Doesn’t science contradict what Christianity teaches?

Doesn’t science contradict what Christianity teaches?

The Bible talks about a lot of crazy things like walking on water. We can walk on ice but we can’t walk on water. Doesn’t that automatically prove Christianity is false and even foolish?

Also, the Bible cannot be tested in a laboratory so we cannot have scientific proof that it’s true. By this criterion, however, we can’t prove most things. We can’t even scientifically prove the assumptions of science.

If you buy a bookshelf from Ikea and the tools you need to build it are not included, then you’ll be limited to the tools you have. If you don’t have enough tools to build it then what happens? The bookshelf is either left completely unbuilt or in some haphazard condition.

It’s a similar situation with science. Certain philosophies of life provide different ‘tools’ for the assembly of the scientific method. Without those tools science will not be able to stand. So, what “tools” do you need to assemble the scientific method?

     Reasons to believe in the predictability and regularity of nature

A controlled and orderly creation rather than a capricious one is necessary for science to get a foothold. There must also be reasons for people to believe that the world is ordered. As John Frame has said, “For science to be successful, the world must display a high degree of regularity and predictability.”[1] But, for the scientific method to work, we need more than just regularity, we need to also believe in that regularity. “Unless we assume predictability and regularity in nature, it is impossible for experimental science to conduct its work.”[2]

Nature is orderly, not out of control. And because nature is ordered it allows for the study of that order. The idea that the universe is ordered did not arise from ordinary experience. From casual observation, creation often seems capricious.[3]Yet, trust in a cosmic Creator and Lawgiver provided such things as the laws of motion.

Belief in the rationality of God not only led to the inductive method but also led to the conclusion that the universe is governed rationally by discoverable laws. “This assumption is vitally important to scientific research, because in a pagan polytheistic world, which saw its gods often engaged and jealous, irrational behavior in a world that was nonrational, any systematic investigation of such a world would seem futile.”[4]

The Christian account of the world gives reason for believing in mathematical precision. Other accounts expect unreconcilable mathematical problems. If the gods, for example, are at war or not in control of nature then one cannot expect exactness, only various levels of ignorance. That level of confidence does not lend itself to space travel and brain surgery, let alone the scientific method.

     Nature is good, not a god to worship

The physical world is also real, not an illusion. Creation has inherit goodness but not godness. One’s view on the nature of reality not surprisingly affects how one can think about science. If one believes that reality is that we are all unknowingly god then it’s going to impact the way they think about the physical world around them.

The view that holds that we can and should escape from the sufferings of the world by ridding ourselves of all desire does not lend itself to scientific discoveries. And so, one would look in “vain for as much as a rudimentary concept of science, of scientific enterprise, or of scientific spirit, in the rather depressive pages of the Vishnu Purana. Its main purpose is rather to teach man how to escape from the clutches of the sensual, tangible world.”[5]

      Time is linear, not cyclical

The basic choices in the origin and development of the universe “are only two: cyclic or linear, or rather, chaos or order.”[6] If the cosmos were cyclical—time repeating itself over and over again—then it would seem we can’t make gains. Optimism would be abolished. Many civilizations have, however, believed in cyclic cycles.

Take the Chinese for example. They have a very long and, in many ways, incredible history yet their cyclic notions of the world kept them behind scientifically for many years. In China, “the interpretation of cosmic and human history in terms of cycles was far more than intellectual entertainment for a few scholars. Rather, it acquired at a very early age and enjoyed until very recently a semi-official status.”[7] And so, in that culture, casual connections were not observed. Even “measurable, quantitative aspects of events occurring closely in time could have no particular significance”[8] for the Chinese. Thus, not surprisingly “despondency about man’s ability to decipher the exact patterns of nature made itself felt time and again.”[9]

Without the optimism of a linear understanding of the universe and of time, science is servilely paralyzed.

“The spirit of experimental method simply could not assert itself in a cultural ambience in which the urge to escape from reality constituted a pervasive pattern. With the slighting of reality there came a weakening of the search for truth about the external world. Science, however, cannot arise, let alone gain sustained momentum, without an articulate longing for truth which in turn presupposes a confident approach to reality”[10]

Whereas, many Christians during the scientific revolution believed that they could do science to the glory of God. They wanted to, as Johann Kepler said, “think God’s thoughts after Him.”[11] Thus, they had a lot of motivation for practicing the scientific method. Christianity provides the intellectual attitude, ethics, and assumptions that make modern science possible. As Peter Harrison said, “religious considerations provided the motivation to pursue science, provided its core philosophical presuppositions, informed its methods and content, and lent it social legitimacy.”[12]

So, to the question: “Doesn’t science contradict what Christianity teaches?” I’d say the answer to that appears to be no. In fact, Christianity seems to have been part of what led to the blessings of modern science.

Though, we should not simplistically say or think that we arrived at modern science without it being built on many backs. As Peter Harrison has said, “There were, of course, factors other than the religious ones considered here that played important roles in the origins of modern science. Explaining any major historical development requires multiple explanations.”[13] And as the historian Mark Noll has said, “no simple formula can adequetly describe the rich, thickly textured, and complex history linking Christianity and science.”[14]

Notes

[1] Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism (Oxford University Press, YEAR), 271.

[2] John M. Frame, Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2015), 72-73.

[3] See Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live, 423

[4] Alvin J. Schmidt, How Christianity Changed the World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 222.

[5] Stanley L. Jaki, Science and creation: From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe (Gondolin Press. Kindle Edition).

[6]  Jaki, Science and creation.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Johannes Kepler, Peter Harrison says, “had wanted to become a theologian but eventually came to the realisation that ‘God is also praised through my work in astronomy.’ For Kepler, the whole world was the ‘the temple of God’ and hence to study nature was ‘to honour God, to venerate him, to wonder at him’” (Peter Harrison, “Religion and the Rise of Science” Faraday Papers 21).

[12] Peter Harrison, “Religion and the Rise of Science” Faraday Papers 21. 

[13] Harrison, “Religion and the Rise of Science” Faraday Papers 21.

[14] Mark Noll, “Science, Religion, and A.D. White,” 7.

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