Here is an article I wrote for Business Connect – I find the hard wordcount cap and publishing deadline to be a useful discipline. But it always makes for some very difficult choices where a statement cannot be nuanced…
When Mohandes K Gandhi placed “Science without Humanity” as the fifth of his seven social sins which he discerned as the roots of violence in the world, he was probably referring back, in 1925, to the dehumanizing effects of industrialisation and recent technological advances. These were seen in the new factories of both the earlier industrial revolution and the new mass production systems which were being developed across the world. These systems reduced human input to that of a cog in a wheel, with no creative, artistic or cognitive input into the work of their hands, making the worker little more than an automaton.
More chillingly they were seen in the mechanisation of warfare in the trenches of Western Europe which created a grotesque production line demanding the input of young men at one end and efficiently churning out the finished goods of broken bodies and destroyed lives at the other.
While there is much to say, theologically and culturally, about these issues which would be of great relevance today, I am going to take up a theme implicit in Gandhi’s formulation, that of the relationship between science and faith. If science and faith had Facebook pages they would probably describe their relationship as “it’s complicated”. This complicated relationship arises from the fact that, certainly within the Western world, both science and faith have changed over the years.
We have had episodes in the relationship that both sides probably regret and others that can be looked back on with rosy reverie. The burning down of the Great Library of Ptolemy in Alexandria 391AD by the Patriarch Theophilus, and the Scopes Monkey Trial in Dayton Tennessee in 1925 would count as two of the more regrettable incidents. The foundations of the great Universities of Europe, including Oxford, Cambridge, Padua and Toulouse, along with the work of Christian scholars such as Francis Bacon “pioneer of the scientific method” and William of Occam “father of modern epistemology” must count as some of the brighter moments.
For most of the Church’s existence there was a broad understanding that all truth was God’s truth, and an appreciation that the study of natural history illumined the creation. This stance can be summarised in the formula;
Science = Right, Faith = Right
The Enlightenment of the eighteenth century gave rise to new ways of looking at society, humanity and a new approach to science which paved the way for great advances in technology. Some of these advances challenged contemporary notions around issues such as the age of the Earth, the origins of human life and nature of the Biblical tradition that set the scientific community at odds with positions the churches chose to maintain. We might say the formula shifted to;
Science = Right, Faith = Wrong
Against this onslaught one branch of Christianity chose to redefine the faith. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century a group of scholars from Princeton such as Benjamin Warfield and Charles Hodge edited a set of 90 essays in a twelve volume book called “The Fundamentals; a Testimony to the Truth”. In that moment Fundamentalism was born, with new doctrines about the Bible, authority and prophecy. For a Fundamentalist the formula is;
Science = Wrong, Faith = Right
Thus if your interpretation of Genesis 7 requires you to believe that the whole Earth was covered with water to a depth of more than 29,052 feet (Gen 7:20) for 150 days (Gen7:24) and that every single living thing on Earth perished in this short period (Gen 7:23), then any finding of science that is incompatible with this account must be a lie. This defensive approach has led to antagonism and misunderstanding from both sides and generally a lack of constructive dialogue.
This antagonism has proven a positive environment for the evolution of an aggressive brand of Fundamentalism Atheism, which it must be noted is a philosophical position not a scientific theory, as espoused by its evangelists such as Professor Richard Dawkins.
More recent versions of epistemology, the philosophy that looks at how we know what we know and the theory of knowledge, truth and certainty, offer a possible way through this impasse. For the post-modernist, all claims to objective truth are suspect, as such claims are made by subjective human beings. Objective Truth could only be absolutely known by an objective knower, which clearly disqualifies an Oxford Professor or any other limited, fallible human being. We all know in part “as through a glass darkly” and our knowledge is subject to revision, improvement and challenge.
Post-modernists tend especially to critique claims to truth which are supportive of unequal power relations in society. For the post-modern, a claim to objective truth is an assertion of dominance over the other, by making her subject of your truth claim. A stance of epistemological humility is preferred which gives space for the other to share her story. For the post-modernist the equation becomes;
Science = Wrong, Faith = Wrong, or you are wrong and I am wrong.
Some Christians feel worried about a stance, that does not have the heavy firepower of the Fundamentalist “I am right and you are wrong” position, but many others embrace this position, as it gives an ideal stance from which to humbly tell the story of the carpenter from Nazareth and why we follow him. Theologically it leaves room for only God to know the truth and no room for us to boast in what we have discovered.
CS Lewis once said “If Christianity is true, it is true because it is true; it isn’t true because it is Christianity.” A Christian approach to Science, is threefold; one of awe at the marvelous complexity and simplicity of the universe; one of careful appreciation of the gifts of technology, while being aware of the dehumanising potentials of so many new developments and one of recognition – that all searchers after truth are on a journey that we too can appreciate and share.