A question arises whether the supposed rivalry between Science and Christianity is based largely on perception. Considering the matter from outside of the pressures from the official bureaucratic structures of both sides one wonders what it is that makes people see the problem in one way or another. Take these two stories for example:
In a West African village an unschooled old man, Tamba, was speaking with someone who seemed to be listening but soon obviously seemed to stop listening and put on a serious facial expression as the other jabbered away. Suddenly turning away, the listener said with a raised voice: “He’s all yours”. A lady entered and to Tamba’s horror stabbed him before he could assess what was going on. He would have tried to run away or defend himself somehow but he seemed to be losing consciousness. The last he remembered was being restrained on a bed and vowing never again to trust such people. He had no idea what they did to him but knew about the witchcraft that went on there. Indeed he never did trust those people, especially given the pain he experienced from his rear-end a few hours after he left that place. He made sure to keep far from them, did not believe a word any of them said anytime he heard them speak and nothing about them made sense to Tamba. He just could not understand why or how others seemed to accept them, letting them get away with their heinous hoax.
In a village in Tibet, this shepherd loved his sheep so much he gave each one a name and spoke to them regularly. He told them: “I will always be good to you. I’ll treat you well and take you to the best pasture, with no chance of attack from predators. You will be content, have no cares and if anything bad happens before we get to the wonderful meadow be sure that I will be there to guide you out of the problematic situation. I tell you, my dear sheep, once we are there you will have everything to make you completely protected and happy”. His fellow shepherds heard him talk this way to his sheep and jeered: “Dream on!” and they shouted to his sheep: “He’s faking. He has no ability to keep those promises; he’s just an ordinary shepherd”. They accused the shepherd: “You are not even like us who were appointed by the village Chief to look after his sheep. You are a pretender!”
In the first story it sounds like Tamba was a victim of a terrible plot, which succeeded. Your emotional reaction to his plight was likely to put yourself in his shoes and feel his fear and helplessness yourself, wondering perhaps with empathy how unsavory people get away with their crime. This is Tamba’s viewpoint because he was uneducated about the circumstances. From Dr Bangu’s viewpoint, the listener, it was always best to sedate such a patient before moving his rectal hemorrhoids, which is why he called the nurse in to give the patient an injection, knowing how dramatic these villagers can be.
Now apart from what information Tamba should have received prior to the procedures I suspect at this point you are no longer seeing the scenario as criminal or diabolical. So why would this be the case? Very likely because you understand what Tamba did not. By standing in Tamba’s shoes, as you were earlier and then later in Dr Bangu’s, most likely you fully accepted the experience of each person and find nothing to reject. That’s the power of knowledge. Depending on the contents of that knowledge, however one gets it, one’s viewpoint is shaped thereby. Indeed knowledge feeds, and therefore “biases”, opinion and viewpoint.
The second story illustrates another form of bias. I expect many readers will accept the shepherd’s affection for his sheep because they know from direct experience, observation or common knowledge that people can love their animals to that extent. From that point of view, no doubt the story makes perfect sense. But as soon as I say the story is an interpretation of a message from Jesus in the Christian Bible declaring the extent and benefits of His love for mankind (Gospel of John, chapter 10, verses 11 & 14), I lose a proportion of readers who a moment ago saw no problem with the story. The change of heart is likely due to the same problem as in the first story especially from Tamba’s point of view. Lack of knowledge about the situation may limit one’s ability to stand in a Christian’s shoes.
Any conflict or opposition is removed once we take the position that Tamba’s behavior is acceptable from his viewpoint in life; and Dr Bangu’s similarly. To judge one negatively or positively and not the other or accept one but reject the other, given the explanation of the stories, suggests a stubborn bias. On the other hand lack of knowledge about Christian faith as compared with actual knowledge of animal love puts Christianity at a disadvantage and therefore, probably, determines why we would accept one but not the other. From the lesson of the first story, however, knowledge and understanding of story #2 removes any conflict with or rejection of the Christian perspective. My hypothesis? If you study the Christian faith to understand it as a Christian does your perception will change. In the meantime in the light of the presented logical arguments and the facts from these two illustrative but credible stories one is more likely to accept that Science and Christianity can be seen as separate and equally independent sources of knowledge.
Another kind of example of independent and equal access to information is presented in our senses. Which sense organ can claim greater legitimacy or superiority than the others as a gateway to learning about the world? For example, can the nose say it is more important than the ears? Neither Science nor Christianity can claim to be the only source of authoritative or authentic knowledge. Truly because of changes in the theoretical pronouncements of Science a claim to complete knowledge cannot be upheld. To the question: Can Science say why the universe is the way it is? The answer cannot be: Certainly. Science has given different answers over the decades since Copernicus assumed as fact that the sun was near the center of universe and static, with astronomically fewer planets orbiting. That was considered a landmark observation, which at that point was Science’s factual answer to the question of the kind of universe our earth was in.
Later however, radically different “explanations” have been offered. For example when Hubble described a continuously expanding universe, Science had to deny stasis, which had included the view that the universe had finite dimensions. With a drastic revisionist approach they abandoned this view and took up the Big Bang theory, which more easily accommodated an expanding universe. That too was substituted with a newer proposition that the universe oscillated between expansion and contraction. These changing answers greatly damage confidence in the ability of Science to provide an accurate, definitive response to why the universe is the way it is. By accepting that hypothesis-testing and continued experimentation is its method of discovery however, Science can never falsely claim to always offer a complete or final answer.
