Historical and Conceptual Introduction to Religion and Science

A friend overheard that I would be writing essays on religion and science and laughed. “What do religion and science have to do with each other?” he asked. He had a good liberal arts education, and had majored in physics. I was surprised that he had not heard that “religion and science” is actually a respected field of study, but I do not blame him for this. He is a thoughtful person who uses his science background in his work and is not himself “allergic to religion” as many well-educated people today are. But his not knowing that “religion and science” is a field of study and his surprise at hearing the two words conjoined together into a single phrase is a tragic manifestation of our epistemological crisis.

We had a good conversation about all of this, but before I describe more of what I mean by “our epistemological crisis,” I thought I would give some background about the field of religion and science. My friend is by no means alone in thinking that religion and science have little to do with each other. Much has happened in the history of Western thought to split religion and science apart from each other.

In an earlier time, philosophy, religion, and science were not really separate disciplines. All of these ways of thinking about knowledge and reality were examined from within philosophy. When the focus of philosophical inquiry concerned spiritual matters, it was called “theology,” and when it focused on the study of the natural world, it was called “natural philosophy.” The term “science” simply referred to the most well-developed domains of thought. It wasn’t applied specifically to “natural philosophy” until the 19th century.

But people date the beginnings of what we now call “modern science” a little earlier. Excitement —> Read More