"Reconciling" science and theism. A perspective from a non scientist



There has been a number of posts along these same lines, but I think most of them have been written by those already deeply embedded in the scientific community. I thought posting my thoughts, those of non-scientist, might be useful as jumping off point for narrowing in on what we agree on, and where we disagree and thus at least coming to better understand each other. Thus feel free to point out what where you think I’m wrong.

A couple of points to hopefully make this a useful dialogue.

  1. I’m Bible believing Christian, who accepts a relatively literal understanding of the Bible, and with a relatively “conservative” evangelical theology. Pointing out that I’m wrong because I’m sort of combination of liberal, heretic and atheist is both wrong, and not very useful in this conversation.

  2. I’m very sympathetic to the those who are agnostic or atheist. If I hadn’t been convinced of the truth of what I believe about God, I’d be an agnostic. The conversation about why I believe in God is one I love to have, but is probably best done in another conversation. Let’s try to keep that out of this discussion.

So that being said, here’s my thoughts… I’m sure you’ll be happy to let me know where you all disagree…

  1. Science is the study of the physical universe. By definition it assumes a naturalistic explanation for everything. From a theist’s perspective, it is the study of what God created, and the natural rules and processes he has put in place that allow the physical universe we see to exist.

  2. Science is not useful in understanding if the supernatural exists (including God himself), or in understanding supernatural events (miracles) as it will always seek a naturalistic explanation. This in no way disproves the existence of God, the supernatural or miracles.

  3. The evidence for God comes from outside of science. Thus God is not a 'God of the Gaps", whether or not there is a scientific (naturalistic) explanation, we look for the explanation of God’s involvement outside of science, in the Bible.

This leads me to two conclusions:

  1. The question of “design”. I believe God has left many hints or even direct pointers to his design within the natural world he created. However, science by definition must seek naturalistic explanations. I see no conflict between the seeing pointers to design, and the seeking of scientific explanation. Especially as God appears to have used the natural processes and rules he created to achieve his overall design for the natural world.

  2. Science is by definition agnostic to the existence of the supernatural. When scientists (or those attempting to use science) use it to come to conclusions about the supernatural, they are stepping outside of the realm of science. Many of the axioms of science, the scientific process and even conclusions from science are not applicable outside the realm of science. Thus when having conversations, we must differentiate between when we are having a scientific (naturalistic) discussion and a discussion that extends outside of these boundaries. When extending our conversation to the supernatural, we should not assume the assumptions of science are applicable.

(Neil Rickert) #2

I have to disagree with this one.

Yes, if your only claims of evidence for God are references to the Bible, then I agree that it is not a “god of the gaps” argument. But whenever you point to something you see as not yet explained by science, and you take that to be evidence for God, then you are indeed making a “god of the gaps” argument.

I don’t know whether you, personally, make such arguments. But Christian apologetics is chock full of such arguments. The “first cause” or “uncaused cause” argument is a “god of the gaps” argument. Pointing to origin of life as unexplained is a “god of the gaps” argument. Pointing to consciousness as unexplained is a “god of the gaps” argument. The “fine tuning” argument is a “god of the gaps” argument.

(John Dalton) #3

I believe God has left many hints or even direct pointers to his design within the natural world he created. However, science by definition must seek naturalistic explanations.

In what sense are these “hints” or “direct pointers” not part of the physical universe? When the supernatural impacts upon the natural world, are the results not possibly within the scope of science?


There is a bit of circularity in this concept. One possible definition of “naturalistic” is whatever science can study. If something can be measured empirically, then most would consider it to be a part of the natural world. Humans, for example, are natural parts of the universe, and we create designs.

I think it ultimately comes down to the scientific method. Can we test a belief through the scientific method? From a position of innocence and ignorance, I don’t see why the scientific method would necessarily exclude God. However, once God is defined as a mysterious being who doesn’t leave discernible evidence behind, then science can’t study God. It isn’t about excluding God. Rather, there isn’t anyway to include God in science because we can’t use the scientific method to test for God. Science isn’t about excluding concepts from the get go. Science is more about setting rules for what can be included.

(T J Runyon) #5

Nope. Please explain why you think this.


I agree with everything you’ve written.

