What is Scientific Apologetics?

Scientific apologetics is a sub-category of Christian apologetics in which apologists seek to employ scientific understanding, principles, and discoveries within the natural world to strengthen claims of God’s existence and to remove intellectual obstacles that challenge a full understanding of the Christian Scriptures and gospel.

Scientific apologetics is an appeal to scientific discoveries, methodologies, and principles in order to harmonize a rational understanding of the general revelation of God in nature (according to Romans 1:19-20 and Psalm 19:1-4) and the special revelation of God through Scripture. It may be utilized to show how the rationality of theological arguments and understanding are similar to those within the scientific or natural sciences. Additionally, it can be employed to bring the Scriptures and scientific understanding into a more harmonious relationship. Three ways of relating science and Christian theology that assimilate scientific apologetics are independence, dialogue, and integration (more about these below).[1]

Galileo, like many other scientists of Christian faith, thought that God’s revelation in nature and God’s revelation in Scripture would never conflict, since God was the author of both. Pursuing the truth about God and all of creation in both books, that of nature and that of the Scripture, can help us come to a fuller understanding of truth and reality.

The two books of nature and Scripture may speak to different and separate realms of knowledge, and allowing each a separate or non-overlapping domain of authority is a way of relating the two known as independence. Allowing scientific understanding to inform scriptural interpretation or seeking scriptural insight into interpretation of scientific findings is a way of relating science and Christianity known as dialogue. Greater harmony between scientific understanding of the natural world and the literal meaning of Scripture is sought by some and is a way of relating the two known as integration (or concordism). Depending on one’s Christian theology and scientific perspective one may employ scientific apologetics to support the relationship of independence, dialogue, or various forms of integration.

In an age and culture where science is often seen as an ultimate source of knowledge and progress, scientific apologetics can be a very useful tool in the apologist’s tool belt. But one should take great care not to arrogantly appeal to any particular scientific principle; science is a field of nearly constant change, as limited knowledge is revised and progresses through new experimentation and ongoing discoveries. Nevertheless, if one maintains a posture of intellectual humility in pursuing truth, the Christian apologist can be certain and confident that God’s book of nature and the biblical Scriptures will never conflict when both are understood and interpreted correctly. Where the two seem to contradict each other we can be sure we are misinterpreting one, or the other, or both.

An apparent contradiction between the two also suggests that one should ask whether science is being stripped of its definitive role as a method of examining the natural world and wrongly extrapolated into a philosophical commitment that states only the natural world is real. This philosophical commitment, not itself grounded in nor testable by science, is known as scientism.  Scientists who assert that only the natural world is real are making a philosophical statement not a scientific statement. Scientific apologetics appeals to science within its definitive role. It takes scientific data to support premises in philosophical arguments that lead to logical conclusions with supernatural implications or theistic significance.[2]

[1]  Ian Barbour describes four ways to relate science and religion: conflict, independence, dialogue and integration in Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues (Harper SanFrancisco, ©1997).

[2]  My special thanks to Ginny Franklin (Biola MASR, 2013)  and Tim Stratton (Biola MACA, 2014) for input and critique of this post.