What if science can best be described in relational terms? It would certainly open up more opportunities for a dialogue with faith. At a gathering of scientists who are Christians in Cambridge last year, Harvey McMahon gave some reasons why this approach might work. In this final guest post in the God in the Lab series, he explains his thinking.
Science and faith are best held together not through trying to find a rational explanation for the material world as we find it, or the reasons why human behaviour is only partially explained by cell mechanisms. I believe that science and faith are best held together through looking at both through a ‘relational lens’.
To start with, the purpose of science is not simply to understand the material world for its own sake. We undertake science in order to understand the effects that material things have on people, and the way they relate together. For example,
- We do biological research because disease affects people and their relationships with each other. Even fundamental research is done because ultimately it is hoped that it will provide new avenues for applied science (and so benefit people).
- We are interested in communication technologies because they help people relate to each other more easily and effectively.
- We research oil and gas technologies, because they allow people to spend time more comfortably with one another and explore their creative opportunities more effectively.
- We even explore outer space because we believe it will benefit people’s lives in the future, even if it is done partly because we are in competition with other nations who do the same. Does America explore outer space out of pure altruism or because it is in competition with China? This is also a relational issue.
At the same time faith is primarily, in a Christian understanding, a relational issue. It explains reality in term of three persons eternally in conversation with each other, deciding to create humankind to extend their relational possibilities.
God created the material world in order to enable the relationships that people have with each other and with the God who made both them and their environment. I believe that socio-evolutionary explanations for human relationship do not explain their complexity because human relationships are no longer simply instinctive.
The ultimate purpose of life, like the ultimate purpose of science, is relational. This can be understood both in the relationships that people have with each other, and above all the relationships that each person has with God.
Once we understand science from this relational perspective it increases the importance of our work. What I do in the lab is no longer simply about survival of the species, but it integrates the physical world we tangibly experience with a metaphysical understanding of all of reality. In this framework, science is a significant part of what is ultimately satisfying, because we recognise the fingerprint of God and the glory of nature as part of God’s love for us his creatures.
To read more about Harvey McMahon’s work and faith, see God in the Lab: How Science Enhances Faith (Monarch, 2015).