What is science, and who owns it? Part 2

In the last post I attempted to dismantle the notion that science can be equated with the embrace of specific theories and political allegiances, as is so commonly argued today.  But I never did answer the questions posed in the title.  Here is how I answer them.

First, what is science?  In its broadest sense, the word “science” (from the Latin scientia) simply means “knowledge,” and it could be knowledge of any kind.  In modern usage, the word is used more narrowly to refer to knowledge of the natural world that is attained by means of observation.

In my view, there are two ways of doing science: in a consistently Christian way, and in an inconsistently Christian way.  A consistently Christian approach to science acknowledges the supreme authority of Scripture from the start and holds the conclusions of human observation and reason under its authority.  An inconsistently Christian approach to science borrows its foundational assumptions from the Christian worldview and then pretends that science is a morally, religiously, and philosophically neutral endeavor from which all religious ideas must be excluded from the start.

To demonstrate my point, consider the fact that in order to pursue science at all, scientists must begin with at least these following assumptions:

(1) The external world is real.  (Does this sound obvious?  It has not been obvious to millions of people who have been reared in an Eastern philosophy that views the physical world as illusory).

(2) The world operates according to uniform physical laws that bear divine attributes: laws that are true in all places (omnipresent), at all times (omnitemporal), and are impossible for finite creatures to violate (omnipotent).

(3) Human powers of observation are capable of giving us knowledge of the world as it is in itself; in other words, our observations of the world bear some kind of correspondence to what is really there.

(4) Human powers of reason are capable of drawing valid conclusions about the external world.

(5) Human powers of language are capable of describing what human beings observe and deduce in such a way that the formulation of uniform physical laws through linguistic symbols is a possibility.

(6) It is at least ethically permissible for human beings to set out to discover hidden truths about the natural world through observation; for most scientists (if not all), it is more than merely permissible; it is ethically praiseworthy.

(7) Scientists who manipulate evidence or misrepresent their findings in order to serve a narrow agenda rather than the advancement of human knowledge are guilty of wrongdoing.

In other words, before they can even begin to do science at all, scientists must make a number of assumptions that are metaphysical (concerning the nature of reality itself), epistemological (concerning the nature of reality), and ethical (concerning the nature of good and evil).  Where do they get these assumptions?  Where do the preconditions for science come from?

My contention is that only the Christian worldview can provide the necessary theological backing to make sense of the scientific endeavor at all.  Atheistic materialism (the philosophical commitment of many scientists and the working assumption of scientific method today) simply cannot make sense of these necessary assumptions.  If matter is all that exists, how can we account for immaterial physical laws that are omnipresent, omnitemporal, and omnipotent?  In other words, how can we argue that there are immaterial laws that govern the world, leading to a kind of uniformity that we can observe and describe, if we have already committed ourselves to the assumption that matter is all that exists?

Furthermore, if we ourselves are nothing but one more link in the evolutionary chain, and all of our knowledge can be reduced to nothing more than physical chemical reactions in our brains unfolding according to a physically determined process, how can we make the assumption that our powers of observation are in any way dependable or that our powers of reason by which we draw conclusions based on those observations correspond to the external world in any way whatsoever?  If Darwinian evolution is true, then the only reason Darwinists believe it is because the chemical reactions in their brains are acting one way; my chemical reactions just happen to act another way.  Billions of years from now, when the sun has burned out and all life on earth is obliterated, the uncaring universe will go on not caring about the fact that it randomly produced some people whose brains contained chemical reactions that led to feelings of certainty that they descended from apes and other people whose brains contained chemical reactions that led to feelings of certainty that they were created specially by God.  Moreover, when that day comes and no Darwinists exist anymore, it will be just as if Darwinism itself had never existed, and the Darwinists will never have their moment to say to the rest of us, “See?  I told you so.”

In other words, if Darwinism is true, then I have no reason to believe it.

Furthermore, where do scientists draw their ethical conclusions for the goodness of the scientific endeavor and the rules that regulate how an ethical scientist should proceed?  Certainly not from science itself.  They must begin with these assumptions, which they borrow from Christianity, for materialism can give them none of them.

It reminds me of a story I heard one time.  Some scientists went up to God and said, “God, we think we have just as much wisdom and power as you.  We can do anything you can do.  We can make a human being if we want to.”

God answered, “Okay, go ahead and do it.”

The scientists said, “All right: we’ll start by taking some dirt.”

They were suddenly interrupted when God said, “Wait a minute.  Get your own dirt.”

Unable to live consistently with their own materialistic worldview (or methodology), unbelieving scientists must borrow capital from the Christian worldview in order to make science work at all.  And the worst part of this is that they have no idea that they are doing it.  Since most of them have little acquaintance with philosophy, they naively assume that they are philosophically neutral and are simply following the evidence wherever it leads.  God is to be left out of the process, lest their objectivity be questioned by religious sectarianism.

On the contrary, I would argue that it is impossible to account for uniform physical laws that bear divine attributes if there is no God.  Furthermore, it is impossible to account for human capabilities to do science by discovering, naming, categorizing, and describing by means of language this amazing world in which we live if one does not believe that humanity stands in a privileged position with respect to the world.  In the Darwinian story, there is no privilege for humanity.  We are one more species, somewhere between the ape and whatever comes next.  We will have our fifteen minutes of fame (relative to geologic ages) and then we will go the way of the dodo bird.  But if we are created in God’s image to take dominion over God’s creation, as Scripture teaches (Gen. 1:27-28), then science is an endeavor made for human beings.  God made Adam, the son of God, king over creation.  As sons of God (in a creational sense first, and then more specifically for the redeemed in Christ), we are given the task of ruling over God’s creation as kings.  God charged Adam with the task of naming the animals, a way of categorizing them, interpreting them, and therefore of taking dominion over them.  The whole world waits for us to come and take dominion over it through science because, and only because, God himself has given us that task and has equipped us to carry it out.  “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search it out.” (Proverbs 25:2)

So if that is what science is, then who owns it?  Certainly, naturalistic scientists have no claim to a monopoly on it.  By what right do they claim the prerogative to define science for the rest of us?  They do not own it; God does.  And God has given it to all humanity to carry out in submission to his revelation.  All human knowledge is a subset of divine knowledge.  The only way we know something is to know what God already knows.  Our goal in all knowledge is to think God’s thoughts after him.

Timor domini principium scientiae.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of science. (Proverbs 1:7)

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One Response to What is science, and who owns it? Part 2

  1. Alistair says:

    “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of science.” I like that a lot!

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