Making God’s Good News Make Sense (14)
“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”
--Acts 17:24, 25
These days, as “everybody knows,” science seems to have the last word on whatever intends to be taken seriously, whatever aspires to wear the mantle of “true knowledge.”
The impressive record of scientific achievement, the learned and articulate representatives of the scientific community, the mystery of science (as most people perceive it), and the status of universities in America have all combined to establish the scientific worldview as the benchmark for knowledge and success in contemporary life.
Increasingly, the curriculum of our public schools bends the knee to science; advertisers appeal to experts, reports, and statistics to support claims for their products; and any assertion that does not have the stamp of science upon it tends to be regarded as little more than opinion, belief, or just entertainment.
So we should not be surprised when our friend, with whom we are engaged in an ongoing conversation about matters of faith, offers the opinion expressed in the title of this section. For many people today, especially many who do not believe the Gospel, science has closed the book on the question of religion, if not also the question of God.
He doesn’t exist, or, if He does, He’s not really relevant to the things that matter most. Science has proved that the Bible is wrong, Christianity is a merely subjective experience, and we can get along perfectly well without God.
In order to offer a reasonable response to this objection we have to accomplish two things. First, we have to make sure both we and our friend understand the nature and the limits of scientific thinking. What is science? How does it operate? How do we benefit from it? What can science not do for us? And, if science attempts to do more than it is capable of doing, what shall we conclude?
Next, we need to be able to demonstrate that science, like religion, depends beliefs, presuppositions, and theories that can never be proven by the methods of science, but must always be assumed and, therefore, received as a matter of faith.
Moreover, the most important beliefs and presuppositions on which the project of modern science proceeds are not germane to its system. Instead, they must be borrowed from the Christian worldview, and this tends only to validate our beliefs and to undermine those of evolutionary theory, which is the dominant intellectual framework of the scientific endeavor.
Here we’ll deal with the first part of our response to this objection.
The methods of science
Essentially, science is a way of knowing, a method for arriving at settled understandings and conclusions that allow us to act with confidence in certain kinds of ways. It is not necessary for everyone who benefits from the work of the scientific community to understand its procedures and protocols; we gain the benefit science provides through its procedures by acting in confidence on their conclusions, using the products made available by science and technology according to the need or opportunity of the moment.
Science, for example, has shown that by punching certain “keys” on the keyboard of something called a “computer,” a writer can make a record of his thoughts. This record can be stored, retrieved, edited, and published in a variety of ways. I have no idea how that works, but I believe the scientists and dutifully punch these keys, whereupon I find their conclusions to be reliable and useful.
But how do scientists arrive at such conclusions? What is the process whereby science reaches the kind of knowledge that, by and large, the trusting public accepts as true?
The modern scientific enterprise follows a basic and proven procedure. First, a scientist makes certain observations. He notes that something happens, or something exists, that he does not understand and cannot readily explain. He makes more observations, keeping a record and inviting others to share their observations as well.
Along the way, he begins to formulate questions about his observations which, he hopes, will, as he is able to answer them, lead to a larger conclusion about his observations, allowing him to explain what he sees and, perhaps, to put generate knowledge which can be put to some productive use.
At some point the scientist believes he can hazard a guess about his observations, in order to explain and make sense of what he sees. He formulates a hypothesis, a proposal or suggestion, about what he thinks may account for or explain his observations. It’s important to be as precise as possible here, because everything that follows depends on this.
Next, the scientist will formulate a series of experiments to test his hypothesis. He will perform various operations on the things observed and the data he has recorded. The purpose is to prove or disprove his hypothesis. The procedure continues until the scientist is persuaded that his various experiments either demonstrate the truth of hypothesis or help him to refine his hypothesis until he achieves one he is able to justify by the data gathered from his experiments.
The next step is to publish his findings, whereupon he invites his colleagues to try their hand at reproducing or refuting his results and conclusions. “Knowledge” is arrived at when other scientists are able to confirm and perhaps enlarge on these published findings, demonstrating the “truth” of the hypothesis and its applicability to other areas of knowledge.
