Science and Faith Interdigitation

By: Jim Virkler; ©2014

Interdigitation signals the interlocking of concepts like the interlocking fingers of two hands. When the term is used for the relationship of science and faith we might envision a mutually supportive relationship between them. Sadly, some see science and faith in a warfare relationship. Our blog is themed to focus on the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. Contemporary observers, however, do not commonly perceive science and faith in a complementary relationship. In our society theistic topics are considered to reside in a different category of reality, often lower on the pecking order of importance.

Many acknowledge our lives are increasingly impacted by the discoveries of science. Several writers have used the term “interdigitate” when expressing the faith/science relationship, but most people would acknowledge that science has achieved a more exalted position in our secularized society. In many subject areas, science enjoys a “legal” shield borne of the public perception that science is a factual, sure thing while faith is worthy as a personal, subjective, and devotional project.

Our mundane existence centers on how we enhance our ability to cope with life successfully. We work to sustain our successful existence in myriad roles—in work, in family and social relationships, and in pursuit of personal interests, comfort, health, and happiness. When our lives are described in this manner, life seems reasonably simple. Faith and science both impact our existence to one degree or another. The question concerning how they “interdigitate” does not have an easy resolution.

Some people stumble in their effort to achieve “successful existence” as described above. The achievements of science are heavily utilized in our quest. Applied science has wonderfully enriched our quality of life in terms of comfort, convenience, health, and nutrition. But science technologies may produce stress, overload, imbalance and distortion as well as benefit. Lately some journalists such as Bill O’Reilly on Fox News have highlighted ubiquitous science-enabled technology such as cell phones and internet. Among young people, in particular, these technological wonders may produce alarmingly out-of-balance, distorted lifestyles.

These modern phenomena have impacted the course of our lifestyles and cultural experience only in the last several decades. Like it or not, our personal, spiritual dimension is heavily impacted both positively and negatively. Retired people look back one or two generations with incredulity, even shock and disbelief. In terms of the effects of this complex technological, cultural, and political evolution, the question occurs whether the trajectory of our society has spun out of control. The science which enables cell phone and internet dependence may impact the quality of our personal faith. These technologies afford information access and entertainment unimagined a generation or two ago but they also serve to distract us and reorient our traditional value system.

Science and faith have interdigitated in various ways throughout the recent era of technological, cultural, and political ferment. The two spheres are often perceived as merely co-existing. Andy Crouch of Christianity Today has characterized the relationship as “integrative, not disjunctive.” This is an idealized view. Increasingly, the magisteria of science and religion have been forcibly separated. In our personal lives, the relationship between science and faith, however, is tangible.

The NOMA principle articulated by Stephen J. Gould in 1997 dominates our societal thinking. In NOMA (Non-Overlapping MAgisteria) Gould proposed a respectful but independent relationship between the magisteria. In truth, however, secular science professionals willingly maintain a well-defined dichotomy between science and faith. The authority of science has been ascendant while faith may be on the wane. In view of our societal obeisance to burgeoning technology, the relationship issue is worthy of our attention as it affects our behavior and Christian worldview.

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