Belief in Science and Religion

Category Talk


Belief in Science and Religion



It would be nice if science provided a guaranteed route to certainty: the experiment says it, I believe it; that settles it. Critics, however, argue that science is little more than a power play by the élite, who “discover” whatever Big Business will pay them to discover.

It would be nice if religion provided a guaranteed route to certainty: the Bible says it, I believe it; that settles it. Critics, however, argue that religion is little more than a power play by the élite, to whom it is revealed whatever they need to stay on top.

If they believe their claims to be true, and if they want their claims to be taken seriously, scientists and theologians face very similar problems. Interestingly, they have come up with very similar solutions. Over recent decades, philosophers of science and of theology have thus found themselves brothers in arms against absolutism on one side and scepticism on the other.

This course considers where the similarities lie between science and Christian theology, and where the two disciplines can fruitfully learn from one another.

Session 1: What can we say?
What do you mean when you say you know something? Different people have different understandings of the word, along with words like "true", "believe", and "reasonable". Having laid out the options, we shall consider what can be meaningfully said, and under what circumstances.

Format: Audio, Slides.


Session 2: Different systems in science
Taking examples from biology, chemistry, and physics, we will consider how science works. We shall then compare this to how we would like science to work, and how people are usually told science works. We will see that many of the apparent conflicts between science and Christianity evaporate once both groups understand what science is actually saying, and why.

Format: Audio, Slides.


Session 3: Putting the bits together
Does either science or theology provide a path to certain truth? Can either community defend itself against critics who would accuse them of nothing but wild and hopeless guessing? The final Session puts the pieces together to see what the way forward might be. It considers how the flow of ideas, between the two communities and in both directions, has been – and can continue to be – mutually beneficial.

Format: Audio, Slides.


Instructor: Dr. Mike Brownnutt
Mike Brownnutt received his PhD in experimental quantum mechanics for work carried out jointly at Imperial College London and the UK's National Physical Laboratory.

Since then he has worked for six years at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, where he is currently an Assistant Professor with one of the world's leading groups in trapped-ion quantum computing.

He teaches a course in Innsbruck on the Epistemology of Science, and is writing a Master's thesis with King's Evangelical Divinity School, UK, on different Christian understandings of "faith" and their implications for relating science and theology.


These lectures were originally delivered as a General Education course at HKU in February 2014.