Stanford University

Religion and Science (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

1. What are science and religion, and how do they interrelate?

1.1 A brief history of the field of science and religion

Since the 1960s, scholars in theology, philosophy, history, and the
sciences have studied the relationship between science and religion.
Science and religion is a recognized field of study with dedicated
journals (e.g., Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science),
academic chairs (e.g., the Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and
Religion at Oxford University), scholarly societies (e.g., the Science
and Religion Forum), and recurring conferences (e.g., the European
Society for the Study of Science and Theology holds meetings every two
years). Most of its authors are either theologians (e.g., John Haught,
Sarah Coakley), philosophers with an interest in science (e.g., Nancey
Murphy), or (former) scientists with long-standing interests in
religion, some of whom are also ordained clergy (e.g., the physicist
John Polkinghorne, the biochemist Arthur Peacocke, and the molecular
biophysicist Alister McGrath).

The systematic study of science and religion started in the 1960s,
with authors such as Ian Barbour (1966) and Thomas F. Torrance (1969)
who challenged the prevailing view that science and religion were
either at war or indifferent to each other. Barbour’s Issues
in Science and Religion
(1966) set out several enduring themes of
the field, including a comparison of methodology and theory in both
fields. Zygon, the first specialist journal on science and
religion, was also founded in 1966. While the early study of science
and religion focused on methodological issues, authors from the late
1980s to the 2000s developed contextual approaches, including detailed
historical examinations of the relationship between science and
religion (e.g., Brooke 1991). Peter Harrison (1998) challenged the
warfare model by arguing that Protestant theological conceptions of
nature and humanity helped to give rise to science in the
seventeenth century. Peter Bowler (2001, 2009) drew attention to a
broad movement of liberal Christians and evolutionists in the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries who aimed to reconcile
evolutionary theory with religious belief.

In the 1990s, the Vatican Observatory (Castel Gandolfo, Italy) and the
Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (Berkeley, California)
co-sponsored a series of conferences on divine action. It had
contributors from philosophy and theology (e.g., Nancey Murphy) and
the sciences (e.g., Francisco Ayala). The aim of these conferences was
to understand divine action in the light of contemporary sciences.
Each of the five conferences, and each edited volume that arose from
it, was devoted to an area of natural science and its interaction with
religion, including quantum cosmology (1992, Russell et al. 1993),
chaos and complexity (1994, Russell et al. 1995), evolutionary and
molecular biology (1996, Russell et al. 1998), neuroscience and the
person (1998, Russell et al. 2000), and quantum mechanics (2000,
Russell et al. 2001). (See also Russell et al. 2008 for a book-length
summary of the findings of this project.)

In the contemporary public sphere, the most prominent interaction
between science and religion concerns evolutionary theory and
creationism/Intelligent Design. The legal battles (e.g., the
Kitzmiller versus Dover trial in 2005) and lobbying surrounding the
teaching of evolution and creationism in American schools suggest that
religion and science conflict. However, even if one were to focus on
the reception of evolutionary theory, the relationship between
religion and science is complex. For instance, in the United Kingdom,
scientists, clergy, and popular writers, sought to reconcile science
and religion during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, whereas the United States saw the rise of a fundamentalist
opposition to evolutionary thinking, exemplified by the Scopes trial
in 1925 (Bowler 2001, 2009).

In recent decades, Church leaders have issued conciliatory public
statements on evolutionary theory. Pope John Paul II (1996) affirmed
evolutionary theory in his message to the Pontifical Academy of
Sciences, but rejected it for the human soul, which he saw as the
result of a separate, special creation. The Church of England publicly
endorsed evolutionary theory (e.g., M. Brown 2008), including an
apology to Charles Darwin for its initial rejection of his theory.

For the past fifty years, science and religion has been de facto
Western science and Christianity—to what extent can Christian
beliefs be brought in line with the results of western science? The
field of science and religion has only recently turned to an
examination of non-Christian traditions, such as Judaism, Hinduism,
Buddhism, and Islam, providing a richer picture of interaction.

1.2 What is science, and what is religion?

In order to understand the scope of science and religion and what
interactions there are between them, we must at least get a rough
sense of what science and religion are. After all,
“science” and “religion” are not eternally
unchanging terms with unambiguous meanings. Indeed, they are terms
that were coined recently, with meanings that vary across times and
cultures. Before the nineteenth century, the term
“religion” was rarely used. For medieval authors, such as
Aquinas, the term religio meant piety or worship, and was
denied of “religious” systems outside of what he
considered orthodoxy (Harrison 2015). The term “religion”
obtained its considerably broader current meaning through the works of
early anthropologists, such as E.B. Tylor (1871), who systematically
used the term for religions across the world.

The term “science” as it is currently used also became
common only in the nineteenth century. Prior to this, what we
call “science” was referred to as “natural
philosophy” or “experimental philosophy”. William
Whewell (1834) standardized the term “scientist” to refer
to practitioners of diverse natural philosophies. Philosophers of
science have attempted to demarcate science from other
knowledge-seeking endeavors, in particular religion. For instance,
Karl Popper (1959) claimed that scientific hypotheses (unlike
religious ones) are in principle falsifiable. Many (e.g., Taylor 1996)
affirm a difference between science and religion, even if the meanings
of both terms are historically contingent. They disagree, however, on
how to precisely (and across times and cultures) demarcate the two

One way to distinguish between science and religion is the claim that
science concerns the natural world, whereas religion concerns both the
natural and the supernatural. Scientific explanations do not appeal to
supernatural entities such as gods or angels (fallen or not), or to
non-natural forces (like miracles, karma, or Qi). For
example, neuroscientists typically explain our thoughts in terms of
brain states, not by reference to an immaterial soul or spirit.

Naturalists draw a distinction between methodological naturalism, an
epistemological principle that limits scientific inquiry to natural
entities and laws, and ontological or philosophical naturalism, a
metaphysical principle that rejects the supernatural (Forrest 2000).
Since methodological naturalism is concerned with the practice of
science (in particular, with the kinds of entities and processes that
are invoked), it does not make any statements about whether or not
supernatural entities exist. They might exist, but lie outside of the
scope of scientific investigation. Some authors (e.g., Rosenberg 2014)
hold that taking the results of science seriously entails negative
answers to such persistent questions as free will or moral knowledge.
However, these stronger conclusions are controversial.

The view that science can be demarcated from religion in its
methodological naturalism is more commonly accepted. For instance, in
the Kitzmiller versus Dover trial, the philosopher of science Robert
Pennock was called to testify by the plaintiffs on whether Intelligent
Design was a form of creationism, and therefore religion. If it were,
the Dover school board policy would violate the Establishment Clause
of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Building on
earlier work (e.g., Pennock 1998), Pennock argued that Intelligent
Design, in its appeal to supernatural mechanisms, was not
methodologically naturalistic, and that methodological naturalism is
an essential component of science—though it is not a dogmatic
requirement, it flows from reasonable evidential requirements, such as
the ability to test theories empirically.

Natural philosophers, such as Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, Robert
Hooke, and Robert Boyle, sometimes appealed to supernatural agents in
their natural philosophy (which we now call “science”).
Still, overall there was a tendency to favor naturalistic explanations
in natural philosophy. This preference for naturalistic causes may
have been encouraged by past successes of naturalistic explanations,
leading authors such as Paul Draper (2005) to argue that the success
of methodological naturalism could be evidence for ontological
naturalism. Explicit methodological naturalism arose in the
nineteenth century with the X-club, a lobby group for the
professionalization of science founded in 1864 by Thomas Huxley and
friends, which aimed to promote a science that would be free from
religious dogmas. The X-club may have been in part motivated by the
desire to remove competition by amateur-clergymen scientists in the
field of science, and thus to open up the field to full-time
professionals (Garwood 2008).

Because “science” and “religion” defy
definition, discussing the relationship between science (in general)
and religion (in general) may be meaningless. For example, Kelly Clark
(2014) argues that we can only sensibly inquire into the relationship
between a widely accepted claim of science (such as quantum mechanics
or findings in neuroscience) and a specific claim of a particular
religion (such as Islamic understandings of divine providence or
Buddhist views of the no-self).

1.3 Models of the interaction between science and religion

Several typologies characterize the interaction between science and
religion. For example, Mikael Stenmark (2004) distinguishes between
three views: the independence view (no overlap between science and
religion), the contact view (some overlap between the fields), and a
union of the domains of science and religion; within those views he
recognizes further subdivisions, e.g., the contact can be in the form
of conflict or harmony. The most influential model of the
relationships between science and religion remains Barbour’s
(2000): conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration. Subsequent
authors, as well as Barbour himself, have refined and amended this
taxonomy. However, others (e.g., Cantor and Kenny 2001) have argued
that it is not useful to understand past interactions between both
fields. For one thing, it focuses on the cognitive content of
religions at the expense of other aspects, such as rituals and social
structures. Moreover, there is no clear definition of what conflict
means (evidential or logical). The model is not as philosophically
sophisticated as some of its successors, such as Stenmark’s
(2004). Nevertheless, because of its enduring influence, it is still
worthwhile to discuss this taxonomy in detail.

