Science & Faith
by Metacrock - edited by JMT
Used with Permission
Science and Religious Belief
Science is a Human Endeavor
In the modern world we have come to look to science as the umpire of truth. We expect science to prove for us the nature of truth and the nature of the world. Science provides us with technology, and technology works; it provides for all our needs, it furnishes us with a means of controlling the world, and it offers a comfortable way of life. To that extent, it is only natural to formulate the conclusion that Science offers us a fool-proof way of understanding the world, the key to truth about the universe. After all, it works, and it works to manipulate the natural world and to explain the universe. It is little wonder, then, that many people draw the conclusion, "who needs God?" We do not need God to explain to us the way the universe functions on a physical level. On the other hand, that's not all there is to the matter. Science does not pretend to explain everything about the nature of reality or being. It is not the task of science to explain the origin of the universe or the meaning of life. Moreover, Science is a human endeavor. Humans are creatures of limited perception and science is, therefore, bound by the cultural constructs of our limited human society.
A. Science and Religion: Different Domains.
The Pretense of Naturalism
There are those who try to extend scientific knowledge beyond its proper realm, that of explaining the workings of the physical world, and to forge a philosophical pretense. This pretense works on two levels. First, it is grounded in the material. It argues that since science tells us that there are natural causes for all effects, that there must be nothing beyond the physical world. Since there is nothing beyond the physical world it is "unscientific" to believe in God. They understand this term "unscientific" to mean "untrue" or "unbelievable." In reality, while it may be "unscientific" in the sense that it is not something that can be proven through scientific means, that does not equate to "untrue." Science and religious belief function in two totally different domains. Religious belief functions to integrate the individual into the universe in such a way as to offer a sense of unity and belonging. Science functions to explain the way the universe works physically. These are two different tasks, and one cannot presume upon the other. The different domains model is not the only way to understand the relation between science and religious belief, and I do not support an absolutist model. I think the two do overlap in certain areas, especially where religious believers claim that God Affects the world; for example with claims of miracles. Nor should my comments be construed as claiming that religious claims of miracles should not be investigated.
B.Science or Scientism?
Science and Religion: Different Domains
Those who claim a lack of scientific validation for the truth claims of religion fail to understand the nature of scientific inquiry. Rather, they are imposing a philosophical point of view which pretends to be "science." These people are not scientific, but "scientistic." They transform a procedural methodology, material reductionism, into a metaphysics, that of materialist reductionism. The scientific methodoligcal procedure proceeds from the notion that we gain understanding of the material realm by breaking down its components into their smallest aggregate parts to understand how they function. The philosophy of reductionism tries to reduce everything to the material realm. The philosophical reductionist says that because we know that material effects occur due to material causes, there must be nothing but material causes. Anything that is not explained by a material cause is automatically excluded from reality. In this way they assume that miracles cannot accrue, and that God must not exist, because after all, there can be nothing beyond material cause and effect.
C. Science is not the enemy of religious belief.
In fact many modern greats in science are Christians.
The scientific fraternity conducted a poll and found that on any given Sunday 46% of Ph.D. holders in science can be found in church. That compares with 47% for the general population (in Alan Lightman Origins: The Lives and World of Modern Cosmologists (Harvard University press, 19990).
Nobel Prize Winning Scientific Christians
|Fritz Shafer, nominated for Nobel Prize in Chemistry, University of Georgia, himself a Christian:
||"it is very rare that a physical scientist is truly an atheist."
|Martin Rees at Cambridge:
||"The possibility of life as we know it depends upon a few basic values which are constants. And it is in some aspect remarkably sensitive to their numerical values. Nature does exhibit remarkable coincidences."
|Arthur Schewhow, Nobel prize winner from Stanford, identifies himself as a Christian.
||"We are fortunate to have the Bible which tells us so much about God in widely accessible terms."
|Charlie Towns Nobel prize winner:
||"The question of science seems to be unanswered if we explore from science alone. Thus I believe there is a need for some metaphysical or religious explanation. I believe in the concept of God and in his existence."
|John Polkinghorn, theoretical physicist at Cambridge, left physics to become a minister.
||"I believe that God exists and has made himself known in Jesus Christ."
|Allan Sandage, The world's greatest observational cosmologist , Carnegie observatories; won a prize given by Swedish parliament equivalent to Nobel prize (there is no Nobel prize for cosmology) became a Christian after being a scientist.
||"The nature of God is not found in any part of science, for that we must turn to the scriptures."
