Spring 2000 · Vol. 29 No. 1 · pp. 2–3 

From the Editor: Science and Faith

Douglas B. Miller

Science and faith, at least in the popular mind, seem to be regularly at odds with one another. Is it possible for these two avenues of understanding to work together?

In western culture, science as an independent set of disciplines emerged out of the Enlightenment. After some celebrated tussles with church authority, faith—particularly Christian faith—during the next couple hundred years had to define an increasingly smaller operational space, a space in which God might be allowed to account for what remained mysterious or the uncertain. Many have been pleased to promote an hermetic state of affairs. As Stephen Jay Gould has recently reiterated, “science gets the age of rocks, and religion the rock of ages; science studies how the heavens go, religion how to go to heaven” (6).

The situation in the last half of the twentieth century has revealed another shift. It is now science, perhaps especially the natural sciences, being backed into a corner and made to confess limitations. Not only has science not been able to solve all the world’s problems, technological wonders notwithstanding, but its epistemology has become suspect, and its identification with power criticized. Contributing to this state of affairs has been the disorientation within quantum physics. It seems that the objects we see around us obey rules different from those of the tiny particles which make them up.

The postmodern critique of modernist assumptions about truth certainly does not look to reinstate religious dogma, whether from the institutional Christian church or elsewhere. Yet ours is a transitional time in which the question of how we discern the “real” is asked with renewed earnestness.

When I think of the interplay of science and faith, these words from writer Madeleine L’Engle (88-89) come to mind:

When I try to find contemporary, twentieth-century mystics to help me in my own search for meditation and contemplation, I turn to the cellular biologists and astrophysicists, for they are dealing with the nature of being itself, and their questions are theological ones: What is the nature of time? of creation? of life? What is human creativity? What is our share in God’s work?

L’Engle urges that we recover childlike creativity, not setting aside or discarding our intellects, but neither allowing them to become a dictator. She quotes Friedrich Dessauer, an atomic physicist (75):

Man is a creature who depends entirely on revelation. In all his intellectual endeavor, he should always listen, always {3} be intent to hear and see. He should not strive to superimpose the structures of his own mind, his systems of thought upon reality. . . . At the beginning of all spiritual endeavor stands humility, and he who loses it can achieve no other heights than the heights of disillusionment.

It is in this spirit that the essays in this issue are offered, particularly in hope that those, in whatever disciplines, who search for wisdom and insight as for hidden treasure might benefit one another (Prov. 2:1-6). Del Ratzsch describes how two groups of Christians who take opposite sides on the creation question often talk past each other because more homework is needed. Conrad Hyers presents his case that biblical and scientific maps of origins are distinct and should not be confused. In a further treatment of the origins question, Hugh Siefken helpfully introduces the field of intelligent design which has recently been attracting much attention. Biologist Max Terman challenges us to think about our responsibility as God’s representatives to care for the earth. Michael Kunz reports on the struggle within sociobiology to account for altruistic behavior.

I trust that you will find these articles both encouraging and challenging. There is a great opportunity for continuing dialogue among us here in at least two ways: (1) the Direction listserv (if you have not yet joined this free service, please send your request to the editor), and (2) publishable responses, including articles. I also anticipate essays from several writers who were not able to make the deadline for this issue. Hopefully these can be included in the future; we have much to learn from each other.

I am also pleased to include an essay by Elmer Martens on the theology of the book of Numbers. In Ministry Compass, Bill Braun reports on a model of pastoral ministry he has found both freeing for himself and equipping for others. A significantly greater wealth of Book Reviews is included than has been typical, and thanks are due to our reviewers for their good efforts. The issue concludes with a report on Current Research among us.


  • Gould, Stephen Jay. Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life. New York: Ballantine, 1999.
  • L’Engle, Madeleine. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. New York: Bantam, 1980.
  • Taylor, Barbara Brown. “Physics and Faith: The Luminous Web.” The Christian Century (2-9 June) 1999: 612-19.
Douglas Miller, General Editor