Reflection by Pastor Shawn:
Are science and Christianity enemies?
The short answer is “no.” But *scientism* and Christianity don’t get along at all.
What’s the difference between science and scientism? Science is the human endeavour to gain knowledge through observation and testing of hypotheses about the physical world. I’ll come back to science and Christianity in a bit. Let’s talk about *scientism*, which we’ll define as any view that says “the only way we can reliably know anything is through the scientific method.” Or stated differently, scientism is the view that *only* the hard sciences—biology, physics, chemistry, etc.—provide strong, genuine knowledge of reality.
Scientism is surprisingly common—it can be seen in figures like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking, and Bill Nye, among others. And it’s not just public figures—I think most people just think this way without even realizing it. For example, how many times have you heard someone say something like, “Science gives us facts; religion/philosophy/theology/ethics just give us opinions.” It is in the cultural and intellectual air we breathe.
While there are many problems with scientism, the main one is quite devastating: it’s self defeating. Scientism is actually a philosophical claim—an ideology—masquerading as a scientific one. Scientific inquiry could never support scientism: it is a philosophical position that cannot be verified, or falsified, by science itself. It’s self refuting. It’s like saying, “All English sentences are shorter than 5 words.” It doesn’t even meet its own criteria.
Ok, so much for scientism. What about science? Science can be a good gift from God. It is a powerful way to know certain things about the physical world. Christians should support science but reject scientism.
As we study the universe, we work our way back to the “Big Bang”, where the cosmos exploded into existence. Somehow along the way, life came along, with all the complexity of DNA and immune systems and all that. Studying how these things work is good, but modern people have made the mistake of thinking that scientific knowledge is *the only* reliable knowledge. Physicists and geneticists have become the new high priests of reality, giving us access to what we want and need from the world. But science cannot answer any “why” questions, only “how”. And that leads to another problem: Not only is scientism self refuting, but it also leads to a dead end. If there’s nothing more to reality than matter and energy, then reality is impersonal. A cold, impersonal universe of chance has no purpose. In a Godless universe, capricious chaos becomes a looming threat to us. So we give in to nihilism or seek deliverance in distraction. In a purposeless universe, which is all scientism can give us, anxiety becomes our god.
Christianity makes truth claims. (Of course, the Christian faith is much *more* than truth claims, but it’s certainly not less than that.) It makes claims like, “God exists”, “murder is objectively wrong”, “Jesus died and rose again by the power of God”, “you should love your neighbour”, “you have a body and a soul”, “every human being is objectively valuable and should be respected”, “you should worship and obey God”, and more. These claims can be known to be true, but through other ways than science.
But who said science is the *only* way to know truth, anyway?