I See No Conflict Between Christianity and Science

  • Science deals with reason and facts whereas religion (including Christianity) operates on feelings and beliefs. 
  • As science advances, the room for religion gets smaller and smaller. 
  • Science and Christianity conflict with one another. 
  • Christians can be scientists, but they must check their religion at the lab door if they want to make real progress. 

These stark statements reflect how many people think, but nothing could be further from the truth. As a devout Christian with a lifelong passion for pursuing science, I contend that not only do science and Christianity work well together, but they also belong together. 

Early Science-and-Faith Influences
Two memories from my early childhood stand out. I remember being three years old, sitting at the top of the stairs in our duplex, and watching my dad perform a science demonstration for a group of my older brother’s friends. That moment marked the start of my lifelong fascination with science. 

A few months later I stood on the banks of the 102 River outside St. Joseph, Missouri, witnessing my parents’ baptisms. My parents’ Christian faith permeated our home, and eventually, I trusted Christ as my Lord and Savior in the fifth grade. Though I became a Christian because what my mom and dad taught me about Christianity made sense, I eventually started investigating the claims of the faith myself. Those studies—which continue to this day—convinced me of the truth of Christianity. 

Finding My Identity as a Christian and a Scientist
Although my earliest memories include a fascination with science, I wasn’t the stereotypical science kid. I never memorized all the dinosaurs’ names and characteristics. The Christmas chemistry set I received sat unexplored on the shelf until my mom eventually gave it away. Playing with my LEGO or Erector sets usually meant building the equipment according to the instructions or occasionally deviating to replicate something my older brother or Dad designed. Though I enjoyed reading mysteries (like the Hardy Boys, which told you what book to read next), I never solved the puzzles until the author spelled them out in the last chapter. 

However, I was very good at math and excelled in my high school science classes—especially chemistry and physics. These disciplines just made sense. I took every advanced science and math class that my high school offered, including two years of a class devoted to a research project. I even took a math class where most of my time was spent researching a specific math topic. Yes, I’m a nerd and spent a year writing a research paper on infinity! 

In all honesty, my interest in science arose naturally and it brought a lot of praise and rewards for my accomplishments and knowledge. My science fair projects routinely garnered top prizes. I often received the highest scores on exams and placed well in statewide STEM competitions. As I started college, chemistry, physics, and math continued to just make sense. Even when upper-level classes became difficult, as I improved my studying skills and worked harder, I continued to excel! 

Looking back on my studies and eventual success in a STEM career, I recognize that for much of the time my identity was an odd tension between being a Christian and being a successful scientist. I enjoyed the accolades that pursuing science brought and was quick to take personal credit. What I failed to fully comprehend until recently was the fact that my success largely stemmed from the abilities that God gave me. Yes, I worked to develop those gifts, but the innate capacity to do math, quickly reason through situations to understand the essential points, and apply those insights to solve complex problems were talents that reflected how God created me. Upon realizing God’s hand in it all, I shifted my mindset from one of seeking recognition to one of seeking to use those gifts to bring glory to God—at least most of the time. 

Thinking Through Apparent Conflicts
My first real experience of any conflict occurred during my sophomore year of college. Having started seriously reading the Bible a couple of years earlier, I began reading through Genesis. Upon reading verse 5, I checked out the footnote in my Bible for that verse. It said, “Evening and morning cannot be construed to mean an age, but only a day; everywhere else in the Pentateuch the word day, when used (as here) with a numerical adjective, means a solar day (now calibrated as 24 hours).”1

Even though I knew from my many science classes and studies that multiple lines of evidence pointed to a universe and Earth that were billions of years old, I took this statement about the days seriously. I thought that if the Bible states that the earth was formed in 6 solar days a few thousand years ago, then that’s what I believe. What else would someone who places a high value on the authority of Scripture do? 

So, how did I reconcile the seemingly strong scientific evidence for an old Earth with the definitive statement in my Bible’s footnotes of a young Earth? I figured that scientists misunderstood time at a deep level. Though scientists think of time progressing linearly, perhaps time progresses exponentially. 

As it turns out, the apparent conflict I perceived between science and the Bible arose because of a lack of knowledge. When investigating the strength of the scientific evidence, I found it quite strong. Applying that same investigative rigor to the meaning of day, I discovered that Christian scholars (more specifically, those who hold the Bible in high regard) don’t agree on the length of the creation days. Some scholars argue for a solar or calendar-day interpretation, some for a day-age position, others for an analogical day meaning and even others contend that the creation week is a theological framework rather than a chronological calendar.2 Sound hermeneutical reasoning stands behind each of these positions. After diligent study, I realized that there was no conflict between the scientific data and the biblical data—only between some scientific interpretations and some biblical interpretations!

