A few years ago, my son and I were strolling through an exhibit about the life of the famous scientist (genius, really) Galileo Galilei. Galileo is as much famous for having been put on trial by the Catholic church of his time, as he is for having helped invent the telescope, and having been part of the great 17th-century scientific revolution.
After having been put on trial for claiming that the earth rotated around the sun and accused of heresy, Galileo spent the rest of his life under house arrest. For many, he’s considered to be a hero of science who stood up to the oppressive church of his day.
What about the Scopes trial, another famous contest between science (in this case, a teacher sued for teaching evolution) and believers who thought the only true account of creation was that written in the first few chapters of the Old Testament?
Perhaps it’s no wonder that so many people seem to assume that you have to take a side in the faith-versus-science fight club.
But if we buy into the popular cultural narrative that the church has always been at odds with the scientific community, we’re missing a deeper point: Christianity’s relationship to science has historically been both complicated and mutually interdependent.
In the early days of Christianity, philosophers—who were also believers—were advocates for an experiential and practical approach to the world of nature. During the Middle Ages, Christians supported universities around Europe that made students take courses in math and science-related subjects. During the Renaissance, Christians championed Copernicus, who argued that the earth rotated around the sun, while the so-called Scientific Revolution was championed by many scientists who were also believers.
Far from being an enemy to science, the Catholic Church has a long history of promoting scientific discovery and research (the Vatican has its own observatory). Many modern scientists are men and women of faith, though many are not.
We live in a culture which often encourages a black-and-white approach to some of the fascinating questions that engage us: where did we come from? Was there a creator or are we here by accident? Are there ways in which science and faith, with their very different ways of seeking truth and meaning, can be helpful in the way we understand the world?
I’m curious about how you, the reader, understand the tension between the worldviews of faith and science. How do you make sense of your world? Do you feel as though there’s an ongoing war going on between science and religion and that you must take a side? How can we do better about encouraging mutually respectful conversations between those who are passionate advocates for either?
This post reflects the views of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on science and faith from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.