I mentioned in my last post that I participated in a panel discussion following a simulcast of the Discovery Institute sponsored event “Science and Faith: Are They Really in Conflict?“. While I enjoyed the simulcast (John Lennox and Stephen Meyer are both bright, engaging speakers), I did have some quibbles. I noted one of them in that last post. (As I noted, it is grossly simplistic to suggest that The God Delusion is the cause for a young person committing suicide.)
Now let me note one more quibble.
The message of the simulcast, boiled down to essentials, was simple. While some atheists claim that science and faith (where “faith” seems to approximate something like “a system of religious doctrine”) are in conflict, this is incorrect. They are not in conflict.
And that claim, as I pointed out to the audience, is simply incorrect. Lennox and Meyer were surely correct to point out that science is not necessarily in conflict with systems of religious doctrine (i.e. faiths). Nonetheless, it is a contingent fact that many conflicts do exist.
The core problem with the simulcast is that it treats “science” and “faith” as if they are simple, monolithic entities. But that’s not correct. These terms are abstract labels that we use to categorize various complex socio-historical phenomena like the AAAS (science) and First Baptist Church of Poughkeepsie (faith), quantum theory (science) and the Dalai Lama (faith) and so on. To suggest that none of the token examples of science ever come into conflict with any of the token examples of faith is, of course, absurd. Conflicts constantly flare up.
To note one glaring example familiar to most evangelicals, young earth creationism is in deep conflict with large tracts of cotemporary science (e.g. potassium-argon dating; ice core sample dating; Big Bang cosmology). Depending on whom you ask, the young earth creationists are right or the scientists are right. But either way, the conflict still exists.
It is really unfortunate that the simulcast opted for such an overly simplistic and ultimately misleading portrait of the relations between science and faith as two monolithic and harmonious realities, because it is precisely in the points of putative conflict in the messiness of time and circumstance that careful, nuanced thinking is most required.