Reasons to Believe

Does Faith Support or Hinder Reason?

In the April 2008 issue of Nature, an essay by Philip Ball explains how, in his view, modern science began “in the twelfth century…several hundred years earlier than we have imagined” through a break with the theology of medieval Christianity as it emerged out of the darkness of the Middle Ages. In his words, “The architects of this new philosophy [a naturalistic worldview] attempted to reconcile their perspective with the pervasive religious sentiment of the Middle Ages. But in so doing they opened the schism between faith and reason that has since widened to a chasm.” He goes on to describe this growing tension by recounting a number of scientific contributions made in pre-enlightenment days and how these were opposed by the religious institutions.

Near the end of his article, Ball argues:

“By degrees, such secular learning was found to have so much explanatory power that it rivalled, rather than rationalized, theology itself. The consequent rift between faith and reason has now left traditional religions so compromised they are susceptible to displacement by more naive and dogmatic varieties.”

I do not feel qualified to argue with the picture he paints except to say that, based on my impression from reading works of some historians of science, like Stanley Jaki in The Savior of Science, Rodney Stark in The Victory of Reason, or Alister McGrath in Science & Religion: An Introduction, Christianity contributed far more to the scientific revolution than Ball gives credit.

However that argument may end, there is another path I would like to pursue here. Suppose Ball is right and real science began when medieval thinkers were able to break free from the shackles of a theistic worldview to follow a naturalistic one. Then I think it’s fair to ask, like Ken Samples has in his article “The Historic Alliance of Christianity and Science”, does a naturalistic worldview provide the presuppositions necessary to sustain a continuing scientific endeavor? Or is it that those early scientists, as well as scientists today, are borrowing their presuppositions from a theistic worldview?

According to naturalism, the world is a product of blind, nonpurposeful processes. We, and our reasoning ability are, in the end, the result of an accident. How, then, does naturalism account for such things as the scientific method, assumptions about the uniformity of nature governed by laws, or abstract reasoning and the laws of logic? How can we have any confidence in our reasoning processes if the mind is a mere accident of nature? In the words of C. S. Lewis from his collection of essays God in the Dock:

“I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give me a correct account of all the other accidents. It’s like expecting that the accidental shape taken by the splash when you upset a milk-jug should give you a correct account of how the jug was made and why it was upset.”

Agnostic theoretical physicist and popular author, Paul Davies, is more candid than most in admitting the role that a theistic worldview plays in science (as cited here):

“People take it for granted that the physical world is both ordered and intelligible. The underlying order in nature—the laws of physics—are simply accepted as given, as brute facts. Nobody asks where they come from; at least they do not do so in polite company. However, even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith that the universe is not absurd, that there is rational basis to physical existence manifested as law-like order in nature that is at least part comprehensible to us. So science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview.”

In the end, we must answer the question posed by Ken Samples, “Is it more reasonable to believe that the universe came into existence from nothing by nothing or that, as the Bible says, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’?”

Subjects: Atheism, Philosophy of Science, Worldviews

Dr. David Rogstad

Dr. Dave Rogstad received his PhD in physics from Caltech and worked over 30 years for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Though now retired, Dave continues to serve as an RTB board member and participates regularly in several RTB podcasts.