Why This Subject Interests Me
1. The natural world bears witness to God’s glory: Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:19-20
2. Science is often regarded as supremely authoritative and contrary to religious beliefs.
- Evangelizing in France in 1997, I heard a reply, “But the scientists say…” Case closed.
- Popular assumption: science is simply rational, religion superstitious
- Why? Scientific progress is undeniable: polio, small pox, internet, GPS, etc.
- We regard scientific claims as public, verifiable; religious claims as private.
- Biologist P.Z. Myers in movie Expelled: Greater science literacy will lead to erosion of religion
- Therefore, thinking through science and the Christian faith is a subset of apologetics.
What Is Science?
- Latin scientia: “knowledge”; any field can be called a “science.”
- Our focus: one particular, limited field of knowledge related to the natural world.
- Merriam-Webster: “knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method.”
- Short version: the study of nature
- But recognize importance of method: primarily empirical.
- The scientific method: observation, hypothesis, experiment, examination, conclusion
- Science as an institution developed in the Christian West, primarily in Europe. Why?
Assumptions of the Scientific Method
- Following assumptions may seem self-evident, but not everyone has held them.
- They are ingrained into our thinking because of our cultural heritage (Christianity).
- They explain why science as an institution developed in early modern Europe.
1. Nature is real.
- I am observing something that actually exists, not an illusion or a mere projection.
- Various eastern religions, idealists would deny this truth.
2. Nature is valuable, and thus worth studying.
- I am studying something that is worthy of my investment of time and energy.
- Ancient Greek thought: the physical world is low on the chain of being.
3. Nature is not divine.
- I am not supposed to bow down and worship it. I can study it without fear of irreverence.
- Forms of creation worship in history: pantheism, animism.
- If nature is regarded as divine, it will be considered mysterious and incomprehensible.
4. Nature is orderly.
- I assume that rocks always fall, water always boils at 100° C, etc.
- That assumption is not self-evident; what if polytheism is true? Would we expect order?
5. Human beings, through empirical study, can gain true knowledge of nature.
- I am assuming something about myself, my perceptions, my thoughts, when I do science.
- I also assume that the best way to learn about nature is observation, not merely deduction.
- Example: Kepler’s discovery of elliptical orbit; not what we would have guessed.
- Where do all of these assumptions come from?
- All are explained by the Christian doctrines of creation and humanity as the image of God:
(1) Nature is real because God brought the world into existence out of nothing.
(2) Nature is valuable because God evaluated it as “very good” (Gen. 1:31), and it displays his glory (Psalm 19:1, etc.).
(3) Nature is not divine because God freely chose to create it; it did not emanate from him; Heb. 11:3: “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.”
(4) Nature is orderly because it is ruled by one sovereign Lord who has promised in his grace to maintain its order: Genesis 8:20-22; 9:11.
(5) Human beings can gain true knowledge of nature through empirical study because:
a. Human beings are made in the image of God.
- The human ability to do science is unique to humanity, tied to our dominion over creation.
- Gen 1:26-28; Adam became the first scientist in Gen 2:19 through naming/categorizing.
- Science is associated with the exercise of wisdom in Scripture: 1 Kings 4:29-34.
- Since God made us for a purpose, he designed us with abilities to accomplish it.
- But why are the human abilities of observation primary in science?
b. Nature’s order cannot be deduced but must be discovered because God’s creative activity is free, not constrained to conform to our expectations.
- We are the image of God, but there remains a Creator-creature distinction.
- God is above us; his ways are not our ways; we must search out what he has revealed.
Science and Naturalism
- Scientific thought in the West today is dominated by naturalism.
- Naturalism: the belief that nature is all that exists.
- Many assume that naturalism is scientific while Christianity is superstitious.
- But can naturalism account for the above assumptions?
(1) Nature is real.
- Naturalists generally affirm this point, though questions have been raised about it.
- In April, a gathering of scientists/philosophers at the American Museum of Natural History debated the question of whether or not we are living in a computer simulation (like The Matrix).
- Even if a naturalist accepts the reality of nature, can he account for it?
(2) Nature is valuable, and thus worth studying.
- How can you ascribe value to anything in naturalism? Where does value come from?
- Christian worldview: God assigns value; what does naturalism have?
(3) Nature is not divine.
- Naturalists agree, but they are still left with the fact that nature is the ultimate reality.
- Why not worship it? In fact, naturalistic scientists do.
- Carl Sagan, first episode of Cosmos (1980): “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be. Our contemplations of the cosmos stir us. There is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as of a distant memory of falling from a great height. We know we are approaching the grandest of mysteries.”
- We are worshiping creatures, and we will be drawn in wonder to something.
- So far, this does not prevent naturalists from doing science, but is a new paganism coming?
(4) Nature is orderly.
- Naturalism has no basis to conclude that the universe is inherently orderly.
- We have no way of observing the vast majority of events that occur in the universe.
- Why should we assume that there is a universal order?
(5) Human beings, through empirical study, can gain true knowledge of nature.
- If naturalism is true, what basis do we have to trust our observations and thoughts?
- One might say that evolution can be trusted to equip us to know truth.
- But evolution has no interest in true knowledge, only survival.
- Example: Why (on naturalistic assumptions) did religion evolve? Not b/c it’s true!
- If humanity is not regarded as unique, science is doomed.
- Science arose in the Christian West because Christianity made it possible.
Where Does Science Fit in Christian Theology?
- Two categories of revelation:
(1) General revelation: God’s revelation to all people at all times/places
- Examples: creation, conscience, worship instinct
(2) Special revelation: God’s revelation to particular people at particular times/places
- Examples: prophets, Incarnation, Scripture (preserved form of special revelation)
- Science is the study of general revelation through nature.
- But we must approach general revelation through the lens of special revelation (Scripture).
- Like all thinking, we must begin with dependence on what God has spoken, not autonomy.