The History of Science and Religion in the Western Tradition

An EncyclopediaGary B. Ferngren

This comprehensive volume covers the history of science and religion in Western Civilization with dozens of contributions from leading scholars.

Discovery Fellow Stephen C. Meyer authors the entry “The Demarcation of Science and Religion,” where he notes that some theologians have defined religion as the study of God through revelation, while science is the study of the natural world. Meyer recounts how one court testing creationism in the 1980s accepted the testimony of philosopher Michael Ruse to define science as “(1) guided by natural law, (2) explanatory by natural law, (3) testable against the empirical world, (4) tentative, and (5) falsifiable” (pg. 22), but that this definition was subsequently repudiated by various philosophers of science. Indeed, by 1993, Ruse repudiated his previous support for those demarcation arguments by admitting that “Darwinism (like creationism) ‘depends on certain unprovable metaphysical assumptions'”(pg. 22). Meyer concludes that theories such as intelligent design and Darwinism are “methodologically equivalent” because ”    [b]oth prove equally scientific or equally unscientific provided the same criteria are used to adjudicate their scientific status (provided that metaphysically neutral criteria are used to make such assessments” (pg. 23).

William A. Dembski, also a Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute, explains in his entry “The Design Argument” that “the design argument infers from features of the physical world an intelligent cause responsible for those features” (pg. 60).  Dembski is careful to explain that “[t]he design argument needs to be distinguished from a metaphysical commitment to design.” Despite this distinction, the design argument has often been confused with arguments for metaphysical design or Christian theism. Dembski applauds Elliott Sober’s characterization of the design argument as “neither an argument from analogy nor an argument from induction but an inference to the best explanation.” (pg. 66) Dembski then paraphrases Sober as saying that “biology has no intrinsic quarrel with the design argument and that the only thing keeping it from being reestablished in biology is the absence of empirically adequate criteria for design.” (pg. 66) Discovery Fellows Dembski and Michael Behe have recently attempted to provide such criteria.

Discovery fellow William Lane Craig opens his entry on “The Anthropic Principle” by explaining that it observes that “our own existence as observers acts as a selection effect determining which properties of the universe can be observed by us,” for “we can observe only those properties which are compatible with our own existence.” (pg. 366) When it is conjoined with a “hypothesis that our observable universe is but one member of a wider collectionof universes” the Anthropic Principle may be used to “explain away the unimaginably improbable fine-tuning of our universe for intelligent life.” Thus the Anthropic Principle was originally formulated “in an attempt to come to grips with the so-called large-number of coincidences in contemporary cosmology.” (pg. 66) Under the weak Anthropic Principle, our temporal location in the history of the universe acts as a selection effect upon what we can observe, while the strong principle “asserts that our very existence constrains what values of the universe we can observe” (pg. 66). Objectors to the Anthropic Principle have observed that “[f]rom the obvious fact that we should not be surprised that we do not observe fundamental conditions incompatible with our existence, it simply does not follow that we should not be surprised that we do, in fact, observe fundamental conditions compatible with our existence.” (pg. 366) Therefore, “[t]hat such improbably fine-tuned conditions should uniquely exist is amazing, even though we should not be here to notice if they did not.” (pg. 367) The fine-tuning of the universe for life is thus an event not necessarily coupled to life’s existence, and the fine-tuning must be explained on its own apart from making the mere observation that complex life exists. Craig states that the lack of any evidence for multiple universes makes cosmic design a question worth considering.

In his chapter on “Genetics,” Discovery Fellow Richard Weikart investigates how scientific discoveries in genetics have affected religious views of God. Mendelian genetics were hailed early on as confirmation of creationist views, since it entails the mere reshuffling of pre-existing genetic traits without providing a mechanism for creating new ones. Many religious people embraced both evolution and Mendelian genetics, however, and materialists embraced the discovery of DNA as providing a mechanism for generating new traits. Yet DNA has also inspired belief in God, as the famous painter Salvador Dali said, “And now the announcement of Watson and Crick about DNA. This is for me the real proof of the existence of God.” (pg. 479) Weikart concludes by assessing current controversies over whether genetic engineering should be permitted

