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…Alvin Plantinga has challenged Christians to develop what he calls theistic science. Theistic science is rooted in the idea that Christians ought to consult all they know–including theological beliefs–in forming and testing hypotheses, in explaining things in science, and in evaluating the plausibility of scientific theories.

More specifically, theistic science expresses a commitment to the belief that God, conceived of as a personal agent with great power and intelligence, has through direct, primary causation and indirect, secondary causation created and designed the world for a purpose. He has directly intervened in the course of its development at various points (e.g., in directly creating the universe, first life, the basic kinds of life, and humans). And these kinds of ideas can enter into the very fabric of scientific practice.

To clarify this further, let me highlight three ways theological beliefs can enter into science. First, theological propositions can provide background beliefs used to evaluate a scientific hypothesis. The theological beliefs that the universe had a beginning and that adultery is sinful and immature can be used to evaluate hypotheses that claim the universe has an infinite past or adultery can be a sign of psychological maturity.

Second, theological beliefs can guide research and yield predictions that can be tested. For example, theological assertions that the basic kinds of life were directly created, that humans arose in the Mideast, and that Noah’s flood had certain properties can yield testable predictions: that is, gaps will exist in the fossil record; the earliest human remains will be found in the Mideast; and there will be limits to breeding.

Furthermore, the idea of a direct, creative act of God can be used to explain things that are scientifically discoverable. Science can discover information in DNA, that the universe had a beginning, that human language is unique–and theology can provide explanations for these discoveries.

Objections to Theistic Science

Not everyone is happy with the notion of theistic science. For various reasons, many want to keep science and theology separate, though perhaps complementary. Some employ a “god-of-the-gaps” strategy in which God is believed to act only when there are gaps in nature. Appeal is made to God to cover human ignorance. However, the gaps in our knowledge are getting smaller, and so this is a poor strategy.

Theistic science, however, does not limit God’s activity to gaps. Nature is not autonomous. God is constantly active in sustaining and governing the universe. Nor does theistic science appeal to direct acts of God to cover scientific ignorance. Such appeals are made only when there are good theological or philosophical reasons to expect a discontinuity in nature

Finally, Whitworth College philosopher Stephen C. Meyer has made a distinction between empirical and historical science. Empirical science is a nonhistorical approach to the world that focuses on repeatable, regularly recurring events or patterns in nature (e.g., chemical reactions). By contrast, historical science is historical in nature and focuses on past, nonrepeatable events (e.g., the death of the dinosaurs). In the history of science, inappropriate appeals to God’s primary causal action to explain a phenomenon have occurred in empirical science. Such appeals were wrong because in these cases God acts through secondary and not primary causation. The proper conclusion from this is to limit appeals to God’s primary causal activity to historical science, not to eliminate such appeals from science altogether.

A second objection to theistic science is that science explains things by using natural laws–and an act of God is not a law of nature. This objection is mistaken as well. We do explain things in empirical science by an appeal to natural law. The formation of water from hydrogen and oxygen, for example, is explained by the laws of chemistry. In historical science, however, we explain the existence of something by postulating a causal entity for it.

Cosmologists explain some aspect of the universe not only by using natural laws of motion but also by citing the big bang as a single, causal event. In archaeology, psychology, and forensic science, appeals are made to acts or states of agents as causes for phenomena (e.g., a desire for love caused this obsessive behavior). This is not unscientific, and if Christians have reason to suspect that God directly created, say, human beings, then appealing to His actions fits a respectable pattern of scientific explanation.

In sum, there are several aspects to the integration of science and theology, and theistic science is a legitimate part of such integration. Theology doesn’t need science to be rational. There is nothing wrong in principle, however, with bringing one’s theology into the practice of science. Intellectual bullying aside, it is time for Christians to rethink these matters and allow theistic science to be a part of how they love God with their minds.

~J.P. Moreland, from “Is Science a Threat or Help to Faith?” in The Christian Research Journal (Fall 1993).

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