The fruit of scientific exploration permeates our culture and has greatly shaped our lives in many ways. However, the increasing role of science in our lives has also brought a greater emphasis on scientific explanations about our lives, and society seems geared to automatically accept scientific explanations over theological or philosophical ones. In this regard, scientific explanations are elevated to a point where they effectively function as a truth test for a worldview. For instance, it is often claimed that Christian theism is false because in one way or another it is incompatible with certain sets of scientific evidence from biology, chemistry, physics, or geology. The relationship between science and theology is incredibly important for a Christian, because many scientific explanations, at least on the surface, seem to contradict Scripture. Integrating the two can lead to a crisis of faith that is not easily surmounted, and more often than not Christians either bend theology into the mold of scientific reasoning or claim the scientific evidence is in some way fallacious.Perhaps, the most poignant example of this conflict is in the area of origins, both cosmological and biological. Most Christians are divided among two distinct classes: theistic evolution and creation science. The latter group may be further divided into old-earth creationists and young-earth creationists. In the most general sense, creation scientists are examples of those who feel scientific evidence is in error, while theistic evolutionists believe that the modern scientific claims are more or less correct. It is worth noting that the field of intelligent design is not a subset of either creation science or theistic evolution because intelligent design theories typically do not identify the designer. The volume of literature covering this subject is vast, partly because the issue touches on who we are at the most fundamental level. Theological and philosophical arguments also have a legitimate place in addressing other scientific theories and practices. For example, the limits of scientific exploration must be directed by sound ethical guidelines, which are necessarily framed by the core presuppositions underlying the scientist’s world view.

Navigating the intersection of theology and science is certainly an important task for Christians, and it is one that should be handled with much prayer and thought. A crucial part in addressing these issues relates to how one should view scientific evidence. Specifically, do all truth claims made by a worldview need to be judged against the explanations afforded by modern science? More importantly, should scientific explanations be granted such tremendous latitude in confirming or falsifying a worldview, specifically Christianity? These questions are at the heart of what it means for a Christian to dissect these complex theological and scientific issues.

Although there are many facets of a scientific investigation, science as a practice can be broken into three simple, sequential steps:

1) Making observations about the natural world
2) Interpreting those observations
3) Communicating the results

The first broad aspect of scientific analysis involves data acquisition. Here, the scientist makes a series of observations about the natural world, with the type of data collected dependent on the scientist’s specific field of study. For instance, a chemist might record the X-ray diffraction patterns of a series of solid materials generated by varying some reaction condition, while a biologist might record species richness across a geographic area. Observations made during this first phase of the investigative process result in a set of facts about the natural world. The second broad aspect of scientific inquiry attempts to attribute meaning to the facts collected in the first step. This is accomplished either by interpreting the data in light of an already existing theoretical framework or, if an adequate one is not deemed to exist, generating a new theoretical model. At this point, a scientist may choose to progress directly to the third broad part of scientific inquiry or reiterate through steps one and two. Nonetheless, the results of the first two phases eventually will be made public (step 3). In the last phase of the process, other scientists critically evaluate the work, testing both the methods by which the observations were collected as well as the interpretation.

It is very useful to view science in this simplistic manner because it illustrates the central issues at the heart of the so-called war between science and faith. First, the process by which facts are interpreted is inextricably interwoven within a worldview. It simply is impossible to identify an interpretive grid for use in step two that is not connected in some way with a worldview. Second, it must be emphasized that the set of facts collected by a scientist in step one constitutes a set of bare facts. Facts do not carry implicit interpretations in and of themselves nor do they demand interpretation through a particular worldview. Indeed, changing the context through which facts are viewed will change the meaning attributed to the facts. Therefore, the meaning derived from the bare facts is a function of the interpretive grid chosen by the scientist. These two observations have several immediate consequences germane to the discussion at hand:

