And you thought I was making this stuff up!
Is science, then, intrinsically atheistic? Here we must distinguish between two types of atheism. The first kind is procedural or methodological atheism. This means that scientists go about their official business by presuming that we live in a natural, material world. Within this domain, miracles are forbidden, not because they cannot happen, but because science is the search for natural explanations. So, too, the mind and the soul must be studied materially, not because they are purely material phenomena, but because it is the job of science to examine only the material effects of immaterial things.
Science is indeed atheist in this procedural or narrow sense. And this is okay, because we don’t want scientists who run into difficult problems to get out of them by saying, “You know, I’m not going to investigate this any longer. I’m just going to put it down as a miracle.”
History shows that the search for natural explanations can yield marvelous results. Physicist Paul Davies rightly notes that “however astonishing and inexplicable a particular occurrence may be, we can never be absolutely sure that at some distant time in the future a natural phenomenon will not be discovered to explain it.”19 Of course there is no reason to believe anything based on the expectation of future scientific discoveries that have not yet occurred. Even so, there are very good operational benefits to letting the scientists do their jobs and examine the world in its natural and material dimension.
There are many religious scientists who find no difficulty in working within this domain of procedural atheism and at the same time holding their religious beliefs. Biologist Francis Collins says that as a biologist he investigates natural explanations for the origin of life while as a Christian he believes that there are also supernatural forces at work. “Science,” he writes, “is not the only way of knowing.” Astronomer Owen Gingerich writes, “Science works within a constrained framework in creating its brilliant picture of nature…. This does not mean that the universe is actually godless, just that science within its own framework has no other way of working.” Yet at the same time Gingerich believes that “reality goes much deeper” than the scientific portrait of it. Gingerich argues that the theist view of “a universe where God can play an interactive role” is a valid perspective that goes “unnoticed by science” but at the same time is “not excluded by science.”