Theistic science? No such thing

I came across this interesting observation in Elaine  Howard Eckland’s book  Science vs. Religion: What Scientists Really Think:

“believers did not consider their traditions and beliefs influential on how they conducted their research. None of the religious scientists I talked to supported the theory of intelligent design”

This conclusion is based on her extensive survey of academic scientists in the USA.

It’s interesting because it confirms that those theologians and “philosophers of religion” who advocate abandonment of “materialism” or “naturalism” by scientists are barking up the wrong tree. Even scientists who have strong god beliefs don’t allow these to interfere with the way they do their science. In fact, if they did they would no longer be doing science.

Mind you, the conclusion is not at all surprising to anyone working in a scientific environment. We know from experience that religious scientists don’t change their methodology because of their ideological beliefs or world view.

A theistic science – the Wedge Strategy

The argument against “materialism” and “naturalism” in science is most clearly put in the Discovery Institute’s Wedge Strategy Document (see Wedge Strategy: Center for Renewal of Science and Culture):

Discovery Institute’s Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture seeks nothing less than the overthrow of materialism and its cultural legacies. Bringing together leading scholars from the natural sciences and those from the humanities and social sciences, the Center explores how new developments in biology, physics and cognitive science raise serious doubts about scientific materialism and have re-opened the case for a broadly theistic understanding of nature.”


“However, we are convinced that in order to defeat materialism, we must cut it off at its source. That source is scientific materialism. This is precisely our strategy. If we view the predominant materialistic science as a giant tree, our strategy is intended to function as a “wedge” that, while relatively small, can split the trunk when applied at its weakest points. The very beginning of this strategy, the “thin edge of the wedge,” was Phillip ]ohnson’s critique of Darwinism begun in 1991 in Darwinism on Trial, and continued in Reason in the Balance and Defeatng Darwinism by Opening Minds. Michael Behe’s highly successful Darwin’s Black Box followed Johnson’s work. We are building on this momentum, broadening the wedge with a positive scientific alternative to materialistic scientific theories, which has come to be called the theory of intelligent design (ID). Design theory promises to reverse the stifling dominance of the materialist worldview, and to replace it with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”

So, Eckland’s survey shows that even in the USA where the Discovery Institute’s Wedge strategy has been targeted, there has been no success in replacing modern science “with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions.”

While this criticism of science, even attack on science, comes mainly from Christian apologists and “philosophers of religion” it does get a hearing from others. I can understand how many religious people feel disappointed that science does not support their beliefs. They easily fall victim to the argument that this is because “it does not accept ‘supernatural’ explanations.” But, unfortunately, even some non-religious philosophers and sociologists are also be influenced by the argument. Especially those with a post-modernistic bent.

Science requires evidence and validation against reality

But, in the end science is not about “natural”, “supernatural” or “materialism.” It is about evidence and checking ideas against reality.Those who argue for “a science consonant with christian and theistic convictions” are really arguing for a “science” stripped of this need for evidence and validation against reality. Of course that would no longer be science – it would be religion.

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9 responses to “Theistic science? No such thing

  1. Great post from someone who would probably be labeled as a “theistic evolutionist.” The theistic part is not given enough thought by its proponents and to me feels, for the most part, just added on. For me, theistic refers to the philosophy of science and its implications, but to many I think it means something different. Anyway, good post that was thought stimulating for me.


  2. I think that “theistic” is also just an “add on” in the case of “theistic evolutionist.” Its just saying that the person has certain religious beliefs and has nothing to do with evolutionary science.

    We may as well talk about “theistic chemist” or “theistic physicist” or “theistic economist.” But why should we?


  3. Pingback: Weekly Links Roundup… March 14 | A biologist's view of science & religion

  4. Wonderful article! I believe in The Creator and science…Religion and theology have many divisions but provide a good base to develop a sense of right and wrong, which becomes very important for scientist who are faced with world altering choices.


  5. NaTasha, Eckland did find that while religious scientists didn’t see any difference in the way they did their science some of them believed their religion was important in making value judgements about choice of research topic or relationships with students. These people also commonly criticized the non-religious claiming them incapable of applying values.

    Of course that was just Christian arrogance. Everyone has the same access to values and morals whatever their religious beliefs. Certainly I have never seen any indication that religious scientists have any better access to values and morals than the non-religious.


  6. Religion and theology have many divisions but provide a good base to develop a sense of right and wrong…

    Praise Baal.

    Stargate Continuum Ba’al Extraction Scene


  7. Pingback: Are scientists hostile to religion? | Open Parachute

  8. Hi Ken,

    I am a theist–a Christian minister, in fact. And I see no real conflict between science and religion. Each operates in its own sphere. Only when one of them tries to cross the line into the other’s sphere do we have problems. (There is, however, a gray area between them when we get to issues of psychology and the human mind.)

    My view is that everything material expresses a spiritual reality in a very precise way, but on its own distinct level of reality. Though it is possible to explore those two levels of reality as corresponding to one another, the only way to do that accurately is to study and understand each one on its own terms, and only then look for the links.

    As an imperfect example, if we have a photograph of a scene in front of us, and we want an accurate assessment of the photo, we do best to study the photo itself and wring as much meaning out of it as we can. Even though it does correspond to another reality (the original scene that it recorded), it is a complete and consistent “reality” of its own. The original scene has since moved on, and may or may not help us to understand the photo.

    So even though I am a theist and you are an atheist, I agree with you that science must study its subjects within the material realms that it deals with, without being influenced by issues of spiritual causation. Scientists who are religious do well to engage in their scientific studies without reference to their religion–though of course religion can have a major influence on moral and ethical decisions related to the application of science.

    Spiritual causation as I understand it operates from within. It also operates according to the laws that govern the material world, since it is the source of those laws. Rather than applying some sort of force to material things that brings about change measurable by science, spiritual causation maintains material things in their integrity so that the material laws of cause and effect can continue to operate. If there are ever exceptions to this rule, they will be out of the reach of science anyway, so for purposes of scientific study we can simply apply Occam’s Razor to them.


  9. Magic and mumbo jumbo, a perfect fit.


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