Probably the most cliche question ever, but I never got a good answer so I'll ask it anyway: How can science and theism co-exist? Even if we forget that the two have entirely different ideas about how the universe was created, theism says that everything is determined by god, while science claims that everything can be explained by laws and rules.

These are two completely different points of view, and yet some people believe in both (quite hypocritically, me too), how can that be?

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    As pluke pointed out, there might not be a problem at all, depending on how you want to understand "theism" and "science". If you're not satisfied with the given answer, maybe you should consider giving more information about why you think it's not compatible.
    – iphigenie
    Nov 28, 2012 at 22:28
  • We don't forget that theism and science has entirely different ideas, because it's not an entirely different idea. If theism says everything is determined by god, then it makes sense that god made all these laws and rules. This was what he determined. They are not different points of views. In fact, it leads to the same thing. But we don't know where it's going to lead: Theism or Atheism.
    – Franz Noel
    Nov 30, 2012 at 1:57
  • The short answer is that there seems to be a fundamental misconception about the nature of scientific knowledge. Richard Feynman said “Scientific knowledge is a body of statements of varying degrees of certainty -- some most unsure, some nearly sure, none absolutely certain.” I think the last part is key.
    – Joebevo
    Feb 25, 2014 at 5:11
  • It can exist, it's called paranormal or New Age science. What we call gods/deities are just vibrational states of consciousnesses, and everything make sense.
    – kenorb
    Oct 24, 2015 at 15:01

12 Answers 12


You make a few assumptions that many would disagree with. For example:

theism says that everything is determined by god, while science claims that everything can be explained by laws and rules.

Many theists would say the laws and rules are set up by a God, and God guarantees that these laws and rules hold true. Newton was a theist and trying to discover the laws of God when he wrote the Principia. Some theists would argue that believing in laws without something to guarantee they hold true makes far less sense than believing in a God to support them.

the two have entirely different ideas about how the universe was created

The big bang is fully supported by many theists, in fact it was first posited by a Catholic priest. The Catholic church accepts evolution and the universe being billions of years old. The creationists really aren't as big a group as many believe.

There are even some philosophers/historians/scientists who argue that science cannot survive without theism and/or argue that theism is responsible for science

They can both can live quite happily together.

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    "The big bang is fully supported by many theists" But that contradicts what they themselves teach to others. How does that make sense?
    – lazyCrab
    Nov 29, 2012 at 4:57
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    @lazyCrab - Not necessarily. Christians may teach Genesis as allegory and the Big Bang as science (i.e. literally true), for example. (They may insist that God had it happen that way, either directly or by setting the preconditions for it.) Hinduism is pretty okay with the Big Bang as it stands (see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasadiya_Sukta and verse 3 specifically).
    – Rex Kerr
    Nov 29, 2012 at 11:44
  • @lazyCrab: Its also true for mainstream Islam: after all Allah is the creator. If it turned out the universe was eternal, then they would have got very uncomfortable. In fact in Ash'arite metaphysics, they atomised (a notion picked up from greek philosophy) space & time (to get rid of eternity), so that space & time itself was created; they also speculated that atoms must have transitory existence. Dec 9, 2012 at 4:48
  • -1 It's not about content but principles. Religion fosters blind faith whereas science insists on seeing the evidence. I don't see how they can live happily together.
    – CesarGon
    Jul 7, 2013 at 0:02
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    @lazyCrab That's an uninformed view of what Christians teach. Christianity has a very diverse ecosystem of noncore beliefs. As a counterexample, Fred Hoyle firmly believed that the big bang didn't happen, and one of his arguments against it was because scientists were so prejudiced by Genesis that they came up with a theory that so perfectly fitted with it.
    – Rob Grant
    Oct 29, 2014 at 6:54

Most contemporary thought seems to be that the two are compatible. Personally, I have not managed to come up with a wholly satisfying account of this without constraining either science or theism to something unrecognizable by the overwhelming majority of its followers. In any case, it is certainly not a cut and dried issue. One recent popular work--not written by a philosopher--that takes a rather pessimistic but fairly carefully reasoned view of the prospects for compatibility is Victor Stenger's "God and the Folly of Faith". In contrast, both Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Dennett--despite disagreeing over particular theistic beliefs--seem happy to accept that the two can be compatible. (Each have recent works at least vaguely on the topic: Plantinga's brand new "Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism" and Dennett's "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon" from about five years ago.)

