More theology: science and faith

Via one of my science talk-lists, I learned of a new blog from Carleton University “Earth and Mind: Reflections on thinking and learning about the earth”. And a recent post celebrates the birthday of Galileo and explores in some depth Galileo’s 16th Century arguments with those in both science and faith who relied on their prejudices and opinions rather than confirming his reported observations. Bad science was as prevalent then as now.

But I took issue with one thing: the authors perpetrate the classic error of restricting the impact of faith to “the salvation of the soul”. Here’s my response, which you can also see on Earth and Mind.

Generally this is a good logical exposition and I’m a million miles from being a creationist. But please don’t restrict faith, or the Bible, to “the salvation of the soul”. It’s a great deal more than that.

If science answers the “what”, “when” and “how” of the universe and our existence, faith addresses questions such as “why” and “who for”. The tools of faith meet the whole realm of human life: our relationships with each other, our use of the “created” world (we all use the word, creationists or not!), exploitation, poverty, and humans’ ability to be both caring and inhuman to each other. And it addresses our scientific endeavour, which a person of faith will understand as exploring the reality which God holds in being (however we understand that) and which, as you rightly say, flows directly from our use of our God-given intellect.

Yet yours is another version of “God of the Gaps”, restricting faith to those areas that we currently believe science cannot address (in this case, “the soul”). History shows that such a god is progressively diminished, as science increasingly explains what we previously thought unexplainable. And the segregation of the so-called “spiritual” is one  of the ways in which the impact of faith is contained, by denying its applicability to the business of human living.

I commend two twentieth century books as foundational reading. Charles Raven wrote “Christianity and Science” in 1955. Charles Coulson, professor in turn of Physics (London), of Mathematics (Oxford) and of Theoretical Chemistry (also Oxford) published “Science and Christian Belief” in the same year.

Coulson was a truly great scientist, developing many of the fundamental concepts of wave theory and of valence. He was also a great Christian thinker, preacher and communicator (he once received a letter addressed to the “Professor of Theological Physics”). Perhaps two quotes can stand alongside Galileo’s:

“Science is putting a human face on God”.

“Either God is the God of the whole of nature, with no gaps, or he’s not there at all.”

• Raven, Charles E. Christianity and Science. United Society for Christian Literature, London, 1955
• Coulson, Charles A. Science and Christian Belief (from the McNair Lectures, University of North Carolina). Oxford University Press, 1955; my copy is Fontana, 2nd edition, 1971

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