What is the Relationship Between Science and Christian Theology?

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Given the many debates and discussions, both historical and present, between Christian theology and the ever expanding sciences, many have wondered and theorized concerning the relationship between them.

Both theology and science purport to provide knowledge about the world as well as the reality human beings both live in and experience. It would seem to follow then that science and theology are in some type of relation to one another. The nature of this relation is a discussion that has interested many across the spectrum of professions, some of whom have attempted to trace and illuminate it. In this respect there are two broad ways Christian theology and science can be seen to relate: [1] the double truth theory and [2] complementarianism (1).

Before touching on these two views it is important to note that there are those religious believers who wish to avoid the question altogether. This is a tempting alternative because it is easier to avoid the questions and challenges science can pose to theology than have to deal with them. But as many Christian theologians and philosophers have contended, this is an unattractive and problematic position to hold because both science and theology make claims to knowledge that should be accessed. Religious believers who take both to be important domains of knowledge typically hold to the the double truth theory or complementarianism, both of which agree that there is no conflict between theology and science

On the double-truth theory one holds that something could be scientifically false but theologically true. A proponent of this view might agree that there is no way to reconcile a biblical theological text, statement, or belief with scientific, material fact. The two are clearly at odds with one another. However, he does not believe that this conflict undermines the theological claim or belief. A good example would be evolutionary theory and Genesis. A number of Christians view the Genesis creation narratives, at least where they comment on the origin of humanity, as myth because it purportedly conflicts with material science. Science convincingly demonstrates that human beings did not descend from a single pair of humans (as envisioned in the Genesis account in Adam and Eve) but from a very ancient common ancestor. Christians who hold to this view see this as acceptable because when God inspired his writers to pen revealed theological truths it was not God’s goal or intent to impart modern scientific facts to them. Such would likely be incomprehensible to ancient agriculturalists and would not serve God’s redemptive purposes. Rather, God descends to the ancient context and employs ancient categories, including the mythical, to communicate his theological truths. As such, material science and Christian theology are not seen to be in conflict with one another.

The challenge some Christian theologians will forward to advocates of the double truth theory is that it purportedly undermines biblical scripture and its inspiration. Typically it is argued that to concede a mistake in the Bible, whether it be historical, ethical, or scientific, is to impugn the character of God, undermine the authority of the Bible, and therefore undercut the Christian religion itself. However, independent of the view one takes on these matters it remains a lively area of discussion within contemporary Christian scholarship (2).

The view of complementarianism, moreover, says that science and theology are two non-overlapping domains. This might remind some readers of the late Stephen Gould who claimed that religion and science are “Non-overlapping magisteria,” and therefore two distinct areas of knowledge in no relation to each other (3). This position holds that science provides us facts and theology gives us value and meaning. The challenge raised is that there is objective truth about the way reality is. For example, if scientific truth suggests that the universe is finite (it had a beginning) then it would be no good for theology to suggest that it is infinite (that it is eternal). A truth claim made in the realm of theology can clash with those made within the realm of science. This could be seen to undermine the notion of theology/religion and science constituting non-overlapping magisteria. The also appears little in the way of an escape for Christians simply because a good deal of Christian theology makes historical assertions that are either true or false: either Christ was crucified or he was not, either Christ healed people supernaturally from illnesses or he did not, either Christ was raised from the dead by God or he was not, and so on. One could draw many such examples out of Christian theology and the biblical texts. The general idea is that one cannot avoid the possibility of conflicting truth claims between science and Christian theology. This would no doubt pose some theological questions for Christians given that scientific and historical claims could well put biblical claims in an uncomfortable position. However, the opposite could be true as well in that science could benefit Christian theology if it could be shown to provide verification of Christian theological truth claims.

References

1. Craig, W in Zacharias, R. & Geisler, N. 2009. Who Made God?: And Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions on Faith. p. 51-54.

2. see Merrick, J. & Stephen, M. (eds). 2013. Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy.

3. see Gould, S. 2002. Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life.

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2 responses to “What is the Relationship Between Science and Christian Theology?

  1. Pingback: Midweek Apologetics Roundup - Stephen J. Bedard·

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