How Should Religion and Science Interact?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

During the Renaissance and Enlightenment, philosophers continuously changed their views on how science and religion should interact.  Philosopher William Lawhead describes the continuum chronologically in his textbook The Voyage of Discovery.

Initially, most scientists and philosophers “saw religion and science as co-equal partners in the search for truth.”

Lawhead continues: “Gradually the viewpoint emerged that the claims of revealed religion should be accepted, but only after they have been trimmed down to conform to the scientific outlook.”  Put another way, religious claims must be confirmed by science.

The third stage of development was deism – the belief that the world is wholly rational on its own and that human reason alone can answer questions of nature, religion, and morality.  The deists retained God as the Creator of the universe, but believed that God did not intervene in nature after he created it.

Following deism, “Agnosticism or religious skepticism began to appear in the works of such thinkers as David Hume.  The agnostics urged that we must suspend judgment concerning God’s existence, for reason does not give us any grounds for believing in a deity, although it cannot prove that one does not exist.”

Lawhead explains that “finally, full-blown naturalism or atheism appeared. . . . Its proponents claimed that the philosophical and scientific evidence is stacked against the God hypothesis.  Therefore the rational person will reject it, just as we have the flat-earth theory and the theory that diseases have supernatural causes.”

What is fascinating to me is that all of these views are still held by our contemporary society, hundreds of years later.  That is one reason I find the study of philosophy to be so useful; the ideas never go out of style.  In fact, the same ideas are repeated over and over again throughout history.

What about you?  Which of these five views do you hold about the interaction of science and religion?  Please vote in the poll below and leave comments explaining your vote.

7 thoughts on “How Should Religion and Science Interact?”

  1. Bill,

    You’re wrong. Ideas DO go out of style. There was a time when peolpe could be viewed as property. We know realize that it is wrong.

    There was a time when people believed that life came out of nowhere and scientific evidence has proved that wrong and therefore the idea changed.

    There was a time when people thought sneezing meant you had bad demons in you and now we realize that it was wrong.

    Need I say more?

  2. These ‘five views’ are very weird, in that they are nonexclusive and nonexhaustive.

    I would say that the primary atheistic “interaction model” is methodological naturalism, which is to say that empirical claims require empirical evidence.

    If your religion makes a nonempirical claim, science has nothing to say about it. But when your religion claims that god interacted (or interacts) with the world in specific ways (e.g., by flooding the earth), those claims can be tested.

    So #2 isn’t quite right — not *all* religious claims need to be tested. #s 1 and 3 are flatly incorrect. #4 isn’t right, either; it isn’t that science “gives us no grounds” for belief; it’s that the claims made by believers that are testable tend to be false. Finally, #5 adds misleading rhetoric to what should be a much more straightforward conclusion: that, to the best of our present scientific abilities, it appears that the empirical claims made by religions are false, and that in turn casts doubt on the supposed supernatural provenance of those claims.

  3. I suppose it would Boz.

    Was that a question in general, or where you asking about MY specific *religion*?

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