Preserving Theology and Science through Philosophy

by Thomas J. Burke, Jr., Ph.D.


There is a general suspicion, if not presumption. that Christian Theism, the view that God is not only an infinite Spirit, but also one who at least on occasion intervenes in the natural order, is incompatible with Scientific Naturalism, the view that science as an enterprise can only be satisfied with naturalistic explanations for events and causes. To so think, however, is to confuse Scientific with Philosophical Naturalism, for the former limits naturalism to the scientific enterprise while the latter excludes Theism on principle. This paper argues that philosophy understood as a cognitive discipline is the proper bridge between theology and science. Such an understanding will insure the independence and integrity of each without allowing science to devolve into philosophical naturalism, on the one hand, and theology to degenerate into fideism, on the other. The argument has two stages.

First, it is contended that Christian Theism is not incompatible with Scientific Naturalism, but in reality entails it. This conclusion, it is argued, follows from both the Theisitic view of God's being and the inherent limitations of science. Theism rightly holds that God is a non-material spiritual being, but as such, however He interacts with matter, science will not be able to detect it, for science rightly does not permit the positing of entities or causes whose existence cannot be empirically tested in independent, predictable, and publicly observable ways. Thus, the nature of God as positied by Theism precludes proposing either Him or His action as a theoretical explanation for events in nature which science can validate. On the other hand, A material world created by a non-material God must have within it the potential for any and all things which God does within that world, so that any time God brings about an event there will be a complete naturalistic story to tell, also. Consequently, Naturalists are rightly unimpressed by the supposed evidence for theistic interference in nature based upon the improbability of a chance occurrence of a sequence of events required for some phenomenon. Second, it is maintained that nevertheless this does not mean that Theism cannot be argued for at all on the basis of science, but that such argumentation will take place a the philosophical, not the scientific level. The proper solution is not to try to incorporate theology into science or science into theology, but to recapture the fully cognitive nature of philosophy. Philosophy understood as a cognitive discipline can bridge the gap between Theism and Scientific Naturalism without distorting either. Indeed, it is argued, such a view of philosophy is the only way to both recognize and preserve their individual integrity and cognitive independence.

Copyright © Thomas J. Burke, Jr.