Writing with Edward B. Davis, Discovery Fellow Robin Collins explains that “Scientific Naturalism” “is the conjunction of naturalism – the claim that nature is all there is and, hence, that there is no supernatural order above nature – with the claim that all objects, processes, truths, and facts about nature fall within the scope of the scientific method.” (pg. 201) According to Davis and Collins, “Darwin’s theory spawned the widespread use of the concept of evolution to justify various social, political, and religious agendas, claiming for them a scientific basis.” (pg. 203) This included its role in “naturalism’s becoming the dominant worldview of the academy by the middle of the twentieth century.” They observe, “Darwinism largely set the stage for the dominance of scientific naturalism,” and that “in every discipline today, except in some schools of theology, a strict methodological naturalism is observed, and typically an ontological naturalism is presupposed by most of the practitioners of these disciplines.” (pg. 203) Responses from religious persons to scientific naturalism have ranged from the “extreme response… to interpret religious beliefs naturalistically” or “vigorously to reject any form of naturalism.” (pg. 205) The degree of “accommodation” of scientific naturalism depends on “what is regarded as essential to a particular religion.” (pg. 205) Naturalism has caused some Christian philosophers to reject the idea of an immaterial soul or deny the occurrence of the resurrection of Christ. But scientific naturalism is not compatible with “religious believers [who] think a fully supernatural understanding of the inspiration of their scriptures is essential to their religion.” (pg. 205) Many religious persons have also offered scientific critiques of the arguments used to bolster naturalism.

This comprehensive volume is accessible and a worthy addition to the library of anyone interested in the intersection of science and religion. The volume has numerous contributors, and those affiliated with Discovery Institute are Robin Collins, William Lane Craig, William A. Dembski, Stephen C. Meyer, and Richard Weikart.

William Lane Craig

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
William Lane Craig is a Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California. He earned a doctorate in philosophy at the University of Birmingham, England, before taking a doctorate in theology from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany, at which latter institution he was for two years a Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung. Prior to his appointmant at Talbot he spent seven years at the Higher Institute of Philosophy of the Katholike Universiteit Leuven, Belgium. He has authored or edited over thirty books, including The Kalam Cosmological Argument; Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom; Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology; and God, Time, and Eternity, as well as nearly a hundred articles in professional journals of philosophy and theology, including The Journal of Philosophy, American Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophical Studies, Philosophy, and British Journal for Philosophy of Science. He currently lives in Atlanta with his wife Jan; they have two children, Charity and John.

William A. Dembski

Founding and Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture, Distinguished Fellow, Walter Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence
A mathematician and philosopher, Bill Dembski is the author/editor of more than 25 books as well as the writer of peer-reviewed articles spanning mathematics, engineering, biology, philosophy, and theology. With doctorates in mathematics (University of Chicago) and philosophy (University of Illinois at Chicago), Bill is an active researcher in the field of intelligent design. But he is also a tech entrepreneur who builds educational software and websites, exploring how education can help to advance human freedom with the aid of technology.

Stephen C. Meyer

Director, Center for Science and Culture
Dr. Stephen C. Meyer received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge in the philosophy of science. A former geophysicist and college professor, he now directs the Center for Science and Culture at the Discovery Institute in Seattle. He is author of the New York Times-bestseller Darwin’s Doubt (2013) as well as the book Signature in the Cell (2009) and Return of the God Hypothesis (2021). In 2004, Meyer ignited a firestorm of media and scientific controversy when a biology journal at the Smithsonian Institution published his peer-reviewed scientific article advancing intelligent design. Meyer has been featured on national television and radio programs, including The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, CBS's Sunday Morning, NBC's Nightly News, ABC's World News, Good Morning America, Nightline, FOX News Live, and the Tavis Smiley show on PBS. He has also been featured in two New York Times front-page stories and has garnered attention in other top-national media.

Richard Weikart

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Richard Weikart is Emeritus Professor of History, California State University, Stanislaus, and author of seven books, including From Darwin to Hitler, Hitler’s Ethic, The Death of Humanity, and Hitler’s Religion. His most recent book is Darwinian Racism: How Darwinism Influenced Hitler, Nazism, and White Nationalism (2022). His PhD dissertation, Socialist Darwinism, earned the biennial prize of the Forum for History of Human Sciences as best dissertation in that field. He has lectured at many universities and other venues in the US and Europe. He also has been interviewed on dozens of radio shows, podcasts, and TV, and appeared in seven documentaries, including Expelled. Some of his lectures and interviews are available on YouTube.