Christianity and Science, Sunday Quote

Sunday Quote!- The War Between Science and Religion

ia-adEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

The War Between Science and Religion

I recently finished reading Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition. I have a review of the book coming in some time, but for now I’ll say it was an uneven experience. Lots of high points; many low points. One high point was Alister McGrath’s discussion of science and religion and the alleged war between the two:

This conflict is often expressed more generally in terms of the phrase ‘science and religion’, which unhelpfully reifies both notions, attributing concrete identity to abstractions. Science and religion are not well-delimited entities, whose essence can be defined; they are shaped by the interaction of social, cultural and intellectual factors, so that both notions are shaped by factors that vary from one cultural location to another… the historical evidence suggests that it was actually [two 19th century works not by Darwin] which crystallized a growing public perception of tension and hostility between science and religion. (144, 145)

I think this quote is particularly thought-provoking due to its two pronged approach to the “science vs. religion” mentality. First, I think McGrath is certainly correct to note that the reification of the terms is unhelpful, to say the least. People often say things like “science says ___” or “religion says ___.” Such statements turn either science or religion into separately existing, distinct entities which somehow make proclamations. In other words, they remove either concept from the people putting for the concepts under the umbrella terms “science” or “religion.” I find this unhelpful, and as McGrath later notes, only use the terms out of convention.

Second, exploring the historical origins of an idea like the “war” thesis between science and religion often has astonishing results. One finds, often, that one’s assumptions are challenged and even overthrown by the evidence.

What do you think? What other concepts might we unintentionally reify through our use of terms? How might we seek to avoid doing this?


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Alister McGrath, “The Natural Sciences and Apologetics” in Imaginative Apologetics: Theology, Philosophy, and the Catholic Tradition edited by Andrew Davison (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011).


About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


5 thoughts on “Sunday Quote!- The War Between Science and Religion

  1. For myself it’s not a matter of science v religion but simply, who is the correct given the available information on a particular issue that comes under the remit of science. For example, YEC’s are wrong in the light of geological evidence etc..concerning the age of our planet, don’t care about their religious views they are welcome to them only the evidence they bring forth which is rubbish, that is all that matters.

    Posted by Steve | April 13, 2014, 9:00 AM
  2. Science and religion certainly are “separately existing, distinct entities.” If they weren’t, then our discussion would just get all vague and confused. Perhaps this is what Alister McGrath wants – he wants to obfuscate and hedge and muddy the waters until no one understands anything.

    Despite what McGrath says, the essence of religion and science can be defined. Here: The essence of science is to question things and test things empirically, whereas the essence of religion is to accept things. The essence of science is to doubt, and the essence of religion is to believe.

    Both religious and non-religious people can accept this statement of the essences, since it is neither pro-religion nor pro-science. I think the people who reject this statement of the essences are just those who wish to borrow some perceived authority of science in order to shore up the supposedly flagging authority of religion. I would just say there’s no need! Religion is fine as it is. Leave science alone! Vive la difference.

    Posted by John Moore | April 13, 2014, 9:02 PM
    • Science and religion are not, in fact, entities in the sense that is required to say “science does x.” If you disagree, then you must demonstrate the last time “science” told you something. Instead, science and religion are constructs which we have made that function as umbrella terms for complexes of theories, facts, and the like. “Science” and “religion” are not doing anything. We simply label certain things as scientific or religious.

      Your entire comment, ironically, is itself the act of doing exactly that: playing with concepts under the umbrella terms. For example, you wrote, “The essence of science is to question things and test things empirically…” Tell me, when did science, as a reified object (that is, the thing I am denying), tell you what it was? Obviously it did not. Therefore, by telling me what its essence is, you have engaged in the practice of defining science and in fact making it into something. It’s not an objective, ontological, separate entity. Rather, it is a concept defined by people (including you and I).

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 14, 2014, 5:49 PM
      • OK, they’re not “entities” but “constructs.” I don’t care which words we use. The point is that science and religion are two clearly defined things that are very different from each other. The interesting question is whether science and religion conflict, or whether they are compatible.

        Nobody in their right mind thinks science and religion are physical objects existing independently in the universe. Most people take for granted that they are concepts defined by people. If that was the point of your post, then you’re belaboring the obvious.

        Posted by John Moore | April 14, 2014, 8:05 PM
      • No, I’m not saying people think they are physical things. I’m saying they think they are actually well-defined and clearly delineated things, which you clearly do. But of course one person’s conceptual picture of science or religion can be entirely different from another’s, as philosophy of science or attempts to define religion show.

        So I would dispute vehemently the notion that “science and religion are two clearly defined things.” First, people working in history of religion, anthropology, philosophy of religion, and the like continually struggle with a definition of religion and often utilize “working” definitions in order to try to categorize some things as religious and others as non-religious. I would encourage you to read, for example, my post on the topic. But there are other representative works as well. Separating out a concept like “religion” from everything else is admitted by many to be extremely problematic.

        Second, science has a similar problem in that defining it or defining a specific method as “the scientific method” has proven problematic. Philosophers of science continue to acknowledge this difficulty.

        Thus, I would say that your comment is incorrect. Science and religion are not “clearly defined things.” They are concepts used by people, and often used in entirely different ways. Moreover, my general point in this post itself is to note that one cannot reify science or religion as if there were some kind of entity known as science which speaks to certain things, or religious things spoken of by an entity known as religion. It has nothing to do with the physical, but rather the way we conceptualize these items and use the terms.

        Posted by J.W. Wartick | April 14, 2014, 8:13 PM

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