Science and ReligionPETER KREEFT
I don’t need your God; I have science to explain everything. Your religion is a crutch for weak minds. You use superstition; I use science. (“Yes and No” is Peter Kreeft's answer to so many religion texts which leave students thinking of religion as little more than a dull and boring rehash of things everyone already knows. Kreeft's book asks hard questions, great questions, and then answers them convincingly.)
Chris: Oh! Thanks, Sal.
Sal: Thanks for the sunset? Who do you think I am, God? I didn't make the sunset.
Chris: No, I mean to thank you for calling my attention to it. And thanks to God for making it. What a pity you have no one to thank when something as beautiful as that is given to you?
Sal: Hmph! I don't need your God; I have science to explain everything. Your religion is a crutch for weak minds. You use superstition; I use science.
Chris: Since when is "beautiful" a scientific term?
Sal: It isn't.
Chris: But you just called the sunset beautiful. You're not being scientific.
Sal: Oh. Sorry. I didn't really mean it.
Chris: You mean the sunset isn't really beautiful?
Sal: Right. It's just a dance of molecules. The beauty isn't really in it. It's in us, in our feelings.
Chris: The beauty is in you, not the sunset?
Chris: But that's silly. You're not that beautiful. The sunset is!
Sal: I mean the beauty is in my feelings, not in my face.
Chris: You felt beautiful when you looked at the sunset?
Sal: No. I'm not that beautiful is. But I feel the sunset is.
Chris: Then according to your feelings, the sunset really is beautiful, there really is beauty out there?
Sal: According to my feelings, yes. But my feelings are wrong. There's no real beauty out there. How can feelings tell you what the real world out there is like?
Chris: Why not? Why can't feelings be just as true as reasoning?
Sal: Oh, come on, now. That's just plain silly.
Chris: You didn't answer my question: Why can't feelings be true?
Sal: I guess I don't know, I just feel it.
Chris: And that feeling - is it true?
Sal: You're tangling me up in my words again.
Chris: No, you're doing it to yourself again.
Sal: But what's the point of talking about feelings? Is that what your faith is? A feeling? Is that what you meant by thanking God for the sunset?
Chris: No, faith is more than feeling. Feeling changes a hundred times a day; faith doesn't. But all three might be ways to know truth: faith, and feeling, and scientific reasoning. So the sunset might really be a gift of God and beautiful and dancing molecules.
Sal: Well, no religious dogma for me.
Chris: That's a dogma. You exclude religion as a way to know truth, without any proof for your exclusion. That's dogmatic. But I don't exclude your scientific method. I'm not dogmatic. I include you but you don't include me. My religion includes your science, but your science - no, your faith that science alone is true - refuses to include my religion.
Sal: You can be religious all you want. But that's not an explanation of the real world.
Chris: Sure it is. Why not?
Sal: I suppose you think that sunset is half made of molecules and half of gods?
Chris: No, it's made all of molecules, but it's all made by God. Those are two different questions - one for science and one for religion to answer.
Sal: No. Science answers religion's question too. For instance, the sunset wasn't made by God but by gravity rotating the earth and by refraction of sunlight through the atmosphere. Don't you know that?
Chris: I know it was made by gravity and refraction, but who made gravity and refraction? Who made the sun and the sunlight?
Sal: Rotating galaxies and cooling gas clouds.
Chris: And who made the galaxies and gas clouds?
Sal: It all started with a "Big Bang" 15 billion years ago.
Chris: And who started the Big Bang?
Sal: That's not a scientific question.
Chris: Exactly. And therefore science has no answer to it. But religion does. It's not a scientific question not because it's not about the real world - it is - but because science can't answer a question about God, who's outside the universe, just by looking at the inside of the universe.
Sal: The whole universe sort of leans on God, then, like a crutch, according to you, right? And you lean on him too. Well, I don't need a crutch. That's what religion is: a crutch.
Chris: I said right. I agree. Religion is a crutch.
Sal: Why do you believe it then?
Chris: Because we're all cripples.
Sal: Oh come on!
Chris: I mean it. We're all mentally and emotionally handicapped. That's the great lesson I learned last summer working with handicapped kids: that I'm handicapped too, but in different ways. We all are. You know, they taught me much more than I could teach them.
Sal: Well, I don't think I'm handicapped. I don't need any crutches, for my mind or my emotions. My head and heart are quite well, thank you.
Chris: My handicaps include irritability, fear of pain, and impatience. But you have no handicaps, eh? And you're perfectly happy?
Sal: Of course not ...
Chris: Then you need help. Crutches.
Sal: You can't prove that I need God.
Chris: Not if you won't look at your own heart, no.
Sal: What do you mean, my own heart?
Chris: I can only ask you to be honest with your heart. Have you really found happiness without God? Can you be your own God, your own good, your own happiness-giver, your own final end and reason and purpose for living?
Sal: That's really my own private affair, isn't it?
Chris: Yes. And a very serious one.
Sal: Then we can't talk about it objectively.
Chris: No, but we can talk about your head, your reason, your science.
Sal: All right, why do you think I need God as a crutch for my science? Why does science limp? What's missing? It seems to be doing quite well.
Chris: The First Cause of all is missing. There's the real "Missing Link" in science's explanation of the world: the very first link.