The conflict model, which holds that science and religion are in
perpetual and principal conflict, relies heavily on two historical
narratives: the trial of Galileo (see Dawes 2016 for a contemporary
re-examination) and the reception of Darwinism (see Bowler 2001). The
conflict model was developed and defended in the nineteenth
century by the following two publications: John Draper’s (1874)
History of the Conflict between Religion and Science and
White’s (1896) two-volume opus A History of the Warfare of
Science with Theology in Christendom
. Both authors argued that
science and religion inevitably conflict as they essentially discuss
the same domain. The vast majority of authors in the science and
religion field is critical of the conflict model and believes it is
based on a shallow and partisan reading of the historical record.
Ironically, two views that otherwise have little in common, scientific
materialism and extreme biblical literalism, both assume a conflict
model: both assume that if science is right, religion is wrong, or
vice versa.

While the conflict model is at present a minority position, some have
used philosophical argumentation (e.g., Philipse 2012) or have
carefully re-examined historical evidence such as the Galileo trial
(e.g., Dawes 2016) to argue for this model. Alvin Plantinga (2011) has
argued that the conflict is not between science and religion, but
between science and naturalism.

The independence model holds that science and religion explore
separate domains that ask distinct questions. Stephen Jay Gould
developed an influential independence model with his NOMA principle
(“Non-Overlapping Magisteria”):

The lack of conflict between science and religion arises from a lack
of overlap between their respective domains of professional expertise.
(2001: 739)

He identified science’s areas of expertise as empirical
questions about the constitution of the universe, and religion’s
domains of expertise as ethical values and spiritual meaning. NOMA is
both descriptive and normative: religious leaders should refrain from
making factual claims about, for instance, evolutionary theory, just
as scientists should not claim insight on moral matters. Gould held
that there might be interactions at the borders of each magisterium,
such as our responsibility toward other creatures. One obvious problem
with the independence model is that if religion were barred from
making any statement of fact it would be difficult to justify the
claims of value and ethics, e.g., one could not argue that one should
love one’s neighbor because it pleases the creator (Worrall
2004). Moreover, religions do seem to make empirical claims, for
example, that Jesus appeared after his death or that the early Hebrews
passed through the parted waters of the Red Sea.

The dialogue model proposes a mutualistic relationship between
religion and science. Unlike independence, dialogue assumes that there
is common ground between both fields, perhaps in their
presuppositions, methods, and concepts. For example, the Christian
doctrine of creation may have encouraged science by assuming that
creation (being the product of a designer) is both intelligible and
orderly, so one can expect there are laws that can be discovered.
Creation, as a product of God’s free actions, is also
contingent, so the laws of nature cannot be learned through a
thinking, which prompts the need for empirical
investigation. According to Barbour (2000), both scientific and
theological inquiry are theory-dependent (or at least model-dependent,
e.g., the doctrine of the Trinity colors how Christian theologians
interpret the first chapters of Genesis), rely on metaphors and
models, and value coherence, comprehensiveness, and fruitfulness. In
dialogue, the fields remain separate but they talk to each other,
using common methods, concepts, and presuppositions. Wentzel van
Huyssteen (1998) has argued for a dialogue position, proposing that
science and religion can be in a graceful duet, based on their
epistemological overlaps.

The integration model is more extensive in its unification of science
and theology. Barbour (2000) identifies three forms of integration.
The first is natural theology, which formulates arguments for the
existence and attributes of God. It uses results of the natural
sciences as premises in its arguments. For instance, the supposition
that the universe has a temporal origin features in contemporary
cosmological arguments for the existence of God, and the fact that the
cosmological constants and laws of nature are life-permitting (whereas
many other combinations of constants and laws would not permit life)
is used in contemporary fine-tuning arguments. The second, theology of
nature, starts not from science but from a religious framework, and
examines how this can enrich or even revise findings of the sciences.
For example, McGrath (2016) developed a Christian theology of nature,
examining how nature and scientific findings can be regarded through a
Christian lens. Thirdly, Barbour believed that Whitehead’s
process philosophy was a promising way to integrate science and

While integration seems attractive (especially to theologians), it is
difficult to do justice to both the science and religion aspects of a
given domain, especially given their complexities. For example, Pierre
Teilhard de Chardin (1971), who was both knowledgeable in
paleoanthropology and theology, ended up with an unconventional view
of evolution as teleological (which brought him into trouble with the
scientific establishment), and with an unorthodox theology (with an
unconventional interpretation of original sin that brought him into
trouble with the Roman Catholic Church). Theological heterodoxy, by
itself, is no reason to doubt a model, but it points to difficulties
for the integration model in becoming successful in the broader
community of theologians and philosophers. Moreover, integration seems
skewed towards theism as Barbour described arguments based on
scientific results that support (but do not demonstrate) theism, but
failed to discuss arguments based on scientific results that support
(but do not demonstrate) the denial of theism.

1.4 The scientific study of religion

Science and religion are closely interconnected in the scientific
study of religion, which can be traced back to seventeenth-century
natural histories of religion. Natural historians attempted to provide
naturalistic explanations for human behavior and culture, for domains
such as religion, emotions, and morality. For example, Bernard de
Fontenelle’s De l’Origine des Fables (1724)
offered a causal account of belief in the supernatural. People often
assert supernatural explanations when they lack an understanding of
the natural causes underlying extraordinary events: “To the
extent that one is more ignorant, or one has less experience, one sees
more miracles” (1724/1824: 295, my translation). This idea
foreshadows Auguste Comte’s (1841) belief that myths would
gradually give way to scientific accounts. Hume’s Natural
History of Religion
(1757/2007) is the best-known philosophical
example of a natural historical explanation of religious belief. It
traces the origins of polytheism—which Hume thought was the
earliest form of religious belief—to ignorance about natural
causes combined with fear and apprehension about the environment. By
deifying aspects of the environment, early humans tried to persuade or
bribe the gods, thereby gaining a sense of control.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, authors from newly
emerging scientific disciplines, such as anthropology, sociology, and
psychology, examined the purported naturalistic roots of religious
belief. They did so with a broad brush, trying to explain what unifies
diverse religious beliefs across cultures, rather than accounting for
cultural variations. In anthropology, the idea that all cultures
evolve and progress along the same lines (cultural evolutionism) was
widespread. Cultures with differing religious views were explained as
being in an early stage of development. For example, Tylor (1871)
regarded animism, the belief that spirits animate the world, as the
earliest form of religious belief. Comte (1841) proposed that all
societies, in their attempts to make sense of the world, go through
the same stages of development: the theological (religious) stage is
the earliest phase, where religious explanations predominate, followed
by the metaphysical stage (a non-intervening God), and culminating in
the positive or scientific stage, marked by scientific explanations
and empirical observations.

The sociologist Émile Durkheim (1915) considered religious
beliefs as social glue that helped to keep society together. The
psychologist Sigmund Freud (1927) saw religious belief as an illusion,
a childlike yearning for a fatherly figure. The full story Freud
offers is quite bizarre: in past times, a father who monopolized all
the women in the tribe was killed and eaten by his sons. The sons felt
guilty and started to idolize their murdered father. This, together
with taboos on cannibalism and incest, generated the first religion.
Freud also considered “oceanic feeling” (a feeling of
limitlessness and of being connected with the world) as one of the
origins of religious belief. He thought this feeling was a remnant of
an infant’s experience of the self, prior to being weaned off
the breast. Authors such as Durkheim and Freud, together with social
theorists such as Karl Marx and Max Weber, proposed versions of the
secularization thesis, the view that religion would decline in the
face of modern technology, science, and culture. Philosopher and
psychologist William James (1902) was interested in the psychological
roots and the phenomenology of religious experiences, which he
believed were the ultimate source of institutional religions.

From the 1920s onward, the scientific study of religion became less
concerned with grand unifying narratives, and focused more on
particular religious traditions and beliefs. Anthropologists, such as
Edward Evans-Pritchard (1937/1965) and Bronislaw Malinowski
(1925/1992) no longer relied exclusively on second-hand reports
(usually of poor quality and from distorted sources), but engaged in
serious fieldwork. Their ethnographies indicated that cultural
evolutionism was mistaken and that religious beliefs were more diverse
than was previously assumed. They argued that religious beliefs were
not the result of ignorance of naturalistic mechanisms; for instance,
Evans-Pritchard noted that the Azande were well aware that houses
could collapse because termites ate away at their foundations, but
they still appealed to witchcraft to explain why a particular house
had collapsed. More recently, Cristine Legare et al. (2012) found that
people in various cultures straightforwardly combine supernatural and
natural explanations, for instance, South Africans are aware AIDS is
caused by a virus, but some also believe that the viral infection is
ultimately caused by a witch.

Psychologists and sociologists of religion also began to doubt that
religious beliefs were rooted in irrationality, psychopathology, and
other atypical psychological states, as James (1902) and other early
psychologists had assumed. In the United States, in the late 1930s
through the 1960s, psychologists developed a renewed interest for
religion, fueled by the observation that religion refused to
decline—thus casting doubt on the secularization
thesis—and seemed to undergo a substantial revival (see Stark
1999 for an overview). Psychologists of religion have made
increasingly fine-grained distinctions among types of religiosity,
including extrinsic religiosity (being religious as means to an end,
for instance, getting the benefits of being in a social group) and
intrinsic religiosity (people who adhere to religions for the sake of
their teachings) (Allport and Ross 1967). Psychologists and
sociologists now commonly study religiosity as an independent
variable, with an impact on, for instance, health, criminality,
sexuality, and social networks.

