So why do faith and science often seem in conflict? For centuries a Christian commitment to the natural sciences has been rooted in the Bible, and a theology that argues that God is discernible in and through the cosmos he has created (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:19).
Initially therefore, 17th century scientific enterprise, arguably the beginning of the modern scientific era, was seen as an investigation of God’s creation.

Robert Boyle, the 17th century chemist, stated that science was religion’s “invincible ally.” So far so good!

But tensions were not long coming.

In the early 17th century, Galileo’s support for the Copernican view that the earth revolved around the sun, rather than vice versa, resulted in his imprisonment as a heretic.

The Galileo controversy centered, in part, on the problem of how a literal interpretation of Scripture can lead to error, in this case concerning the immovability of the earth (1 Chronicles 16:30; Psalm 93:1; Psalm 104:5).

Even before the full effects of enlightenment rationalism were felt, there was a move away from an unquestioning acceptance of the wisdom of the ancients, whether Aristotle or the Bible.

The modern scientific method was built on categories of doubt, experimentation, theory and proof that were at odds with the authority of Scripture and the magisterium.

This move was seen by some as standing in judgment over God’s word. But it can better be seen as understanding more clearly the processes whereby Scripture came to be, or the different genres of literature in the Bible.

The church does not bear all the blame for the tensions between science and faith. Science does at times overreach itself as in Richard Dawkins’ sweeping assertion that science and faith are incompatible.

Error and hubris notwithstanding, science offers us amazing glimpses into the world God has created, but also raises fundamental ethical issues.

Whether it’s splitting the atom, the development of contraceptives, the cloning of animals or genetic engineering, faith demands that we see the world as more than chemical and physical processes.

Today, the advances of science are taking us into brave new worlds. The predictable “cause and effect” world of Newtonian physics yielded amazing discoveries but its closed system left no room for God.

Now it is clear that these laws break down in the “cloudy and fitful” subatomic world of quantum physics.

Here we see phenomena that are “uncertain and uncaused.” If Newton’s closed world denied the possibility of miracles, the quantum world suggests we exercise caution before we say something simply cannot happen.

So even if science isn’t your thing, enjoy some glimpses into a world that shapes our everyday lives in ways seen and unseen.

In that respect, science and faith have a lot in common.

DavidKerrigan is general director of BMS World Mission. This column first appeared in BMS’s Catalyst publication, which can be read in full here.

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