The battle between science and religion has raged everywhere from the courtroom to the classroom. While some CU students hold different ideas about the role of faith and reason, some university philosophers attest to the commonalities between the two.
Tyler Hildebrand, a philosophy graduate student and a theist—someone who believes in the existence of one God—said he believes the division between religion and science is rooted in the polarizing opinions on either side of the debate.
“The frustrating thing is that in the popular sphere, on both sides, the more vocal groups tend to be the more radical ones,” Hildebrand said. “If you want to get a good sense between faith and reason, science and religion, one of the worst things you can do would be to go look at a lot of the popular literature because it’s basically comparing two very polarized positions.”
Angus Bohanon, a 22-year-old pre-journalism major, is a member of the Secular Students and Skeptics society, an organization of students who say they agree on one thing: opinions must be founded upon evidence.
“I think there’s an inherent conflict between science and religion, yes,” Bohanon said. “Because religion not only allows for, but encourages, the acceptance of a tenet without evidence.”
Hildebrand said he believes faith is more of an attitude or an action as opposed to a belief system.
“I don’t think of faith as a type of belief,” he said. “I think it’s a certain attitude that you have that’s connected to certain beliefs. But I think that all beliefs should be supported by reason.”
The nature of faith and its connection to reason is the topic with the greatest divide between atheists and theists.
Bohanon said he finds the idea of faith irritating.
“Faith means accepting something without evidence,” he said. “It’s a belief that doesn’t need to be proven to you.”
Brian Hughes, a 21-year-old classics major who identifies as a devout Catholic, said there is a connection between logic and religious devotion.
“The great thing about the Catholic church is it’s the marriage of reason and faith,” Hughes said. “There are definitely some aspects where you need faith, but reason helps. We can’t have faith without reason, it would be blind.”
Dr. Bradley Monton teaches a philosophy and religion course at CU, where scientific arguments for intelligent design are examined in a logical framework.
“I think faith and reason are compatible,” Monton said. “Having faith without any evidence I think is irrational, but you can have evidence for a claim and also have faith that that claim is true.”
Monton is a self-identified atheist with an undergraduate degree in physics. He said he became interested in conceptual issues associated with physics, which led to his interest in physics-based arguments for intelligent design.
“I think that if God does exist and God designed the world, then we can do scientific investigation to find out something about what God wanted, or what God was thinking or what design plan God had for the world,” he said.
Monton describes the process by which science can be used to analyze God’s potential design plan as similar to reverse engineering.
“If the world was designed, then we can look into its details, and we could get evidence for the design or what the designer was up to,” he said.
Bohanon said he believes science is inherently at odds with faith because scientists are constantly seeking evidence for the unknown, while faith rests on a gap in knowledge.
“Science never stops looking,” he said. “Science knows it doesn’t know everything, otherwise it would have stopped, otherwise we would just quit. If we thought we knew everything, we wouldn’t keep looking.”
Monton said he is not convinced that the dichotomy between science and religion is entirely accurate.
“I think scientists have faith that their reasoning abilities are reliable, that they aren’t massively deceived about the world,” he said.
Monton said philosopher David Hume’s problem of induction is a philosophical argument that claims scientists rely on faith. The argument states that inductive reasoning is fallible because it requires that scientists rest on the assumption that the current uniformity of nature will continue.
“Just because nature has behaved uniformly in the past, why should we think nature is going to behave uniformly in the future?” he said. “That’s making an inference on how the past has been to how the future will be, and Hume said there’s no justification for that inference.”
Hildebrand said the conflict between religion and science is oftentimes rooted in a misunderstanding of what science actually is. He describes the scientific process as one of systematizing experiences and drawing theory from observation.
“So, for example, the claim that God created the earth and the claim that humans evolved through a process of natural selection and evolution, those claims aren’t conflicting,” Hildebrand said. “You can’t generate a contradiction between those two. Generally speaking, the other sorts of claims that you need to get a contradiction need to be controversial philosophical claims.”
Hildebrand provides another example of direct conflict between science and religion: the age of the earth. Historical science shows that the earth is very old, whereas some religions say that the earth is very young.
Hughes said he sees science as a function of free will as granted by God, and the use of human capacity to reason.
“Science just helps our understanding of what’s going on, on the earth,” Hughes said. “From there, science can help us to learn more about working in the world, how God has created everything and how it all works. There’s no science on the left, faith on the right, there’s some overlap between the two.”
Hildebrand said he feels there is a lot of room for agreement between science and religion.
“I think that most people want their beliefs to be generated in the right sort of way, and I think that for the most part, people agree on what that right sort of way is.”
Contact CU Independent Managing Editor Sara Kassabian at Sara.email@example.com.