“How does theology and science relate to each other?” is a very good question; a question that I’m interested in and also one in which I find much enjoyment through engaging with. I think that there are two core ways in which theology and science relate to each other, as we’ll briefly describe below.
Firstly, there are believers who insist that there is no conflict between the two and, secondly, those who see the possibility of such conflict. It is admittedly very tempting to avoid the question altogether by claiming that science and religion cannot come into conflict. But I’ve come to believe that such an assertion is problematic.
Those who claim that there is no conflict between theology and science espouse one of two views (1). Firstly, that of the double-truth theory which holds that something can be scientifically false but theologically true. Or they may hold the view complementarianism which says that science and theology are two non-overlapping domains. This well reminds me of the late Stephen Gould who claimed that religion and science are essentially “Non-overlapping magisterial” (2). This position argues that science tells us facts and theology gives us value and meaning. The issue here is, however, that there is objective truth about the way reality is (this I take as undeniable since to assert that “There is no objective truth” is to make an objectively meaningful truth statement and thus such a position would be self-refuting). So, if scientific truth suggests that the universe is finite then it would be no good for theology to suggest that it is infinite. A truth claim made in the realm of theology can clash with scientific claims. This would suggest that the double-truth is incoherent.
What about complementarianism? I think from a historical point of view that this is false. This is because Christianity makes historical assertions. In other words, a historical event described in the Bible either occurred or it did not. Jesus was either crucified or he wasn’t. Jesus either healed people from all sorts of things or he didn’t. The same can likewise be seen within science, especially cosmology. Either the Bible is correct that the universe began to exist (Gen. 1:1) or it is wrong.
I believe this clearly demonstrates that one cannot avoid the possibility of conflicting truth claims in science and religion. This, of course, challenges the Christian religion since because it makes such claims it puts its truth in the firing line. But, alternatively, it can also benefit Christianity because scientific truth could provide verification of Christian theology’s truth claims. This is something that the late astronomer Allan Sandage saw when profoundly remarked:
“It was my science that drove me to the conclusion that the world is much more complicated than can be explained by science, it is only through the supernatural that I can understand the mystery of existence” (3).
1. Craig, W. 2009. Who Made God?: And Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions on Faith. p. 58 (Scribd ebook format)
2. Gould, S. 2002. Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life.
3. Sandage quoted by Sharon Begley in “Science Finds God,” Newsweek. 1998.