The Important Intersection of Faith and Science, Part One

| Faculty

Matthew Huddleston headshotI grew up in a church context where I never really felt there was any conflict between science and faith. It wasn't until graduate school when I was pursuing physics, where I started to see that that was unusual and that, in many churches, there was this substantial conflict between science and faith. I got really interested in why that was and how to respond to it.

I ran into people who were struggling with that question of ‘how can I be a Christian and really accept what science is saying?’ or, ‘if I believe in science, how can I really believe what the Bible is saying?’ I had really great mentors who helped guide me through that and it became a passion of mine to help students navigate that and see where science and faith can fit together. 

That's why Issues in Science is one of my favorite classes to teach. Students get a better understanding of what our Christian faith is, what it's grounded in and what scripture actually says and doesn't say. I start off the semester talking about what science is and how it works, and a lot of that is new information if you're not in that profession.

Science really is about a system of processing objective facts and information in a way where you have to bring meaning into the scientific work that's not necessarily coming from the science itself. So you have all these values and the purpose behind what you're doing, but science doesn't give you the purpose and the values or the morals. You're bringing that in. People will often blend the two when they're talking about it and that causes confusion. So really understanding what science is and what it isn't is really helpful. 

We also have to look back at scripture and think about how Christians throughout the years have interpreted it. The modern fundamentalist view of Christianity is sometimes very distant from what early Christians thought when they looked at scripture. I encourage students to 
put on different glasses when they read the bible. We have to open our minds a little bit to make way for other perspectives and understandings throughout the years, especially the original audience of ancient people.

That may tell us some things that are quite different than what we're used to. At the same time, it actually opens up more possibilities for harmonization with modern science. I think an early Christian view of scripture is more compatible with modern science than some of the modern views. For instance, in Augustine's day, you have theologians trying to bring science and faith together. They were honestly looking at the best science that they knew and saying, ‘how can we understand that scripture in light of the best science we know?’ It is a different mindset. 

Over the centuries, science has changed. What do we do? Do we say, ‘this new science is wrong and unscriptural?’ Or do we say, ‘let's take another look at scripture, maybe this new science fits better with scripture than the old science did.’ Once, if you are able to go back and look, you find all sorts of opportunities for harmonization in surprising and beautiful ways. 

I teach physics and the fundamentals of physics are exciting to me because they allow for a level of creativity and freedom that matches very well with good Christian theology. It provides an opportunity for God to interact with his creation in a way that is much more interesting to me than it was a couple hundred years ago when people believed in a very mechanistic universe. A universe where everything was just dominoes falling. And so if there was a God, God was just the one who started the dominoes or God is the one who goes in and stops things, monkeying with laws of physics. 

Now we have this perspective of the universe that says things are going on in nature that are a little bit more mysterious and there's barriers to our understanding and our ability to make predictions. Sometimes that allows for an openness and a creativity in the universe and a kind of spiritual connection. So we don't have this dualistic view of the natural world and the spiritual world, but the natural world is built in such a way that it accommodates spirituality in a very natural way.