Brad S. Gregory


Science and religion are not incompatible

Cover Interview of March 11, 2012

Instead, the Reformation influenced the eventual emergence of closed-universe atheism because of the unending doctrinal controversies that followed in its wake.  The controversies unintentionally sidelined explicitly Christian claims about the relationship between God and the natural world.  Only empirical investigation and philosophical speculation were left as supra-confessional means of investigating and theorizing that relationship.  Beginning in the early 1520s, ecclesiastical authority, tradition, scripture, and religious experience were effectively out of bounds if one hoped to avoid the quagmire of theological controversy.

Hence the univocal metaphysics prevalent since the late Middle Ages became newly important.  Empirical investigation of the natural world and philosophical speculation about God’s relationship to the natural world would unfold within this metaphysical framework.

If one imagined that God belonged to the same conceptual and causal reality as creation, believed that natural causality and supernatural presence were mutually exclusive, and understood that natural regularities could be explained through natural causes without reference to God—then the more science explained, the less “room” there was for God except perhaps as an extraordinarily remote, deistic first efficient cause.

The modern natural sciences are a distinctive form of knowledge.  They explain natural regularities regardless of what scientific investigators think about God.  But from the self-restrictive methodological naturalism of scientific inquiry, some have drawn the unwarranted inference of metaphysical naturalism—i.e. the atheistic claim that nothing transcendent is real.

The standard narrative claims or implies that this is a consequence of scientific investigation per se.  It neither is nor can be.  In fact it relies on a univocal metaphysics and Occam’s razor inherited from the late Middle Ages.  These became unexpectedly important because of the ways in which doctrinal controversy in the Reformation era unintentionally marginalized theological discourse about God and creation.