Tag Archive | Science

Is science our salvation? 

Is science our salvation? 

Science brings solutions. Solutions I thank God for. Without the breakthroughs in medicine that science has brought, my wife and son would not be alive because of a dangerous birth. The Bible tells us to be thankful for good things like science. It doesn’t say science isn’t real, or anything crazy like that. Instead, it says, “every good gift… comes down from heaven” and “should be received with thanksgiving.”

But, science is not everything. Science is not our salvation because science is wielded by humans, and humans do something that is unpopularly referred to as sin. So, in the most scientifically advanced century, there were also the most mass inflicted deaths. If the past is an indication of the future, science will continue to be a place of ethical stress and struggle. Science has been good in many cases, but science has also been used to propel genocide.

So, I’m super thankful for science but science is not our salvation. Science can’t even begin to tell us the meaning of life. It only answers questions that can be found through reproducible observations. It can tell us about the way the world is, but it cannot to us about the way the world ought to be.

Science might provide solutions, science might help us out especially physically, but our problems are deeper than that. Our problem is not just physical, it’s spiritual. And science knows nothing of the spiritual. It can’t see or do tests on what ills us at our deepest levels and so it can offer no final solutions.

If humanity is to be saved we need more power than even science offers. And we need it welded by a perfect person. Christians believe in just that person.

Christians believe Jesus is the Solution

Christ’s resurrection proves both that the world is more than meets the eye and that science, though often very good, is not our salvation. Jesus the Bible repeatedly shows, is our salvation.

“For the Christian the natural world is real and full of strangeness and wonder, but it is not the only reality or the higher reality, so important though science is, there are ways of knowing other than through science… After all, there are many sounds that humans cannot hear, but they are still objectively real and completely audible to dogs, bats and bears.”[1]

Yet, just because Christians believe more is needed than just science, does not mean Christians discount science. And just because Christians believe that Jesus is the solution, does not mean Christians discount reason.

Christianity is a reasonable religion. Or, it at least certainly claims to be. Each person has to decide for themself. But, the Bible indeed gives reasons to believe. It’s arguing for something. It’s proposing a full-orbed philosophy of life.

Christianity has been reasoned since the beginning. In fact, the Bible makes the huge claim that reason (logos) was fleshed out as Jesus walked in the flesh (see John 1:1-14). Wisdom walked the earth. Philosophy was not abstract, theoretical, and locked up in a far-away lecture hall. No. Philosophy was flawlessly lived out by Jesus who perfectly loved people and God.

Science cannot save us but it points us with a whisper and a roar to the One who can. Jesus can do the surgery on our hearts that we all need because He is knowledge and wisdom incarnate. He is philosophy. He is Logic made flesh.

Jesus the sovereign over science is the one who brings salvation. He is the sinless solution. The one alone who perfectly welds His power.

Notes

[1] Os Guinness, Fools Talk, 150.

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.

What explains the possibility of science?

Science?

Where did the idea or faith in an ordered world—a controlled rather than a chaotic cosmos—come from? Is this view just the view humans have always had? Is it the default view of humans? What explains the possibility of science?

One author has said that “the emergence of science is a more extraordinary event than many children of the atomic age would imagine.”[1] Or, as Peter Harrison has said, “there was nothing inevitable about the emergence of modern science.”[2] We often take science and all the possibilities that science allows for granted. For most people in the history of humanity, that has not been an option. Because science as we know it was not in existence.

Many saw the world as chaotic and capricious, not controlled. The view that the world has discoverable laws has not been the norm. Why would one see the world as chaotic and uncontrolled? On the other hand, why would someone see the world as controlled? And, what difference do these views make?

These views are two different tracks that take you vastly different places. Seeing the world as inherently chaotic and capricious does not lead one to think there are laws that world govern the world. The most you could hope for would be survival, not science. If there are no rules to a game, you don’t think you’re going to win the game or even make much progress. Your goal, more likely, is to stay in the game as long as possible.

