The Myth of Science v. Faith

I love science.  My undergraduate degree is in the Biological Sciences, minor in Chemistry.  I’ve done medical research in my former life (not speaking of reincarnation, but prior vocation).  My wife is a published and oft-cited author once featured in Human Brain Mapping.  I am not the least bit opposed to science…real science that is.

I also fervently believe in God – specifically the God of the Bible.  I believe in angels and demons and miracles. I do so with no cognitive dissonance whatsoever between my faith in science and my faith in faith.

How is this possible?  According to the popular perspective you can’t be a thinking, reasoning, modern person and still hold on to archaic myths, fables and legends as presented in that dusty old book (that is the view of the atheistic scientist anyway).  Alternatively, you can’t be a person of faith and hold to those godless new-fangled perspectives hoisted upon us by the academy with their fancy book-learnin’ (that is the obscurantist fundamentalist Christian perspective).  I think both views are absolutely silly, for a number of reasons.  I’ll deal with only one here: the contemporary lack of a meaningful philosophy of science.

One of the most astonishing features of the scientific landscape today is the bewildering absence of any philosophy of science.  With all the science-worship that goes on today, precious few are bothering to ask some very important questions.  Questions like: What is science?  What kind of knowledge is science capable of producing?  What are the limitations of science?  This last question (amazingly!) is absolutely ignored by most people, as if science has no limitations.

The first scientists were also the first philosophers.  The history of science is also the history of philosophy.  The Pre-Socratic philosophers (such as Thales, Heraclitus, and others) were students of the world around us, seen and unseen.  And they were acutely interested not just in observing and understanding the visible world around them, but with questions related to knowing in general – how do we know what we know?  This is the subset of philosophy known as epistemology, the study of how we know.

One of the greatest challenges today is the severing of scientific methodology from the philosophical foundations that undergird the scientific endeavor.  Science desperately needs to reengage philosophically, particularly as regards epistemology.

Science is a terrific tool.  It is great for understanding how the natural world works.  That is an important tool!  I have no interest in denigrating it, nor should any Christian.  God made the natural world; it reflects his power and glory.  It makes sense and can be understood rationally because the Creator is a rational being.

But…as wonderful a tool as science is, it is just one tool. Tools have their limitations.  My dad gave me my first toolbox – it had a hammer, a couple of screw drivers, and that’s about it.  Those are good tools.  They work great at what they do.  I wouldn’t denigrate those tools.  A hammer and a screwdriver served me very well…until I bought a house.  Then there were a whole series of additional tools that became necessary for me to maintain and improve my home.  There’s nothing wrong with a hammer; it just isn’t the right tool for every job.

There is nothing wrong with science – it is a great tool for understanding the natural world.  But that is all it’s good for!  It is of no value whatsoever for understanding the supernatural world.  It is a great tool for understanding how the natural world works.  It is utterly unable to answer why the natural world works, or where the natural world came from, or to where the natural world is going, or what the natural world’s purpose is.  Science is great at answering how questions (in a limited sphere); it is utterly helpless to answer why questions (and these are life’s ultimate questions).

When a scientist pontificates that science proves there is no God, it is like a mathematician arguing that the Pythagorean Theorem proves that I like ice cream.  It is a total non-sequitur.  It’s not that science hasn’t made an adequate case against the God hypothesis; it is that science can do no such thing.  You might as well talk about making a square circle.  It is nonsense.

Science, I love you.  You are treasured like my first hammer.  But how much more lovely you will be when we can recover an adequate philosophy of science.