The idea that Science and Religion are at odds is a very common misunderstanding.

Those who accept that science and religion are fundamentally in conflict, are then left with a decision: which one are you going to believe?

The Roots of Conflict

The roots of the perceived conflict between religion and science came out of, not a battle between science and religion, but a battle between science and language (Klassen). The root of this view is in two ideas — empiricism and rationalism. Empiricism comes from the method articulated by Francis Bacon (1561-1626) and rationalism from the fertile mind of René Descartes (1596-1650).

Both empiricism and rationalism were seeking to ground reality in certainty. In the previous centuries, reason and emotions were not antithetical, but part of an integral whole which found expression in language. Language reflected a delight in elaborate patterns and complicated ornamentation. Like the elaborate patterns in gardens, gowns and poetic forms, language was a marriage of wisdom and eloquence, of content and style.

By the 17th century, there was growing interest in the particulars of the physical world than in universal ideas and the world to come. The interest in the things of this world prompted thinkers like Bacon and Descartes to escape the ambiguities of language and emotion (not Christianity) and get at the clear expression of certain knowledge.


Bacon sought to achieve a more direct path to knowledge than one mediated through language. His approach is called empiricism, or the inductive method: through experimentation and observation, one might use reason to draw universal conclusions–the truth.  He believed that knowledge could be accumulated through impartial observation of the natural world; this information would be shared publically so that it could be critiqued and verified by others and, through this process, human knowledge would grow.


Like Bacon, René Descartes desired a more certain foundation for knowledge, but rather than using inductive reasoning from experience, Descartes used deductive reasoning that began with the mind. He purposes to seek certainty by setting aside anything “which admits of the slightest doubt” even if the only certainty discovered is that there is no certainty. Since it is possible to doubt the existence of the body, all operations of the body, (and consequently the attributes of the soul which require a body,) are also in doubt. So Descartes looked to the mind and concludes that he does in fact exist because he can conceive in his mind. Even if he is deceived, and everything we perceive is an illusion created by a deceptive God, his existence is still a certainty because one must exist to be deceived.  His conclusion is that truth is deduced using reason.

The influence of these two thinkers on Western thought cannot be exaggerated. Reason became the means by which we can understand all reality.  Intuition, emotion, subjective opinion, and religious beliefs were sent packing.

Do the principles of empiricism and rationalism provide us with a clearer picture of truth than that which is mediated through language (and intuition, emotion, subjective opinion, and religious beliefs)?

This question is answered in Truth and Poetry.