It has been my observation that much of the discourse on the incompatibilities between science and religion really comes from fundamentalist groups on diametrical sides of the religious spectrum. On one side you have fundamentalist naturalists, and on the other side you have fundamentalist Christians. The fundamentalist naturalist party might look at religion as being a dwindling method for understanding the world around us (modernization) and the fundamentalist Christian party might look at science as trying to undermine the truth of the scriptures. Unfortunately, much of the shouting has been over the subject of evolution (which itself is a bloated term that needs defining) and the issues surrounding the origins of the universe and the age of the earth. But it’s important to realize that on this spectrum between the fundamentalist naturalist and the fundamentalist Christian are dozens of moderate positions; which simply shows us the complexity of these issues and gives us hints that there are spaces in-between which allow for a simultaneous love for science and a love for religion or God.
Because of the coverage of these issues between the two groups (think Ken Ham vs Bill Nye), it’s a real concern that those who might desire to be religious may suppress the desire because they hold the belief that science and religion are incompatible. Likewise there are those who are Christians who probably suppress their love for science because they believe science to be incompatible with their own Christian convictions. So we’re faced with the question: can you be a Christian and also be a scientist? Here are a couple of things to consider:
Both science and religion are ultimately ways seeking certain kinds truth. Science seeks it through the natural world, whereas religion1 (typically) seeks it through the supernatural world. One seeks truth through the physical; another seeks it through the metaphysical. It is a well-known (trite, but true) phrase that the Bible does not intend to act as a science textbook. It is certainly not that God has his limits, but simply that he does not intend to produce scientific lectures in the Bible. Instead, he has given us rational minds to discover the mysteries of the rational universe—otherwise science would not be possible. Science, of course, has its own realm to which it is bound. To quote physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne, “A scientist, speaking as a scientist, can say no more about music than that it is vibrations in the air, but speaking as a person there would surely be much more to say about the mysterious way in which a temporal succession of sounds can give us access to a timeless realm of beauty.” Science can tell us the nature of sound vibrations, but it cannot tell us what makes a sound beautiful. Additionally, science can tell us the cause of death, but it cannot tell us whether or not murder is wrong. Now we may certainly all believe that murder is wrong and that objective moral values and duties do exist; but moral objectivity is not something that science, by its own nature, can prove. We all end up taking it on faith. Note the distinction between the physical and the metaphysical.
It’s worth understanding the complexity of Christian attitudes towards science. Some Christians believe in evolution, some do not. Some Christians are young earth creationists, some aren’t. I point this out to reinforce the idea that these issues are complex; they are not black and white. The vast array of positions should demonstrate this notion. There are a wide spectrum of attitudes that Christians take on scientific issues; and because of the nature of science and Christian belief in particular, there is no reason to believe that a Christian cannot be a scientist or that a scientist cannot be a Christian. Science is (more or less) our way of discovering what typically happens in the universe. There is no reason to believe that this rules out God in any way. If God has blessed you with a passion for science, you do not have to choose between science and faith; and you certainly do not need to fear science.
Psalm 111:2 “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.”
“Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a law-giver.” –CS Lewis
1I recognize that defining the term religion is almost futile due to the vast differences between religious groups and their beliefs. Mostly when I speak about religion in this article, I am referring to Christianity.