To this day, I have never seen the sciences and religion as being fundamentally opposed to each other. As an historian, I am fully aware of important tensions and battles, usually the result of specific social conditions (such as the professionalization of science in late Victorian England) or the unwise overstatements of both scientists and theologians. Yet I judge that their relationship is generally benign, and always intellectually stimulating. My Christian faith brings me a deepened appreciation of the natural sciences, and although I am no longer active in primary scientific research, I keep up my reading in the fields that interest and excite me most: evolutionary biology, theoretical physics, biochemistry, and biophysics.

Why does faith bring this intellectual enthusiasm and satisfaction? In the words of another academic from Belfast who found faith at Oxford University: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen-not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else." C.S. Lewis wrote this in "Is Theology Poetry?" his famous essay on the explanatory potential of the Christian faith.

Lewis conceives God in a manner that illuminates the great riddles and enigmas of life, including how and why it is that we can make sense of the universe at all. His conception offers me an understanding of my own place in the greater scheme of things, and at the same time provides an intellectual Archimedean point from which I can make sense of the world around me. Above all, it sustains my sense of awe at the wonders of nature, and the greater wonders to which they point. There is a fundamental intellectual convergence between Christian theology and the working methods and assumptions of the natural sciences-a convergence I explored deeply while writing three volumes on scientific theology: Nature, Reality, and Theory. How, some people might reasonably ask, can I argue for such a productive and helpful convergence when some scientists argue that atheism is the only legitimate outcome of the proper application of the scientific method? And isn't atheism actually more economic in terms of its concepts? After all, one God is one more assumption than no God at all-and a very important assumption at that.


Yet, as physicist Richard Feynman pointed out many years ago, conceptual economy is no guarantor of theoretical correctness. The real problem is trying to work out the "best explanation"-to use a highly potent concept from Princeton University philosopher Gilbert Harman-to make sense of this astonishingly complex, puzzling, and exhilarating universe in which we live and think. The scientific method simply does not allow us to adjudicate the existence of God, and those who force it to do so (on either side of the debate) have pressed it beyond its acceptable limits. In one sense, both theism and atheism must be recognized as positions of faith, belief systems that go beyond the available scientific evidence.

This conviction naturally brings me into conflict with thinkers like Dawkins and his circle, who argue that the natural sciences in general-and evolutionary biology in particular-force us to atheism. Their highly contentious argument rests on decidedly shaky logical, philosophical, and evidential grounds; far from being an intellectual superhighway to atheism, it gets stalled at agnosticism, and is moved beyond that point by an aggressive use of rhetoric alone. It is quite clear that the natural sciences can be interpreted as supportive of faith or hostile to faith, depending on your agenda. Any argument that they necessitate atheism is not adequately supported by any of the evidence available.

More importantly, from the scientific perspective, belief in a creator God-however that complex notion is understood-offers a powerful incentive to the investigation and appreciation of the natural world. To study nature is to study God indirectly. As many Christian writers of the Renaissance pointed out, the wisdom of an invisible and intangible God can be explored through an engagement with the visible, tangible realities of the world that appears around us.

My concerns about atheism, however, are by no means limited to my love for the natural world. As a professor of historical theology, part of my academic life involves studying the question of how culture impacts religious (and anti-religious) beliefs. As I studied the intellectual history of the modern period, it became increasingly clear to me that atheism is heavily conditioned by the assumptions of the Enlightenment-assumptions that have left a powerful legacy for our time, but whose imperatives are perhaps less revolutionary in an age without an entrenched royalty to overthrow.

As many cultural analysts have argued, atheism is the religion of modernity. But the rise of postmodernity has unseated this settled assumption. Atheism now seems a little old-fashioned, the establishment position of a previous generation. And in its place, postmodernity has recovered an interest in spirituality. I have no idea where this trend will take us, but certainly it seems to take us away from atheism.

Atheism is not the only conceivable worldview for a thinking person. Belief in God gives us reason to examine the universe more closely, and generates a matrix that both encourages and facilitates an engagement with the world. Of course, I know this conclusion will be contested. The arguments remain open, despite rather crude attempts to close them down. I remain respectful of atheism, believing that I have much to learn from it and the concerns that it expresses. But I no longer share its faith.
Or lack thereof.