Last night and today my social media feeds were blowing up with posts about the debate between Ken Ham (a Young Earth Creationist) and Bill Nye (of The Science Guy fame). Part of the buzz surrounding this debate can be attributed to the popularity of each participant; Bill Nye will always remind me of my nerdy childhood. Another reason for the buzz must be because of the firestorm always surrounding discussion on the relationship between science and religion.
This is something I have given significant thought over the past few years, for good reason. First, it is something I am interested in. I have always loved science, and I see it as a way to see the beauty and wonder of God’s creation. Second, I have seen students struggle with these same issues. They are taught one thing at home or in church, then hear another thing at school. Who are they to believe? And it only gets worse when they go away to college, as they are bombarded by attacks on their views in science, philosophy, and religion classes, without any abilities to defend their (now former) faith.
That all being said, here are a few of my thoughts on the relationship between science and religion. I won’t speak about specifics about the Ham/Nye debate, as I have not seen it; instead these are views about the overall science vs. religion debate:
I’m glad Ham and Nye agreed to debate.
In our 21st century PC/tolerant society, we have shunned away from debates, because we don’t want to say another person is wrong. In the science vs. religion discussions, this means that debate happens from longer distances: an author publishes a book, then another critiques that book, and so on. By getting two men in a room and actually talking, viewers can get some of the same arguments in a condensed package.
These two shouldn’t have debated.
While I appreciate these two men agreed to debate, I think we all would have been better served by having two others debate. They are smart, intelligent men—far smarter than I—but their views are way too far apart, lacking any common ground. With debates between those holding to polar opposite views, the debaters have no realistic expectation of convincing the opponent. Similar to a Presidential Debate, each debater’s goal is to please his own supporters and convince those in the middle.
I would love to see debates between two people who hold closer viewpoints. For example, Ken Han could debate someone who holds to an Old Earth Creation view, or someone holding to a Framework view of Genesis 1; in either case, Ham and his opponent would have the common ground of authority of Scripture. For Bill Nye, I would love to see him debate a Theistic Creationist; they would both agree on evolution, but could debate over the design, direction, and Director of evolution.
This type of debate isn’t about science.
No matter how either side bills a debate like this, it really isn’t about the science; it is about philosophy. Nye came into the debate with a presupposition: nature is all we can know; there is no outside or supernatural influence. Ham came into the debate with presuppositions of his own: there is a supernatural influence on nature; he is the Creator God; and this God has revealed Himself in Scripture.
None of these presuppositions are science, yet they affect all discussions and debates like this. Scientific examples—like the Grand Canyon, changes in dogs, and even the formation of the cosmos—are merely window dressing, hiding the underlying disagreements over worldview and presuppositions. That’s why in most discussions on science vs. religion, the debaters are talking past each other, not with or at each other, because they have fundamental disagreements on how they view the world.
Science and religion are not at war.
The prevailing narrative in our cultures—both popular as well as Christian—is that science and religion are at war, and one must win. This view, commonly called the Conflict or Warfare Thesis, is attributed to Andrew Dickson White and John Draper, both of whom lived in the later 1800s. According to this view, both science and religion are seeking to answer the same questions, and only one can win; in their opinion, it should be science.
Yet science and religion, when both done correctly, are not seeking to answer the same questions. True science is always looking to answer the How? questions: How do cells work? How can the body better fight cancer? How can we go to Mars? Religion, on the other hand, gives mankind answers to our Why? questions: Why are we here? Why do we die? Why do we love? From a Christian perspective, we see that God is creator and sustainer of all; science, therefore, can help explain how God sustains it.
(image via SMN)Tweet