(1) Scientific explanations are laden with naturalistic presuppositions

It is well-established that the interpretative norm for modern science is methodological naturalism–a scheme that requires only naturalistic explanations for observations about the natural world. As an example, consider a scientist who attempts to improve battery performance by synthesizing new materials that she thinks will offer superior battery life compared to the currently commercialized technology. If her batteries show lackluster performance in laboratory testing, the principle of methodological naturalism prohibits her from attributing the poor results to a malicious demon that is interfering with the experiments. Indeed, any non-naturalistic explanation, such as the demon, is rejected in advance, leaving only naturalistic hypotheses. Similarly, in the context of origins, methodological naturalism rules out the possibility that a super-powerful being miraculously intervened in the natural course of events to create life. Instead, the researcher will identify a naturalistic explanation that best explains the known facts. Thus, any explanation about the world derived from science is necessarily framed by naturalistic presuppositions, and appealing to scientific theories as facts themselves is only meaningful if the core presuppositions under girding the theories are correct. If philosophical naturalism is unsatisfying as a worldview, then it follows that at least some scientific theories may not be accurate descriptions of reality.

(2) Appealing to scientific explanations as a truth test for a worldview is invalid.

Most individuals in western societies view scientific theories as a source of knowledge that is independent from any worldview, and those theories operate as an external truth test that all worldviews must be submitted against. Thus, in the square of public opinion, a worldview is not true if it is not in agreement with modern scientific theories. This view of science is simply incorrect. Geisler effectively demonstrated in his book Christian Apologetics that the ultimate function of a worldview is to provide an overarching framework for explaining all known facts. Since competing worldviews will interpret the same set of facts differently, we cannot expect the scientific theories derived from the naturalistic presuppositions to provide an independent truth test. Instead, scientific theories are inexorably tied to a naturalistic worldview and any attempt to use those theories as a discriminator between worldviews necessarily begs the question at hand in favor of a naturalistic worldview. This means that scientific reasoning should not be viewed as an external standard by which competing worldviews may appeal for validation. The only way to falsify a worldview is through an internal critique of the worldview itself. In our opinion, this is crucial to understanding the debate over origins.

(3) Interpreting naturalistic scientific theories anti-realistically is a live option.

There are two ways a scientific theory may be viewed: realistically or anti-realistically. Under a realistic interpretation, the scientific theory corresponds to reality. Thus, a scientific realist would view the atomic theory of matter, neo-Darwinian evolution, and other scientific theories as true descriptions of our world. In contrast, an anti-realist posits that scientific theories do not correspond to reality. For example, an anti-realist may claim a scientific theory as having pragmatic value but not view it as a real description of the world. There are wide number of anti-realist views, and this short communication is not intended to exhaust all of the possible ways anti-realists interpret science. It is safe to say, though, that there is no agreement on any one single anti-realist description of science. Following Craig and Moreland in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, the best approach is to place the burden of proof on the anti-realist position. Moreover, choosing between realist and anti-realist views need not be all or nothing. It is possible to generally hold a realist view of science, but claim that a few scientific theories might be best interpreted anti-realistically if they conflict with other non-scientific sources of knowledge based on history, theology, or philosophy; such an evaluation will have to be performed on a case-by-case basis.

At this point, it is clear that the point of friction between science and Christianity lies with the worldview used to interpret the bare facts. Christians should not be surprised that the utter reliance of science on methodological naturalism produces explanations that contradict non-naturalistic theological and philosophical ideas. Christians know that God exists and He has supernaturally intervened in the past. This is most clearly articulated in the person of Jesus Christ, who forms the very fabric of our faith. Therefore, we are assured that integrating scientific explanations, including interpretations of bare facts formed within a naturalistic worldview, will not always lead to congruent explanations derived from Christian theism. Obviously, this will be especially evident in areas where both domains claim to speak.

It is also important to stress that Christians should not become over zealous in purging all vestiges of methodological naturalism from science. Our God is one of reason and logic. He has created the universe to operate within the confines of natural laws that He maintains. Thus, in many cases methodological naturalism should be expected to produce accurate pictures of reality within Christian theism. We are not, however, guaranteed the level of congruence methodological naturalism will have with a naturalistic worldview nor should we be alarmed if a scientific theory, which is formulated under naturalistic presuppositions, conflicts with Christianity.