For a many people in the West, science seems to be at odds with belief in God because of its claims to the miraculous. How can modern scientific people possibly believe in ancient stories about signs, wonders, and resurrections from the dead; written by uneducated men in pre-scientific times?
The underlying assumption that the authors of the Bible were gullible and we’ve only now become critical thinkers, is what C.S. Lewis describes as “chronological snobbery”. People have always known that dead people don’t come back to life, and the Bible records very human reactions to miracles (e.g. fear and disbelief). Miracles are never expected.
Moreover, modern attempts to relativise theistic beliefs in terms of socio-cultural assumptions of the time, are necessarily rooted in socio-cultural assumptions of our time. The sociology of knowledge (the study of the relationship between human thought and the social context within which it arises) should not only be applied to other cultures, but to our culture as well. As Peter Berger, one of the founders of the sociology of knowledge, points out:
“The past, out of which the tradition comes, is relativised in terms of this or that socio-historical analysis. The present, however, remains strangely immune from relativisation. In other words, the New Testament writers are seen as afflicted with a false consciousness rooted in their time, but the contemporary analyst takes the consciousness of his time as an unmixed intellectual blessing. The electricity- and radio-users are placed intellectually above the Apostle Paul.
This is rather funny. More importantly, in the perspective of the sociology of knowledge, it is an extraordinarily one-sided way of looking at things. What was good for the first century is good for the twentieth. The worldview of the New Testament writers was constructed and maintained by the same kind of social processes that construct and maintain the world view of contemporary “radical” theologians. Each has its appropriate plausibility structure, its plausibility-maintaining mechanisms. If this is understood, then the appeal to any alleged modern consciousness loses most of its persuasiveness – unless, of course, one can bring oneself to believe that modern consciousness is indeed the embodiment of superior cognitive powers.” (Peter Berger, A Rumor of Angels: Modern Society and the Rediscovery of the Supernatural, 41)
One of the differences between ancient cultures and modern Western culture, is that modern Western culture often conflates methodological naturalism (the view that miracles are miraculous) with philosophical naturalism (the view that miracles are impossible). Miracles are miraculous by definition, but what makes miracles impossible (apart from unprovable assumptions about the world)?
No one doubts the monumental advances of science, but science depends upon the regularity of nature (also known as methodological naturalism), not the non-existence of the supernatural (also known as philosophical naturalism). There is simply no one scientific worldview. Christians can do science, Buddhists can do science, Muslims can do science, Hindus can do science. You don’t have to be an atheist, all you need to assume the regularity of nature.
Nevertheless, the assumption of the regularity of nature (which is required for science) wasn’t obvious for most of human history, and it took the Christian view that God is a God of order for it to be well established enough to give rise to the scientific method. In 16th century Europe, the Christian Reformation led to the questioning of tradition and the push to go ‘to the sources’. In 17th century Europe, this was applied to creation, which led to the rise of modern science.
No historian of science chalks up the rise of modern science coming on the heels the Reformation, in the same place as the Reformation, to coincidence. Indeed, most historians of science hold to some form of Merton’s thesis, that “Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Legislator.” (C.S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study, 169)
Philosophical naturalism simply does not follow from the regularity of nature. Indeed, without the regularity of nature, we would have no way of recognising a miracle as a miracle. Belief in God doesn’t deny the regularity of nature (which is required for science), but rather, the evidence for God depends on it. As C.S. Lewis wrote:
“If I put six pennies into a drawer on Monday and six more on Tuesday, the laws decree that – other things being equal – I shall find twelve pennies there on Wednesday. But if the drawer has been robbed I may in fact find only two. Something will have been broken (the lock of the drawer or the laws of England) but the laws of arithmetic will not have been broken. The new situation created by the thief will illustrate the laws of arithmetic just as well as the original situation. But if God comes to work miracles, He comes ‘like a thief in the night’… The better you know that two and two make four, the better you know that two and three don’t.” (C.S. Lewis, Miracles: A Preliminary Study, 92-93)
Far from disproving the existence of miracles, the regularity of nature is precisely what’s required to recognise miracle as a miracle. Miracles are incredibly rare (because of the regularity of nature), and so most theists are somewhat sceptical about claims of the miraculous. But unlike committed atheists, who, as Lewontin admits, “cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door”, the theist’s worldview allows them to follow the evidence wherever it leads.