As a Bible believer who believes there is a designer, I don’t have a problem with God filling some of the gaps . However, other than he being the ultimate creator of everything, I don’t think the Bible specifies which gaps he fills, and thus I think it’s wrong to argue that any particular gap (or combination of gaps) is evidence for God.


I think the first part of the statement is true but not for the reason given in the second half.

It’s not that science will always seek a ‘naturalistic explanation’. It’s that science will seek a ‘regular’, comprehensible explanation. That is, if supernaturally caused events are regular or display a discernible, predictable pattern, then modelling and abstraction of the events or predictions about their occurrences can be performed. Of course, this doesn’t mean that supernatural caused events are necessarily going to display discernible patterns, but if they do, then science can investigate or test the regularity of occurrences. The distal causes may not be identifiable but the proximate effects may be.


I was thinking of hints / direct pointers in the context of the appearance of design in the natural world that both theist and non theists have recognized. I believe that appearance of design points the likelihood of designer. However that is a discussion that is outside the realm of science. Within the context of science, designer or not, science should investigate the natural processes, without expectation for the need of a designer.

In regards supernatural impacts on the natural world. Arguably they should be visible to science. However given that they are not repeatable and I don’t think it would be possible to develop a falsifiable hypotheses to investigate them, and don’t see how science can proceed other than assuming they are natural in cause and investigate them in that context. I just assume the science would never come to conclusuion if the origin was truly supernatural.

(Neil Rickert) #9

It posits God as an explanation of something otherwise not explained. That is to say, God is posited to fill a supposed gap.

(T J Runyon) #10

It’s a positive argument. It is not, “there is no explanation for the beginning of the universe. Therefore God.” People throw around GOTG accusations around too much.

(Neil Rickert) #11

To me, it is a sleight of hand argument.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #12

How would you distinguish between a natural law and a regular and predictable act of God?


One couldn’t. That’s the point.

We could be studying supernatural acts now but not know that they were supernatural in origin. That’s why the notion that “science will only seek a natural explanation” is not quite right. Science seeks explanation of events and relationships that are accessible to a scientific mode of investigation. What’s correct about “cdods” first part of his sentence is that science isn’t going to end up characterizing an explanation or cause as coming from ‘God’. It’s just classified as ‘unknown’ or ‘currently undetermined’.

(Guy Coe) #14

I would nuance a number of the propositions differently, as a Christian. I see science, at its root, as wanting to get at the truth of things, and I agree with and admire that impetus. That said, we are often starting from very different foundational assumptions.
Shall we never admit our strengths and weaknesses of argument?
In service to common dialogue, a willingness to listen and an attempt to try to understand one another well is what will, ultimately, prevail as simply just, and fully required in a pluralistic society. I’m sure we will not all come a mutual, peaceful understanding, but we can certainly attempt it with the best goals in mind.


What I find interesting is how one person’s strength is another person’s weakness. For example, when there isn’t enough evidence a scientist will simply say, “I don’t know”. I think this is a strength of science, but many theists view it as a weakness because they apparently have to have an answer for certain questions, such as where the universe came from or where life came from. Science will also change, and entire theories may be thrown out if they are shown to be wrong. Again, I view that as a strength, but some theists claim that we can’t trust science because of its ability to change its conclusions.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #16

To be clear, scientists have a bad track record with this in the public square on evolution. Good and honest scientists will take a humble view. Yes. Many scientists have not lived up to this ideal.


If you are willing, I’m be interested in having you explain some of those nuances.

I’m assuming the “we” in the above sentence refers to Christians & non-Christians? If so, I completely agree, but how do you see that impacting on how we “do” science?

I hope not, but sometimes it’s hard to admit we don’t know. I think in realm of science it’s easier, as there is a hope that we will learn in the future what we don’t know today. When one get’s outside of science and is speaking about the supernatural or theology, we have to admit we don’t know, and won’t ever know the answer. (within our time on earth).


That is very true. It is also honest to say when you are speculating, and use tentative language where appropriate.

(Daniel Ang) #19

I agree with this. Your statement actually made me realize something: from the perspective of a theist like me, doing science is literally studying God’s actions, albeit only one type of them - the actions of God which are regular, predictable, and result in detectable physical changes. This is because I believe that God is directly responsible for creating and sustaining the law-like behavior of the physical universe which is studied in science.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #20

@jongarvey, is this your theistic science?