This process of conflict resolution happened more than once. I found the same agreement between science and Christianity when investigating whether: (1) a multiverse exists, (2) Mars ever hosted oceans of water, (3) life might live on some other planet, and many other topics. As I experienced each perceived conflict, investigated the scientific and biblical data more carefully, and saw the consistent resolution, my confidence in the truth of Christianity grew stronger and stronger.

I did experience some tension in the church and in the scientific community—but not in the way most people would expect.

Tension in the Church
Both the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA at the time) of my childhood and the Evangelical Free Church of college and graduate school had many members with advanced degrees, including scientists and engineers. Consequently, I never really experienced any conflict with fellow church members until I took my first job and started looking for a good church on my own. I moved several times over the next decade, and the tension arose in varying ways in different churches. 

One church invited a speaker to address scientific topics and help the congregation know how to respond to scientific challenges. Unfortunately, the speaker proclaimed a number of indefensible scientific statements. One particularly egregious claim was that scientists had slowed the speed of light in a vacuum to a value comparable to a minivan driving down the freeway. For an equivalent effect, imagine a scientist presenting at a conference and making the statement that Jesus paid for his sins and ours on the cross. A Christian would recognize that such a statement demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of what Christianity says about Jesus. Similarly, a Christian claiming that the speed of light in a vacuum changes demonstrates a complete lack of understanding about physics. In either case, the listener should be skeptical of any further claims the speaker would assert. 

Everyone makes mistakes. However, when I corresponded with the speaker to offer a better understanding, both the pastor and the speaker stridently stood behind the claim. Each seemed to operate from the position that science was a threat to Christianity and no ground could be ceded. 

Other churches rarely spoke about science-faith issues, probably because they would stir up controversy. A congregant of one church I attended tried to organize a Saturday afternoon event addressing science-faith topics and invited me to present some of the apologetic tools I had been learning from Reasons to Believe. I agreed but on the condition that he received approval from the pastor. In that process, I ended up having a series of meetings with the pastor. During these meetings, the pastor told me that any old-earth position was not a legitimate interpretation of Scripture. He also strongly implied that it was not possible that God could be directing me to work for Reasons to Believe. 

Though I have encountered some people in the evangelical churches I attended who demonstrated hostility toward my old-earth position, those were the exceptions. Most of the time, people were either curious about how I could be a practicing scientist and a strong Christian or were not particularly interested in science at all. Usually, my fellow church members observed my commitment to Christ and active service in the church and placed a higher value on those commitments than on any perceived conflict with science.  

Tension in the Lab
My experience with scientists who were antagonistic toward Christians started during college and continued afterward. Iowa State University had a vocal atheist who routinely spoke out harshly about religion—Christianity in particular. After graduating, when I would bring up Christian ideas around my colleagues, some would take great offense. 

At one conference a speaker addressed the scientific knowledge relating to the origin of life on Earth. During the Q&A afterward, I asked when scientists might be able to distinguish between a created origin of life and a naturalistic origin of life. The question caught the speaker off guard. Yet, he responded by seeking clarity and ultimately said he had never thought about it. However, a couple of other scientists in the crowd vocally wondered if I was “one of those silly creationists.” Even at dinner as my question stimulated a longer discussion, a couple of scientists asserted that such questions don’t belong in science. 

Another time I gave a talk describing how religion, specifically Christianity, could make predictions about what scientists might discover. Although most of my colleagues in the audience were either indifferent or inquisitive about details, a few fellow scientists vehemently argued that religion had no place in science. 

Even though I experienced some tensions surrounding my passion for science and devotion to the Christian faith, the “conflicts” represent a small fraction of interactions. Most of the time my colleagues assessed my scientific accomplishments to determine whether I had a “place at the table” to discuss Christianity. The better my scientific work, the more secure my place at the table.  

Science and Faith Belong Together
There’s no doubt that many people think that pursuing science and Christianity inevitably leads to conflict. Some Christians characterize science in a way that conflicts with Christianity. And some scientists characterize Christianity in a way that conflicts with science. My experience shows a different picture. Being a Christian drives me to pursue my scientific endeavors with integrity and in a way that honors God. Being a scientist equips me to think clearly and understand Christianity in a robust and God-honoring way. This makes sense if Christianity is true because the Bible states that God reveals himself in his Word and in creation. 

As a Christian, I want to work diligently to properly understand both of these revelations. In fact, living as a committed Christian who does science with excellence shows how God’s revelations consistently agree, and it opens up many avenues for conversations with both those inside and outside the church. I hope to continue to open hearts to the gospel by revealing God in science.


1. The Ryrie Study Bible, New American Standard (Moody Press, 1978), 7.

2. For a good resource with respected scholars articulating three of these views (and responding to criticisms from scholars holding differing views), see David G. Hagopian, ed., The Genesis Debate: Three Views on the Days of Creation (Crux Press Inc, 2001).