Anyway, I don't think there is any reason that science and theism are necessarily opposed; if theism makes any meaningful claims about the world at all, then the scientific method can be used to evaluate those claims. If a deity created the world according to any sort of regularity at all, the scientific method could be used to probe those regularities. The issues are really over what the scientific evidence is: is any room left for theism?; and over whether theistic thinking corrupts our ability to do scientific thinking and thus robs us of our ability to understand. In essence, the inevitable-conflict argument from the scientific side goes something like: if you look at how much we really know now, the gaps left for God to fit in are too small to contain anything like a satisfying deity (or one that provides useful explanatory power). Effectively, theism is a disproved hypothesis. From the religious side, it seems to go something like: God is primary, while science is a human construct; if the two collide, and they can and have, it is human foolishness and limitations that are and will continue to be the source of error.

There's a concept of non-overlapping magesteria that you should be aware of. As far as I can tell, it is intellectually bankrupt, in that theism does make meaningful statements about the physical world (and science can make meaningful statements about feelings of spirituality and such), but it has been a fairly popular view that seeks to harmonize theism and science.

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    The thing is, even if science proves those claims wrong, theism still preaches them.
    – lazyCrab
    Nov 29, 2012 at 5:02
  • If you are talking about metaphysical claims then you might say that science can't speak about them, let alone prove them wrong. There are many theists who don't think that science infringes on any of their beliefs. In response to Rex Kerr, the God of the Gaps is a valid point, but I'd say that it isn't the position of most of the major churches. Plantinga certainly isn't a God of the Gaps proponent.
    – pluke
    Nov 29, 2012 at 21:45
  • God may be primary, but science can help people find out better the mind of God, see Newton and Frederick Temple.
    – pluke
    Nov 29, 2012 at 21:52
  • @pluke - Science can tell you that your source which contains both physical and metaphysical claims is highly unreliable when it comes to physical claims, leaving one rather bereft of justification for believing that particular set of metaphysical claims. Indirect, but then most religions use physical claims to bolster their metaphysical ones. Plantinga isn't a God of the Gaps proponent, but he and Dennett disagree hugely on certain scientific issues (and Dennett's positions are better aligned with scientific consensus now). Science demands that God fit in gaps, and they are too small.
    – Rex Kerr
    Nov 29, 2012 at 21:58
  • @RexKerr I don't see how Science demands God fits into gaps. If we speak of God as causing the snow and the thunder then counter with a scientific explanation, I see your point. However the Judeo/Christian God is not a God like this, but a God of rules, miracles and ethics. Science helps us clear up the rules. Physical claims used by religions are generally miracle based, which must either be extremely unlikely scientific coincidence or metaphysical in origin. The first doesn't bares itself to scientific attack, the second only to be converted into the first and open to interpretation.
    – pluke
    Nov 29, 2012 at 22:10

Not difficult at all! No need to be hypocrite don't worry!

Theism is talking about ontology (ontic concept, What reality is irrespective of the observer whether he would be able to understand it or not) while science (except for philosophy and pure mathematics) is all about epistomology (epistemic concept, What we can and do understand of the reality, may be exact or approximational based on theories and statistics and intuitions and experiments). Let me bring you an example. According to theism we have the causality principle and we have the determinism, but then we come to science wherein we have the quantum theories and we have the stochastic processes and the second law of thermodynamics and the uncertainty principle of Heisenberg! Note that even some ideas have been given the title of "law" for this universe although they are absolutely wrong in the ontic view of the reality! Second law of thermodynamics cannot be a law of universe in the sense it is commonly stated, and the uncertainty law of Heisenberg is originated from the "indirect sensations" that recognizes the limitations of the understanding tools as a limitation of the understanding itself, which is of course false!

Science (except for math and philosophy, if the latter is considered as a branch of science) cannot touch the territory of theism as one talks about the reality and the other about our understandable reality. So any not-understandable reality will fall outside the reaches of science and this puts the "mere scientists" (a scientist who would rely merely on the results of science) to withstand against the theism. However, intellectually and logically one can easily prove both "theism" and "if we should believe in theism irrespective of the reality if a God exists or not". Other sciences at most can help a scientist to better understand the religion but as no principle can be proved by even infinitely many examples so God cannot be logically proved with any experiment-based science.


