Are Faith and Science Compatible?

By Ken Boa

Science or faith. How often do we see these two words presented in an either/or fashion? The bifurcation occurs everywhere from the media to the classroom to casual conversation.

Many of us who follow Christ realize science and faith are compatible—we can embrace both science and faith. But we’re often taught from youth to see science as hard facts and faith as blind, so we may still struggle in this area—especially when interacting with nonbelievers.

One of the best ways to break down this false dichotomy is to recognize that science also lives by faith. In other words, not only can living by faith be compatible with science, but science itself requires a measure of faith.

How We Gain Knowledge

To understand this idea that science requires faith, it’s helpful to consider the three basic methods of gaining knowledge. The first is empiricism, which compiles evidence solely through the sensory apparatus. The second is rationalism, which claims that we gain knowledge through deductive reasoning alone. These two gateways lead to a great deal of knowledge, but they do not provide decisive answers to the biggest questions in life:

·       Who am I?

·       Where did I come from?

·       Why am I here?

·       Where am I going?

The only way to answer these questions is through revelation—specifically, the special revelation of God’s Word. We do well to contextualize both rational and empirical knowledge within this third, greater context of knowledge.

All three ways of knowing work together to help us grow in knowledge. By contrast, creating a dichotomy between science and faith will stunt that growth. The Creator God has formed this universe to point to Him (Psalm 19:1–6), ensuring that the facts of the natural order do not contradict His existence.

The Principle of Abduction

We can apply the methodology of abduction to the principle of living by science and faith in order to see their compatibility. Abduction can be summed up as “inference to the best explanation.” It means looking at the actual features of this universe and planet and drawing conclusions from those about origins.

An oft-used analogy involves the presidential figures on Mount Rushmore. When we encounter these for the first time, we may immediately wonder how they got there. The only three possible explanations also apply to understanding the origin of the universe and our world:

1.     Chance;

2.     Necessity; or

3.     Design

Consider chance and necessity first. We could believe (notice the language of faith!) that erosion over time randomly created these fantastic shapes. However, the possibility of this is quite small. Alternatively, we could posit that the shapes are there out of necessity; because of the forces at work, these figures had to be exactly the way they are. However, we weren’t there to witness the creation of these carvings, and so we have to take both chance and necessity by faith.

There is a third option with a greater likelihood: a designing agency brought the figures into being. In fact, numerous reliable historical records support this conclusion: Gutzon Borglum crafted the figures based on a model, perfectly explaining their precision and likeness to the presidents.

Abduction urges us toward belief in design, as Borglum’s presence explains the details we observe better than chance or necessity.

The Four Proofs of Creation

Let’s apply abduction on a larger scale to show that science and the Christian faith are compatible.

There are four basic features of the world that virtually all agree on, regardless of faith:

1.     The evidence for the universe’s beginning

2.     The evidence for the fine-tuning of the cosmos

3.     The evidence for the impossibility of abiogenesis

4.     The evidence of the nature of information

We don’t have space to develop all four features fully here, but we’ll touch on them briefly.

First, scientists agree that the universe is expanding, which implies that it at some point had to begin expanding. This is commonly called the Big Bang, although such a term often presupposes the lack of a designer. We can consider the three options available to explain this beginning: chance, necessity, or design. Many people take the first option—chance. This choice, however, is made by faith. No one witnessed the beginning of the universe, and the evidence is not conclusive, so it is equally likely (if not more so) that a designer was involved.

The second feature is the fine-tuning of the cosmos. This refers to the idea of a “just-right” universe or world. At the time Carl Sagan wrote his famous book Contact in 1985, we only knew about 20 fine-tuning criteria. Now we know about more than 800, and that number increases every year. Every single parameter had to be exactly right to have the conditions for life. The probability of the Big Bang producing a stable universe with just the right conditions for a life-supporting planet is at best one in a billion trillion—and probably much worse. Add to these odds the fact that complex life does exist, and such odds are nearly impossible if taken only by faith in either chance or necessity.

Third is evidence for the impossibility of abiogenesis, or origin of the first human life from nonlife. We cannot appeal to evolution, mutation, or natural selection as obvious evidences against God because the complexity of human life, from the brain to the immune system to a single human cell, is astonishing. It would take at least millions more years than the universe is old for our kind of life to evolve in this way without a designing agency at work.[1]

The final feature is the nature of information. There is a specified complexity to the nature of communication semiotics. We have an incredible cognitive capacity that seems to point to design. After all, there was no need for the universe to produce intelligent life, and there are overwhelming odds against the chance of this occurring on its own. We take communication for granted, but it is actually a strong pointer to God.

Where does this leave us? Even though we have not delved deeply into the topic of faith and science, these four scientific facts or evidences point to a Designer God. They are a starting point for moving on to faith in the God of Christianity.

For a longer discussion on the compatibility of science and faith, please visit https://kenboa.org/apologetics/are-faith-and-science-compatible-in-question/.

Dr. Kenneth Boa is president of Reflections Ministries, Omnibus Media Ministries, and Trinity House Publishers. A speaker, teacher, and mentor based in Atlanta, he is also author or editor of over 70 books, including Faith Has Its Reasons, I’m Glad You Asked, and 20 Compelling Evidences That God Exists (see www.kenboa.org). He holds doctorates from Oxford University and New York University and is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary.

Notes

[1] A concept I don’t have space to develop here is irreducible complexity—referring to aspects of life that couldn’t have evolved slowly due to the nature of how they function; this is a powerful evidence against evolutionary theory.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay


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