A recent development in the scientific study of religion is the
cognitive science of religion. This is a multidisciplinary field, with
authors from, among others, developmental psychology, anthropology,
philosophy, and cognitive psychology. It differs from the other
scientific approaches to religion by its presupposition that religion
is not a purely cultural phenomenon, but the result of ordinary, early
developed, and universal human cognitive processes (e.g., Barrett
2004, Boyer 2002). Some authors regard religion as the byproduct of
cognitive processes that do not have an evolved function specific for
religion. For example, according to Paul Bloom (2007), religion emerges
as a byproduct of our intuitive distinction between minds and bodies:
we can think of minds as continuing, even after the body dies (e.g.,
by attributing desires to a dead family member), which makes belief in
an afterlife and in disembodied spirits natural and spontaneous.
Another family of hypotheses regards religion as a biological or
cultural adaptive response that helps humans solve cooperative
problems (e.g., Bering 2011). Through their belief in big, powerful
gods that can punish, humans behave more cooperatively, which allowed
human group sizes to expand beyond small hunter-gatherer communities.
Groups with belief in big gods thus outcompeted groups without such
beliefs for resources during the Neolithic, which explains the current
success of belief in such gods (Norenzayan 2013).

1.5 Religious beliefs in academia

Until the nineteenth and even early twentieth century, it was common
for scientists to have religious beliefs which guided their work. In
the seventeenth century, the design argument reached its peak
popularity and natural philosophers were convinced that science
provided evidence for God’s providential creation. Natural
philosopher Isaac Newton held strong, albeit unorthodox religious
beliefs (Pfizenmaier 1997). By contrast, contemporary scientists have
lower religiosity compared to the general population. There are vocal
exceptions, such as the geneticist Francis Collins, erstwhile the
leader of the Human Genome Project. His book The Language of
(2006) and the BioLogos Institute he founded advocate
compatibility between science and Christianity.

Sociological studies (e.g., Ecklundt 2010) have probed the religious
beliefs of scientists, particularly in the United States. They
indicate a significant difference in religiosity in scientists
compared to the general population. Surveys such as those conducted by
the Pew forum (Masci and Smith 2016) find that nearly nine in ten
adults in the US say they believe in God or a universal spirit, a
number that has only slightly declined in recent decades. Among
younger adults, the percentage of theists is about 80%. Atheism and
agnosticism are widespread among academics, especially among those
working in elite institutions. A survey among National Academy of
Sciences members (all senior academics, overwhelmingly from elite
faculties) found that the majority disbelieved in God’s
existence (72.2%), with 20.8% being agnostic, and only 7% theists
(Larson and Witham 1998). Ecklund and Scheitle (2007) analyzed responses
from scientists (working in the social and natural sciences) from 21
elite universities in the US. About 31.2% of their participants
self-identified as atheists and a further 31 % as agnostics. The
remaining number believed in a higher power (7%), sometimes believed
in God (5.4%), believed in God with some doubts (15.5%), or believed
in God without any doubts (9.7%). In contrast to the general
population, the older scientists in this sample did not show higher
religiosity—in fact, they were more likely to say that they did
not believe in God. On the other hand, Gross and Simmons (2009)
examined a more heterogeneous sample of scientists from American
colleges, including community colleges, elite doctoral-granting
institutions, non-elite four-year state schools, and small liberal
arts colleges. They found that the majority of university professors
(full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty) had some theistic beliefs,
believing either in God (34.9%), in God with some doubts (16.6%), in
God some of the time (4.3%), or in a higher power (19.2%). Belief in
God was influenced both by type of institution (lower theistic belief
in more prestigious schools) and by discipline (lower theistic belief
in the physical and biological sciences compared to the social
sciences and humanities).

These latter findings indicate that academics are more religiously
diverse than has been popularly assumed and that the majority are not
opposed to religion. Even so, in the US the percentage of atheists and
agnostics in academia is higher than in the general population, a
discrepancy that requires an explanation. One reason might be a bias
against theists in academia. For example, when sociologists were
surveyed whether they would hire someone if they knew the candidate
was an evangelical Christian, 39.1% said they would be less likely to
hire that candidate—there were similar results
with other religious groups, such as Mormons or Muslims (Yancey 2012). Another
reason might be that theists internalize prevalent negative societal
stereotypes, which leads them to underperform in scientific tasks and
lose interest in pursuing a scientific career. Kimberly Rios et al.
(2015) found that non-religious participants believe that theists,
especially Christians, are less competent in and less trustful of
science. When this stereotype was made salient, Christian participants
performed worse in logical reasoning tasks (which were misleadingly
presented as “scientific reasoning tests”) than when the
stereotype was not mentioned.

It is unclear whether religious and scientific thinking are
cognitively incompatible. Some studies suggest that religion draws
more upon an intuitive style of thinking, distinct from the analytic
reasoning style that characterizes science (Gervais and Norenzayan
2012). On the other hand, the acceptance of theological and scientific
views both rely on a trust in testimony, and cognitive scientists have
found similarities between the way children and adults understand
testimony to invisible entities in religious and scientific domains
(Harris et al. 2006). Moreover, theologians such as the Church Fathers
and Scholastics were deeply analytic in their writings, indicating
that the association between intuitive and religious thinking might be
a recent western bias. More research is needed to examine whether
religious and scientific thinking styles are inherently in

2. Science and religion in Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism

As noted, most studies on the relationship between science and
religion have focused on science and Christianity, with only a small
number of publications devoted to other religious traditions (e.g.,
Brooke and Numbers 2011). Relatively few monographs pay attention to
the relationship between science and religion in non-Christian milieus
(e.g., Judaism and Islam in Clark 2014). Since western science makes
universal claims, it is easy to assume that its encounter with other
religious traditions is similar to the interactions observed in
Christianity. However, given different creedal tenets (e.g., in Hindu
traditions God is usually not entirely distinct from creation, unlike
in Christianity and Judaism), and because science has had distinct
historical trajectories in other cultures, one can expect disanalogies
in the relationship between science and religion in different
religious traditions. To give a sense of this diversity, this section
provides a bird’s eye overview of science and religion in
Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism.

2.1 Science and religion in Christianity

Christianity is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion, currently the
largest religion in the world. It developed in the first century AD
out of Judaism from a group of followers of Jesus. Christians adhere
to asserted revelations described in a series of canonical texts,
which include the Old Testament, which comprises texts inherited from
Judaism, and the New Testament, which contains the Gospels of Matthew,
Mark, Luke, and John (narratives on the life and teachings of Jesus),
as well as events and teachings of the early Christian churches (e.g.,
Acts of the Apostles, letters by Paul), and Revelation, a prophetic
book on the end times.

Given the prominence of revealed texts in Christianity, a useful
starting point to examine the relationship between Christianity and
science is the two books metaphor (see Tanzella-Nitti 2005 for an
overview). Accordingly, God revealed Godself through the “Book
of Nature”, with its orderly laws, and the “Book of
Scripture”, with its historical narratives and accounts of
miracles. Augustine (354–430) argued that the book of nature was
the more accessible of the two, since scripture requires literacy
whereas illiterates and literates alike could read the book of nature.
Maximus Confessor (c. 580–662), in his Ambigua (see
Louth 1996 for a collection of and critical introduction to these
texts) compared scripture and natural law to two clothes that
enveloped the Incarnated Logos: Jesus’ humanity is revealed by
nature, whereas his divinity is revealed by the scriptures. During the
Middle Ages, authors such as Hugh of St. Victor (ca. 1096–1141)
and Bonaventure (1221–1274) began to realize that the book of
nature was not at all straightforward to read. Given that original sin
marred our reason and perception, what conclusions could humans
legitimately draw about ultimate reality? Bonaventure used the
metaphor of the books to the extent that “liber
” was a synonym for creation, the natural world. He
argued that sin has clouded human reason so much that the book of
nature has become unreadable, and that scripture is needed as it
contains teachings about the world.

Christian authors in the field of science and religion continue to
debate how these two books interrelate. Concordism is the attempt to
interpret scripture in the light of modern science. It is a
hermeneutical approach to Bible interpretation, where one expects that
the Bible foretells scientific theories, such as the Big Bang theory
or evolutionary theory. However, as Denis Lamoureux (2008: chapter 5)
argues, many scientific-sounding statements in the Bible are false:
the mustard seed is not the smallest seed, male reproductive seeds do
not contain miniature persons, there is no firmament, and the earth is
neither flat nor immovable. Thus, any plausible form of integrating
the books of nature and scripture will require more nuance and
sophistication. Theologians such as John Wesley (1703–1791) have
proposed the addition of other sources of knowledge to scripture and
science: the Wesleyan quadrilateral (a term not coined by Wesley
himself) is the dynamic interaction of scripture, experience
(including the empirical findings of the sciences), tradition, and
reason (Outler 1985).