Very succinctly--why can't it be that a deity created the scientific laws which govern our universe, then set them into motion?

Then: 1) A god exists 2) Our universe is governed by scientific laws

From this POV, the two ideas are compatible.


To know if religion and science are compatible is enough to know if science and religion give the same answers to: How and why many religions emerged, evolved and disappeared? Does religion make us moral? Is there causal link between religious ritual, such as prayer, sacrifice, or the observance of a taboo, and an expected benefit or reward?

Faith and rationality are two modes of belief that exist in varying degrees of conflict or compatibility. Rationality is belief based on reason or evidence. The word faith refers to a belief that is held with lack of, in spite of or against reason and evidence. Faith is belief in inspiration, revelation, or authority. Religious experiences of awe, gratitude, contrition, etc., ground the beliefs implied by the believer's sincere reports of such experiences, provided they can be said to cause those beliefs. But it may well be that the beliefs are part of the cause of the experience rather than the other way round. The problem of belief in divine revelation is how this could apply to disputes between two religions that both rely on the role of divine revelation, and the question of whether a belief is genuinely grounded in religious experience or is genuinely grounded in inspiration. Obsolete religions, which no longer have active adherents, are evidence that faith is not eternal truth.

Religions are an historical fact in which such utterances as “There is a God” are intended as much like “There is a star ten times more massive than the Sun” and there are many beliefs that are held by faith alone, that rational thought would force the mind to reject. Examples of conflict include the creation-evolution controversy, and controversies over the use of birth control, the separation of church and state, opposition to research into embryonic stem cells, or theological objections to vaccination, anesthesia, and blood transfusion. A detailed study in 1998, "Child fatalities from religion-motivated medical neglect", Pediatrics, 101, found 140 instances of deaths of children due to religion-based medical neglect. Most of these cases involved religious parents relying on prayer to cure the child's disease, and withholding medical care.

Even the most docile forms of Christianity currently present insuperable obstacles to AIDS prevention and family planning in the developing world, to medical research. U.S. House of Representatives voted effectively to ban embryonic stem-cell research on February 27, 2003. Research on embryonic stem cells requires the destruction of human embryos at the 150-cell stage. There is not the slightest reason to believe, however, that such embryos have the capacity to sense pain, to suffer, or to experience the loss of life in any way at all. What is indisputable is that there are millions of human beings who do have these capacities, and who currently suffer from traumatic injuries to the brain and spinal cord. Millions more suffer from traumatic injuries to the brain and spinal cord, from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, from stroke and heart disease, from burns, from diabetes, from rheumatoid arthritis, form Purkinje cell degeneration, form Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and from vision and hearing loss. Those opposed to therapeutic stem-cell research on religious grounds constitute the biological and ethical equivalent of a flat-earth society. But shouldn't we allow people think as they choose? Freedom of belief is a myth, we are no more free to believe whatever we want about God than we are free to adopt unjustified beliefs about science or history.

Consider the sacred texts from which the very idea of faith flows. Koran 9:73 and 9:123, for example, command the faithful to "make war on the unbelievers." In Deuteronomy 13:6 et. seq., God orders his followers to murder without pity any neighbor, friend, or family member who questions his authority. And in John 15:6, Jesus suggests that the faithless deserve incineration. The pious priests of the Spanish Inquisition made famous various techniques of torture. Such carnage, by the way, continued well into the nineteenth century, until the last auto-da-fé was executed in Mexico in 1850. Self-styled Protestant 'reformers,' to be sure, were no less committed to faith, and consequently, no less brutal. Heretics were still reduced to ash, scholars were tortured and killed for impertinent displays of reason, and fornicators were murdered without qualm. Religious moderates, of course, will argue that it is not faith, but rather man's baser instincts that inspire such violence. But could even the most obsequious religious devotee contend that the witch-hunts or the Crusades would have occurred and persisted in the absence of their mythical foundations? Ordinary people cannot be moved to burn genial old scholars alive for blaspheming the Koran, or to celebrate the violent deaths of their children, unless they believe some improbable things about the nature of the universe.

