Putting Science in its place. 


Colin Burgess.

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?”

OBJECTIONS

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

OBJECTION

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.

RESPONSE

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

Sources used.

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.

Further reading:
http://www.reasons.org/articles/the-historic-alliance-of-christianity-and-science

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One thought on “Putting Science in its place. 

  1. I agree. To question new possibilities is a normal process of elimination. But to discount them before all the theories and facts are presented? -Is outright ignorant, regardless of your standing.

    For example: An Atheist whom ignores historical accounts found in ancient religious writings, based purely on a set bias against theism, only stands to prove his failure to logic. Because ancient people were still remarkably intelligent; and as-such are capable of enlightening us to old truths, relative to their own perspective of their day and age. In fact it was through ancient writings and religious accounts that we learned the Planet Venus never used to hold a stable orbit. Therefore religious writings do indeed hold a wealth of ancient knowledge from intelligent societies -though short on exact recognizable descriptions- are still able to be interpreted and weighed against our present understanding, and In so doing, further our understanding of the natural order. And furthermore, if those writings were actually written under direct inspiration of an actual God, then that writing may contain much that is presently unknown to science. In truth, any God figure cannot be discounted until fully disproven. And though many atheists would consider the process of elimination to be automatic, few -if any- have ever put in the time needed to actually assert their claims beyond a reasonable doubt. For example: When Noah’s Ark was taken into account, it was automatically deduced that you could not fit and feed all forms of animal life on it. Meanwhile none actually took into account, that if all those animals were still juvenile, then fitment and management would be very easy, and almost any milk would suffice to feed most all of them.

    Likewise, a Theist whom claims that science and God do not mix? -Is well short on logic. As their suggested ‘God figure’ would then be the creator of all things, thus also be the inspiration of science, which would be the study of all things created by that God. Therefore their understanding of science would be a prerequisite to fully understanding their God.
    However! This connection of an ancient deity to modern science will be an utterly futile endeavor if (in this scenario) the religion proves to be false or misinterpreted. Then that religion will not link to science without gross contradictions appearing, because the two studies simply cannot link unless both are equally true. (IE: only the truth fits the truth.) Therefore, if the religion in question fails in logic, it is then proven false by default, because a proven contradiction is standing proof of a pre-existing fallacy. Which is an intolerable flaw in terms of religion, because if that religion was truly inspired by an omnipotent God (a perfect being) it would have be written EXACTLY CORRECT THE FIRST TIME and it would fit science, because science surly would align perfectly with how that God created all things, since science is based on that God’s creation account.

    However, If all evidence otherwise points to the contrary, then that religion is surly based on a fallacy, OR… in retrospect, THE SCIENCE could be based on a fallacy, in which case, SCIENCE is then required to update or change, NOT THE RELIGION. So how do we determine which one is incorrect? Simple, we determine which (if not both) holds the greatest contradictions when compared against itself. The truth holder will reaffirm itself, while the fallacy will collide in a contradictory paradox, or meet with dead end logic, defiant of facts or reason.
    In either case, the actual truth of each belief structure can only be found through the IN-DEPTH AND UNBIASED study of both sides of the argument. As one cannot make an educated estimation without studying all unexplored possibilities with equal and unbiased enthusiasm. As such, some people are simply incapable of a fair comparison due to an aggressive bias, or lack of time to accurately research the subject; and therefore should not be engaging the topic while short on the necessary facts.

    IN CONCLUSION: The question of weather science and God are compatible? Is relative to which religion is seeking compatibility, and the measure of truth found in that religion relative to the current understanding (however variable) of modern science. And since all religions contradict each other (therefore cannot ‘all’ be correct) you’ll know when you have found the true theistic account, when you discover which one fails to contradict it’s self (once fully understood) AND it will align with science because it’s God is the basis of science. However, if none do?? Then there is either: No God. Or the science is flawed. Or our understanding of religion and science must further evolve, until an accurate conclusion can be drawn.

    Just remember: “The truth is not subject to our beliefs, we are subject to the truth regardless of our beliefs. Our personal bias has utterly no part in the discovery of truth.

    * M-j-Rou.

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