Science and Theology: Mapping the Relationship
Article by Nancey Murphy (2013)
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What is the Science?

The relationship between science and religion is complicated. In the early 1900s, some conservative Christians, reacting to modernism and higher criticism, began to see evolutionary biology as conflicting with Scripture. Some liberal Christians, reacting to this science-religion bifurcation, began developing a theology that was immune to scientific advancement. More recently, some scientists, particularly the “new atheists” that often appear in the popular press, see science and religion as inherently incompatible, describing religion as antithetical to reason. Caught in the middle are many Christians and Christian theologians who see science and scripture as two different but complementary (even if unequal) ways to learn about who God is. Robert John Russell has put quantum mechanics into conversation with divine action to develop a theory called Non-Interventionist Objective Divine Action (NIODA). John Polkinghorne and others are using the anthropic principle (fine-tuning) to support the conviction that God created the universe. Pastor John Van Sloten allows research on the kidney and its role in maintaining homeostasis in the body to broaden his understanding of the Holy Spirit. As much of popular culture continues to perceive a conflict between religion and science, many Christians have been working hard to find more constructive ways to relate science and theology.

“Regardless of theologians’ attitudes toward science, however, there is scarcely a doctrine that has not been affected by science.” – Nancey Murphy

What is the Theology?

Different Christians in different times have viewed the relationship between science and theology through different lenses. While the last couple of centuries have seen more perceived conflict between science and religion, most of the greatest scientists in history have been religious, and many of those Christian. This history has shown that the relationship between science and religion is very complex. It hinges on how we view God, read the Bible, understand divine revelation, and see the place of the Church in the world. All of these are at the core of a Christian community’s identity. Perhaps this is why issues of science and faith can be full of so much conflict. The article’s author, Nancey Murphy, invites us to learn from several faithful Christians who have struggled with these issues and contributed to the science and faith conversation. We may not always agree with their conclusions, but perhaps their work can be a spark to reflect upon our own assumptions, presuppositions, and convictions about some of the biggest questions of our day. More importantly, perhaps these conversations can lead us into more faithful worship of the Creator of the Universe.

What to Consider

  • How do you understand the relationship between science and theology? How does your congregation understand this relationship?
  • What scientific fields contain hot button issues? Which ones are less volatile? What are the reasons these issues are more or less volatile.
  • What is your view of the Bible? How do you see the relationship between biblical revelation and other ways of knowing? How does this affect the way you interpret certain passages such as Genesis 1-3?

How to go Deeper

  • Start a small group that discusses science and faith topics. For an introduction, try using this short video on the origins of the science/religion conflict thesis with this accompanying study guide.
  • Preach a series on key issues in the science and theology conversation. You might consider using the six topics which Nancey Murphy’s article suggests: quantum physics and divine action, evolution and divine action, cosmology and creation, fine-tuning, design, and natural evil.
  • Invite scientists in your congregations and communities to share about their work during a worship service. This can be a time to hear how some scientists bring their vocation and faith together. You might also use this time to preach a sermon on the things you are learning about God through creation. For more on this second option, see these sermons about what we can learn about God from things as diverse as the kidney, the knee, and the brain.

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

Related Research

The American Scientific Affiliation – “Studies in the History of Science and Christianity”

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About the Author:

Zach is currently a PhD student at Fuller Theological Seminary researching the role of leaders in congregational change. His calling in life is to train and equip pastors to faithfully lead local congregations. When not studying, he'll most likely be watching Sporting Kansas City score goals or hiking with his wife and two kids.

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