Religious moderation is the product of scriptural ignorance. Some fundamentalists at least accept the original intent behind the less pleasant verses in their Bible or Koran. The paradoxical liberal Christian hermeneutic, by contrast, seems to imply an immutable God that evolves, or an omniscient god that was somehow so dramatically less inspiring in Deuteronomy than in Matthew that contemporary Christians are completely justified in ignoring the former and exalting the latter. By failing to live by the letter of the texts, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally. Moderates are betrayed by at least two myths: First, that theism offers benefits that cannot be found elsewhere, and second, that individual tolerance of unjustified beliefs is compassionate. Exactly what moderates deem compassionate about the cultivation of recurrent persecutions and massacres is beyond comprehension.

Believers in God don't want treating the hypothesis of God as just one more scientific hypothesis, to be evaluated by the standards of science in particular and rational thought in general, their faith is quite beyond reason, not a matter to which such mundane methods of testing applies. But there is no evidence that a religious faith that rejects reason would also serve us while seeking truth. If faith is the only way to know the truth of God, how are we to know which God to have faith in? Rational argument can not reach the believers because the believers had declared that it can not by his own decree. In debates beyond reason there are no rules and anybody can say anything. The lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything. What's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, an outside time God and no God at all? There are an absurdity in to cite a imaginary definition of attributes as proof of existence in real world. Faith is the belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence. If there's no way to disprove my or your contention, no conceivable experiment that would count against it, what does it mean to say that Zeus or Shiva exists? My or your inability to invalidate the existence of Zeus or an Hindu God or your imagination, is not at all the same thing as proving it true. The Church contends that acquisition of knowledge, even though not sinful, is dangerous, since it may lead to pride of intellect, and hence to a questioning of the Christian dogma.The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence, but what can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. The burden of proof lies upon a person making scientifically untestable claims.

The success of science is the evidence that justification of a belief depends solely on the evidence for it.

- Sam Harris. 2004. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.
- Wikipedia


It is a simple answer. Theism is merely a choice of believing in a god, and is not at all hypocrisy since you can create your own god anytime base on your own understanding. While science is always based on facts, it may also lead to God. Your own god.

I say this because there is no way that you will be able to believe in a god if you believe too much in science even if he/she/it is right in front of you, you would only end up thinking that what is in front of you is not god but just another superior being.

According to DBK, both theism and atheism are false unless proven otherwise. it is called a Direct Doxastic Voluntarism. While Agnostics, is an Indirect Doxastic Voluntarism. (See for his link below)

Observation: If both Indirect Doxastic Voluntarism clashes, for instance:

  • The story of the creation of the world in 7 days. (which became Indirect Doxastic)
  • And knowing that in North Pole or South Pole, you won't recognize 7 days. And also, on other planets, there may be more than 7 days; (which is originally Indirect Doxastic)

The one that originated from a Direct Doxastic Voluntarism will always be false and will have only one Indirect Doxastic Voluntarism answer.

So, in conclusion to what you are asking:

Having a choice in believing that there is a god and choosing that god... will always make science and theism co-exist.

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    The position that we can choose what to believe , i.e. that beliefs are subject to the will, is called doxastic voluntarism. There is a common agreement in philosophy and psychology that doxastic voluntarism is false: it is not possible to choose one own's beliefs, because beliefs are not under strictly speaking under our direct control.
    – DBK
    Nov 29, 2012 at 21:50
  • I like what you're saying. Isaac Newton for instance, chose to prove God's tangibility. At this moment, I think Science has the best answer of being Agnostics. Theism and Atheism are both false because believing in something that is unproven is false and a big lie. So, what is left is to choose. All people choose: Theism, Agnosticism, or Atheism. This brings us to co-exist, and co-existence is proven. We do better now than the past 2000 years. After all, it's not co-existing if you're going to eliminate.
    – Franz Noel
    Nov 29, 2012 at 22:51
  • @DBK I've tried to read on your link on Doxastic Voluntarism, and it seems like Philosophers are saying that Indirect Doxastic Voluntarism is true. But, Direct Doxastic Voluntarism may or may not be true. So, it's not false entirely. Any comments on this?
    – Franz Noel
    Nov 30, 2012 at 0:12
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    Yes, that's right, but "indirect" means the following: One can put oneself's into a situation that might lead to the formation of a certain belief. A classic example can be found in the original conclusion of Pascal's wager: Pascal does not maintain that one can choose to believe in God on the basis of his argument; instead he maintains that his argument could induce someone to start joining religious practices by imitation (attending mass, praying, reading bible, etc.) and that this could eventually lead to a genuine belief in God.
    – DBK
    Nov 30, 2012 at 0:27
  • A more trivial example might be: I cannot choose to believe that the room I'm in is dark, when in fact there's light. (That would be direct doxastic voluntarism). However, I can choose to switch the light off and that most certainly causes in me the formation of the belief that the room I'm in is dark. (That would be indirect doxastic voluntarism.) As you can see, indirect doxastic voluntarism is only remotely connected to the notion that we can choose our beliefs at will.
    – DBK
    Nov 30, 2012 at 0:35

