Science and Faith


By Stephen Terry


The Scientific Method by definition is a closed system. It is limited to observable and measurable data. I have only to think back to the period before electron microscopy to realize the limitations imposed by our ability to observe and measure. The boundaries of knowledge have expanded so much in my lifetime.  We have gone from 78 RPM records to MP3 files. We can pull data into our homes from all over the earth and even other planets.  Remember when we could all view pictures on our home computers that were being transmitted from a little robot on Mars?  Yet, as much as knowledge has expanded, so much more is still unknown.  Is there a certain pretentiousness to claim knowledge of "truth" under such limitations? If anything, the Scientific Method should bring about humility in the researcher in the face of the unknowable. Should that which lies outside observation be consigned to faith? Perhaps science should allow this.


The problem is when faith informs ignorance and then refuses to yield once the ability to observe and measure expands.  Science finds it hard to yield anything to faith then, for the faith community might never yield it back.  Why must this tension exist? While our knowledge will never equal God's by definition, does He only exist beyond the borders of observation or does the observable, measurable universe belong to Him as well? If we accept that truth is always consistent,  why can’t we find harmony between what we have observed and measured and what lies beyond? Or are we doomed forever to either deny what we have seen and measured on the one hand, or to deny God on the other?


Harmony is not uniformity.  Harmony is a blending of different perspectives in a manner that informs and enhances each.  If we look at a sheet of music, and then decide to change every note in the composition to be exactly like the first, we would have accomplished absolute unity through uniformity, but would we have harmony?  No.  Harmony can only exist with diversity.  Can there be harmony between faith and science?


There is a mystery that science cannot inform. Without it, how can we explain the choice of the three Hebrew worthies, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego on the plain of Dura who chose to be cast into a fiery furnace rather than deny God. (see Daniel, Chapter 3)  Empirically, fires are very easy to measure in terms of ability to damage human flesh. Most of us have had the experience of burning one or more fingers in the past.  Yet these men chose to deny science and proceed on faith.  Now, the easy way out is for the scientist to deny the accuracy of the account, but how is that any different than the offhand denial of scientific evidence of natural selection and its effect on species by those in the faith community?


The human genome as well as that of several other species has been mapped. Genealogical evidence is mounting by the day regarding genetic history.  Where this knowledge might take us is both exciting and more than a little scary.  We discovered long ago that cholera was caused by impure drinking water and not by "foul miasmas." We also have discovered how to turn organisms which cause disease into deadly biological weapons.  Can humanity afford for science not to be informed by faith?  Science should not be allowed to proceed in a moral vacuum.  This is too dangerous for all of us.


The frontiers of understanding are rapidly expanding. The faith community would do well to accept this as inevitable. Faith should never be on the side of opposition to demonstrable fact.  Rather faith should inform morality and provide science with an ethical “soul.”  Although knowledge can provide the ability to do new things, someone should be asking “Should we?”  Ethics left to science may be no ethics at all. 


Ethics is not the only role for faith.  Some things will always lie beyond the boundaries of science.  Yet, these unknowns seem to work in spite of their inexplicability.    With an understanding that truth is that which works and what works is not always measurable, science and faith can find common ground. The expanding boundaries of knowledge can never reach infinity and those in the scientific community might be humble enough to allow to faith those things which lie outside their ability to measure.