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What Are the Connections between Theology and Science?

By Meg Kramer
Updated May 23, 2024
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Theology and science both refer to bodies of knowledge on a specific topic, and both disciplines employ reason to expand that body of knowledge. Theology is the systematic exploration of God and religion, and science commonly is referred to as the study of the natural world. Although both disciplines rely on rational discourse, theology and science come into conflict when they reach different conclusions about the explanations for natural phenomena.

The word “theology” is derived from the roots theos and logia, which in Greek mean “God” and “discourse,” respectively. Thus, the study of theology concerns the nature of God and the interpretation of scripture. It is the intellectual study of spiritual matters. There are many types of theology, but the branch most closely related to science is known as "natural theology." Natural theology attempts to come to a greater understanding of God through the study of the natural world.

“Science,” on the other hand, is a word that is derived from the Latin scientia, meaning “knowledge.” It refers to both the body of knowledge gleaned from scientific investigation and the process by which the information is gathered and analyzed. This process, known as the scientific method, centers on formulating predictions and then testing them to determine their accuracy. Science includes many disciplines, including physics, chemistry, biology and social sciences. Each of these disciplines has a peer-review system to ensure that scientific assertions are provable and repeatable.

Theology and science are similar in that they both employ systematic, rational exploration to acquire new knowledge or understanding of their subjects. They both aim to use logic to reach consensus within their respective communities. Many scientists have found theology and science to be wholly compatible; for example, the father of modern physics, Sir Isaac Newton, was also a theologian. Other scientists — biologist Richard Dawkins is an outspoken example — argue that theology is a collection of superstitions that does nothing to advance human understanding of the universe.

The two systems of thought come into conflict when the claims of science refute the ideas theology has established as truths, particularly those based in the interpretation of scripture. A famous example of this type of conflict was the trail of Galileo by the Catholic Church. Galileo famously asserted that Earth moved around the sun. This flew in the face of the Catholic Church's doctrine of the time, which asserted that Earth was the motionless center of the universe and that the sun and other celestial bodies moved around it. Galileo was forced to retract his claim, although it was later proved to be scientifically sound.

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Discussion Comments
By Fa5t3r — On May 24, 2014

@MrsPramm - There have even been instances where theology has been proved "right". There have been studies of Tibetan monks, for example, that show meditation techniques can alter their brain waves in a way that matches their spiritual understanding of it.

I'm an agnostic myself, but I try not to completely discount religion as being the opposite of science. I think of it, as rather a different kind of speculation about the world.

By MrsPramm — On May 24, 2014

@bythewell - That's not entirely true. I actually think they have a lot in common. Science isn't just about accepting facts that are absolute, it is also about proposing solutions and then testing them. Sometimes there is no way to completely prove something but it is still accepted as scientific reasoning because it is far more likely than not.

A lot of religious thought takes the same route. I think people get too caught up in the reaction that often arises when accepted theories are challenged (and yes, this happens in science as well).

Religion is about trying to explain things that can't be explained any other way. And sometimes it is completely wrong and is proved completely wrong and then we should accept that. But I don't think every scrap of theology has been disproved just yet. And it helps to fill in the gaps until we do have a better explanation.

By bythewell — On May 24, 2014

I really don't think the two have anything to do with each other. Except if you feel like studying the reasons behind people developing religious beliefs. I'm sure they have some kind of evolutionary basis but they aren't logical.

The whole point of religion is that it is based around faith in what cannot be known and that is basically the opposite of science. Religion is about making yourself accept things without question and science is all about questions and finding out the empirical truth.

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