If, however, you believe in a controlled orderly world, it makes all the difference in the world. If there are rules to “the game of life” then one might find that there are advantages to knowing those rules.

Perspectives about whether the cosmos is chaotic or controlled have had huge implications on how people have thought about an enterprise like science. If we believe something is lawless, we don’t look for laws to study.

Or consider this, in many ways a stone mosaic and stone driveway are not that different. Both are spread-out stone. I, however, look at one with intention to find the pattern and picture. I don’t do that for the other because I know no pattern or picture is there.

That’s the way, apparently, humans have always been. The world has witnessed a few great cultures, cultures one would think capable of producing science. Yet, many times science has experienced a stillbirth.[3] Why?

It would seem, if we believe in a Creator it makes sense to believe in creation, something that was created, created with a purpose. If there’s a Law Giver, it makes sense that there would be a law, and order and rules to creation. If, however, things just came somehow from chaotic chance, it makes sense that things would be chaotic.

“There is considerable historical evidence, particularly in the writings of René Descartes, Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton, suggesting that the very notion of ‘natural laws’ is rooted in the understanding of a rational creator God who sustains an intelligible universe.”[4]

So, what impact does the view of the cosmos being controlled or chaotic have? That is, what impact did the view of God and the world have in connection with science? In my understanding, and of many authors I’ve read, it had/has a big impact.[5]

“Great cultures, where the scientific enterprise came to a standstill, invariably failed to formulate the notion of physical law, or the law of nature. Theirs was a theology with no belief in a personal, rational, absolutely transcendent Lawgiver, or Creator. Their cosmology reflected a pantheistic and animistic view of nature caught in the treadmill of perennial, inexorable returns. The scientific quest found fertile soil only when this faith in a personal, rational Creator had truly permeated a whole culture, beginning with the centuries of the High Middle Ages. It was that faith which provided, in sufficient measure, confidence in the rationality of the universe, trust in progress, and appreciation of the quantitative method, all indispensable ingredients of the scientific quest.”[6]

Christians believe the cosmos is not chaotic because it’s controlled by a Creator. The universe is ordered because it follows orders. The law of gravity follows the rules of the Law Giver. God governs the world and so we can make scientific discoveries. Experiments are repeatable because the laws that govern the universe exist, they repeat. They were in operation yesterday, one year ago, today, and we’re counting on them being in operation tomorrow. But, why are they in operation? And, why should we count on them being in operation tomorrow?

If we came into being by chance, and the laws of the universe somehow are in operation by chance, isn’t there a pretty big chance they won’t be in operation tomorrow?… And, what is ‘chance’? Isn’t ‘chance’ just a reference to something that is statically improbable happening? But, that’s not an actual explanation of what happened or why, right?

Notes

____

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

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

[3] Jaki, Science and creation: From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe.

[4] Denis R. Alexander, “Miracles and Science” Faraday Paper 20. “French philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) pioneered the idea of physical laws of nature, arguing that God had set the world in motion at the moment of creation and that he continued to move things in accordance with laws that he had freely chosen” (Peter Harrison, “Religion and the Rise of Science” Faraday Papers 21).

[5] E.g. John Hedley Brooke, Science and religion: Some historical perspectives, Herbert Butterfield, The origins of modern science 1300-1800, Stanley L. Jaki, Science and creation: From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe, Pearcy and Thaxton, The Soul of Science: Christian faith and natural philosophy, and Rodney Stark, For the glory of God: How monotheism led to reformations, science, witch-hunt, and the end of slavery.

[6] Jaki, Science and creation.

*Photo by Trnava University

C.S. Lewis on Scientism in Out of the Silent Planet

Have you ever heard of C.S. Lewis’ book series, The Chronicles of Narnia? It’s good. But, Lewis’ Ransom Trilogy is even better. And one of the reasons for that is because he confronts scientism.

Scientism

Scientism exalts the natural sciences as the only fruitful means of investigation. In the words of Wikipedia: “Scientism is the promotion of science as the best or only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values.” In short, scientism is the view that says science, and science alone, tells us what is right and true.

