Saturday, May 26, 2007

Harvard Astrophysics Professor on Why Christianity and Science are Compatible

In light of the whole ugly battle between proponents of atheistic Darwinism and proponents of "Young Earth" literal reading of Genesis 1 creationists (which recently caused a bit of a ruckus over at PZ Myers' blog Pharyngula), it's refreshing when eminent scientists who are also devout Christians speak out about the compatibility of science and belief.

Dr. Owen Gingerich, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and History of Science at Harvard University, has written a book entitled God's Universe. It is based on a series of lectures he gave in 2005 on religion and science. He notes Aristotle's distinction between "efficient" causes (a description of how something happens) and "final" ones (a description of why something happens). The former is about mechanism, the latter about purpose. Dr. Gingerich makes the case that science explores efficient causes and should be neutral about final ones while the converse should be true for religion.

Dr. Gingerich, a Mennonite, argues that evolution as a mechanism is fully compatible with a belief in divine purpose. He writes: "One can believe that some of the evolutionary pathways are so intricate and so complex as to be hopelessly improbable by the rules of random chance. But if you do not believe in divine action, then you will simply have to say that random chance was extremely lucky, because the outcome is there to see. Either way, the scientist with theistic metaphysics will approach laboratory problems in much the same way as his atheistic colleague across the hall."

Dr. Sarah Coakley of Harvard Divinity School writes in her review of God's Universe that Dr. Gingerich demonstrates theistic scientists flout "no actual epistemic duties in holding scientific and theological beliefs alongside one another". Like St. Thomas Aquinas so eloquently asserted in Summa Theologica, Reason and Faith are complementary ways of knowing.

Dr. Gingerich contends: “We cannot conclude either that God is absent or that God does not act in the universe....We can hope that our increased scientific understanding will eventually reveal more to us about God the Creator and Sustainer of the cosmos."

I highly recommend anyone interested in the topic of science & religion read God's Universe!

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