The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


May 20, 2013

Craig Tally: Science, theology can coexist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Why this war between religion and science? In extremes, a religionist sees the scientist as anti-God and the scientist sees the religionist as anti-reason.

It doesn't seem to matter that there are scientists who express faith in God, and there are religionists who have a high regard for science. Indeed, there are many people of faith who embrace the discoveries of science without fear and trembling.

Yet, in spite of these instances, the battles rage on.

J. B. Stump, teacher of philosophy at Bethel College in Indiana, recently contributed a significant piece to The Christian Century magazine, a favorite of mine. It is titled "Cosmic Question." This article, if taken to heart, should go a long way in easing the tension that exists between many scientists and religionists.

Essentially, Stump raises the question of God's place in a world explained by science. Science, says Stump, has explained many things that were once thought to be supernatural events. We may continue to pray for rain, but we now understand the science of rain, and we no longer hear deity in a clap of thunder.

Many are threatened by scientific discoveries. It's as if God is being "explained away," and science is to blame. If we insist on giving God credibility through science, then we are in for a long, futile struggle.

This need not be. This should not be.

The scientist, whether or not he acknowledges it, is doing the very thing God intends -- exploring and seeking a fuller knowledge of this earth and universe.

There is nothing to fear there. We were given a brain and a soul, and the two should and can get along well. The brain wants to explain the world; the soul wants to interpret the world. Science deals with the physical realm; theology deals with the spiritual realm.

The difference between these two disciplines, theology and science, might be explained in a way described by Stump: "We should consider God's relationship to creation to be more like that of a personal agent, rather than a force of nature. Then we can talk about God's actions in personal terms like Ôwilling,' Ôgoverning' and Ôloving,' and we don't need to worry that a new scientific theory will prove this wrong."

Should we manage to get on with this, the talk of science and religion will reflect the same dynamic as that of a conversation about an orchestral concert. Science can explain the workings of the musical instruments in terms of air, vibration and sound waves -- those things that are physical in nature. Theology can talk about beauty, meaning, experience and interpretation -- those topics that are spiritual. There is no conflict here.

The scientist might accept the Big Bang theory of beginnings as the best possible explanation of the beginning of the universe, but science is helpless seeking a First Cause or an Unmoved Mover behind the Big Bang. Stump quotes the agnostic cosmologist Robert Jastrow: "For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."

For Jastrow to make this acknowledgment is quite admirable. Will his confession make any difference? I certainly hope so. When all is said and done, we arrive at the same place, precisely at the starting point of the Bible: "In the beginning, God."

Craig Tally is the senior minister of First Community Church in Joplin. His column appears bi-weekly. He can be reached at ctally7740@

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