There’s a popularly held belief that science and Christianity (theism in general) are at war and one must eventually win and the other lose in the hearts and minds of human civilization. But is this actually true?
This post is a continuation of my look at science and faith. It’s been my position that this conflict is actually a myth.
The real war is not between science and Christianity (or theism) but between scientism and theism.
For instance, Christianity includes belief in miracles (the supernatural), but science itself is not anti-supernatural; it’s just indifferent to it. Here’s what Eugenie Scott said while Director of the National Center for Science Education:
“Science neither denies nor opposes the supernatural, but ignores the supernatural for methodological reasons.”
And most religious people (89% in America) are not anti-science (according to Max Tegmark’s 2013 UROP study, see here).
So why do we think there’s a problem?
The war is not even really between atheism and theism, but between anti-theism and theism. For instance, Christopher Hitchens was one of the leading voices of what’s been dubbed the “New Atheists” movement and he said he was actually an antitheist:
“Christopher Hitchens remarked that he was not an atheist so much as an “anti-theist.” [“Letters to a Young Contrarian,” p. 55]. Hitchens thus defines his atheism oppositionally as a polemical repudiation of theism, not as the simple absence of any theistic belief.” (From McGrath, “The Big Question: Why We Can’t Stop Talking About Science, Faith and God”, p.15)
As, Greg Epstein, Humanist Chaplain at Harvard, defined the antitheism of the New Atheists as follows:
“Anti-theism means actively seeking out the worst aspects of faith in god and portraying them as representative of all religion. Anti-theism seeks to shame and embarrass people away from religion, browbeating them about the stupidity of belief in a bellicose god.” (Less Antitheism, More Humanism,” Huffington Post, October 1, 2007).
That pretty much sums up my experience with some antitheists here on this blog. And the philosophy of antitheism is scientism.
I already talked about scientism in “Why science can’t answer everything,” so I won’t go over what I shared there again.
What I do want to do here is show a video clip from Dr. J.P. Moreland. Moreland refutes the idea that Christianity is at war with science.
As I have said here, science and religion are two very different things that attempt to find answers for very different areas of life. The problem Moreland has, and I have, is with the ideology of scientism as practiced by antitheists:
“Scientism” is basically the idea that science is the only way we can know reality. In other words, the only truths that you can know are the truths that can be proven by the hard sciences.”
He begins by explaining two problems with this reasoning:
- Scientism is self-refuting.
- It fails to recognize that there are assumptions of science that can’t be proven by science.
A couple of quotes from the video on the first point that I believe are important for us to understand:
“Scientism is self-refuting because you cannot tell whether scientism is true by the methods of science. In other word, if you can only believe what science can prove then you couldn’t believe in scientism because it cannot be proven by scientific method.” (starting @6:25)
Then Moreland goes on to say:
“In fact, the statement that you can only know what science can prove is a philosophical statement in a branch of philosophy known as epistemology. And so the proper people to evaluate this statement would be epistemologists—people that specialize in the theory of knowledge.
The statement, you can only know what you can prove scientifically, is a philosophical statement that implies that you can’t know any philosophical statements. It is a non-scientific utterance that implies that you can’t trust any non-scientific utterances.”
Moreland goes into greater detail in the clip. Here it is:
The full lecture can be seen here.
Timothy Williamson, Wykeham Professor of Logic at University of Oxford, would agree with Moreland on the extreme naturalist’s claim of scientism:
“If it is true that all truths are discoverable by hard science, then it is discoverable by hard science that all truths are discoverable by hard science. But it is not discoverable by hard science that all truths are discoverable by hard science. “Are all truths discoverable by hard science?” is not a question of hard science. Therefore the extreme naturalist claim is not true.” (From article: “On Ducking Challenges to Naturalism,” New York Times, September 28, 2011.)
Williamson’s point is that this claim is a philosophical claim, not a claim that can be proven by hard science.
Science is not at war with Christianity, the New Atheist’s scientism is. And scientism is a philosophy not actual science.