Biologist Richard Dawkins has devoted his life to science and the spreading of his conviction that science makes faith irrelevant. The general assumption that drives Dawkins and those like him is that science and faith are fundamentally opposed to each other. Science deals with objective public truth; faith deals with subjective personal belief.
However, an examination of the definitions of the two demonstrates that Dawkins may be mistaken.
What Is Science?
Science is more difficult to define than we might think. There simply is no single agreed-upon definition of science or scientific method.
Science is generally considered a way of knowing and investigating the natural world; it largely has to do with what is observable and repeatable. For example, the vast majority of American state departments of education define science as the process that “investigates the natural world through the use of observation, experimentation, and logical argument.”1
The Redefinition of Faith
Critics of faith generally consider it to deal solely with personal, subjective belief. Faith can be “true for you but not for me,” as the saying goes. And since science has the natural world covered, faith and religion must deal with something entirely different, something that cannot be verified by “observation, experimentation, and logical argument.”2
Dawkins elsewhere defines faith as “belief that isn’t based on evidence.”3 This is then contrasted with science, which deals exclusively with the observable, natural world—evidence that anyone can check.
The patient typically finds himself impelled by some deep, inner conviction that something is true, or right, or virtuous: a conviction that doesn't seem to owe anything to evidence or reason, but which, nevertheless, he feels as totally compelling and convincing. We doctors refer to such a belief as 'faith'.Richard Dawkins, A Devil’s Chaplain
Put this way, who wouldn’t prefer science over faith? I know I would. After all, there is authentic proof for science but faith is just blind belief without evidence—or worse yet, belief that runs counter to the evidence.
Faith in the Bible
Much of the supposed conflict between science and religion arises out of this basic misunderstanding of faith. The biblical picture of faith has nothing in common with Dawkins’s definition. In fact, is the exact opposite.
In biblical terms, faith means simply “trust” or “belief.”4 To have faith in God means to trust God. Why? Because he has given evidence that demonstrates he is worthy of receiving that trust.
The Apostle John explained that he wrote his Gospel (also known as the book of John) so “that you may believe.”5 That is, John made a record of Jesus’s words and deeds so that others could examine them and choose whether or not to believe in Jesus. John does not ask for blind belief but a choice based on an examination of the evidence of Jesus.
Likewise, while discussing the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the biblical writer Paul does not say, “Just believe it!” In 1 Corinthians 15:6 he states that the Christian faith depends upon the fact that Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to over 500 people, most of whom were still living at the time of Paul’s writing. He encourages his readers to check the evidence, to ask the witnesses who actually saw and talked with Jesus.
There are a number of similar examples.6 God does not ask for blind belief. He asks men and women to examine the evidence and make an educated decision. Faith is not belief without proof. It is trusting in a God who has proved himself trustworthy.
Science’s Origin in Faith
Not only are science and faith not enemies, but as it turns out, the birth of modern science was actually made possible by the Christian faith. Modern science arose in areas directly under the influence of Christianity.
Sociologist Rodney Stark writes, “Theological assumptions unique to Christianity explain why science was born only in Christian Europe. Contrary to the received wisdom, religion and science not only were compatible; they were inseparable.”7
Modern science depends on some key assumptions derived from Christianity:
- Belief in the rationality of the universe. Scientists believed the universe was orderly and uniform because it was created by a God who was rational and ordered.
- Belief that mankind was created in the image of God. Since God is rational, man is rational and able to reason. Since man exists in an orderly universe, he is able to trust his senses, employ his reason, and understand the world.
Science begins with the conviction that the universe is knowable, that it is ordered, that sensory perceptions can be trusted, and that reason and rationality correspond to reality.
The Real Question
According to its own general definition, science cannot address the major, more nebulous questions that we all struggle with: Why am I here? What is the meaning of life? What is my purpose?
Science cannot answer these critical, fundamental questions. Answers to these deeper, more abiding questions are most often found through faith and religion.
Properly understood, science is not opposed to faith. It is not one or the other. They are both legitimate sources of truth and knowledge. Science needs faith and faith needs science.
The important question is not what you personally believe. The real question is: Which worldview is the most reasonable and has the most evidence to support it?
- Jonathan Wells, “Definitions of Science in State Standards,” Discovery Institute, November 10, 2005: http://www.discovery.org/a/2573.
- Richard Dawkins, “Is Science a Religion?” The Humanist, Jan/Feb 1997, 26-39.
- See The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011, Romans 4:5, 20 for a clear link between faith and trust/belief.
- The Holy Bible, New International Version © 2011, John 20:31
- Ibid., John 10:37-38. Jesus says, “Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” Jesus is offering up proof of his identity and telling his listeners to look at his works and decide— based on the evidence—if they believe.
- Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 3.
- Photo Credit: motorolka / Shutterstock.com.