Sal: Science doesn't need a first link. The rest of the chain holds together perfectly without it. Science can explain the world perfectly well without God, even if it can't explain the first cause of it all.
Chris: Well, here's a second thing it can't explain: Why does science work at all?
Sal: Because we have brains, of course.
Chris: And religion explains why our brains work so well: because God designed them.
Sal: Science explains them better: they evolved.
Chris: By chance or by divine design?
Sal: By chance and "natural selection"- trial and error. Over millions of years, the brains that worked survived and those that didn't died out.
Chris: If your brain evolved just by chance, why should I trust it to know the truth?
Sal: That's the argument from design that you used yesterday.
Chris: Have you thought up an answer to it?
Chris: And here's another problem I mentioned before: you can't prove the scientific method by the scientific method. So if you say you believe only what can be proved by the scientific method, you can't prove that. So you'd better not believe it.
Sal: I've got an answer to that one, Chris: I believe it because it works.
Chris: But why does it work?
Sal: It just does, that's all.
Chris: You can't explain why?
Sal: I guess not.
Chris: Well, I can.
Sal: God, eh?
Sal: All right, I couldn't answer your three questions, see if you can answer mine. You accept science, don't you?
Sal: So if science discovers something true, then it's really true, right?
Sal: And if science says one thing and religion says another, if there's a contradiction between them, then one of the two has to be wrong doesn't it?
Sal: So if science is true and religion contradicts it, then religion is false.
Chris: Oh, but religion never does contradict it.
Chris: Never. Show me one discovery of science that contradicts one belief of my religion.
Sal: That's easy. Evolution.
Chris: Evolution is a theory. I asked for a discovery.
Sal: Science has discovered evolution.
Chris: No. Science has discovered a lot of old bones.
Sal: And they prove evolution. Man evolved from the apes.
Chris: No, they prove we came after the apes, if the dating is right. But how we came is another question. Science can't see the answer to that question in bones. How could it?
Sal: But nearly all scientists believe the theory of evolution. Don't you?
Chris: I honestly don't know. I'm not a scientist. And neither are you.
Sal: So we have to go by what the real scientists tell us.
Chris: Nearly all scientists once believed the earth was at the center of the universe. But they were wrong. Science is not infallible. It's always correcting itself
Sal: But they were medieval scientists!
Chris: They thought of themselves as modern, the latest thing. And scientists of the year 3,000 will see us as "medieval" or "ancient".
Sal: Do you accept the theory of evolution or not?
Chris: I told you, I don't know. But suppose I did. How would that contradict my faith?
Sal: Evolution says we evolved from apes; your faith says we were created by God. Are we made in the image of King Kong or made in the image of King God? That sounds like a contradiction to me.
Chris: But evolution doesn't tell us who made us, and the Bible doesn't tell us how God made us, except that it says God made Adam "out of the dust of the ground" - out of something, some stuff, some previously existing material. Why couldn't that be an ape's body? Dust, evolving to the human body through bacteria and plants and animals and apes. But however our bodies came to be, that's only half the story.
Sal: What do you mean, half the story?
Chris: Science can't see the soul, or tell us how the soul originated.
Sal: Maybe there's no such thing as a soul.
Chris: Then there's no such thing as a person, only a machine. Or a corpse. Because that's what a body without a soul is, a corpse. Do you think you're a corpse?
Sal: Of course not.
Chris: Then you have a soul. And the Bible tells us that God put a soul into us. There's no contradiction between our saying our body came from apes and our soul came from God. Or rather that our soul came from God directly and our body indirectly - because apes came from God too. Everything did.
Sal: You may have explained away that contradiction, but I doubt if you can explain away all the other ones.
Chris: What other ones?
Sal: Well ... don't you think there will ever be any contradiction between science and religion?
Chris: Certainly not. God doesn't contradict himself.
Sal: God? God doesn't come into science.
Chris: He sure does. He wrote two books, nature and Scripture, and the two books can never contradict each other because they come from the same author, who is Truth itself. Truth can never contradict truth.
Sal: So if I can show you a contradiction between science and Scripture, I've proved my point.
Chris: Yes, and I'm still waiting.
Sal: That's a fair challenge. I'll come back when I find one.
Chris: Oh, please come back before that, or I'll never see you again!
Kreeft, Peter. "Science and Religion." In Yes or No: Straight Answers to Tough Questions about Christianity (Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 1991), 41-48.
Reprinted by permission of the publisher.
Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. He is an alumnus of Calvin College (AB 1959) and Fordham University (MA 1961, Ph.D., 1965). He taught at Villanova University from 1962-1965, and has been at Boston College since 1965.
He is the author of numerous books (over forty and counting) including: The Snakebite Letters, The Philosophy of Jesus, The Journey: A Spiritual Roadmap for Modern Pilgrims, Prayer: The Great Conversation: Straight Answers to Tough Questions About Prayer, How to Win the Culture War: A Christian Battle Plan for a Society in Crisis, Love Is Stronger Than Death, Philosophy 101 by Socrates: An Introduction to Philosophy Via Plato's Apology, A Pocket Guide to the Meaning of Life, and Before I Go: Letters to Our Children About What Really Matters. Peter Kreeft in on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.
Copyright © 2012 Peter Kreeft
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.