On the other hand the answer Christianity has always given since antiquity has been: God made the universe the way it is. Nonetheless Science and Christianity could probably have continued to share the vast landscape of knowledge as partners offering two versions of why the universe is the way it is. Science, however embarked on a mission to dispense with the notion of God and Christianity’s understanding of the origin of universe; and Christianity persisted in squelching any and all perceived dissenters and non-conformers to its doctrines contrary to its own fundamental principles of love, humility and unity. Authority cannot be acquired by force or, as in the case of earlier Christianity, deadly force! In this process of staking turf these groups erected an adversarial relationship of rivalry; but both sides need to see that in a climate of mutual acceptance of the validity of the knowledge-base of the other (from the owner’s point of view), nothing is lost, diminished or disempowered. In fact the room for mutual understanding and respect is widened; and in such climate a relationship easily leads to sincere reconciliation, when needed. A state of conflict, as currently, would therefore be unnecessary and the mutual acceptance of independence would indicate equality between Science and Christianity. That is, each would have an equal right to teach its knowledge to the world. As independent and equally trustworthy sources of knowledge, Science and Christianity are entitled to make pronouncements within the scope of the area of authority that each claims.
So who does have authority to speak insightfully on the above-stated, main topic: “Where did we come from; and why is the universe the way it is?” Science claims it alone does and situates its claim at the moment of the Big Bang. Christianity makes the same claim but uses God and creation by God as the evidence.
Extrapolating from Platonic thinking that posits the concept of a distinction between what always is and never becomes; and what becomes and never is, as the only possible mutually exclusive classes, one could argue that scientific discoveries based as they are on theories that change, must belong to the class of reality that is always in the process of ‘becoming’. If so then the results of scientific inquiry become relegated to the realm of opinion until a more definite theory is developed. This is certainly informed opinion; but nonetheless opinion, which therefore leaves room for a different one whenever a new hypothesis is “proven”. Christianity does not belong to this camp because its raison d’être is based on a perfect and immutable God in action.
Back to the operational tenet of Science, we can accept that the theories of Science are always changing or evolving. Then, therefore, a truth may never be finally discovered for any theory. For example, let’s assume a cup doesn’t yet exist, although a cylinder does. Based on a certain hypothesis we’ll call a “cylinder theory”, a scientist may proceed to invent a cup. Indeed the theory that a cylinder with a closed base (taking into consideration a practical height and diameter) can become a cup has been proven. The same or another scientist however, may consider that a cylinder’s life does not end in a cup and using a different hypothesis discovers a watering can. Several changed hypotheses (and years) later we get a cistern. The “cylinder theory” may lead to several lines of research, which later produce a modern airplane. Because this is still not the final outcome of the “cylinder theory”, the question arises (previously stated) as to what point or stage a scientific discovery may represent the objective evidence that the theory is proven? In other words: What is the final statement about the life of a cylinder? The truthful answer from Science is: We have no way of knowing. The “based-on-physical-observation” foundation of its model of acquiring knowledge makes Science de facto a subjective source of knowledge, at best.
Representing the Version of Science stated in the opening section of this article, Hawking argues: “… Events before the Big Bang, are simply not defined, because there’s no way one could measure what happened at them.” Here he is only admitting to Science’s inability to inform on certain areas of reality, namely, events prior to the presumed Big Bang. He confesses that Science is not in a position to deny or agree that possibly there were events, which occurred then. Science has no scientific grounds to reject the view of Christianity that God was present before the hypothesized Big Bang. Therefore Science’s contribution to this matter is an educated opinion. Constrained by its methodology however, the question of the state of anything before the time of the believed Big Bang is beyond the scope of scientific inquiry.
Christianity on the other hand is not bound by scientific rules; but it has its own method for accepting or denying what is factual on and outside this planet. Christianity’s one guiding principle or rule of operation is faith. As such it can and does assert on the basis of faith that God created the universe as well as time; and as such He is outside of time. As agreed, scientific theorizing is not the sole or only legitimate means of acquiring knowledge. Clearly then Science and Christianity occupy different spaces in the world of knowledge about the origin of the universe and how life has progressed since then. This gives each side an independent right to make pronouncements based on the principles of its epistemological approach.
The independence of Science and Christianity and the pointlessness of competition between the two (which sometimes becomes shamefully vitriolic) appear to be the view of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine of the United States in the following statement:
“… Science and religion are based on different aspects of human experience. In science, explanations must be based on evidence drawn from examining the natural world. Scientifically based observations or experiments that conflict with an explanation eventually must lead to modification or even abandonment of that explanation. Religious faith, in contrast, does not depend only on empirical evidence, is not necessarily modified in the face of conflicting evidence, and typically involves supernatural forces or entities. Because they are not a part of nature, supernatural entities cannot be investigated by science. In this sense, science and religion are separate and address aspects of human understanding in different ways. Attempts to pit science and religion against each other create controversy where none needs to exist.” (“Evolution Resources: Compatibility of Science and Religion”. Science, Evolution, and Creationism. National Academies of the United States. 2008)4.
With peaceful intent, together both can achieve so much more for the world! Therefore reasonable and intelligent individuals worldwide and their governments must accept that Science and Christianity have equal right to proclaim and teach in the areas of competence that each claims to have authority. And with such acceptance, take concrete steps to recognize and implement Christian Teaching in classrooms from which it has been excluded.
1International Standard Version of the Bible
2New Living Translation of the Bible
3All Hawking quotations in this Article are from the Stephen Hawking website: http://www.hawking.org.uk/the-beginning-of-time.html
4From the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine website: http://nationalacademies.org/evolution/Compatibility.html