Saturday, August 27, 2016

What of Science and Religion?

I always feel so unworthy of criticizing science; my background is in English, Biblical Studies, and I do not feel very scientific. In thinking about skipping this question, and moving on, I came to realize that precisely because I am not a scientist, I need to share my point-of-view. I am quite comfortable with my viewpoint, but it is a viewpoint without the strength of a scientific background. Today we are taught that people need to stick to their specialties, but most of the people who would read a column like this would come from a similar view—that of a non-scientist, and therefore might be looking for something that would make sense without all the specifics of science.

Not to say I do not enjoy reading scientific articles, especially those that seem to go against the given flow. For instance, I enjoy reading Dr. Roy Spencer, but I candidly admit his science theories often go beyond what this English major brain is ready to receive. I realize therefore that these men have better judgment than I, and so long as they present their case rationally, it is something for me to seriously consider.

The very soul of science was born in the crux of Christianity. Many historians throughout history, especially those with an agenda, have told otherwise. I say it again, without Christianity man would not be nearly so far in understanding his world. Science was built on the shoulders of Christians, and according to Rodney Stark1, oftentimes Catholics. Stark looks at the famous scientists of the time, and notes that many of them not only were devout, but might also be themselves priests, monks, or even cardinals. When Isaac Newton made his famous statement about standing on the shoulders of giants, he was not exaggerating; much of what Newton was able to do was because scientists (who happened to be devoutly religious) had accomplished so much in uncovering the rational universe we live in. Alone, of all the major religions, Christianity believed in a rational God, and came, bit by bit, to understand the world he made rationally.2 Nancy Pearcey agrees about the strong Christian influence of science: “The earlier scientist was very likely to be a believer who did not think scientific inquiry and religious devotion incompatible. On the contrary, his motivation for studying the wonders of nature was a religious impulse to glorify the God who had created them.”3

Even today there is a great (un)truth taught in our society—that science and religion are mutually exclusive. The great irony is now that scientists are unpacking the Big Bang Theory; they are being forced back to some of the same premises that they started with over a hundred years ago. How did it all start? Lurking in the premises of how it all started is the concept of intelligent design, which is much of what we started with.

Many arguments offered hundreds of years ago have renewed their validity as we look at them again. One of these is the cosmological argument: “Don’t be put off by the technical-sounding name: “cosmological” comes from the Greek word cosmos, which means “world” or “universe.” That is, the Cosmological Argument is the argument from the beginning of the universe. If the universe had a beginning, then the universe had a cause. In logical form, the argument goes like this: 1. Everything that had a beginning had a cause. 2. The universe had a beginning. 3. Therefore the universe had a cause.”4

No other religion allowed for these assumptions. The early science was born in the monasteries that began to be named as universities, and it was only in the Western World that we see men uncovering the secrets of the universe, as they assumed that a rational God had made a rational universe. “The order of the reasoning here is important. The early scientists did not argue that the world was lawfully ordered, and therefore there must be a rational God. Instead, they argued that there was a rational God, and therefore the world must be lawfully ordered. They had greater confidence in the existence and character of God than in the lawfulness of nature.”5

The Western World long assumed that Rome was civilization at its best; The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire was one of the “must” books that my generation read. But today historians are uncovering a very different history. “Rather than a great tragedy, the fall of Rome was the single most beneficial event in the rise of Western civilization.”6 We now know that the Roman Empire strangled civilization and growth. It was not until it finally fell that the Western World went into what has long been termed the dark ages, but the ages were anything but dark. Man began to seek improvements and had the freedom to innovate and discover truths about his world. They were important stepping stones to the Renaissance.

Today is not so different from yesterday; there are still men who proclaim the end of Christianity with great confidence. Voltaire thought that Christianity would altogether disappear in about 75 years. Was he ever wrong! There are scientists today who are doing that same thing. But it is important that we understand the premises that people start with dictate the ends that they come to. Somehow when it comes to science we tend to forget that. In programming computers there is a saying, garbage in, garbage out. Computer-ese people shortened it to an abbreviation: GIGO. If a beginning programmer messes up in his programming, his whole program will come crashing down. It is the same with any argument—if we build on faulty premises the results will always be corrupt.

