Does real science, not “scientific philosophy,” contradict real Christianity? Since honestly, we know less about science, and about the Bible, than we think we do, humility and inquiry needed to find the answer.
My sons enjoy playing a computer game called Civilization, in which players take the role of the ruler of a historical civilization such as China, Greece or Rome and try to win by conquering the world, sending a rocket into space, or building the most spectacular culture. There are many cultural advances that a civilization can get, but getting some cultural advances eliminates the ability to get some others. For example, the designers of the game decided that piety and rationalism were mutually exclusive; it is impossible for any civilization in the game to have both.
People who believe in the Bible have no problem imagining that someone can be a devoted Christian and an accomplished scientist at the same time. Isaac Newton (1642-1727) was one of the greatest scientists in human history, and also a well-regarded theologian. Other scientists who were devout believers include Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543), Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), Enrico Fermi (1901-1954), Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), and Louis Pasteur (1822-1895). In our day, Francis Collins (b. 1950), the Director of the National Institutes of Health and the decoder of the human genome is a dedicated Christian. It should be obvious that Christian faith and scientific achievement are not mutually exclusive.
Dictionary.com defines religion as “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” It defines science as “systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.” If we accept these definitions, it becomes clear that science can say little about many aspects of religion, because science can only examine that which can be observed and experimented upon, and many beliefs in most religions do not meet these criteria. For example, since there is no way to directly observe God and experiment on Him, science cannot prove or disprove His existence. To claim to have done so is mere presumption that fails to meet any scientific standard of proof. Atheist scientists can claim that the universe seems to run on its own and that God therefore may have nothing to do, but saying that God does not exist is far beyond science; it is merely speculation.
Does this mean that science can say nothing about religion? No, because most religions, and especially Christianity, make claims that can be supported or unsupported by science. Archeology, a field of study which includes chemistry, biology, and physics as well as history and anthropology, can tell us if a city fitting the Biblical description of Jericho existed in Palestine around 1300 BC. It can reveal how people in the Near East lived four millennia ago. In some circumstances, even Biblical personalities have been confirmed. An ossuary containing the bones of Joseph Caiaphas (Matthew 26:57, Luke 3:2, John 18:14) was found outside Jerusalem in 1990. There are gaps in the archeological record about events recorded in the Bible, such as the Exodus, but on the whole archeology has confirmed the historicity of the Biblical accounts time and again.
What about miracles? Do Biblical claims about miraculous healings, walking on water, and especially resurrection make believing the Bible impossible? As I have mentioned in my article Miracles in the Bible, the scientific arguments against miracles are weak, and I refer the reader to that work for more information.
What then does Christianity have to say about science? First, there is no passage in the Bible that discourages learning; to learn about creation is to learn about the Creator. Second, the Bible speaks of an orderly universe and a rational God. No science can develop in a culture that sees events as completely random and purposeless and therefore unpredictable (and even unstudy-able). Rather, modern science requires a world view in which God and creation can be understood, at least in part, and in which events occur in non-random patterns which can be studied and comprehended.
Philosophy masquerading as science certainly conflicts with the Bible. Real science, mixed with a humble admission that we don’t know everything about science or about the Bible, has no conflict with Christianity. All truth is God’s truth, because He made all things, and He is revealed in His creation.