God and Science

Science Lab - Wikimedia Commons

The relationship between theism and science has been debated for generations. All too often, people are given the impression that one cannot believe in the existence of God and at the same time believe what science says about nature. In reality, science does not require atheism, as indicated by the following statements by scientists.

Stephen Jay Gould, evolutionary biologist: “Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings and values –subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate but can never resolve.”

“Darwin did not use evolution to promote atheism or to maintain that no concept of God could ever be squared with the structure of nature. Rather, he argued that nature’s factuality, as read within the magisterium of science, could not resolve, or even specify, the existence or character of God, the ultimate meaning of life, the proper foundations of morality, or any other question within the different magisterium of religion.”

“The universe, for all we know, may have an ultimate purpose and meaning . . . and these ultimates may be set by a rational transcendent power legitimately called God, but the resolvable subject matter of science falls into another realm below the purview of such philosophical (and probably unknowable) generalities.”

Ian G. Barbour, nuclear physicist: “Another way of separating theological from scientific assertions is the distinction between primary and secondary causality, which is common in Catholic and neo-orthodox thought. God as primary cause is said to work through the secondary causes of the natural world that science studies. God is omnipotent and uses natural laws to achieve particular goals. Primary causality is on a totally different level from the interactions among entities in the world.”

Kenneth R. Miller, biologist: “Does evolution really nullify all world views that depend on the spiritual? Does it demand logical agnosticism as the price of scientific consistency? And does it rigorously exclude belief in God? These are the questions that I will explore in the pages that follow. My answer, in each and every case, is a resounding ‘no’.”

“My friends and colleagues in nonscientific disciplines will often claim science as their authority. Clearly they believe that scientific inquiry has ruled out the divine. Unfortunately for them, as I will argue, nothing of the sort is true. Their attitude towards religion and religious people are rooted not so much in science itself as in the humanist fabric of modern intellectual life.”

Mark Buchheim, biologist: “Science is indeed a powerful tool, but science is, by default, mute with regard to anything outside the natural world. The late Stephen J. Gould introduced the concept of NOMA, or non-overlapping magisteria, to describe how science and faith co-exist in “mutual humility.” The point I’m making here is that science, stripped of any philosophical assumptions about the exclusivity of the natural world, can tell us nothing about our faith. Therefore, anyone who tries to link an acceptance of evolutionary theory with atheism or agnosticism is promoting a false dichotomy.”

Mark A. Foster, sociologist: “Because a scientist recognizes the operational limitations of science does not make her or him an atheist.”

“Like virtually all scientists (physical, biological, or social), I am a methodological naturalist. However, I am not an atheist (an ontological naturalist). As a methodological naturalist, I reject that science can be used to demonstrate the existence of God. I do not reject that the existence of God can be demonstrated through other means.”

“There is as much evidence for evolution (most of it genetic) as there is for the heliocentric model of the solar system (that the sun, not the earth, is its center). There is no other side of the coin. Accepting evolution, however, does not mean that one rejects of God or the soul.”

John Polkinghorne, mathematical physicist: “There is much cloudy unpredictable process throughout the whole of the physical world. It is a coherent possibility that God interacts with the history of his creation by means of ‘information input’ into its open physical process. The causal net of the universe is not drawn so tight as to exclude this possibility.”

Scientists are not the only people who acknowledge the fact that atheism is not a requirement of science. Non-theist philosophers also acknowledge it.

John Wilkins, agnostic philosophy professor: “A final form of naturalism is ontological naturalism. This is the opinion that all that exists is natural. Many scientists are also physicalists. They argue that if we do not need to postulate the reality of non-physical processes for science, then we can conclude that there are no such things. This argument is too quick. The claim that ‘if A then B’ explains B may be true, but there may also be a C that explains B. Moreover, many things in the physical world are cause by many things together rather than just a few. So, we might say that a physical event is caused by both God and by physical causes, without being logically inconsistent.”

Keith Augustine, atheist philosopher: “In utilizing methodological naturalism, science and history do not assume a priori that, as a matter of fact, supernatural causes don’t really exist. There is no conceptual conflict between practicing science or history and believing in the supernatural.”

In short, a person can believe in God and still be a good scientist.

Quote Sources

[In order of appearance]

Stephen Jay Gould, Rocks of ages: Science and religion in the fullness of life (Ballantine: 1999), p. 4.

Ibid., p. 192.

Ibid., p. 199.

Ian G. Barbour, When science meets religion (HarperSanFrancisco: 2000), p. 19.

Kenneth R. Miller, Finding Darwin’s god (Cliff Street Books: 1999), p. 17.

Ibid., p. 19.

Mark Buchheim, “Letter to the editor: an educated response”, The Collegian Online (University of Tulsa: 2005), http://www.utulsa.edu/collegian/article.asp?article=2569 .

Mark A. Foster, “The Captain’s Personal bLog”, My Looking-Glass Selves (Sociosphere: 2001), http://editorials.sociosphere.com/arc20020301.html .



John Polkinghorne, Quarks, Chaos & Christianity (Crossroad: 1999), p. 71.

John Wilkins, Naturalism: Is it necessary? (TalkOrigins: 1997), http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolphil/naturalism.html .

Keith Augustine, Naturalism (Infidels: 2009), http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/nontheism/naturalism/ .

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