Several Christian authors have attempted to integrate science and
religion (e.g., Haught 1995, Lamoureux 2008, Murphy 1995). They tend
to interpret findings from the sciences, such as evolutionary theory
or chaos theory, in a theological light, using established theological
models, e.g., classical theism, kenosis, the doctrine of creation.
John Haught (1995) argues that the theological view of kenosis
(self-emptying) anticipates scientific findings such as evolutionary
theory: a self-emptying God (i.e., who limits Godself), who creates a
distinct and autonomous world, makes a world with internal
self-coherence, with a self-organizing universe as the result. The
dominant epistemological outlook in Christian science and religion has
been critical realism, a position that applies both to theology
(theological realism) and to science (scientific realism). Barbour
(1966) introduced this view into the science and religion literature;
it has been further developed by theologians such as Arthur Peacocke
(1984) and Wentzel van Huyssteen (1999). Critical realism aims to
offer a middle way between naïve realism (the world is as we
perceive it) and instrumentalism (our perceptions and concepts are
purely instrumental). It encourages critical reflection on perception
and the world, hence “critical”. Critical realism has
distinct flavors in the works of different authors, for instance, van
Huyssteen (1998, 1999) develops a weak form of critical realism set
within a postfoundationalist notion of rationality, where theological
views are shaped by social, cultural, and evolved biological factors.
Murphy (1995: 329–330) outlines doctrinal and scientific
requirements for approaches in science and religion: ideally, an
integrated approach should be broadly in line with Christian doctrine,
especially core tenets such as the doctrine of creation, while at the
same time it should be in line with empirical observations without
undercutting scientific practices.

Several historians (e.g., Hooykaas 1972) have argued that Christianity was instrumental to the
development of western science. Peter Harrison (2009) thinks the
doctrine of original sin played a crucial role in this, arguing there
was a widespread belief in the early modern period that Adam, prior to
the fall, had superior senses, intellect, and understanding. As a
result of the fall, human senses became duller, our ability to make
correct inferences was diminished, and nature itself became less
intelligible. Postlapsarian humans (i.e., humans after the fall) are
no longer able to exclusively rely on their a priori
reasoning to understand nature. They must supplement their reasoning
and senses with observation through specialized instruments, such as
microscopes and telescopes. As Robert Hooke wrote in the introduction
to his Micrographia:

every man, both from a deriv’d corruption, innate and born with
him, and from his breeding and converse with men, is very subject to
slip into all sorts of errors … These being the dangers in the
process of humane Reason, the remedies of them all can only proceed
from the real, the mechanical, the experimental Philosophy
[experiment-based science]. (1665, cited in Harrison 2009: 5)

Another theological development that may have facilitated the rise of
science was the Condemnation of Paris (1277), which forbade teaching
and reading natural philosophical views that were considered
heretical, such as Aristotle’s physical treatises. As a result,
the Condemnation opened up intellectual space to think beyond ancient
Greek natural philosophy. For example, medieval philosophers such as
John Buridan (fl. 14th c) held the Aristotelian belief that
there could be no vacuum in nature, but once the idea of a vacuum
became plausible, natural philosophers such as Evangelista Torricelli
(1608–1647) and Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) could experiment
with air pressure and vacua (see Grant 1996, for discussion).

As further evidence for a formative role of Christianity in the
development of science, some authors point to the Christian beliefs of
prominent natural philosophers of the seventeenth century. For
example, Clark writes,

Exclude God from the definition of science and, in one fell
definitional swoop, you exclude the greatest natural philosophers of
the so-called scientific revolution—Kepler, Copernicus, Galileo,
Boyle, and Newton (to name just a few). (2014: 42)

Others authors even go as far as to claim that Christianity was unique
and instrumental in catalyzing the scientific
revolution—according to Rodney Stark (2004), the scientific
revolution was in fact a slow, gradual development from medieval
Christian theology. Claims such as Stark’s, however, fail to
recognize the legitimate contributions of Islamic and Greek scholars,
to name just a few, to the development of modern science. In spite of
these positive readings of the relationship between science and
religion in Christianity, there are sources of enduring tension. For
example, there is (still) vocal opposition to the theory of evolution
among Christian fundamentalists.

2.2 Science and religion in Islam

Islam is a monotheistic religion that emerged in the seventh
century, following a series of purported revelations to the prophet
Muḥammad. The term “Islam” also denotes
geo-political structures, such as caliphates and empires, which were
founded by Muslim rulers from the seventh century onward, including the
Umayyad, Abbasid, and Ottoman caliphates. Additionally, it refers to a
culture which flourished within this political and religious context,
with its own philosophical and scientific traditions (Dhanani 2002).
The defining characteristic of Islam is its belief in one God
(Allāh), who communicates through prophets, including Adam,
Abraham, and Muḥammad. Allāh‎’s revelations to
Muḥammad are recorded in the Qurʾān, the central
religious text for Islam. Next to the Qurʾān, an important
source of jurisprudence and theology is the ḥadīth, an oral
corpus of attested sayings, actions, and tacit approvals of the
prophet Muḥammad. The two major branches of Islam, Sunni and
Shia, are based on a dispute over the succession of Muḥammad. As
the second largest religion in the world, Islam shows a wide variety
of beliefs. Core creedal views include the oneness of God
(tawḥīd), the view that there is only one
undivided God who created and sustains the universe, prophetic
revelation (in particular to Muḥammad), and an afterlife. Beyond
this, Muslims disagree on a number of doctrinal issues.

The relationship between Islam and science is complex. Today,
predominantly Muslim countries, such as the United Arabic Emirates,
enjoy high urbanization and technological development, but they
underperform in common metrics of scientific research, such as
publications in leading journals and number of citations per scientist
(see Edis 2007). Moreover, Islamic countries are also hotbeds for
pseudoscientific ideas, such as Old Earth creationism, the creation of
human bodies on the day of resurrection from the tailbone, and the
superiority of prayer in treating lower-back pain instead of
conventional methods (Guessoum 2009: 4–5).

The contemporary lack of scientific prominence is remarkable given
that the Islamic world far exceeded European cultures in the range and
quality of its scientific knowledge between approximately the
ninth and the fifteenth century, excelling in domains
such as mathematics (algebra and geometry, trigonometry in
particular), astronomy (seriously considering, but not adopting,
heliocentrism), optics, and medicine. These domains of knowledge are
commonly referred to as “Arabic science”, to distinguish
them from the pursuits of science that arose in the west (Huff 2003).
Many prominent Arabic scientists were polymaths, for example, Omar
Khayyám (1048–1131) achieved lasting fame in disparate
domains such as poetry, astronomy, geography, and mineralogy. Other
examples include al-Fārābī (ca. 872–ca. 950), a
political philosopher from Damascus who also investigated music
theory, science, and mathematics, and the Andalusian Ibn Rušd
(Averroes, 1126–1198), who wrote on medicine, physics,
astronomy, psychology, jurisprudence, music, geography, as well as
developing a Greek-inspired philosophical theology.

A major impetus for Arabic science was the patronage of the Abbasid
caliphate (758–1258), centered in Baghdad. Early Abbasid rulers,
such as Harun al-Rashid (ruled 786–809) and his successor
Abū Jaʿfar Abdullāh al-Ma’mūn (ruled
813–833), were significant patrons of Arabic science. The former
founded the Bayt al-Hikma (House of Wisdom), which
commissioned translations of major works by Aristotle, Galen, and many
Persian and Indian scholars into Arabic. It was cosmopolitan in its
outlook, employing astronomers, mathematicians, and physicians from
abroad, including Indian mathematicians and Nestorian (Christian)
astronomers. Throughout the Arabic world, public libraries attached to
mosques provided access to a vast compendium of knowledge, which
spread Islam, Greek philosophy, and Arabic science. The use of a
common language (Arabic), as well as common religious and political
institutions and flourishing trade relations encouraged the spread of
scientific ideas throughout the empire. Some of this transmission was
informal, e.g., correspondence between like-minded people (see Dhanani
2002), some formal, e.g., in hospitals where students learned about
medicine in a practical, master-apprentice setting, and in
astronomical observatories and academies. The decline and fall of the
Abbasid caliphate dealt a blow to Arabic science, but it remains
unclear why it ultimately stagnated, and why it did not experience
something analogous to the scientific revolution in Western

Some liberal Muslim authors, such as Fatima Mernissi (1992), argue
that the rise of conservative forms of Islamic philosophical theology
stifled more scientifically-minded natural philosophers. In the
ninth to the twelfth century, the Mu’tazila (a
philosophical theological school) helped the growth of Arabic science
thanks to their embrace of Greek natural philosophy. But eventually,
the Mu’tazila and their intellectual descendants lost their
influence to more conservative brands of theology.
Al-Ghazālī’s influential eleventh-century work,
The incoherence of the philosophers (Tahāfut
), was a scathing and sophisticated critique of
the Mu’tazila, which argued that their metaphysical assumptions
could not be demonstrated. This book vindicated more orthodox Muslim
religious views. As Muslim intellectual life became more orthodox, it
became less open to non-Muslim philosophical ideas, which led to the
decline of Arabic science.

The problem with this narrative is that orthodox worries about
non-Islamic knowledge were already present before Al-Ghazālī
and continued long after his death (Edis 2007: chapter 2). The study
of law (fiqh) was more stifling for Arabic science than
developments in theology. The eleventh century saw changes in
Islamic law that discouraged heterodox thought: lack of orthodoxy
could now be regarded as apostasy from Islam (zandaqa) which
is punishable by death, whereas before, a Muslim could only apostatize
by an explicit declaration (Griffel 2009: 105). (Al-Ghazālī
himself only regarded the violation of three core doctrines as
zandaqa, statements that challenged monotheism, the prophecy
of Muḥammad, and resurrection after death.) Given that heterodox
thoughts could be interpreted as apostasy, this created a stifling
climate for Arabic science. In the second half of the nineteenth
century, as science and technology became firmly entrenched in western
society, Muslim empires were languishing or colonized. Scientific
ideas, such as evolutionary theory, were equated with European
colonialism, and thus met with distrust.

