Blogs - The President's Desk
February 05, 2013
Refuting Science as God
Editor’s Note: Writing the biology chapter today. Two things stuck out to me. First is how secularists use the term “science” as a god-term for anything they don’t understand. Second is how postmodernism rejects the findings of scientists because, well, because they just don’t believe that knowledge is even possible.
1. A new approach to the new atheists — explaining science as a god-term
The dominant viewpoint, at least in the popular culture, is that previous ways of knowing must bow to science. The revered cosmologist Stephen Hawking, whose heroic struggle against motor neurone disease and brilliant mind has made him an international celebrity, holds this belief:
[H]umans are a curious species. We wonder, we seek answers. . . . How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? . . . Where did all this come from? Did the universe need a creator? . . . Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. . . . Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.”
It is important to clarify something about Hawking’s view. Science does nothing. It is scientists who create breakthroughs using the disciplines of observing, repeating, and measuring to figure out more about the universe. Sometimes, though, they also use philosophy, as Hawking does throughout most of his book despite his pronouncement of its death.
But if scientists — not science — are responsible for scientific breakthroughs, it is difficult to support the claim that science and faith are opposed because so many of the world’s great scientists were Christians. In his book For the Glory of God, Rodney Stark claims that it is precisely because of their religious convictions, not in spite of them, that the world’s greatest scientists succeeded. It was Christianity in particular (rather than Islam, neo-spirituality, or any of the atheistic humanisms) that was most responsible for modern science. Indeed, Sir Francis Bacon, the father of modern science, was a Christian as were a good number of leading scientists who founded chemistry, paleontology, bacteriology, antiseptic surgery, genetics, thermodynamics, computer science, and many other fields.
Victor Stenger, a leading atheist, vehemently disputes this point. To his way of thinking, science and faith are contrary impulses: “Faith is belief in the absence of supportive evidence and even in the light of contrary evidence. . . . Science makes no such assumptions on faith.” Stenger, for his part, is not afraid to make judgments in the absence of supportive evidence, including this zinger from the first page one of his books:
Using the empirical method, science has eliminated smallpox, flown men to the moon, and discovered DNA. If science did not work, we wouldn’t do it. Relying on faith, religion has brought us inquisitions, holy wars, and intolerance. Religion does not work, but we still do it.
What Stenger ignores, according to physicist, best-selling author and Templeton Prize winner Paul Davies, is that “science has its own faith-based belief system.” When Davies asks colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are, they reply “that’s not a scientific question” or “nobody knows” or, and most revealing, “There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.” Until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, Davies concludes, “its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.”
2. What to say when someone says “It is impossible to know anything for certain”
The Christian understands that scientists have biases and presuppositions but holds out hope that true knowledge about reality is indeed possible. Philosopher J.P. Moreland explains:
Science (at least as most scientists and philosophers understand it) assumes that the universe is intelligible and not capricious, that the mind and senses inform us about reality, that mathematics and language can be applied to the world, that knowledge is possible, that there is a uniformity in nature that justifies inductive inferences from the past to the future and from examined cases of, say, electrons, to unexamined cases, and so forth.
Along the same lines, Lee Campbell, chair of the Division of Natural Sciences at Ohio Dominican College, writes, “The methods used in the sciences have produced powerful explanations about how things work and innumerable useful applications, including technology even its harshest critics would never be without.”
Indeed, Postmodernists use all the comforts and conveniences that modern science and technology provide, yet at the same time deny the foundational premises on which science is established. We’ve all had friends who posted comments on our Facebook with the gist of “It is impossible to know anything for certain?” And they know that for certain? And they wrote it on a computer designed by engineers who made it to operate properly with an understandable program, through electrical currents reliably coming into their climate-controlled workspace which was designed to hold their weight without collapsing, and transmitted it using sophisticated technology to people they expect will understand it, such that if any of these things failed they would be indignant?
Maybe the postmodern problem is not one of knowledge. Maybe it is a simple matter of ungratefulness.
- Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam, 2010), p. 5.
- Oxford mathematician John Lennox says, “Apart from the unwarranted hubris of this dismissal of philosophy (a discipline well represented and respected at his own university of Cambridge), it constitutes rather disturbing evidence that at least one scientist, Hawking himself, has not even kept up with philosophy sufficiently to realize that he himself is engaging in it throughout his book.” John Lennox, God and Stephen Hawking (Oxford, UK: Lion Hudson, 2011), p. 18.
- See Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003).
- For a detailed list, see “The Worlds Greatest Creation Scientists: From Y1K to Y2K” at http://creationsafaris.com/wgcs_toc.htm.
- Victor Stenger, God and the Folly of Faith (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2012), p. 25.
- Paul Davies, “Taking Science on Faith,” New York Times (Op-Ed), November 24, 2007.
- J.P. Moreland, Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Investigation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 45.
- Lee Campbell, “Postmodern Impact: Science,” in Dennis McCallum, ed., The Death of Truth, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1996), 193.