Quite the opposite, they are one way in which God could exert providential care. E-mail me for text, or read Chapter 5 of Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, Keith Miller, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003)

"Are humans insignificant in the vast cosmos?" Earth is a very tiny part of a vast cosmos. The universe is apparently destined for gravitational annihilation or heat death. Does that mean that human life is insignificant and pointless? If the universe was personally created, and if the Creator of this vast cosmos has acted, and is still acting, in human lives and human history, we are very significant indeed.

"Fine-tuning: Why some scientists are talking about God." The laws of nature appear to be exquisitely "fine-tuned" for life. Some scientists are asking: Was this a coincidence, was it inevitable, or was it planned? Examining nature's fine-tuning, by itself, isn't enough to answer that question, but it's an interesting place to start.

"If science is right, is Genesis wrong?" The original audience for Genesis lived in the Ancient Near East, and surely understood Genesis according to their picture of the cosmos -- a picture which was very different from the modern scientific picture. When we understand the context of Genesis, and the purpose for which it was written, we find that it is teaching truths considerably more important than scientific chronologies.

"Can both creation and evolution be right?" When the American press reports on origins, they usually cast it as a debate with two sides: atheistic evolution vs. young-earth creationism. These are hardly the only choices. Let's examine a whole spectrum of positions and consider, in light of the best data, the merits and problems of several positions. You might conclude that, in fact, both evolution and creation can be right.

"Steady-State Cosmology and Young Earth Creationism as Examples of 'Fringe Science.'" Both young-earth creationists and cosmologists who reject the Big Bang in favor of a "steady state" cosmology find themselves on fringe of the scientific community. Although the two groups are very different scientifically and philosophically, their styles of argument and their choices of rhetoric reveal many intriguing similarities. A study of those similarities is instructive for how science can be done properly, and improperly, "on the fringe."

"Is Intelligent Design 'Scientific'?" (full text). A central activity of science is construction and testing of empirical models, utilizing known natural mechanisms, of parts of the natural world. Occasionally, some scientists tentatively conclude that some particular phenomenon is unexplainable in terms of any known natural mechanisms. The modern Intelligent Design (ID) movement can be understood as one particular instance of this. Some activities of ID are clearly “scientific,” even under narrow definitions of that term. Other activities of ID go beyond science into philosophy and theology. Rather than debating the demarcation of science, the real questions we should be asking are: Are the scientific arguments of ID good science? Are the philosophical arguments of ID good philosophy? Are the theological arguments of ID good theology? (Paper presented at American Scientific Affiliation annual conference, August 5-8, 2005.)

"First life on earth and prospects for life on other planets." For centuries, theologians have debated whether or not we should expect to find life on other planets. For decades, scientists have wondered how life could have first arisen on earth. Although science still has a long way to go in answering that question, advances within the last several years have shed new light on how the potential for life could have been built into the chemistry of the early earth.

"Self-organized Complexity and Design." Self-organized complexity is a relatively new and growing field of scientific study. It has broad applications, but it is of particular interest in evolutionary biology. Under the right conditions, complex systems can self-organize out of simpler components. It turns out that biological life and biological evolution have some intriguing properties, properties which strongly suggest that the capability for self-organized complexity is built right into the system. E-mail me for text, or read Chapter 13 of Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, Keith Miller, ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003)

Christianity, science, and "Methodological Naturalism". The basic theories and equations of science –– the "laws of nature" –– don't explicitly refer to God, miracles, or the supernatural. It could be argued, therefore, that scientific equations and theories are "methodologically naturalistic." I believe, however, that the term "methodologically naturalistic" is misleading in at least four important ways.

Christianity as a Foundation for Science (powerpoint). The basic theories of science, the “laws of nature,” do not explicitly refer to God. Some scientists, and some students, incorrectly conclude that science is methodologically atheistic. However, a biblical view of God not only motivates us to do science, but also provides us a philosophical foundation for expecting to find regular patterns of cause and effect in nature. A scientific understanding in terms of natural laws does not exclude God; rather, it teaches us about God’s governance of creation. Scientific knowledge is placed in a context of faithfully living for God.