In spite of this negative association between science and western
modernity, there is an emerging literature on science and religion by
Muslim scholars (mostly scientists). The physicist Nidhal Guessoum
(2009) holds that science and religion are not only compatible, but in
harmony. He rejects the idea of treating the Qurʾān as a
scientific encyclopedia, something other Muslim authors in the debate
on science and religion tend to do, and he adheres to the
no-possible-conflict principle, outlined by Ibn Rushd (Averroes):
there can be no conflict between God’s word (properly
understood) and God’s work (properly understood). If an apparent
conflict arises, the Qurʾān may not have been interpreted

While the Qurʾān asserts a creation in six days (like the
Hebrew Bible), “day” is often interpreted as a very long
span of time, rather than a 24-hour period. As a result, Old Earth
creationism is more influential in Islam than Young Earth creationism.
Adnan Oktar’s Atlas of Creation (published in 2007
under the pseudonym Harun Yahya), a glossy coffee table book that
draws heavily on Christian Old Earth creationism, has been distributed
worldwide (Hameed 2008). Since the Qurʾān explicitly
mentions the special creation of Adam out of clay, most Muslims refuse
to accept that humans evolved out of hominin ancestors. Nevertheless,
Muslim scientists such as Guessoum (2009) and Rana Dajani (2015) have
advocated acceptance of evolution.

2.3 Science and religion in Hinduism

Hinduism, the world’s third largest religion, includes diverse
religious and philosophical traditions that emerged on the Indian
subcontinent between 500 BCE and 300 CE. The vast majority of Hindus
live in India; most others live in Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Southeast
Asia (Hackett 2015). In contrast to the major monotheistic religions,
Hinduism does not draw a sharp distinction between God and creation
(while there are pantheistic and panentheistic views in Christianity,
Judaism, and Islam, these are minority positions). Many Hindus believe
in a personal God, and identify this God as immanent in creation. This
view has ramifications for the science and religion debate, in that
there is no sharp ontological distinction between creator and creature
(Subbarayappa 2011). Philosophical theology in Hinduism (and other
Indic religions) is usually referred to as dharma, and religious
traditions originating on the Indian subcontinent, including Hinduism,
Jainism, Buddhism, and Sikhism, are referred to as dharmic religions.
Philosophical schools within dharma are referred to as

One factor that unites dharmic religions is the importance of
foundational texts, which were formulated during the Vedic period,
between ca. 1600 and 700 BCE. These include the Véda
(Vedas), which contain hymns and prescriptions for performing rituals,
Brāhmaṇa, accompanying liturgical texts, and
Upaniṣad, metaphysical treatises. The Véda
appeals to a wide range of gods who personify and embody natural
phenomena such as fire (Agni) and wind (Vāyu). More gods were
added in the following centuries (e.g., Gaṇeśa and
Sati-Parvati in the fourth century CE). Ancient Vedic rituals
encouraged knowledge of diverse sciences, including astronomy,
linguistics, and mathematics. Astronomical knowledge was required to
determine the timing of rituals and the construction of sacrificial
altars. Linguistics developed out of a need to formalize grammatical
rules for classical Sanskrit, which was used in rituals. Large public
offerings also required the construction of elaborate altars, which
posed geometrical problems and thus led to advances in geometry.
Classic Vedic texts also frequently used very large numbers, for
instance, to denote the age of humanity and the Earth, which required
a system to represent numbers parsimoniously, giving rise to a 10-base
positional system and a symbolic representation for zero as a
placeholder, which would later be imported in other mathematical
traditions (Joseph 2000). In this way, ancient Indian dharma
encouraged the emergence of the sciences.

Around the sixth–fifth century BCE, the
northern part of the Indian subcontinent experienced an extensive
urbanization. In this context, medicine became standardized
(āyurveda). This period also gave rise to a wide range
of philosophical schools, including Buddhism, Jainism, and
Cārvāka. The latter defended a form of metaphysical
naturalism, denying the existence of gods or karma. The relationship
between science and religion on the Indian subcontinent is complex, in
part because the dharmic religions and philosophical schools are so
diverse. For example, Cārvāka proponents had a strong
suspicion of inferential beliefs, and rejected Vedic revelation and
supernaturalism in general, instead favoring direct observation as a
source of knowledge. Such views were close to philosophical naturalism
in modern science, but this school disappeared in the twelfth century.
Natural theology also flourished in the pre-colonial period,
especially in the Advaita Vedānta, a darśana that
identifies the self, Atman, with ultimate reality, Brahman. Advaita
Vedāntin philosopher Adi Śaṅkara (fl. first half
eighth century) was a theistic author who regarded Brahman as
the only reality, both the material and the efficient cause of the
cosmos. He formulated design and cosmological arguments, drawing on
analogies between the world and artifacts: in ordinary life, we never
see non-intelligent agents produce purposive design, yet the universe
is suitable for human life, just like benches and pleasure gardens are
designed for us. Given that the universe is so complex that even an
intelligent craftsman cannot comprehend it, how could it have been
created by non-intelligent natural forces? Śaṅkara
concluded that it must have been designed by an intelligent creator
(C.M. Brown 2008: 108).

From 1757 to 1947, India was under British colonial rule. This had a
profound influence on its culture. Hindus came into contact with
Western science and technology. For local intellectuals, the contact
with Western science presented a challenge: how to assimilate these
ideas with their Hindu beliefs? Mahendrahal Sircar (1833–1904)
was one of the first authors to examine evolutionary theory and its
implications for Hindu religious beliefs. Sircar was an evolutionary
theist, who believed that God used evolution to create the current
life forms. Evolutionary theism was not a new hypothesis in Hinduism,
but the many lines of empirical evidence Darwin provided for evolution
gave it a fresh impetus. While Sircar accepted organic evolution
through common descent, he questioned the mechanism of natural
selection as it was not teleological, which went against his
evolutionary theism—this was a widespread problem for the
acceptance of evolutionary theory, one that Christian evolutionary
theists also wrestled with (Bowler 2009). He also argued against the
British colonists’ beliefs that Hindus were incapable of
scientific thought, and encouraged fellow Hindus to engage in science,
which he hoped would help regenerate the Indian nation (C.M. Brown
2012: chapter 6).

The assimilation of western culture prompted various revivalist
movements that sought to reaffirm the cultural value of Hinduism. They
put forward the idea of a Vedic science, where all scientific findings
are already prefigured in the Véda and other ancient
texts (e.g., Vivekananda 1904). This idea is still popular within
contemporary Hinduism, and is quite similar to ideas held by
contemporary Muslims, who refer to the Qurʾān as a harbinger
of scientific theories. Responses to evolutionary theory were as
diverse as Christian views on this subject, ranging from creationism
(denial of evolutionary theory based on a perceived incompatibility
with Vedic texts) to acceptance (see C.M. Brown 2012 for a thorough
overview). Authors such as Dayananda Saraswati (1930–2015)
rejected evolutionary theory. By contrast, Vivekananda
(1863–1902), a proponent of the monistic Advaita Vedānta
enthusiastically endorsed evolutionary theory and argued that it is
already prefigured in ancient Vedic texts. More generally, he claimed
that Hinduism and science are in harmony: Hinduism is scientific in
spirit, as is evident from its long history of scientific discovery
(Vivekananda 1904). Sri Aurobindo Ghose, a yogi and Indian
nationalist, who was educated in the West, formulated a synthesis of
evolutionary thought and Hinduism. He interpreted the classic
avatara doctrine, according to which God incarnates into the
world repeatedly throughout time, in evolutionary terms. God thus
appears first as an animal, later as a dwarf, then as a violent man
(Rama), and then as Buddha, and as Kṛṣṇa. He
proposed a metaphysical picture where both spiritual evolution
(reincarnation and avatars) and physical evolution are ultimately a
manifestation of God (Brahman). This view of reality as consisting of
matter (puruṣa) and consciousness
(prakṛti) goes back to sāṃkhya, one
of the orthodox Hindu darśana, but Aurobindo made
explicit reference to the divine, calling the process during which the
supreme Consciousness dwells in matter involution (Aurobindo,
1914–18/2005, see C.M. Brown 2007 for discussion).

During the twentieth century, Indian scientists began to gain
prominence, including C.V. Raman (1888–1970), a Nobel Prize
winner in physics, and Satyendra Nath Bose (1894–1974), a
theoretical physicist who described the behavior of photons
statistically, and who gave his name to bosons. However, these authors
were silent on the relationship between their scientific work and
their religious beliefs. By contrast, the mathematician Srinivasa
Ramanujan (1887–1920) was open about his religious beliefs and
their influence on his mathematical work. He claimed that the goddess
Namagiri helped him to intuit solutions to mathematical problems.
Likewise, Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858–1937), a theoretical
physicist, biologist, biophysicist, botanist, and archaeologist, who
worked on radio waves, saw the Hindu idea of unity reflected in the
study of nature. He started the Bose institute in Kolkata in 1917, the
earliest interdisciplinary scientific institute in India (Subbarayappa

3. Contemporary connections between science and religion

Current work in the field of science and religion encompasses a wealth
of topics, including free will, ethics, human nature, and
consciousness. Contemporary natural theologians discuss fine-tuning,
in particular design arguments based on it (e.g., R. Collins 2009),
the interpretation of multiverse cosmology, and the significance of
the Big Bang. For instance, authors such as Hud Hudson (2013) have
explored the idea that God has actualized the best of all possible
multiverses. Here follows an overview of two topics that generated
substantial interest and debate over the past decades: divine action
(and the closely related topic of creation), and human origins.

