Science?

What explains the possibility of 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

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[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

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