A growing number of scientists, medical professionals and academicians say there doesn’t need to be a conflict between religion and science. There has long been tension between science and religion, but many claim the din is getting louder and more uncivil in the bicentennial birth year of Charles Darwin.
When it comes to discussing science and religion, Professor Richard Knopp says it’s always good to do a “hat check.”
In this case, it has nothing to do with fashion.
“One of the challenges,” says Knopp, professor of philosophy and Christian apologetics at Lincoln Christian University in Lincoln, “is for people to recognize which hat others are wearing (when they talk about these subjects.)”
Knopp points out that atheist Richard Dawkins, author of “The Greatest Show on Earth,” is a highly credentialed scientist. When Dawkins claims that “God is a ... delusion” — also the title of his 2006 best-seller — he is “wearing his ‘philosophy’ hat,” Knopp claims.
“Many times (Dawkins) and others change hats, making claims for what is empirically available.”
There has long been tension between science and religion, but many claim the din is getting louder and more uncivil in the bicentennial birth year of Charles Darwin. (This year also marks the sesquicentennial of the publication of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.”)
Dawkins and others such as physicist Steven Weinberg and author Christopher Hitchens, have assailed religion as “simplistic and uninformed,” as the language and arrogance gets ratcheted up on both sides.
But a growing number of scientists, medical professionals and academicians, such as Knopp, say there doesn’t need to be a conflict between religion and science.
They accept scientific and medical advances, do research and teach courses on bio-ethics — and go to church and synagogue regularly.
“People are going to have belief in religion despite science,” Knopp says. “(Those medical advances) don’t pose a threat to my faith. It’s merely an extension of sensory components God instills in us, much like computers are extensions of the human mind.”
“When I learn something new about science, I get excited,” says Elaine Chapman, a professor of biology at Illinois College in Jacksonville. “It’s the same with prayer or looking at a text in the Bible in a new way.”
Adds Dr. Stephen P. Stone, a professor at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield: “One can live a religious life as Hindu or a Buddhist or whatever and still recognize the advances of science, not only of medicine, but in our society.
“I don’t see where there has to be any conflict at all.”
The suspicions that abound on the part of believers are that “science is out to get them,” Knopp says, so they prefer to be “ignorant or highly suspicious of it.”
On the other hand, he says, science “shows little respect for religious believers.”
What we used to think
The knotty problem to all of this, says Lincoln Christian’s Knopp, who developed a course in science and religion through a Templeton Foundation grant in the mid-1980s, is that religions offer a gamut of different perspectives — from the evangelical to the transcendental — so it’s impossible to talk from a single “religion” viewpoint.
While people tend to think of science as much more monolithic, Knopp says science “is not so unified as people take it to be.”
He suggests science and religion may be in conflict on topics where they overlap. But it is “also possible for them to confirm some claims of each other,” he says.
Scientific methodology and consensus, Knopp points out, have changed through time. If science now offers different information in keeping up with that technology, “it also implies that it did not have it right before.”
Chapman, who also chairs the Illinois College biology department, recalls sitting in a medical education meeting and a presenter saying that 10 to 20 years from now, 50 percent of the information presented at that meeting was going to be wrong.
“The question is, which 50 percent?” Chapman says.
But science has also prompted changes in understanding the Bible — for example, repudiation, for the most part, of teaching about a flat earth.
“For now, we should acknowledge the possibility that some conflicts between science and Christianity may exist because of mistaken Biblical interpretation,” Knopp says.
“Science can inform and correct theology, and sometimes theology can inform science.”
Finding common ground
Regarding the stickiest wicket of the science/religion debate — evolution — IC’s Chapman says it’s a non-starter for her.
“When people would say, ‘How could you believe in evolution?’ that implies that it’s a theory,” says Chapman, a Christian. “It’s like someone asking, ‘Do you believe in the cell theory?’
“That’s not a conflict to me at all. We have God-given brains, and the fact that we use them to learn more about life, there’s nothing wrong with that. God created us as persons who can reason, learn and build things.
“I don’t see the conflict of wanting high-tech medicine and science, but wanting that faith support.”
A growing number in the medical profession are taking seriously the relationship between spirituality and physical health.
Some studies have shown a link between spirituality and health. Now physicians might be more inclined to pray with patients, a practice Dr. Stephen Stone, who is Jewish, supports — within limits.
“People are comfortable with praying, and if a physician is comfortable with it, too, it could be helpful,” says Stone, a dermatologist. “I don’t know if the physician should be initiating it, though.”
Professor Knopp is hoping the science and religion camps can use “dialogue, not diatribe,” and be candid enough to acknowledge when they’re speaking outside their disciplines — that is, “changing hats.”
“Unfortunately, if there’s no hyperbolic language, if there’s no shouting, then there’s no news,” Chapman says.
“Religion has a prominent part in human life, and people hold these beliefs strongly,” she says. “I don’t like it when creationists laugh or poke fun at evolutonists or evolutionists poke fun at people of faith.
“There’s a great sense of wonder in both.”
Steven Spearie can be reached at (217) 622-1788 or firstname.lastname@example.org.