3.1 Divine action and creation

Before scientists developed their views on cosmology and origins of
the world, Western cultures already had an elaborate doctrine of
creation, based on Biblical texts (e.g., the first three chapters of
Genesis and the book of Revelation) and the writings of church fathers
such as Augustine. This doctrine of creation has the following
interrelated features: first, God created the world ex
i.e., out of nothing. Differently put, God did not need
any pre-existing materials to make the world, unlike, e.g., the
Demiurge (from Greek philosophy), who created the world from chaotic,
pre-existing matter. Second, God is distinct from the world; the world
is not equal to or part of God (contra pantheism or panentheism) or a
(necessary) emanation of God’s being (contra neoplatonism).
Rather, God created the world freely. This introduces a radical
asymmetry between creator and creature: the world is radically
contingent upon God’s creative act and is also sustained by God,
whereas God does not need creation (Jaeger 2012b: 3). Third, the
doctrine of creation holds that creation is essentially good (this is
repeatedly affirmed in Genesis 1). The world does contain evil, but
God does not directly cause this evil to exist. Moreover, God does not
merely passively sustain creation, but rather plays an active role in
it, using special divine actions (e.g., miracles and revelations) to
care for creatures. Fourth, God made provisions for the end of the
world, and will create a new heaven and earth, in this way eradicating

Related to the doctrine of creation are views on divine action.
Theologians commonly draw a distinction between general and special
divine action. Unfortunately, there is no universally accepted
definition of these two concepts in the fields of theology or science
and religion. One way to distinguish them (Wildman 2008: 140) is to
regard general divine action as the creation and sustenance of
reality, and special divine action as the collection of specific
providential acts, often at particular times and places, such as
miracles and revelations to prophets. Drawing this distinction allows
for creatures to be autonomous and indicates that God does not
micromanage every detail of creation. Still, the distinction is not
always clear-cut, as some phenomena are difficult to classify as
either general or special divine action. For example, the Roman
Catholic Eucharist (in which bread and wine become the body and blood
of Jesus) or some healing miracles outside of scripture seem mundane
enough to be part of general housekeeping (general divine action), but
still seem to involve some form of special intervention on God’s
part. Alston (1989) makes a related distinction between direct and
indirect divine acts. God brings about direct acts without the use of
natural causes, whereas indirect acts are achieved through natural
causes. Using this distinction, there are four possible kinds of
actions that God could do: God could not act in the world at all, God
could act only directly, God could act only indirectly, or God could
act both directly and indirectly.

In the science and religion literature, there are two central
questions on creation and divine action. To what extent are the
Christian doctrine of creation and traditional views of divine action
compatible with science? How can these concepts be understood within a
scientific context, e.g., what does it mean for God to create and act?
Note that the doctrine of creation says nothing about the age of the
Earth, nor that it specifies a mode of creation. This allows for a
wide range of possible views within science and religion, of which
Young Earth Creationism is but one that is consistent with scripture.
Indeed, some scientific theories, such as the Big Bang theory, first
proposed by the Belgian priest Georges Lemaître (1927), look
congenial to the doctrine of creation. The theory seems to support
creatio ex nihilo as it specifies that the universe
originated from an extremely hot and dense state around 13.8 billion
years ago (Craig 2003), although some philosophers have argued against
the interpretation that the universe has a temporal beginning (e.g.,
Pitts 2008).

The net result of scientific findings since the seventeenth century
has been that God was increasingly pushed into the margins. This
encroachment of science on the territory of religion happened in two
ways: first, scientific findings—in particular from geology and
evolutionary theory—challenged and replaced biblical accounts of
creation. While the doctrine of creation does not contain details of
the mode and timing of creation, the Bible was regarded as
authoritative. Second, the emerging concept of scientific laws in
seventeenth- and eighteenth-century physics seemed to leave no room
for special divine action. These two challenges will be discussed
below, along with proposed solutions in the contemporary science and
religion literature.

Christian authors have traditionally used the Bible as a source of
historical information. Biblical exegesis of the creation narratives,
especially Genesis 1 and 2 (and some other scattered passages, such as
in the Book of Job), remains fraught with difficulties. Are these
texts to be interpreted in a historical, metaphorical, or poetic
fashion, and what are we to make of the fact that the order of
creation differs between these accounts (Harris 2013)? The Anglican
archbishop James Ussher (1581–1656) used the Bible to date the
beginning of creation at 4004 BCE. Although such literalist
interpretations of the Biblical creation narratives were not uncommon,
and are still used by Young Earth creationists today, theologians
before Ussher already offered alternative, non-literalist
readings of the biblical materials (e.g., Augustine 416 [2002]). From
the seventeenth century onward, the Christian doctrine of creation
came under pressure from geology, with findings suggesting that the
Earth was significantly older than 4004 BCE. From the eighteenth
century on, natural philosophers, such as de Maillet, Lamarck,
Chambers, and Darwin, proposed transmutationist (what would now be
called evolutionary) theories, which seem incompatible with scriptural
interpretations of the special creation of species. Following the
publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859), there
has been an ongoing discussion on how to reinterpret the doctrine of
creation in the light of evolutionary theory (e.g., Bowler 2009).

Ted Peters and Martinez Hewlett (2003) have outlined a divine action
spectrum to clarify the distinct positions about creation and divine
action in the contemporary science and religion literature. They
discern two dimensions in this spectrum: the degree of divine action
in the natural world, and the form of causal explanations that relate
divine action to natural processes. At one extreme are creationists.
Like other theists, they believe God has created the world and its
fundamental laws, and that God occasionally performs special divine
actions (miracles) that intervene in the fabric of laws. Creationists
deny any role of natural selection in the origin of species. Within
creationism, there are Old and Young Earth creationism, with the
former accepting geology and rejecting evolutionary biology, and the
latter rejecting both. Next to creationism is Intelligent Design,
which affirms divine intervention in natural processes. Intelligent
Design creationists (e.g., Dembski 1998) believe there is evidence of
intelligent design in organisms’ irreducible complexity; on the
basis of this they infer design and purposiveness (see Kojonen 2016).
Like other creationists, they deny a significant role for natural
selection in shaping organic complexity and they affirm an
interventionist account of divine action. For political reasons they
do not label their intelligent designer as God, as they hope to
circumvent the constitutional separation of church and state in the US
which prohibits teaching religious doctrines in public schools
(Forrest and Gross 2004).

Theistic evolutionists hold a non-interventionist approach to divine
action: God creates indirectly, through the laws of nature (e.g.,
through natural selection). For example, the theologian John Haught
(2000) regards divine providence as self-giving love, and natural
selection and other natural processes as manifestations of this love,
as they foster autonomy and independence. While theistic evolutionists
allow for special divine action, particularly the miracle of the
Incarnation in Christ (e.g., Deane-Drummond 2009), deists such as
Michael Corey (1994) think there is only general divine action: God
has laid out the laws of nature and lets it run like clockwork without
further interference. Deism is still a long distance from ontological
materialism, the idea that the material world is all there is.

Views on divine action were influenced by developments in physics and
their philosophical interpretation. In the seventeenth century,
natural philosophers, such as Robert Boyle and John Wilkins, developed
a mechanistic view of the world as governed by orderly and lawlike
processes. Laws, understood as immutable and stable, created
difficulties for the concept of special divine action (Pannenberg
2002). How could God act in a world that was determined by laws?

One way to regard miracles and other forms of special divine action is
to see them as actions that somehow suspend or ignore the laws of
nature. David Hume (1748: 181), for instance, defined a miracle as
“a transgression of a law of nature by a particular volition of
the deity, or by the interposal of some invisible agent”, and,
more recently, Richard Swinburne (1968: 320) defines a miracle as
“a violation of a law of Nature by a god”. This concept of
divine action is commonly labeled interventionist. Interventionism
regards the world as causally deterministic, so God has to create room
for special divine actions. By contrast, non-interventionist forms of
divine action (e.g., Murphy 1995, Russell 2006) require a world that
is, at some level, non-deterministic, so that God can act without
having to suspend or ignore the laws of nature.

In the seventeenth century, the explanation of the workings of nature
in terms of elegant physical laws suggested the ingenuity of a divine
designer. The design argument reached its peak not with William
Paley’s Natural Theology (1802/2006), which was a late voice
in the debate on the design argument, but during the seventeenth and
early eighteenth century (McGrath 2011). For example, Samuel Clarke
(cited in Schliesser 2012: 451) proposed an a posteriori
argument from design by appealing to Newtonian science, calling
attention to the “exquisite regularity of all the planets’
motions without epicycles, stations, retrogradations, or any other
deviation or confusion whatsoever”.

Another conclusion that the new laws-based physics suggested was that
the universe was able to run smoothly without requiring an intervening
God. The increasingly deterministic understanding of the universe,
ruled by deterministic causal laws as, for example, outlined by
Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749–1827), seemed to leave no room for
special divine action, which is a key element of the traditional
Christian doctrine of creation. Newton resisted interpretations like
these in an addendum to the Principia in 1713: the
planets’ motions could be explained by laws of gravity, but the
positions of their orbits, and the positions of the stars—far
enough apart so as not to influence each other
gravitationally—required a divine explanation (Schliesser 2012).
Alston (1989) argued, contra authors such as Polkinghorne (1998), that
mechanistic, pre-twentieth century physics is compatible with divine
action and divine free will. Assuming a completely deterministic world
and divine omniscience, God could set up initial conditions and the
laws of nature in such a way as to bring God’s plans about. In
such a mechanistic world, every event is an indirect divine act.

