How to talk about science and faith when you feel like a dud
If you’ve ever avoided a conversation about science and faith because you’re just not sure what you might say, you’re not alone. As a science drop out (my last science lesson was in year ten, a very long time ago), I’m tempted to dodge tricky questions from non-believers about science, mainly because I don’t know where to start.
I recently met Dr Denis Alexander, who is the Emeritus Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge. He is a molecular biologist and an author on science and faith. He was in Australia in August for the 2018 New College lectures on Genetics: God and the Future of Humanity. While in conversation, I confessed my lack of scientific knowledge and asked if he had any advice for people like me.
Science and faith are not opposed to one another
“In the UK, we have people like Richard Dawkins, who go around saying science equals atheism,” says Dr Alexander. “If you want to be a proper scientist, then you’re going to be an atheist, which is complete nonsense. But if you say that often enough, it’s like propaganda. If they are already non Christian and secular people, and they hear that message as well, then they’re more likely to believe and say things like ‘Well, I’m not a Christian, because I believe in science.’ And that tells you where the culture is, that science often is used as some sort of excuse for not being a Christian.”
So for those of us who are scientific zeros, Dr Denis Alexander has three helpful reminders for why science and faith can’t be opposed to one another.
1. Modern day science has Christian roots
Dr Alexander says modern day science emerged from a Christian worldview in the 16th and 17th century. “We find that the so called natural philosophers, as scientists were called in those days, were nearly all Christians. They wrote a lot about their Christian faith, and they were the founders of the disciplines we practice today. Robert Boyle, in the case of chemistry, and John Ray, in the case of natural history, biology as we now call it.”
There is no basis for suggesting that faith and science are opposed to one another.
“If you go to Isaac Newton, he was not a traditional Christian but certainly a passionate theist who wrote far more about his biblical thoughts than he ever wrote about science. He’d spend hours every day in his room in Trinity College, studying the book of Revelation and Daniel. He loved the Bible and was a passionate believer in God.”
2. Our approach to science is rooted in theology
“Even the idea that we have scientific rules, clearly the idea has theological roots,” he says. “You find that in the case of the writings of Descartes, also Boyle. They thought just as there are morals and the ten commandments, God sets in place rules that we have to obey, so there must be laws of the universe that we have to discover. And so the law of gravity is like discovering this last continent that was always there, but now he’s enabled us to understand it and we know what it is, we can put it into mathematical terms.”
3. There are plenty of Christian scientists
The final point that Dr Alexander wants to emphasize is that the number of Christian scientists shows that there are many who hold both a belief in science and in God. “If you want to find Christians in academia in the faculty level in Cambridge, you will go to the science department much more than humanities,” Dr Alexander says. In his own church in Cambridge, Dr Alexander noted that on average there were twice as many science students as there were humanities students.
For a science dud like myself, this is a great relief. There is no basis for suggesting that faith and science are opposed to one another. Through science we can gain a better understanding of how God’s great and creative world works, and discover just how great and creative the Creator truly is.