Why Science and Faith Need Each Other

I received a new book recently – Why Science and Faith Need Each Other: Eight Shared Values that Move Us Beyond Fear by Elaine Howard Ecklund.  Elaine Ecklund is a sociologist – a professor at Rice University and the director of the program in religion and public life. She has worked in the area of science and religion for something between 15 and 20 years now. I’ve read and/or posted on several of her books over the last 10 years. This latest book is somewhat different. It is based on her research, but is less academic. It is directed to lay Christians and pastors.This is the kind of book that can make for a good group study. Each chapter ends with questions for discussion. Elaine begins the book with a discussion of fear and the need to overcome fear to think clearly.

What fears does science raise in your church? Why does it raise these fears?

The church I attend right now (online these days unfortunately … ) is fairly open to science and discussions about science and faith. It hasn’t always been this way though. Not so long ago, a graduate student at our University was treated abysmally by some of the leaders of the church for daring to broach the topic. (Well OK, perhaps 20 years ago … so not recently either.) We were members of the church at the time and didn’t know this had happened, but it doesn’t surprise me. On several occasions I sat in the audience while a speaker warned us to beware of the Godless professors at the University next door,especially, but not only, the scientists, who were seeking to destroy our children. I was safe in the church as long as I stayed under the radar – known as a wife and mother rather than as a scientist and professor.

More recently, I’ve had the opportunity to teach some classes on science and Christian faith. They’ve been rewarding, but it is always necessary to consider the fear the subject can raise among some in the church. The discussion has to be approached with concern for each other and a commitment to avoid pushing buttons and provoking each other.

Elaine Ecklund suggests that an understanding of virtues shared by science and religion could help to bridge the gap; virtues such as curiosity, honesty, and humility. She writes:

I believe the core virtues of science and religion are more similar than we think; yet there are some key differences. I am proposing a new approach to discussing the relationship between science and faith: I see science and faith not just as sets of ideas but as groups of people, and I am convinced that scientists and Christians share common virtues that, if brought to light, will lead to common ground. I am also convinced that by recognizing the common virtues between our faith and science, and where our values differ, we Christians can begin to develop a more effective and meaningful relationship with science and scientists. (p. 21)

As a Christian and a scientist – active in teaching and research for more than 30 years – I like where she is coming from. There are shared common virtues I see in the practice of science and of Christian faith.  There are also common human failings that distort the picture and stand in the way of meaningful communication.

Join us as we work through the book and consider the possibility that there are shared values in science and faith that can help move us beyond the warfare model.


If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

This post is also available at Jesus Creed, now published as a Christianity Today blog.

I welcome comments that enlighten us on the topic or ask questions. Expressions of disagreement, agreement, and elaboration are also welcome. Comments are moderated and comments that are excessively long, are abusive or aggressive, or are off-topic will not appear. Imagine that you are holding a conversation over coffee with a friend and you want to remain friends. Your first comment will be held for moderation – subsequent comments will usually appear automatically.

The links to books above are commissioned links from which I receive a small return.

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2 Responses to Why Science and Faith Need Each Other

  1. Thanks for this. I wish I had known about this, it might have helped avoid a conflict when I taught in a large church 3 lessons on creation and evolution. in the middle lesson, a lady walked out when i talked about deep time. I visited her home and we reconciled. I apologized to the class and most said I was fair. The third week, the class was packed, perhaps due to the conflict. I found out later i was blackballed by an influential person in the class. Since then I’ve realized that young-earth beliefs are deep and strong in certain people. And when I’ve asked about tree rings and lake varves dating back to 50,000 years, they’ve said they don’t believe the science. I haven’t found a way forward to deal with this (hadn’t thought about “fear”), but look foward to your ensuing blogs (I write blogs on the topic myself).

  2. Phil McCurdy says:

    i agree that focusing on people is much more likely to be productive than focusing on institutional ideas. It is harder to sit before someone and demonize them than it is to demonize a concept. However, Ian, it seems some people do not have a problem with it as you found out. You can drill down on what part of the science they do not believe, but until you wrestle with the core idea of how they interpret scripture, my experience is that you are wasting your time. If they are questioning the YEC interpretation however, engaging in discussion may well save their faith.

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