Advances in twentieth-century physics, including the theories of
general and special relativity, chaos theory, and quantum theory,
overturned the mechanical clockwork view of creation. In the latter
half of the twentieth century, chaos theory and quantum physics
have been explored as possible avenues to reinterpret divine action.
John Polkinghorne (1998) proposed that chaos theory not only presents
epistemological limits to what we can know about the world, but that
it also provides the world with an “ontological openness”
in which God can operate without violating the laws of nature. One
difficulty with this model is that it moves from our knowledge of the
world to assumptions about how the world is: does chaos theory mean
that outcomes are genuinely undetermined, or that we as limited humans
cannot predict them? Robert Russell (2006) proposed that God acts in
quantum events. This would allow God to directly act in nature without
having to contravene the laws of nature, and is therefore a
non-interventionist model. Since, under the Copenhagen interpretation
of quantum mechanics, there are no natural efficient causes at the
quantum level, God is not reduced to a natural cause. Murphy (1995)
outlined a similar bottom-up model where God acts in the space
provided by quantum indeterminacy. These attempts to locate
God’s actions either in quantum mechanics or chaos theory, which
Lydia Jaeger (2012a) has termed “physicalism-plus-God”,
have met with sharp criticism (e.g., Saunders 2002, Jaeger 2012a,b).
After all, it is not even clear whether quantum theory would allow for
free human action, let alone divine action, which we do not know much
about (Jaeger 2012a). Next to this, William Carroll (2008), building
on Thomistic philosophy, argues that authors such as Murphy and
Polkinghorne are making a category mistake: God is not a cause in a
way creatures are causes, competing with natural causes, and God does
not need indeterminacy in order to act in the world. Rather, as
primary cause God supports and grounds secondary causes.

While this solution is compatible with determinism (indeed, on this
view, the precise details of physics do not matter much), it blurs the
distinction between general and special divine action. Moreover, the
Incarnation suggests that the idea of God as a cause among natural
causes is not an alien idea in theology, and that God at least
sometimes acts as a natural cause (Sollereder 2015).

There has been a debate on the question to what extent randomness is a
genuine feature of creation, and how divine action and chance
interrelate. Chance and stochasticity are important features of
evolutionary theory (the non-random retention of random variations).
In a famous thought experiment, Gould (1989) imagined that we could
rewind the tape of life back to the time of the Burgess Shale (508
million years ago); the chance we would end up with anything like the
present-day life forms is vanishingly small. However, Simon Conway
Morris (2003) has argued species very similar to the ones we know now
(including human-like intelligent species) would evolve under a broad
range of conditions.

Under a theist interpretation, randomness could either be a merely
apparent aspect of creation, or a genuine feature. Plantinga suggests
that randomness is a physicalist interpretation of the evidence. God
may have guided every mutation along the evolutionary process. In this
way, God could

guide the course of evolutionary history by causing the right
mutations to arise at the right time and preserving the forms of life
that lead to the results he intends. (2011: 121)

By contrast, some authors see stochasticity as a genuine design
feature, and not just as a physicalist gloss. Their challenge is to
explain how divine providence is compatible with genuine randomness.
(Under a deistic view, one could simply say that God started the
universe off and did not interfere with how it went, but that option
is not open to the theist, and most authors in the field of science
and religion are theists, rather than deists.) Elizabeth Johnson
(1996), using a Thomistic view of divine action, argues that divine
providence and true randomness are compatible: God gives creatures
true causal powers, thus making creation more excellent than if they
lacked such powers, and random occurrences are also secondary causes;
chance is a form of divine creativity that creates novelty, variety,
and freedom.

One implication of this view is that God may be a risk taker—although, if God has a providential plan for possible outcomes, there is unpredictability but not risk. Johnson uses metaphors of risk
taking that, on the whole, leave the creator in a position of control
(creation, then, is like jazz improvisation), but it is, to her, a
risk nonetheless. Why would God take risks? There are several
solutions to this question. The free will theodicy says that a
creation that exhibits stochasticity can be truly free and autonomous:

Authentic love requires freedom, not manipulation. Such freedom is
best supplied by the open contingency of evolution, and not by strings
of divine direction attached to every living creature. (Miller
1999/2007: 289)

The “only way theodicy” goes a step further, arguing that
a combination of laws and chance is not only the best way, but the
only way for God to achieve God’s creative plans (see e.g.,
Southgate 2008 for a defense).

3.2 Human origins

Christianity, Islam, and Judaism have similar creation stories, which
ultimately go back to the first book of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis).
According to Genesis, humans are the result of a special act of
creation. Genesis 1 offers an account of the creation of the world in
six days, with the creation of human beings on the sixth day. It
specifies that humans were created male and female, and that they were
made in God’s image. Genesis 2 provides a different order of
creation, where God creates humans earlier in the sequence (before
other animals), and only initially creates a man, later fashioning a
woman out of the man’s rib. Islam has a creation narrative
similar to Genesis 2, with Adam being fashioned out of clay. These
handcrafted humans are regarded as the ancestors of all living humans
today. Together with Ussher’s chronology, the received view in
western culture until the eighteenth century was that humans were
created only about 6000 years ago, in an act of special creation.

Humans occupy a privileged position in these creation accounts. In
Christianity, Judaism, and some strands of Islam, humans are created
in the image of God (imago Dei). There are at least three
different ways in which image-bearing is understood (Cortez 2010).
According to the functionalist account, humans are in the image of God
by virtue of things they do, such as having dominion over nature. The
structuralist account emphasizes characteristics that humans uniquely
possess, such as reason. The relational interpretation sees the image
as a special relationship between God and humanity.

Humans also occupy a special place in creation as a result of the
fall. In Genesis 3, the account of the fall stipulates that the first
human couple lived in the Garden of Eden in a state of innocence
and/or perfection. By eating from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of
Good and Evil they fell from this state, and death, manual labor, as
well as pain in childbirth were introduced. Moreover, as a result of
this so-called “original sin”, the effects of Adam’s
sin are passed on to every human being; for example, humans have an
inclination to sin. The Augustinian interpretation of original sin
also emphasizes the distorting effects of sin on our reasoning
capacities (the so-called noetic effects of sin). As a result of sin,
our original perceptual and reasoning capacities have been marred.
This interpretation is influential in contemporary analytic philosophy
of religion, for example, Plantinga (2000) appeals to the noetic
effects of sin to explain religious diversity and unbelief in his
extended Aquinas/Calvin model, i.e., why not everyone believes in God
even though this belief would be properly basic.

Whereas Augustine believed that the prelapsarian state was one of
perfection, Irenaeus (second century) saw Adam and Eve prior to the
fall as innocent, like children still in development. He believed that
the fall frustrated, but did not obliterate God’s plans for
humans to gradually grow spiritually, and that the Incarnation was
God’s way to help repair the damage.

Scientific findings and theories relevant to human origins come from a
range of disciplines, in particular geology, paleoanthropology (the
study of ancestral hominins, using fossils and other evidence),
archaeology, and evolutionary biology. These findings challenge
traditional religious accounts of humanity, including the special
creation of humanity, the imago Dei, the historical Adam and
Eve, and original sin.

In natural philosophy, the dethroning of humanity from its position as
a specially created species predates Darwin and can already be found
in early transmutationist publications. For example, Benoît de
Maillet’s posthumously published Telliamed (1749, the
title is his name in reverse)
traces the origins of humans and other terrestrial animals from sea
creatures. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck proposed chimpanzees as the ancestors
to humans in his Philosophie Zoologique (1809).
The Scottish publisher and
geologist Robert Chambers’ anonymously published Vestiges of
(1844) stirred controversy with its detailed
naturalistic account of the origin of species. He proposed that the
first organisms arose through spontaneous generation, and that all
subsequent organisms evolved from them. He argued that humans have a
single evolutionary origin: “The probability may now be assumed
that the human race sprung from one stock, which was at first in a
state of simplicity, if not barbarism” (p. 305), a view starkly
different from the Augustinian interpretation of humanity in a
prelapsarian state of perfection.

Darwin was initially reluctant to publish on human origins. While he
did not discuss human evolution in his Origin of species, he
promised, “Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his
history” (1859: 487). Huxley (1863) wrote the first book on
human evolution from a Darwinian point of view, Man’s Place
in Nature,
which discussed fossil evidence, such as the then
recently uncovered Neanderthal fossils from Gibraltar. Darwin’s
(1871) Descent of Man identified Africa as the likely place
where humans originated, and used comparative anatomy to demonstrate
that chimpanzees and gorillas were most closely related to humans. In
the twentieth century, paleoanthropologists debated whether humans
separated from the other great apes (at the time wrongly classified
into the paraphyletic group Pongidae) long ago, about 15
million years ago, or relatively recently, about 5 million years ago.
Molecular clocks—first immune responses (e.g., Sarich and Wilson
1967), then direct genetic evidence (e.g., Rieux et al.
2014)—favor the shorter chronology.