Methodological Naturalism in the study of human behavior. Human behavior is traditionally studied in the social sciences. In the social sciences, what we call "Christian scholarship" often includes explicit, or identifiably implicit, Christian assumptions. These assumptions sometimes clearly distinguish Christian scholarship from scholarship done by non-Christians. By contrast, when we study atoms or animals, we're in the natural sciences. In the natural sciences, technical scholarship done by Christians and non-Christians are often indistinguishable. Some folks claim that this is because the natural sciences are "methodologically naturalistic." The methods and results of the natural sciences are increasingly being used to study human behavior. Social scientists and natural scientists are finding common working ground in neuroscience and psychology. So we need to ask: What's right about the term "methodological naturalism"? What's wrong about the term? What contribution can Christian scholarship make in the scientific study of human behavior?

Doing Science and Loving the Needy. Scripture is full of verses which remind us that the Lord is particularly concerned about the poor and the helpless. As scientists and science teachers, how can we share that concern in the course of our professional work?

"Creation or Curse? Entropy, Earthquakes, Mosquitoes and Malaria" In Reformed theology, the effects of the Fall are pervasive, affecting all of creation. So it is tempting for us to blame everything which annoys or hurts us on the Fall. When we study creation scientifically, however, we find that many of the things which can annoy or hurt us -- from tiny viruses to the second law of thermodynamics -- play an important, natural, and perhaps even inevitable part in the functioning of God's complex and amazing creation. We shouldn't be hasty to blame something on the Fall which was part of God's good design. This talk explores this topic in a range of areas from the laws of physics to biology to human behavioral dispositions.

"Is sin just brain biochemistry?" Scientists have shown that brain damage and chemical imbalances can influence human personality and behavior. Can anyone truly be held accountable for their actions, or are we just inevitably doing whatever our genes and our brain chemistry tell us to do? The concept of "sin" is still relevant, and its essential truths can be clarified by the discoveries of neuroscience. (Short article related to this topic.) (Collected lecture notes.)

"The brain and the soul." Modern scientific study of the brain is challenging the "dualist" picture of human nature -- that the soul/mind is an entity metaphysically distinct from the body/brain. Does this mean that the idea of the "soul" is outdated? Not at all. The essential Christian understanding of the soul does not rely on dualist metaphysics. (Short article related to this topic.) (Collected lecture notes.)

Evolutionary psychology and morality. (powerpoint file, 2004) The sciences of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology are sometimes used to support philosophical claims which appear to conflict with Christian theology -– for example, claims that human moral and religious beliefs have no objective status or truth content. These philosophical claims do not necessarily follow from the science itself. Scientific results of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology can be fully compatible with essential Christian beliefs about morality provided two things are done. First, scientific results are separated from some unnecessary philosophical additions. Second, at some points in human history, divine personal revelation must augment the evolutionary development of morality.

"Do you need a split personality to be a Christian and a scientist?" The scientific community is a meritocracy which values impartiality, but also rewards workaholism. Christian values such as servanthood (valuing others before oneself) and grace (valuing others apart from merit) are essential counterbalances. The Christian community worships the Creator, but often forgets the importance of studying creation. There are some struggles along the way, but you can live a unified, joyful life as a Christian and a scientist.

"Scholarship as a Christian vocation." In light of God's concern for the poor and needy, in light of Christ's great commission to the church to preach the gospel to all nations, is it right that some Christians should be scholars, doing work which tends to reduce their contact with people, especially the poor and needy? We believe that God does call some Christians to be scholars, as part of loving God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind.

"Science as a Christian vocation." The scientific study of God's handiwork in creation should deepen our love and trust of the Creator. Science also offers us ways in which we can use our talents to relieve suffering and to love the people around us.


Other organizations:

Here's a brief bibliography of books on some science-and-religion topics, to supplement the more extensive bibliographies at other websites.

Curriculum Vitae-style list of my publications and lectures on science-and-religion topics.


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(Last updated 2008 May 12)