Proverbs 18:17 – The first to plead his case seems right, Until another comes and examines him. NASB.
Stephen Jay Gould once proposed the idea of separate magisteria, that religion and science represent two different areas of inquiry, one is concerned with facts, the other with faith. He suggested that these two forms of epistemology should not overlap, but should stay in their own areas answering their own questions. Many Christians have conceded to this ‘compromise’ for several reasons. After all, it seems easier not try to reconcile the two, and to avoid the trouble of arguing over issues of origins with atheists. This concession, on the part of the theist, is unfortunate, unnecessary and unwarranted by both Scripture and science. The most evident problem(s) being that science makes certain presuppositions provided by religion, such as morality and accurately reporting information, the orderliness of nature, the applicability of mathematics and the ability of our mind to gather information and make statements about the world. Most religions make statements which claim knowledge of the time&space in which they were written. The Qur’an says man was made out of congealed blood and clay, while the Bible says man was made from the dust of the earth. While, for the Christian and the Muslim alike, the Bible and the Qur’an are the objective foundations for thought and worldview, they can become subjective when asked to compete against each other in regards to their ability to correspond with reality.
I will attempt to answer the question, “may one use scientific methodology, as being the acquisition of knowledge, as a tool for studying scripture and for testing the veracity of the respective inspired text in question?”
Both the theist and non-theist may object to this approach. The theist may object by saying that we should not interpret God’s changeless word in light of ever changing science, while the non-theist would say we are committing, what Karl Popper called, a sharp-shooter fallacy. If the said inspired text can be interpreted to be compatible with any interpretation of the scientific data/um, then it is a theory that explains everything and, therefore, explains nothing at all.
RESPONSE – Theist.
While it is true that our scientific bodies of knowledge are always changing, this says nothing about the objective facts which are independent of our theories and statements about them. A scientist, from a realist point of view, holds that we live in a theory laden universe and our laws are descriptive, not prescriptive. The theist should also take note that our interpretation of scripture(s) also employs the inductive logic used in science and we are attempting to reason from revelation to God. Our doctrines can also come under scrutiny based on greater understandings of the Biblical text. Some, such as William Lane Craig and Jp Moreland have raised challenges against the doctrine of God’s simplicity, in Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, for example.
RESPONSE – Non-theist.
It is true that we should not use the scriptures to capture any contingent scientific theory, or this renders the text meaningless if used to loosely describe the world we live in and this method divorces the words from the authors original intent. However, like the previous response, the fact that our ideas change about objective truth says nothing about objective truth, only our ability to fully codify it. Finally, what is good for the goose is good for the sauce. If the non-theist wants the contingent nature of science to render scripture meaningless, it must also render its past present and future theories, retroactively and proactively, meaningless. This option is, of course unacceptable. In order for the truth about reality to be knowable, in part, science must a a valid, truth-seeking enterprise.
Compartmentalizing faith and science is clearly not an option. If science denies faith, from where does it derive its guiding presuppositions, that we have rational minds capable of understanding the ordered world we live in? If religion denies science, how does it claim correspondence to the world it functions in? If both nature and revelation are from the same supernatural source, one must expect them to both point to their origin, true revelation will agree with true science and vice versa. There are clear risks in bringing science and religion into cooperation, mostly in that our cherished ideas may become challenged, especially with regards to the age of the earth, or our attitude toward evolution, even if we don’t agree with it. Hopefully this coupling of epistemologies makes us, as Christians, less dogmatic and more thoughtful and respectful. Deuteronomy 19:15, in principle, seems to suggest that the testimony of one witness is insufficient for a complete testimony. If theists are to take the Bible seriously, they will appreciate how the Bible demands double confirmation, as is also practiced in science with regards to its communal nature and peer review.
Secularists may claim faith is not testable, and some faiths may not make any testable claims, if these religions play it safe by not making falsifiable claims, they may lay claim to being good for a moral philosophy, or providing historical insights, but may not lay claim to the actual world. This definitely makes a good negative test for truth. Falsifiability, or being able to remove a component of a theory to make it fail, is important. Christian doctrines also use this method, a theory is put forth for a doctrine, the Trinity for instance, and passages are gathered in support of and possible disfavour of the doctrine. In regards to science, this feature delineates between science and pseudo-science. The difference between astrology and astronomy is falsifiability, for example, describing how the universe operates is the study of the stars, but saying that the alignment of stars and planets has an effect on ones life/s is not falsifiable and is classified as a pseudo-science. It may be the case that the claim, “God exists,” is not falsifiable, but it could be falsifiable when specific truth claims about the nature of said God are put forth to be examined. Although, the claim that God exists, if God is a causal entity, is falsifiable and we would see this if cause&effect relationships were to break down.
As astronomer Hugh Ross did in his quest for truth, such faiths may be easily eliminated in a serious quest for truth. However, faiths such as Christianity make testable claims which can be falsified, such as issues pertaining to origins (Genesis 1&2) and John 1/Colossians 1, which says time and matter had a beginning and a beginner.
It would seem that faith is testable, if truths about the object of faith are put forth to be tested. Does the world we live in match revelation? Is the claim that God exists a meaningful claim, or is it vacuous? If we posit God as a causal entity that has volition and understand this God by analogy, to do with our own nature, with regards to morality and logic, it seems the claim has some meaning that can be tested. Furthermore, the claim that we have rational minds with a capacity for truth, without a valid premise of God existing, is not testable and we cannot make the claim without begging the question, in the absence of God.
With regards to Christianity, if one were on a quest for truth, this is the best place to start. The deathblow for Christianity, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, is the resurrection. All one needs to do is examine and falsify the resurrection and if this event is not historically true, one may end their search for truth within Christianity, and move on, rather than following the eightfold path, for instance, in Buddhism, and not knowing if this is the path to enlightenment until they die. Such a claim clearly lacks testability.
Scaling the Secular City, JP Moreland.
Christian Apologetics, Douglas Groothuis.
Proper Warrant and Function, Alvin Platinga.
Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, William Lane Craig and JP Moreland.