Your theism is western centric theism - in Hinduism, religion is not in faith, or in belief, or in dogmas, religion is in realization. In the West, religion is for the most part a matter of belief. God is thought to be something that can only be experienced after you die. In the East, one is taught that God can be seen, can be realized (enlightenment), while you are still living. One is taught that it is not necessary to believe in God, that belief ultimately counts for nothing. One is taught to try and find out for yourself whether there is a God or not. One does not become an astronomer by laying in bed and saying 'astronomy' - one becomes an astronomer by studying a long time with astronomers and learning how scientific observations are done in astronomy. Likewise with seeing God. One cannot lay in bed and simply say 'God' - one has to study for a long time and learn the ways that others in the past have employed to realize God. As in the scientific method, there is a methodology to seeing God - not s set of beliefs. Hindu concepts of the universe are not in conflict with science.

  • I think in the West, they call that "spirituality".
    – Marxos
    Jul 18, 2014 at 4:27

In the sense that they cannot agree on a reasonable conception of the universe, they cannot. As for people who say they are scientists who believe in God, I think that this is a psychological question. I decided early on not to have compartments in my mind.


Weren't something like 99% of all scientists historically religious and/or believers?

And if science was in actual fact produced by religious folks, how could one argue that religion is contradictory to science?

The OP is cliché indeed.


Firstly Religion (or Theism) is a general concept and it is needed to be specified what religion you mean. because there many religions with different and even opposite beliefs. for example in current Christianity (not necessarily same as time of life of Jesus PBUH himself) it is believed in short age of earth but in Islam such belief does not exist. or as another example in Christianity it is believed that all humans are children of Adam and Eve but not in Islam and in Islam (specially in Shia Islam) it is believed in humans living before Adam. so different religions can have different situations regarding science. and talking generally about Religion or Theism without specifying the religion is not rational. usually people assume religion is Christianity or the specific religion they are familiar with which is a dangerous mistake. also there are different sects inside each region that most of them are made based on political reasons and are not the true version of that religion.

Another point is that there are versions of religious views that are compatible with science. for example Theistic evolution.

Also please note for political reasons there are many propaganda about religions in media and Internet and popular websites to keep people away from religion. for example please read this document about Islamophobia:


This fact makes research about finding real region of current times that can lead human to meeting God very hard.


Easy: MWI. The Many Worlds Interpretation in Quantum Mechanics allows for multiple worlds to exists simultaneously (cf. Deutch).

Further, the obvious answer to your question, is that G-d makes the laws and rules that science discovers. Then theism and science co-exist quite well.

In any case, the Hebrew storyline which you're currently in, is obviously one such worldline.


The only reason why science and theism could co-exist, beyond any reasonable doubt, is removing the science's possibility to prove wrong any religion's precept.

For instance think of a religion whose God created everything so that he or any proof of his existence can never be found, let's call it Religion-X.

Religion-X believers welcome every scientific fact that proves there is no need for a creator in the way many religions describe.

Therefore, from their point of view, science is playing an active role in their rituals.

Religion-X believers doesn't need to find a phylosophical argument to prove their God's existence.

I like to call that hypothetical religion, religion 2.0, because science can be glorified, as one of their God's most important creations.

On the other side, when some scientifict fact contradicts some religion's precept, there could be a need for some phylosophical argument, in wich case there are some arguments that could help.

See the Teleological argument

... and some arguments for the existence of God

  • If someone voted down, could explain why please.
    – rraallvv
    Jan 4, 2013 at 15:21

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