From there technicians, manufacturers, entrepreneurs, and others look for ways to bring the knowledge thus acquired into the service of the general public, although this is an outcome of the scientific process and not part of the process itself.
Now let’s make a couple of observations about this process.
First, for the past 300 years, the members of the scientific community, using this process, have brought enormous benefit to the world. There must be something about this process which reflects or represents a true and reliable means of arriving at useful knowledge.
The Christian worldview is able to appreciate this procedure and its achievements, especially since many of the details of this protocol were discovered and established by practicing Christians who, operating out of their most fundamental beliefs, engaged the material world in the name of God for the benefit of all humankind.
Second, this process is, by definition, limited to work done with and upon material things. The scientific procedure works with matter, manipulates matter, explains (to some extent) the workings of matter, and reaches conclusions that apply only to observable matter and material processes. We should expect, therefore, that a good scientist would not appeal to this materials-based procedure to insist on conclusions relating to reality, or the possibility of it, beyond the material realm.
In our day, however, many scientists appeal to the scientific process and its findings to reach the conclusion that God does not exist or that, at best, He is irrelevant to human life, except, perhaps, as a psychological support for the fearful or feeble-minded.
Some of the most outspoken opponents of the Christian worldview today offer their views out of the framework of their scientific credentials – men like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Stephen Hawking, Sam Harris, and so forth. Their reputations as scientific thinkers thus carry great weight with the public in a day when science is generally regarded as the final arbiter of all matters of knowledge and truth.
Bad science, worse theology
But for a scientist, who by definition works with material processes and things, to use the findings of his discipline to insist on conclusions about, for example spiritual realities, is simply to require more of his discipline than it is designed or able to provide.
When scientists, therefore, appeal to science in order to dispense with God, spiritual realities, and the Christian faith, they reach beyond the scope of what science can tell them and demand of science more than it is able to deliver. When scientists propound views about matters which are beyond the ken of science, these views must have been arrived at by some other means. It is bad science to use science, or to imply that one is using science, to reach conclusions about matters beyond what science is able to address.
Thus, in a very real sense, to say that science has disproved the Bible and the Christian faith is to grant to the scientific enterprise more authority than it can reasonably presume. Put another way, you may have a great auto mechanic, who knows everything there is to be known about every aspect of your automobile; but would you trust him to take out your daughter’s appendix, if he were of the opinion that doing so would remedy her stomach ache?
Moreover, since, as the Christian knows, arriving at spiritual truth does not necessarily follow the protocols of the scientific community, but another set of procedures altogether – those related to the disciplines of theological study – the scientist who uses his discipline to deny the Bible and the Christian faith is not only employing bad science, he is using even worse theology.
A scientist who attempted to paint The Mona Lisa following the methods of science would probably lead art lovers to conclude that science is not a reliable means of knowing how to paint, and that the way one achieves a masterpiece such as this is by some other set of disciplines, procedures, and protocols.
The same is true for religious faith, the Bible, and the truth of the Christian worldview.
For reflection or discussion
- What does it seem that Christianity and science are in a kind of hand-to-hand combat today? Is this helpful to the cause of the Gospel?
- What are some ways that you see the authority of science being looked to as the “last word” on what we can or cannot know?
- Why do you suppose the discipline of the scientific process works so well? What does this suggest about the nature of the world, the way our minds work, and the nature of knowledge and truth?
- Why do we say that a scientists – or anyone – who uses science to disprove the Bible and Christianity is doing bad science? Do you agree with this?
- What are some of the procedures Christians use – the disciplines of theology – to arrive at knowledge of the truth? Are these necessarily at odds with the scientific process.
For more insight to this topic, get the book, Questioning Evangelism, by Randy Newman, from our online store. Or read the article, “A Ten-Minute Witness,” by Greg Koukl.