Science, of course, is different. It is the study of the natural world through systematic study (observation, measurement, testing, and adjustment of hypotheses). Scientism goes beyond science and beyond the observation of the physical world into philosophy and ethics.

How can observations about the natural world tell us how to think and live? How can science tell us how to best do science? What can be said about the problems of scientism? C.S. Lewis gives us a few things to think about, and in a very enjoyable way.

Out of the Silent Planet on Scientism

Weston, one of the main characters in C.S. Lewis’ book, Out of the Silent Planet, holds to a form of scientism and belittles other ways of acquiring knowledge. Unscientific people, Weston says, “repeat words that don’t mean anything”[1] and so Weston refers to philology as “unscientific tomfoolery.” The “classics and history” are “trash education.”[2] He also says that Ransom’s “philosophy of life” is “insufferably narrow.”[3]

When science is the sole means of knowledge then we are left without theology, philosophy, and ethics. We are left to decipher ought from is. And it can’t be done. Or not in a way that prevents crimes against humanity. “Intrinsically, an injury, an oppression, and exploitation, an annihilation,” Nietzsche says, cannot be wrong “inasmuch as life is essentially (that is, in its cardinal functions) something which functions by injuring, oppressing, exploiting, and annihilating, and is absolutely inconceivable without such a character.”[4]

Weston concurs. He is ready and willing to wipe out a whole planet of beings. He says, “Your tribal life with its stone-age weapons and bee-hive huts, its primitive coracles and elementary social structure, has nothing to compare with our civilization—with our science, medicine and law, our armies, our architecture, our commerce, and our transport system… Our right to supersede you is the right of the higher over the lower.”[5]

It is about life. Looking at life, looking at survival alone, leads us to think that alone is the goal. My life versus your life, Weston’s life versus the Malacandrian lives. That’s what we get when we derive ought from is. “Life is greater than any system of morality; her claims are absolute.”[6] And so, if it would be necessary, Weston would “kill everyone” on Malacandra if he needed to and on other worlds too.[7] Again, Weston finds agreement in Nietzsche: “‘Exploitation’ does not belong to a depraved, or imperfect and primitive society: it belongs to the nature of the living being as a primary organic function.”[8]

Conclusion

Is Weston’s view correct? No. And we know it. That is the point C.S. Lewis makes. He offers a narrative critique of scientism in Out of the Silent Planet as well as through the whole Ransom Trilogy. He shows the havoc that scientism sheared of theology, philosophy, and ethics can unleash.

The answer is not to discard science, however. That is not what Lewis proposes either, though that is what some protest. The answer is to disregard scientism. Science is great and a blessing from God, but science on its own is not enough as our guide. We cannot, for example, derive ought from is. We cannot look at the natural world around us, at what is, and find out what we should do, how we ought to live.

Notes

____

[1] C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1996), 25.

[2] Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet 27.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals.

[5] Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, 135.

[6] Ibid., 136.

[7] Ibid., 137.

[8] Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond God and Evil, par. 259.

A Few Thoughts On Genetic Engineering (part three)

The Need for Biblical Ethics

Many agree that “If we do adopt a policy of human genetic engineering, we ought to do so with extreme caution.”[1] I believe that a biblical and Christ exalting ethical system is necessary to provide bedrock convictions. Without the Bible we are left to our own devices, to do what is right in our own eyes.

The Bible does not address the subject of genetic engineering directly. You will not find “genetic modification” in a Bible concordance. The Bible does, however, provide foundational principals that are vital for us to consider and apply. The storyline of the Bible and of reality provides some very important insights.

First, in the beginning of the story of Scripture we see that God created everything, and He created it very good (Gen. 1:31). God is the Great Creator but we also see that we are made in His image and are also creative (Gen. 1:26-27). We also see from the fact that we are made in the image of God that all human life is precious and should be protected. This is where we get the concept of the sanctity of life. We also see from the beginning of Genesis that humans are called to subdue the earth, we are to reign under God as His vice-regents. So, we are to obey His will and bring blessing and flourishing to all we can.

