Friday, January 23, 2009

(Hopefully) Last Words on Science and Christianity

I've ranted a lot about this, and maybe I'll quit for a while after this. I felt very prompted by the chapel speaker today to address the issue, for whatever it may be worth.

Our speaker stated that because of his worldview, he found it requires more faith to believe in macroevolution than to believe in the Genesis account of Creation. But I make this statement: because of my worldview, I find it takes much more faith to believe in the Genesis account of Creation than to believe in atheistic evolution, but I believe it anyway. That's what faith means. It's "being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see" (Heb. 11:1, NIV). See, science and faith are disjoint by design. True science does not require faith because of its very nature—I can sense things with my five senses and make rational decisions about what I sense and draw logical conclusions on those things. Faith, on the other hand, is diametrically opposed to this. Belief in God is not something that I come to by any measurements or experiments or logical deductions from what I sense with my physical body. God is outside of reason and rationality, and for me, belief in God is very irrational. That's what faith means, and that's how I am still able to call myself a scientist at the same time that I claim to be a Christian and an active follower of God. I can look at a rainbow and see God's promise to us, or I can see the refraction of the visible spectrum in miniscule drops of water; or (here's something radical) I can see both. When I look at a beautiful sunset, I can see God's wonderful artwork displayed for us to admire, or I can see photons being bent by particles through a polluted atmosphere to produce a range of visible colors; or I can see both. I can look at a nebula and see God's leftover fingerprint when He made creation, or I can see the remnants of a massive stellar explosion that happened millions of years ago; or both. I can see a waterfall as an outpouring of God's love as demonstrated by nature, or I can see the force of gravity and liquid equilibriums clashing to great effect; or both. Why then can I not look upon God's wonderful, masterful, loving design of the specially created human body and not also admire the eons of evolution and forces of natural selection that He used to produce it? To admire creation is to admire the Creator (Ps. 19, Ps. 104, Rev. 21, etc). Science requires eyes, not faith. God requires faith, not eyes (John 20:29, Heb. 11). If science claims faith is necessary for anything, it is no longer science (e.g., string theory); but if science requires us to use our eyes and minds to understand something (e.g. macroevolution), who's to say it's not a gift from God? God gave us science to study the world. Who are we to reject this gift? There is no dichotomy between the things of this universe and the things of God—He made it all and owns it all! I can seek God not only through Scripture, but also through a telescope, or through a microscope, or through deductive powers of reasoning and scientific fact that tell me how God formed the universe and how He designed it to work. Greg Johnson states clearly in his book The World According to God that "to say that something God gives us is intrinsically evil is to malign the character of God." I fear that's the level we Christians have stooped to.



etd said...

Nicely put. But please tie in and explain the last 2 sentences.

denaje said...

...we keep saying science is evil and rejecting it. But science is not evil, for it is from God. Not only was it made by God, but it is a gift that we are to use and explore.

Jeremy Erickson said...

I think your distinction between faith and reason is too strong. Would the apostle Paul have become a Christian if he had not had an encounter with the resurrected Christ? Does this mean that his faith was not real?

Although I don't always agree with J.P. Holding, he does have some good points here.

I find it fairly clear that faith is more about trust than simply belief. (See James 2:18-19, for example.)

Where I do agree with is that one can have a rationally consistent nontheistic worldview. Reason does not compel anyone to believe in God. However, this is not the same as saying that there is no evidence for God. (And I do believe the evidence has more to do with philosophical rather than scientific arguments.) I do not believe that it is irrational to believe in God.

I also agree with the fact that both science and theology lead to truth. We should not simply discount one or the other as simply wrong, as either our interpretation of the Bible or our interpretation of the scientific evidence could be at fault. I find theistic evolution to be at the very least plausible; it does not fundamentally contradict my worldview. However, it does remain true that in a culture dominated by metaphysical naturalism, confidence in scientific conclusions is stronger than is really philosophically warranted.

The idea that science should not call on theological explanations is called "methodological naturalism," and I am not sure methodologically naturalistic science always leads to truth. This does not mean that it is evil or worthless, but we need to realize when the false assumption that naturalistic explanations are always sufficient may skew the results. (Is there a purely naturalistic explanation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ? If you hold to orthodox Christianiaty, we have at least one example of direct divine intervention in the world.) Some of the evidence for evolution (like genetic similarities between different organisms) does not depend on methodological naturalism, but the notion that natural selection is a sufficient explanation in and of itself probably does, at least with the current state of evidence. Perhaps God did have to intervene at some point, or perhaps he didn't, but science can't definitively tell us either way at this point. That's where theology and philosophy can perhaps provide more enlightenment.

Of course, science with methodological naturalism does very frequently lead to correct and often useful conclusions. I'm going to be the last person to deny that. I also don't deny that science is a gift from God. Methodological naturalism does also seem necessary to have research respected by nontheist colleagues.

denaje said...

Thanks Jeremy! Excellent points. I'm not sure if I myself would agree with everything I said, but I'm glad to see you thought about it, and I will chew on your words.

I do agree that I was too strong in drawing a distinction between faith and reason, although I was talking almost exclusively about general scientific revelation and not personal divine revelation or philosophical evidence. I may not have made that very clear though. I certainly believe that God reveals himself to people directly (e.g. Paul), and this revelation is more powerful than any scientific evidence could ever be. However, Richard Dawkins would certainly take offense to this notion.

And I understand your views on methodological naturalism. I do believe in miracles (Paul's conversion, Christ's resurrection, etc.), and these cannot be explained by purely naturalistic scientific methods. People can try (and people do), but my belief (and trust) in God compels me to believe that certain things came from him apart from natural causes. However, I choose to blur the line between miracle and natural in some cases, like Creation. God created the world, and we would not exist without his very direct intervention-I would call this a miracle by any definition. But he could have used very natural causes to bring about this ultimate miracle (e.g. theistic evolution). Thus, assuming this is what actually happened, we then have the ability to explore and explain this miracle from a purely scientific standpoint. But there is nothing stopping me from incorporating the Genesis 1 account and finding that it fits scientific findings perfectly, provided I interpret it correctly. This is the kind of thing that so many Christians refuse to do, and instead choose to interpret the Bible differently (I didn't say wrongly!) and reject scientific evidence in favor of very irrational assumptions. I'm ok with irrationality (it's where I held my beliefs only a couple weeks ago), but Occam's razor prevents me from believing it any longer when I see what appears to be insurmountable evidence against it.

Anyways, I'm not really a theistic evolutionist at heart, but I thought I'd throw the idea out there and see what people said. I might call myself somewhere in-between OEC and theistic evolution, but it really doesn't matter to me. I can easily see both being true and consistent with Scripture. Much more easily than I see YEC being true...