History Highlights the Bond Between Science and Religion

The News Magazine of HBU

By David J. Davis, Associate Professor of History

 Far from being in conflict, science and religion have a longstanding, symbiotic relationship. As Alvin Plantinga points out in his book, “Where the Conflict Really Lies,” “there is … deep concord between theistic religion and science.” Both science and religion insist that we live in a world that is ordered, intricate, and knowable and that knowledge gives us a greater understanding of who and what we are as human beings. This concord is most evident in the humanities and the classical liberal arts, which emphasize cross-disciplinary approaches to truth.

In history, the strong connection between science and religion always has been apparent.  Leading Western scientists over the past millennium often had strong ties to their Christian faith. Medieval mathematicians and astronomers like John Sacrobosco. Thomas Bradwardine and Nicole Oresme were also clergies. The Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen’s study of the natural world enriched her sermons and devotional writings.

Likewise, the leaders of the Scientific Revolution-Rene Descartes, Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton were devout Christians, often understanding their scientific pursuits as an extension of their beliefs.  In fact, Boyle endowed a public lecture series that was meant to demonstrate the bond between Christianity and experimental science.

While some people mistakenly assume a rift between religion and modern science, history tells us a very different story. Even when we consider more recent centuries, the bond between science and religion remains strong. Some of the most groundbreaking innovations in science were made by devout Christians, who understood that their faith and their laboratory worked together.

The Quaker John Dalton introduced atomic theory into chemistry. The Episcopal priest William G. Pollard worked on the Manhattan Project. The Presbyterian Sir John Houghton was a leading atmospheric physicist who was dedicated to connecting environmental science and Christianity. Even more recently, contemporary scientific minds like theoretical physicist John Polkinhorne and Nobel laureates like William Daniel Phillips, Werner Arber, and Brian Kobilka, all exemplify the strong bonds between science and religion.

Like these leading scientists, HBU’s College of Arts & Humanities believes that the Creator God fashioned a world that we can study and understand. From programs like Medical Humanities to courses like “Philosophy of Science” and “Unborn Life in Western Tradition and American History,” our faculty and students explore how science and religion work together to help us more deeply appreciate God’s created order.

Through such explorations, we come not only to an understanding of our world but also to a necessary humility when we consider the vastness of Creation. As Max Planck, originator of quantum theory, wrote in his essay “Religion and Natural Science,” both science and religion remind us in different ways of “our infinite smallness” and our unique ability to grasp that smallness.

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