This is important to remember when we consider gene editing because we learn a number of things. 1) God made us creative and made us to bring flourishing and blessing. 2) God also made us to obey Him, He is the Lord. We should never do anything that is outside of His will. 3) The fact that God is the Creator of all provides a basis for the reasonableness of the laws of science. We can make logical deductions and seek out God’s creative design because God has designed things in a reasonable way.

Read More…

A Few Thoughts On Genetic Engineering (part two)

Types of Genetic Engineering

As you read this, remember, “The best insurance against possible abuse is a well-informed public.”[1] So, with that in mind, let’s look at four types of genetic engineering.

First, and lest controversial, is somatic gene therapy.[2] The way I remember what somatic refers to is by remembering that soma is the Greek word for “body.” Somatic gene therapy involves the manipulation of gene cells within the body that are non-reproductive.[3] So somatic genes that are edited do not get passed on to future generations.

Second, germline gene therapy involves the genetic modification of the germline cells (eggs or sperm). So germline therapy changes the genetic make up of the individual and is thus carried on to future generations. That is one of the reasons that “No aspect of gene therapy is more highly charged than that of germline or germ-cell therapy.”[4] One of the questions that is important to ask regarding germline gene therapy is: “Will a ‘deleterious’ gene of today be considered a ‘deleterious’ gene tomorrow?”[5]

This discussion, I must remind you, is not some sci-fi dream, “Many assure that within our decade, depending upon the family and the circumstances, height, weight and even eye color will become elective.”[6]

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A Few Thoughts On Genetic Engineering (part one)

Screen Shot 2019-02-19 at 10.26.23 PMThe topic of genetic engineering makes me think of the movie Universal Soldier where the soldiers were genetically engineered to have superior strength and heal quickly. The Boys from Brazil is another movie that has genetic engineering as part of the plot. In this movie there are ninety-four clones made of Adolf Hitler and sent to different parts of the world. Examples of plot twists and possible plot twists could be multiplied. Those examples are all fictious.

What is not fictious, however, is the reality of genetic engineering. So we  must realistically consider genetic engineering and its ethical implications. Specialists from varied backgrounds agree. Take these examples:

Megan Best has said: “Genetics will have an important role in shaping society in the future because it increases our understanding of how disease occurs and how treatments work differently between individuals. It promises new ways to improve the health of the population.”[1] “Full of promise, full of challenges—we will all be involved in the genetic revolution before we know it.”[2]

George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, said in 2016 regarding genetic engineering that “It is urgent that citizens around the world inform themselves and participate in this rapidly moving set of decisions.”[3]

“Prominent voices in the genetic technology field believe that mankind is destined for a genetic divide that will yield a superior race or species to exercise dominion over an inferior subset of humanity. They speak of ‘self-directed evolution’ in which genetic technology is harnessed to immeasurably correct humanity—and then immeasurably enhance it. Correction is already underway. So much is possible: genetic therapies, embryo screening in cases of inherited disease and even modification of the genes responsible for adverse behaviors.”[4]

The way we think deeply matters. Adam S. Cohen says this in his essay, “Harvard’s Eugenics Era”: “There are… forward-looking reasons to revisit this dark moment in [Harvard’s] past. Biotechnical science has advanced to the brink of a new era of genetic possibilities. In the next few years, the headlines will be full of stories about gene-editing technology, genetic ‘solutions’ for a variety of human afflictions and frailties, and even ‘designer babies.”[5]

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Why should I believe the Bible? (pt 6)

“Why should I believe the Bible?” This might sound crazy to a lot of people but you should believe the Bible because it is…

Scientific

The Bible is not a scientific textbook. Yet it is accurate scientifically. The Bible concurs with all sorts of scientific discoveries. The Bible also lays the groundwork for scientific research to be carried out.

“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 or polytheistic world, which saw its gods often engaged in jealous, irrational behavior in a world that was nonrational, any systematic investigation of such a world would seem futile. ”[1]

Read More…

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