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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Response to Fisher Humphreys' Article "Christian theology and modern science"

           Dr. Fisher Humphreys has waded[1] into the recently troubled waters of the intersection of science and faith. At least two articles[2] reflecting on science’s relationship to the Christian community have recently appeared on, although Humphreys’ article could be more reflective of a conversation that has been going on for some time in broader American culture since the more public New Atheism in recent years.
            While I applaud Dr. Humphreys’ efforts to communicate the current tensions between “faith and science,” I fear that his argument does little to aid in the understanding of the debate.
His misunderstanding of the conversation going on in our culture is best demonstrated in the sub-title of the article: “Since Christian theology contributed so much to the birth of modern science, conflict between them cannot be inevitable.” Unfortunately, this title is just as confusing as the article it summarizes. How can one deduce from the historical supposition that Christian theology contributed to the development of modern science that the two concepts cannot be in conflict? Certainly Humphreys does not believe that the children do not disagree with their parents!
The main point that Dr. Humphreys wishes to make is that “It seems probable that multiple factors contributed to the rise of modern science, including economic and technological ones. Another important factor was the religion of Europe, namely, Christianity.” By taking a historical “angle” to the relationship between faith and science, Humphreys wishes to answer the question unnamed “historians” who wonder why modern science was developed in 17th century Europe rather than in India or China.
There is too much here to deal with thoroughly, but I want to raise two absolutely critical things that Dr. Humphreys neglects. First, we cannot truncate the history of modern science to 17th-century Europe. It is possible to survey world history and observe certain accelerations in the development and application of scientific knowledge, but such a survey misses the fact that the 17th century was preceded by 400 years of crucial history in science. In short, the great advances of Europe in the 17th century would have been impossible without the spread of Islam through northern Africa and into Spain and eastern Europe by which the “lost” knowledge of mathematics, science, and engineering returned to the Christian West. Because of the long, sad saga of the restriction of knowledge by both Christian and Muslim rulers we have come to see certain eras of scientific discovery as stand-alone accidents of history. But understand: there is no Newton, no Leibnitz, no Einstein, and no Priestly without non-Christian cultures, thinkers, and rulers.
Secondly, the premise that “faith” and “science” are two categories opposed to one another is a false dichotomy. Humphreys surveys two texts on the subject that offer helpful insights into how Christian culture has influenced modern science. However, Dr. Humphreys dives in too deeply when he tries to summarize 1000 years of mathematics and science into deductive and inductive reasoning. This is precisely the issue at hand for Dr. Humphreys and others who either try to reconcile “science” and “faith” or allow the two to “operate in separate spheres.” Christian theology cannot allow such a bifurcation – God is the god of what is known and knowable. God is the god of all truth. As science progressed and progresses even now, the simplistic separation of the two categories persists as a haven for those who do not understand either Christian theology or the scientific process. They are not opposing categories for the faithful believer: ours is the God who is knowable and makes the universe knowable. Ours is the God who lords over the discoveries of the 17th century and those of today.
We must, as thoughtful believers, hold such a high regard for the Creator that discoveries of the Creation lead us to worship, question, and ultimately to believe. That takes maturity, and it takes equally as much mental and spiritual effort as is put into the next big discovery.

[2] see and

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