“Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is the belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.” | Richard Dawkins
Quotes like this one from Richard Dawkins can give the impression that science and religion are at odds. “Science” claims to have disproven God, while “religion” dismisses many of the claims of modern scientific inquiry. But are the terms science and religion even accurate assessments of the worldviews? And are these worldviews really at odds?
From an academic perspective, these common definitions fall terribly short, and they end up causing the average person to believe these two camps are at war. In reality, science and faith are two different methods of epistemology (the study of how we know what we know). Here are some definitions that help illustrate this difference:
Science is “knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through the scientific method” or “a system of knowledge concerned with the physical world and its phenomena” (Merriam-Webster). Scientists make empirical, measurable observations and draw the most rational explanations from those observations. A theory is a model that best explains all of the observable data, and has virtually no objections. Scientists use a process called peer review to check each others’ theories, in order to ensure that what is published uses sound methodology and has logical conclusions.
Religion is ”the service and worship of God or the supernatural,” “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices,” or “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith” (Merriam-Webster). The academic definition of religion is broad, because it must account for a variety of belief systems. The key is that religion is not an empirical field of study, and instead uses faith in a philosophy and/or reported divine revelation to make truth claims. These claims are often not measurable in the scientific sense (Hebrews 11:1), but often have implications that visibly affect the lives of religious adherents.
Science studies what processes and mechanisms are behind the universe, and how those processes and mechanisms affect our lives. Religion on the other hand, attempts to explain why the universe as we see it exists, and who (if anyone) is behind it all.
Science and religion ask fundamentally different questions, and have fundamentally different methodologies (the technical term for this is non-overlapping magisteria).
Science seeks to understand what we can see,
while religion seeks to understand what we can’t see.
Apparent conflicts between science and religion come about when people use one method of gaining knowledge to answer questions from the other domain. For example, the question “is there a God?” is a religious and/or philosophical question. God is transcendent, meaning that He is naturally outside the realm of the known universe. Science is a methodology that uses empirical observations to understand our universe (or, technically, whatever we can measure – one day, we might be able to measure things outside our universe, but that’s a different discussion).
Scientism is the belief that scientific measurement is the only legitimate method of gaining knowledge, and that religious truth claims are inherently false. Proponents of scientism (such as Richard Dawkins) are often critical of people of faith claiming that since they cannot prove their claims, they should not make them. The challenge with scientism is that it is inherently a truth claim without empirical evidence. We have no way of measuring whether or not scientism is true, and it is therefore presumptuous and self-defeating.
Concordism is the belief that religious beliefs should supersede scientific claims if there is any apparent conflict. Proponents of concordism (such as Ken Ham) reject empirical scientific data in favor of subjective religious truth claims. The natural downfall of concordism is that empirical data that is carefully measured, analyzed, and interpreted by experts is often tossed aside or explained away without adequate reasoning.
The battle of philosophy is not between science and religion, but between scientism and concordism. If we carefully study the philosophy and methodology of science and religion separately, we realize that they are different epistemological methods. A proper understanding of this leads one to see that the question “has science disproven God?” is fundamentally
a broken question.
It is based on false premise that science is capable of answering questions regarding transcendence, which it is not. Science is unable to answer questions regarding anything that is not measurable.
While there is no scientific evidence
for the idea of God,
there is also no scientific evidence
against the idea of God.
While science cannot measure the existence or non-existence of a transcendent being such as God, science can tell us more about how the idea of God impacts us. For example, neuroscience tells us that prayer is neurologically beneficial, regardless of who/what we pray to (for more info, read How God Changes Your Brain by Andrew Newberg). Science can help us examine the effects of a particular belief system, but it can never examine the veracity of transcendent truth claims.
Science can give reasons for natural phenomena,
but it can never give us purpose.
That is what religion is for. If we do our best to do science well, and we do our best to do religion well, we maximize our chances at attaining knowledge through multiple avenues of epistemology, and learning more about ourselves along the way.