Science in Christian Perspective



Misunderstanding the Conflict Between Science and Christianity

Mike L Anderson, PhD

78 Balfour Road
Rondebosch 7700
Republic of South Africa

From: PSCF 47 (September 1995): 218

With few exceptions, the consensus among appropriately qualified life scientists is that all living things have originated from simple beginnings through evolutionary processes. Others, such as Clark (1994) and Settanni (1992) before him, taking inspiration from Thomas Kuhn, think that the main reason for this consensus is not the force of the evidence but the presuppositions of the scientists. Clark believes that this leads to conflict between science and Christianity and in particular between naturalistic evolution and biblical creation.

Now Kuhn alerted philosophers to the influence of extrascientific factors such as social climate on scientific theories. This was a valuable service. There is no question now that such factors do shape scientific theories. The question is over specifics and extent. Many philosophers feel that Kuhn exaggerated the importance of these factors. Indeed criticism of Kuhn's ideas has been a favorite pastime for a generation of philosophers of science (Ruse 1989:62). Feyerebend (1981:160) finds no period of normal science in the history of thought. Ruse (1989:62) finds that the Darwinian and Geological revolutions were not Kuhnian in important respects.

Kuhn gave us important insights, but Clark takes them too far. He writes: "history plainly records that Darwin's theory of evolution was not a discovery made from observing nature, but a preconceived and prevalent idea (philosophy?) brought to his observations of nature." Earlier Clark said science is "inextricably ... interdependent upon ... philosophical presuppositions" (emphasis mine). Now he claims a one-way street from presuppositions to science. He is in error, not knowing Darwin nor his willingness to alter his preconceptions in the face of the evidence.

Naturalistic evolution does not begin to describe Darwin's presuppositions. While Darwin was ambivalent about religion, there can be little doubt that his science was positively influenced by natural theology (see Durant 1985). Darwin admitted being quite orthodox while on board the Beagle and recounts being laughed at by several of the officers for quoting the Bible (Darwin 1902:58). If Darwin began with evolutionary leanings, he also began with creationist ones. Towards the end of the Beagle voyage we find him trying to accommodate the biogeographical data to a creation by postulating more than one Creator. He backtracks after marveling at how the Lion-Ant is contrived:

"The one hand [of the Creator] has surely worked throughout the universe" (Barlow 1934:383). This example shows that Darwin was not aware of the full evolutionary significance of his observations and that he was able to consider modifying theistic (not naturalistic) presuppositions in light of the data. I think this is enough show that Clark's one way street from evolutionary naturalism to Darwin's observations does not fit the evidence.

Clark asks "Can an unreserved belief in naturalism exert a blinding effect upon a scientist as he interprets the physical world he observes?" One could also ask "Can an unreserved rejection of evolution exert a blinding effect on a person as he interprets what scientists have said?" Consider how Clark handles the writings of the paleontologist Raup:

Raup believes that it is not true "that the fossil record supplies virtually incontrovertible evidence for the truth of the theory of evolution." At least that is what Raup is made out to believe. This is surprising since his article is in a collection written with the express purpose of confronting creationism. If this was not enough, Raup says at the outset "As I will show here, the rocks and the fossils say YES to evolution" (emphasis his).

With all these clues to Raup's intent how could Clark have missed it? First, Clark mistook difficulties for Darwinian gradualism as difficulties for evolution (he saw what he wanted to see). There is a relative lack not absence of transitional forms in the fossil record. Second, he missed the two pages (pp. 156-158) Raup devoted to showing why this lack is not a problem for evolution (Clark did not see what he did not want to see). Perhaps Clark is afflicted with the blindness he "sees" in others.

We all have preconceptions. Must we be blinded by them? No. Look.


Barlow, N. (Ed.) (1934) Charles Darwin's Diary of the Voyage of the H.M.S. "Beagle." The MacMillan Company, New York.

Durant, J. (Ed.) (1985) Darwinism and Divinity: Essays on Evolution and Religious Belief. Basil Blackwell, Oxford, UK.

Clark, J.P. (1994) "Faith, Fact and Philosophy: One Step Toward Understanding the Conflict between Science and Christianity." Perspectives 46:242-252.

Darwin, F. (1902) Charles Darwin: His Life told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of his Published Letters. John Murray, London.

Feyerebend, P. (1981) "How to Defend Society Against Science." in "Scientific Revolutions." I. Hacking (ed.). Oxford University Press.

Raup, D.M. (1983) The Geological and Paleontological Arguments of Creationism. In "Scientists Confront Creationism." L. R. Godfrey, (Ed.). W.W. Norton & Company, New York.

Ruse, M. (1989) The Darwinian Paradigm. Routledge, London.

Settanni, H. (1992) Scientific Knowledge: Discovery of Nature or Mental Construction? University Press of America, Lanham.