Jordan's View on Faith and Science

@John_Harshman, I’ve thought about this question quite a bit since the summer. I thought about a lot as I was teaching our freshman orientation class for science majors, trying to give them a framework for what science is and why it is a fascinating and rewarding field. I took your question seriously and honestly you made me step back and think “hmm, that’s a good question” a lot more than I expected. Being raised in a Christian home, attending church weekly my entire life, and working at a Christian university, I do so often take it as an assumption.

I don’t think there is any secret science that is only revealed to Christians. I don’t think there is a different set of physical laws that only apply to Christian labs or a different set of rules as to how science works (which is my main critique of ID) for Christians.

So this is my (multi-part) answer to the question:

  1. I think a Christian perspective can give a coherence to our investigation of reality that provides, in my view, a more proper space for the study of science that both encourages science, but doesn’t ask it to do too much. Alister McGrath’s Enriching Our Vision of Reality has helped me think about this. I think at times when science is pushed too hard to explain everything it can end up in pseudoscience. YEC and (much of) evolutionary psychology seem like examples to me. If science is the only way to determine true things, then “science” will be forced to say our true things. Christianity provides a good context for science in the sense of the classic, “why does science and math even work in the first place?”
  2. Christianity may be helpful in giving moral guidance to the bioethical issues of our day. Certainly it’s not the only game in town when it comes to morality, but Christianity can provide some guiding principles when wrestling with sticky problems.
  3. Christianity can help future scientists choose to pursue science for the common good, rather than more commercial/capitalistic considerations. I don’t begrudge the person who wants to make a good living being a scientist or doctor, but many of our biggest global concerns (climate change, basic diseases, water availability) are not exactly high income pursuits. Many of my students want to, as an outgrowth of their Christian beliefs, pursue science and medicine that will make a difference in the world. When I ask freshman why they want to go into science/medicine/engineering, the ones who reply “because I can make a lot of money” generally don’t work out so well. Again, I’m not saying this impulse is exclusively Christian by any means, but Christianity does promote servant leadership and working for the common good.
  4. Science is inherently a human activity, and as much as I believe Christianity is a benefit for all of humanity I believe it is good for scientists. I think Christianity has something to say about a whole host of human issues in science: integrity in research, treating research students and colleagues well, trying to address historical inequities within our fields, and (maybe especially) dealing with some of the maltreatment of people and people groups in the name of science.

So, can all of these things be done without Christianity? Sure, I guess so. But I think it’s so much better through the lens of Christian faith. I see it in my students and Christian colleagues. I really don’t know if this is at all a sufficient explanation for you, but at the moment this is what I’ve got.


Thanks for the response. By “sure, I guess so” I presume you mean “yes”. So why is it better through the lens of Christian faith? If all these advantages can be gained without Christian faith, and if non-Christian scientists are not inferior in these respects, how can “better” be supported? How can “better” even be measured, i.e. how can you make a comparison between Christian and non-Christian scientists’ experiences? It would seem that Christianity brings nothing to science that any other view doesn’t bring as well.


I think I can only answer that for myself. For me it’s because I would have a hard time making coherent sense of the world without Christianity. Christianity fits the totality of the “data” to me. Why there is something rather than nothing, why science works, why there is great pain in this world and a sense that things aren’t the way they ought to be, why humans can be so evil and yet so selfless and altruistic, why injustice is such a deeply human problem and yet so hard to fix, how people can have hope in the face of oppression and why a life that seeks to serve others is worth pursuing. It calls people to love and liberation and a full life of meaning. I think those are valuable to all people, scientists included.

I can think of non-Christians in my life (mentors, etc.) that embodied one or more of my 4 points in my previous post, but many of the people who have inspired me the most to pursue them, have done so out of Christian conviction. I admit it may be due to mostly living in a Christian context, but I’ve worked with many many non-Christians too, so I don’t think that’s all of it.


But are they valuable to scientists as scientists, or just as people? The question isn’t whether Christianity is good for you; it’s whether it helps with science.

Is this a claim that Christians are unusually or especially able to inspire people to do science, compared to others?

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I think it helps for scientists to be honest, moral people. Christianity encourages and develops that in people, in my view, but of course there are many honest, moral atheists.

From my experience, some are especially yes. I would venture to guess that Francis Collins has inspired hundreds (maybe more, but it’s just a guess) of Christian young people to pursue science and medicine (instead of other things) precisely because he is a Christian as well as a scientist and can use religious concepts and appeal to people’s faith commitments in pursuing good in the world. I’ve known several students who had a hard time deciding between ministry and science majors because they had some interest in science but they also felt called to serve humanity (in some capacity). These were not marginal students, but rather some of the best. They were not determining if they were “good enough” to go into science, but if science was “good enough” for them to devote their time to. People like Francis Collins (and I would put @swamidass here too) are helping people see that you can satisfy both a desire to pursue science and a sense of calling to more than “just science”. They don’t have to choose between a “sterile science” and life of helping others. I have seen students move from pursuing “a life of service” to “a life of service through science/medicine”, and I think that’s good for science. People’s motivations are very complicated and intertwined so I don’t think i could prove that any of that would have happened if Christianity didn’t exist, but part of why I am a Christian is that I see it, when done right, as calling out the best in humanity, including in science.

When I talk about climate change in my general education classes, I usually get one or two who say something along the lines of “it’s all going to hell anyway, just let it burn”, but I get many more who say “it’s our obligation as God’s image bearers and stewards of creation to do something!”

To summarize my thinking, when properly understood, etc., my belief is that Christianity will help society address some of the most pressing scientific problems of our day by encouraging people who might not see science as enough of a social good to pursue science in service to society.


The evidence doesn’t show that Christians are more honest or moral than other people or (in particular) that scientists who are Christians are more honest or moral than those who aren’t. So I reject your claim here.

So this is specific to Christians. What you seem to be saying is that Christians can better communicate science to Christians than can non-Christians. That might be true. I don’t think it reflects credit on the Christian students, especially. Seems to suggest their prejudice. Still, it’s something.

But I think your climate change example is unfortunate, since so many prominent evangelicals are willing to consider it a Chinese hoax. I see no sign that Christians are more willing to deal with climate change than non-Christians.

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Well, we’ll see I guess. In the mean time I’m just trying my best to help educate the students who come to my school that whether they are Christians or not (even at a Christian university we have quite a few students in the None/atheist category) that science is worth pursuing, worth pursing well, and that we can use it to do good things in the world. I spend some of my time convincing Evangelicals that science isn’t the enemy. More and more are starting to break out of old paradigms.

I am encouraged by the current generation’s willingness to address social problems (climate changes, disease, water availability, to name a few) and am generally optimistic that people of all (or no) faiths can come together to work on our biggest global challenges.


One may hope. The first step would seem to be getting rid of the big orange obstacle.