The discovery of many hominin fossils, including Ardipithecus
(4.4 million years ago), Australopithecus
(nicknamed “Lucy”), about 3.5 million years
old, the Sima de los Huesos fossils (about 400,000 years old,
ancestors to the Neanderthals), Homo neanderthalensis, and
the intriguing Homo floresiensis (small hominins who lived on
the island of Flores, Indonesia, dated to 700,000–50,000 years
ago) have created a rich, complex picture of hominin evolution. These
finds are now also supplemented by detailed analysis of ancient DNA
extracted from fossil remains, bringing to light a previously unknown
species of hominin (the Denisovans) who lived in Siberia up to about
40,000 years ago. Taken together, this evidence indicates that humans
did not evolve in a simple linear fashion, but that human evolution
resembles an intricate branching tree with many dead ends, in line
with the evolution of other species. Genetic and fossil evidence
favors a relatively recent origin of our species, Homo
, in Africa at about 200,000 years ago, with some
interbreeding with Neanderthals and Denisovans (less than 5% of our
DNA) (see Stringer 2012 for an overview).

In the light of these scientific findings, contemporary science and
religion authors have reconsidered the questions of human uniqueness
and imago Dei, the Incarnation, and the historicity of
original sin. Some authors have attempted to reinterpret human
uniqueness as a number of species-specific cognitive and behavioral
adaptations. For example, van Huyssteen (2006) considers the ability
of humans to engage in cultural and symbolic behavior, which became
prevalent in the Upper Paleolithic, as a key feature of uniquely human
behavior. Other theologians have opted to broaden the notion of
imago Dei. Given what we know about the capacities for
morality and reason in non-human animals, Celia Deane-Drummond (2012)
and Oliver Putz (2009) reject an ontological distinction between
humans and non-human animals, and argue for a reconceptualization of
the imago Dei to include at least some nonhuman animals.
Joshua Moritz (2011) raises the question of whether extinct hominin
species, such as Homo neanderthalensis and Homo
, which co-existed with Homo sapiens for
some part of prehistory, partook in the divine image.

There is also discussion of how we can understand the Incarnation (the
belief that Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, became incarnate)
with the evidence we have of human evolution. Some interpret
Christ’s divine nature quite liberally. For instance, Peacocke
(1979) regarded Jesus as the point where humanity is perfect for the
first time. Teilhard de Chardin (1971) had a teleological,
progressivist interpretation of evolution, according to which Christ
is the progression and culmination of what evolution has been working
toward (even though the historical Jesus lived 2000 years ago).
According to Teilhard, evil is still horrible but no longer
incomprehensible; it becomes a natural feature of creation—since
God chose evolution as his mode of creation, evil arises as an
inevitable byproduct. Deane-Drummond (2009), however, points out that
this interpretation is problematic: Teilhard worked within a
Spencerian progressivist model of evolution, and he was
anthropocentric, seeing humanity as the culmination of evolution.
Current evolutionary theory has repudiated the Spencerian
progressivist view, and adheres to a stricter Darwinian model.
Deane-Drummond, who regards human morality as lying on a continuum
with the social behavior of other animals, conceptualizes the fall as
a mythical, rather than a historical event. The fall represents
humanity’s sharper awareness of moral concerns and its ability
for making wrong choices. She regards Christ as incarnate wisdom,
situated in a theodrama that plays against the backdrop of an evolving
creation. As a human being, Christ is connected to the rest of
creation, as we all are, through common descent. By saving us, he
saves the whole of creation.

Debates on the fall and the historical Adam have centered on how these
narratives can be understood in the light of contemporary science. On
the face of it, limitations of our cognitive capacities can be
naturalistically explained as a result of biological constraints, so
there seems little explanatory gain to appeal to the narrative of the
fall. Some have attempted to interpret the concepts of sin and fall in
ways that are compatible with paleoanthropology. Peter van Inwagen
(2004), for example, holds that God could have providentially guided
hominin evolution until there was a tightly-knit community of
primates, endowed with reason, language, and free will, and this
community was in close union with God. At some point in history, these
hominins somehow abused their free will to distance themselves from
God. For van Inwagen, the fall was a fall from perfection, following
the Augustinian tradition. John Schneider (2014), on the other hand,
argues that there is no genetic or paleoanthropological evidence for
such a community of superhuman beings. Helen De Cruz and Johan De
Smedt (2013) favor an Irenaean, rather than an Augustinian
interpretation of the fall narrative, which does not involve a
historical Adam, and emphasizes original innocence as the state that
humans had prior to sinning.

4. Future directions in science and religion

This final section will look at two examples of work in science and
religion that have received attention in the recent literature, and
that probably will be important in the coming years: evolutionary
ethics and implications of the cognitive science of religion. Other
areas of increasing interest include the theistic multiverse,
consciousness, artificial intelligence, and transhumanism.

4.1 Evolutionary ethics

Even before Darwin formulated his theory of natural selection,
Victorian authors fretted over the implications of evolutionary theory
for morality and religion. The geologist Adam Sedgwick (1845/1890: 84)
worried that if the transmutationist theory of The Vestiges of
(Chambers 1844) were true, it would imply that
“religion is a lie; human law is a mass of folly, and a base
injustice; morality is moonshine”. Evolutionary theorists from
Darwin (1871) onward argued that human morality is continuous with
social behaviors in nonhuman animals, and that we can explain moral
sentiments as the result of natural selection. Michael Ruse (e.g.,
Ruse and Wilson 1986) has argued that our belief that morality is
objective (moral realism) is an illusion that helps us to cooperate

Contemporary evolutionary ethicists argue that our ability to make
moral judgments, which Joyce (2006) terms our “moral
sense”, is the result of natural selection. This capacity has
evolutionary precursors in the ability of nonhuman animals to
empathize, cooperate, reconcile, and engage in fair play (e.g., de
Waal 2009). Some philosophers (e.g., Street 2006, Joyce 2006) argue
that the evolution of the moral sense undermines the purported
objective, mind-independent status of moral norms. Since we can
explain ethical beliefs and behaviors as a result of their long-term
fitness consequences, we do not need to invoke ethical realism as an

Some ask whether evolutionary challenges to moral beliefs apply in an
analogous way to religious beliefs (see Bergmann and Kain 2014,
especially part III). Others have examined whether evolutionary ethics
makes appeals to God in ethical matters redundant. John Hare (2004),
for example, has argued that this is not the case, because
evolutionary ethics can only explain why we do things that ultimately
benefit us, even if indirectly (e.g., through the mechanisms of kin
selection and reciprocal altruism). According to Hare (2004),
evolutionary ethics does not explain our sense of moral obligation
that goes beyond biological self-interest, as evolutionary theory
predicts that we would always rank biological self-interest over moral
obligations. Therefore, theism provides a more coherent explanation of
why we feel we have to follow up on moral obligations. Intriguingly,
theologians and scientists have begun to collaborate in the field of
evolutionary ethics. For example, the theologian Sarah Coakley has
cooperated with the mathematician and biologist Martin Nowak to
understand altruism and game theory in a broader theological and
scientific context (Nowak and Coakley 2013).

4.2 Implications of cognitive science of religion for the rationality of religious beliefs

The cognitive science of religion examines the cognitive basis of
religious beliefs. Recent work in the field of science and religion
has examined the implications of this research for the justification
of religious beliefs. De Cruz and De Smedt (2015) propose that
arguments in natural theology are also influenced by evolved cognitive
dispositions. For example, the design argument may derive its
intuitive appeal from an evolved, early-developed propensity in humans
to ascribe purpose and design to objects in their environment. This
complicates natural theological projects, which rely on a distinction
between the origins of a religious belief and their justification
through reasoned argument.

Kelly Clark and Justin L. Barrett (2011) argue that the cognitive
science of religion offers the prospect of an empirically-informed
Reidian defense of religious belief. Thomas Reid (1764) proposed that
we are justified in holding beliefs that arise from cognitive
faculties universally present in humans which give rise to
spontaneous, non-inferential beliefs. If cognitive scientists are
right in proposing that belief in God arises naturally from the
workings of our minds, we are prima facie justified in believing in
God (Clark and Barrett 2011). Ryan Nichols and Robert Callergård
(2011), however, argue that this defense only works for perceptual
faculties, memory, and reliance on testimony, not for the mix of
culture and evolved biases that constitute religions, as that does not
form a Reidian faculty. Others (e.g., Visala 2011) claim that the
cognitive science of religion has neither positive nor negative
epistemological implications.

John Wilkins and Paul Griffiths (2013) argue that the evolved origins
of religious beliefs can figure in an evolutionary debunking argument
against religious belief, which they formulate along the lines of Guy
Kahane (2011):

Causal Premise: S’s belief that p is
caused by the evolutionary process X

Epistemic Premise: The evolutionary process X does not
track the truth of propositions like p

Conclusion: Therefore, S’s belief that p
is not justified (warranted)

Wilkins and Griffiths (2013) hold that the epistemic premise can
sometimes be resisted: evolutionary processes do track truth, for
instance, in the case of commonsense beliefs and, by extension,
scientific beliefs. However, they hold that this move does not work
for religious and moral beliefs, because such beliefs are assumed not
to be the result of truth-tracking cognitive processes. Some authors
(e.g., McCauley 2011) indeed think there is a large difference between
the cognitive processes involved in science and in religion, but more
empirical work has to be done on this front.

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