Is Religion a Science-Stopper?

Regis Nicoll
Regis Nicoll

According to evolutionary scientist Jerry Coyne, religion is so hopelessly inimical to science that any attempt to reconcile them is futile. As Coyne explains, “accepting both science and conventional faith leaves you with a double standard [between rationality and irrationality].” And just so you’re clear on which conventional faith he has in mind, he adds, “…rational on the origin of blood clotting, irrational on the Resurrection; rational on dinosaurs, irrational on virgin births.”

Jerry Coyne, like other peddlers of scientism, considers religion a “science-stopper” that conditions the faithful to approach the frontiers of science with “God did it!” contentment. The truth is another matter.

A scientist who approaches the world as a product of intelligence rather than of matter and motion is less likely to stop short of discovery. Instead of dismissing a feature that, consistent with the evolution narrative, appears inert or unnecessary, he is more inclined to push his investigation to unravel its function and purpose. The ever-shrinking lists of “vestigial” organs and “junk” DNA being two examples.

Rather than obstructing science, Christianity, with its emphasis on a personal Creator, inspired an age of discovery that opened the way for science.

Igniting Discovery
The ancients generally viewed the world as an unpredictable place governed by the fates or by the whims of the gods. But once investigators understood the universe as the work of a rational God, embedded with rational principles, and to be apprehended by rational beings—they dared to imagine that discovery was possible. One of the first was an astronomer whose theories ignited the Scientific Revolution.

Speculations about a sun-centered universe had been around for some time; but challenges to the Aristotelian model refined by Ptolemy, didn’t gain serious attention until the “Copernican Turn” in the sixteenth century.

Nicolaus Copernicus was a Christian who understood the universe as an intelligible creation that operated according to mathematically coherent principles. His initial attraction to heliocentrism was not the result of new observational data, but of his notion that the sun—symbolic of God as Light and Lamp—seemed a fitful center of divine activity. He, along with other early researchers, believed that the elegant structure observed in creation should be describable in an elegant fashion. Thus, when heliocentrism proved more mathematically simple than the reigning earth-centered model, it gained a slow following.

Like Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, was a man of faith who believed that the mysteries of nature could be unlocked with the key of mathematics. Kepler put it this way, “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God and which he has revealed to us in the language of mathematics.”

Kepler’s belief in the mathematical precision of the universe led to his discovery of three fundamental laws of planetary motion; the foremost, that the planetary orbits are elliptical, rather than circular, as modeled by Copernicus.

While the discovery of mathematical elegance was the product of faith for these pioneers, it has been the source of faith for others. In his book, Truth Decay, Douglas Groothuis, shares the account of a Russian physicist: “I was in Siberia and met God there while working on my equations. I suddenly realized that the beauty of these equations had to have a purpose and design behind them, and I felt deep in my spirit that God was speaking to me through these equations.” In that moment, the young scientist stepped over the chasm from atheism to theism and, ultimately, Christianity.

Copernicus and Kepler published their paradigm-shifting theories without much controversy. It was a different story for Galileo, who drew the full ire of the Catholic Church. Continue reading here.

Originally published October 25, 2017.

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