Science, Religion and the Practice of Medicine

Them tools
Creative Commons License photo credit: jurek d.

Earlier in the week I listened to just an outstanding Veritas Forum presentation by Dr. Farr Curlin entitled What Moves the Scalpel? Science, Religion and the Practice of Medicine which was recorded back in September of this year. Below I’ve included the summary of the presentation from the Veritas site so you can get an idea of what it’s about and see if it piques your interest.

You can watch (or download) the video or listen to (or download) the audio of this pointed presentation which quite frankly floored me.

It’s refreshing to hear a medical doctor point out the necessary God-ward foundation of medicine. Not “necessary” in the sense that without a theological foundation medicine fails, but that without God and human beings created imago dei medicine fails to be consistent within a naturalistic worldview.


No one ever asks what science has to do with medicine any more than they ask what books have to do with education and tools have to do with carpentry. Over the past century and a half, medical science has generated enormous advances in alleviating human illness and forestalling death, and there is good reason to expect substantial further progress. Yet, for all of the contributions of science, medicine remains animated and directed by other, less tangible, forces. A reasonable practice of medicine must give an account for what makes human life worthy of care and attention and how the medical arts contribute to human flourishing. For most people, such accounts begin in religion; for some they begin in a secular moral tradition. In this lecture, Farr Curlin unpacks the way medicine looks beyond science to find forces that motivate care for the sick, direct the application of medical technology, and ground clinical care in an orientation to the patient as person. He suggests that even though religious ideas are rarely made explicit in public and professional discourse about medicine, they are everywhere implicit and operative, necessarily so. In this light, Curlin argues that the time is ripe for clinicians and laypeople to develop practices of medicine that are more fulsomely and self-consciously grounded in and informed by religion.