Table info In a lecture by Fritz Shafer from a website by Leadership University:
There are institutes which combine science and theology in an attempt to create understanding between the two fields. One such organization is the Center for Theology and Natural Sciences. (cnts.org). This is a reputable institution working with accepted scientists, some immanent in their fields and associated with Stanford.
The Myth of Christianity Persecuting Science
It is so common on the net and on discussion boards to find atheists speaking as though modernity almost failed to have science. Evil superstitious Christianity was holding us back from "human knowledge" (as though we have some other kind of knowledge) and brave men in white lab coats freed humanity from the chains of mental oppression, making the world safe for science and declaring freedom from the shackles of religious belief. I've even seen some go so far as to say that Newton was one of the liberators! Nothing could be further from the truth of course (see Floris Choens book in bibliography below).
Science owes Christianity a Big Debt
All of the early modern scientific greats were Christians, and not merely because "everyone was," most of them (Newton especially) were exptremely devout (even the persecuted Galileo). But it is not only because of the rise of great Christian thinkers that science owes its birth to Christianity. It is also because of the universe involved in Greek science and in Christian science. R.G. Collingwood, one of the great historians of science, and Alfred North Whitehead, one of the great thinkers, philosophers, and historians of science in the 20th century both reached this conclusion. Collingwood lists three major periods in the development of science:
(1) Greek: Nature permeated by mind, knowable because unchanging; two views:(a) atomists; it's all the same substance all the way down.
(b) idealists; it's all appearances of the same principles; sameness in dealing with change, change is just a different kind of permanence, appearance or mode of permanence.
(2) Renaissance (really early modern):
Antithetical to Greeks. Beginning with Copernicus (1473-1543), Telesio (1508-80) and Bruno (1548-1600). Denial of organic model. Rise of mechanistic model. Nature doesn't order itself. Christian view, product of creator, analogy between God and universe, watch maker and watch. For Greeks, intelligence was nature's own; for Christians intelligence in nature was product of divine intelligence. Focus shifts from nature to mind. Rationality imposed from without; regularity due to natural laws, imposed from without. In other words, because the Greek incorporated mind into nature and fused the distinction (between mind and nature) they were not able to understand the universe as rational and independent of human observations. Because Christianity saw the world as a machine and the creation of a rational machine maker they were able to develop the mechanistic model which led Newton to invent scientific reductionism and that essentially is the basis of modern science (and here I speak of methodological reductionism and I do not use the term in the pejorative at all!).
Sources and other books of interest:
Fuchs, Stephan. The Professional Quest for Truth: A social Theory of Science and Knowledge. State University of New York Press, 1992.
Gay, Peter. The Enlightenment: The Rise of Modern Paganism. New York: W.W. Norton & co. 1966.
Hacking, Ian. The Emergence of Probability: A Philosophical Study of Early Ideas about Probability, Induction, and Statistical Inference. London: Cambridge University Press, 1975.
Jacob, Margaret C. The Newtonians and the English Revolution: 1689-1720. Ithaca New York: Cornell University Press, 1976.
James, William, The Varieties of Religious Experience.
Lukes, Steven. "On the Social Determination of Truth," Modes of Thought: Essays on Thinking in Western and Non-Western Societies. ed. Robin Horton and Ruth Finnegan. London: Faber & Faber, 1973.
Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Second edition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970 (originally 1962).
Popkin, Richard H. The History of Skepticism From Erasmus To Spinoza. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, revised edition, 1979 (original 1948).
Editor. "Introduction," The Philosophy of The 16th and 17th Centuries. gen. ed. Paul Edwards and Richard Popkin. New York: The Free Press, Div. of Macmillon, 1966.
Shapin, Steven. A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth Century England. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1994.
Shapin, Steven and Simon Schaffer. Leviathan And The Air Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. Princeton University Press, 1985.
Stout, Jeffrey. The Flight From Authority: Religion, Morality, and The Quest For Autonomy. Notre Dame, London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981.
Redwood, John. Reason, Ridicule, And Religion: The Age of Enlightenment In England 1660-1750. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976
Willey, Basil. The Eighteenth Century Background: Studies On the Idea of Nature In the Thought of the Period. New York: Columbia University Press, 1941.
Next: Essay on Thomas Kuhn; Science is a Social Construct
By Metacrock. Used with Permission.
For more articles by the same author, see Doxa.