It is only in science that our society tends not to question premises. An atheist can don a white lab coat and is instantly transformed into someone we tend to want to listen to. But we still have an atheist! His premise that there is no God fills his thoughts—any evidences that he finds that prove his premise are every built on that foundation, and will reflect his bias.

It is the same with the Christian who claims to know God. His premise is that there is a God, and everything he builds upon is built from that premise. His bias we tend to see to sharply while we want to ignore the bias of the scientist, but premises are premises—and if faulty will always produce faulty conclusions. Everyone has premises—it is doubtful to me that anyone can leave those premises behind, and thus the idea of the “unbiased scientist” is probably nothing more than a myth. It is extremely difficult for most of us to lay aside our preconceived notions, even for a moment.

If we study the history of Darwinism in that light it becomes remarkably simple to confute it. Darwin himself was an atheist, the son of an avowed atheist. An atheist studies biology, and finds that life possibly did not come from God. Is that surprising? Should it be? Darwin built his whole science on the premise that there was no God—and he found exactly what he was looking for. It is very interesting to me to know that he famously debated all over England with the captain of the Beagle, who was a Christian, and seeing the same things that Darwin saw, came to very different conclusions.

Today many scientists are appreciating the sudden complexity of life in the fossil records in a new light. No longer does the idea of evolution seem to be reasonable; there is a complexity to the simplest cell that would make it almost impossible to assemble in a random way. If the least little part of the simplest cell is not perfectly arranged the whole cell will not come to be. Many who study this are figuring out that the building blocks of life do presume design, not accident, or chaos, or random mutation, as evolution would have us believe.

It is not my job here to refute science, merely to point to the fact that some of its premises are faulty, and will inevitably produce faulty conclusions. I find it ironic that many scientists are being forced to question their conclusions once more. If one accepts the Big Bang theory there still remains the problem of who started the bang? In other words, we are still forced to reckon with the idea of a Creator. Intelligent Design is the skeleton in the closet so to speak; most thinking scientists (especially those with the wrong premises) do not want to bring it out of the closet.

And apart from evolution most of science is quite compatible with the Christian. We live in a rational universe created by a rational God and we can discover many of his rules by paying attention to the world about us. I cannot think of a more exciting time to live! Daniel wondered about the future, and asked of God what would happen in the far distant future. He was told, “But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased.” Notice that many shall run to and from seems to be able to describe many of our past histories. It is the next part that I find intriguing, that knowledge shall be increased. If one characteristic, one sentence were used to describe our modern day, would it not be that knowledge has suddenly increased?

The Christian should have no fear of this increase of knowledge—it has made for a time of prosperity that the world has never known, and without it, would not be able at all to sustain such populations. We owe a lot to the Christian giants who helped us along the road to science!

1. Stark, R. (n.d.). Bearing false witness: Debunking centuries of anti-Catholic history.
This is an especially delightful book for those of us who have grown up believing many of the Catholic myths. Highly recommended.
2. Only Westerners thought that science was possible, that the universe functioned according to rational rules that could be discovered. We owe this belief partly to the ancient Greeks and partly to the unique Judeo-Christian conception of God as a rational creator.
Stark, Rodney. How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity (Kindle Locations 130-132). Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Kindle Edition.
3. Nancy Pearcey. The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 115-117). Kindle Edition.
4. Geisler, Norman L.; Turek, Frank. I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist (Foreword by David Limbaugh) (Kindle Locations 1291-1296). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
5. Nancy Pearcey. The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy (Turning Point Christian Worldview Series) (Kindle Locations 221-223). Kindle Edition.
6. Stark, Rodney. How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity (Kindle Locations 72-73). Intercollegiate Studies Institute. Kindle Edition.

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