Explaining The Phenomena

Debates over whether to teach Intelligent Design or at least to point out the shortcomings of evolutionary theory in American public schools betray the lingering belief that science and religion do not and cannot mix. Any notion of a Creator cannot be entertained in our educational system, many of our public officials have said, lest we violate the separation of church and state. Scientists are all but forbidden from considering God in their work, for much of modern science is conducted on the premise that God does not exist—even if God is the best explanation for the evidence that is discovered.

This opposition is regrettable, especially since the existence of a Creator who promises to uphold a predictable natural order is nec-essary for us to believe that science can tell us anything about reality. Because we know that the sun will come up tomorrow and that the seasons will more or less progress as they always have, we can con-fidently conduct experiments and believe that their results will be trustworthy when conducted repeatedly under the same conditions. Without God’s promise to uphold things (Gen. 8:22), we have no real reason to expect the consistency that is foundational for making test-able hypotheses according to the scientific method.

Moreover, what we might not realize is that science and theology overlap in many significant ways. First, both science and theology are concerned about salvation. That might sound odd until we con-sider the ancient philosopher Plato, who said that science labors “to save the phenomena.” He was speaking mainly of the role of science in offering explanations for the various things we see in the natural world. Plato wanted to discover the hidden forms that gave shape to the world and the things in it, to find those things that could account for all the phenomena that we encounter with our five senses. He want-ed to save the phenomena in the sense of saving their intelligibility. That, of course, is what science continues to do as it seeks to explain cause-and-effect relationships and other things that give reasons for why the natural world operates the way it does.

Science and theology also share a concern for studying the nat-ural world. That is obvious when it comes to science, but it is also true of theology, as we trust that the natural world can tell us cer-tain things about God (Rom. 1:19–20). All of creation testifies to the power and goodness of its Creator.

Coram Deo

We need both science and theology for a full under-standing of the natural world. For example, God sends the rain, and rain is caused by the accumulation of water in the clouds. Each explanation is true—God is the primary cause of rain according to His sovereign decree, and the clouds produce rain according to their role as secondary causes within God’s plan. Our knowledge is impoverished if we neglect science or theology.

Passages for Further Study

Psalms 8
Psalms 19
Proverbs 6:6–11
Acts 17:16–34
Romans 2:12–16

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.