♦ Can science enrich faith?

What impact does science have on a person’s religious beliefs? Do people adjust their religious beliefs as a result of scientific discovery or do they resist, or even reject, scientific knowledge and continue to hold their beliefs?

Proponents of creationism and “intelligent design” obviously take the later approach. But many religious people have been able to adjust their beliefs. Many reject literal interpretation of the Bible or other religious scriptures. Some will even reject the traditional concepts of a personal God or admit to an agnostic position. Bishop Richard Randerson publicly admitted to this viewpoint in a number of Herald articles several months ago.

I welcome the attitude of religious people who are receptive to scientific evidence. This attitude enables acceptance of common values which provide a basis for a rational approach to the political and economic (and religious) problems humanity faces. On the other hand religious people who reject science and advance educational, political and moral agendas based on literal interpretation of religious documents have to be strenuously opposed.

Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins, two scientists I admire, discuss the question of communicating science to the religious in an article Should Science Speak to Faith. Richard Dawkins is often portrayed as a “militant” atheist while Krauss is seen as more moderate. However, this discussion shows a broad agreement on the tactics of communicating science to the religious.

Krauss points out that science can moderate belief in God and “cut out the most irrational and harmful aspects of religious fundamentalism. That is certainly one way science may enrich faith”. Dawkins agrees that in this sense science can enrich faith and adds: “But I’d hate to be understood as endorsing faith.”

I agree. Religion can learn a lot from science and thereby develop a more humane and modern system of belief. But this does not mean scientific support for faith.

6 responses to “♦ Can science enrich faith?

  1. (sorry about the double post, but the site keeps giving me problems when posting)

    I wish you had written more on this post. Perhaps you do come back to the idea later in the blog, I’ll eventually find out.

    I don’t quite understand how science can “cut” the worst aspects of fundamentalism. I think whatever problems associated with fundamentalism do not stem from it, but the religious fervor simply allows a justification for it. Eliminate all religion and there will still be racism, sexism, poverty, war.

    From my own perspective I know how scientific understanding of the universe can enrich the idea of a higher power. But I don’t see any direct correlation between understanding/accepting evolution and then improving one’s moral character. If anything a true understanding of one’s religion should make better people.

    The best example I can give is of Christianity, being that I am a Christian. At a basic level one of the main desires of any Christian is that others will find Jesus and have their souls saved. However here in the States we have numerous ministers and pastors that espouse hatred, bigotry, and drive away untold numbers of people that need Jesus just as much as they themselves do.

    To put it simply, Jerry Falwell helped Satan by spending so much time railing against homosexuals, giving the idea that Jesus only cares about certain types of people.


  2. I’m an advocate of science and, though an advocate of faith and intelligent design, I do not reject or resist proven facts. I see your point, but I also see your bias.

    How does this statement sound?: “I welcome the attitude of scientific people who are receptive to spiritual faith. On the other hand scientific people who reject religion and advance educational, political and moral agendas based on narrow interpretation of scientific theories have to be strenuously opposed.” Is that fair?

    I actually believe that faith can enrich belief in science and cut out the most narrow, cold, and nihilist aspects of scientific thought.

    Science theorizes as to observable (particularly physical) reality, whereas religion forms a more broad view of meaning that encompasses the known world and what remains unknown. Faith is an element of both if we are to hold any convictions at all, but neither need exclude the other and both are strengthened by their integration. Unless, that is, you can prove a negative (that God does not exist, for instance) or, for that matter, how the existence of matter and what we study as science even began?



  3. rropers – seems to me that faith as a world view is irreconcilably opposed to evidence-based world views. The only way one can adhere to both is by compartmentalising. This is what you must do to claim that you advocate science and ID/religion at the same time. One cannot consistently do both, can they? The conclusions will differ.

    People who are not religious, have no religious beliefs and accept an evidence-based world view are not implicitly narrow in their interpretation of science. Science is completely different to religion in that is is open and enables imagination. It encourages people not to have narrow views.


  4. rropers,
    Atheist commentators here are committed to maintaining a thesis of conflict between science and religion, and have difficulty conceding a role for faith in their narrow scientistic outlook. There’s a dogmatic belief that “Science” (whatever that means) is humanity’s only way of accurately perceiving reality.


  5. Now, Ropoata, you are falling into the childish trap of speaking for others. Not a good way to go. Nor is the “scientistic” label – usually a symptom of anti-science attitudes.

    You also appear to be falling into the trap of rewriting the history of the Galileo affair. Reminds me of Stalinists who will make excuses for the Stalin terror – because of their ideological prejudices.


  6. No matter what role faith seems to play, it (so far) remains one of assertion of unjustified belief cloaked in piousness. My preference is for justified belief, whatever delivery method that may be. Science has done an admirable job of this task so far in areas of truth claims about the natural world and I have no reason to think it will fail in the foreseeable future. But there are other avenues, too, like literature and art and philosophy among many, which don’t claim to compete with what’s probably true, accurate, and correct in their truth claims about the natural world. We’ll leave that competition to the theistic crowd.

    Intelligent Design is based on the assumption of irreducible complexity, which has been shown to be false in scientific terms. Maintaining that unjustified belief in ID (goddidit and that’s fine with me) as well as saying that one respects justified belief (I am an advocate for science) reveals compartmentalized thinking, hence the justified charge of inconsistency. This is not a narrow view, and to claim it as such is dishonest and petty.

    When rropers suggests that belief in science and belief in religion are different sides of the same coin of belief, he is making a category mistake. When he writes religion forms a more broad view of meaning that encompasses the known world and what remains unknown he is making an assertion that the conclusions of religious belief are acceptable when applied as descriptions of meaning. Isn’t that handy? A framework of meaning that can handle it all, known as well as unknown! And religion can do this because, well, because it’s so broad. That’s not the word I would use. I would call the word ‘undisciplined’ or even ‘dishonest’ in the sense it is sticking its nose into areas where it has no authority, no basis of knowledge, no justification in being, other than a claim to be the vehicle for meaning. And who allows for this intrusion? The religious. That’s why the religious attempt repeatedly to insert religion into ALL areas of human interest (is there an area of human interest that cannot be ascribed to having some meaning?)… because it’s so… what’s the word… conceited? Nope. Sanctimonious? No, that’s not it. Wait, I’ve got it: broad! And, of course, anyone who takes issue with the justification part is called the opposite.

    I will gladly concede a role for religious belief when religious belief alone can be justified with more than hollow assumption and rude assertion, when it willingly accepts the honest doubt of its truth claims, and concedes matters of knowledge to disciplines where truth matters. Surely if finding meaning is important, meaning that matters, the location within what’s probably true, accurate, and correct should be a pretty good starting point than one where what’s true, accurate, and correct is dismissed as too narrow.


Leave a Reply: please be polite to other commenters & no ad hominems.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s