Read the series so far.
The definition of science
In the course of writing about the idea of science in his Systematic Theology, Reformed writer Michael Horton notes that “Britain’s Royal Society was founded by Puritans” (The Christian Faith, 339 n.48).
The Puritans saw no clash, either ontological or methodological, in pursuing science as a response to God’s revelation. The fact that God created the world and created man in His image meant that to find out what God had done was both legitimate, as to fueling an expectation of discovery, and meaningful, because creation had been endowed with its own integrity apart from God while being supervened by God. In this they were in line with the Reformers like Calvin, who said:
Meanwhile being placed in this most beautiful theater, let us not decline to take a pious delight in the clear and manifest works of God. For as we have elsewhere observed, though not the chief, it is in point of order, the first evidence of faith to remember to which side, so ever we turn, that all which meets the eye is the work of God, and at the same time to meditate with pious care on the end which God had in view in creating it. (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I. 14, 20)
Hence, the pursuance of science as scientia (knowledge) was seen to be a full-orbed task, unpartitioned as yet by the bifurcation of phenomenal and noumenal; natural and supernatural: all knowledge had some revelatory significance. Alas, the Royal Society does not see the world through the same eyes as its founders.
Saying this does not mean that scientists should not follow certain methods for discovery. These methods will differ depending on the phenomena under investigation, but the thing to be kept in mind is that Christians were for science while at the same time seeing no problem with bringing God the Creator into the conversation; not as a replacement for scientific descriptions of the world He has made, but as The Reality which makes sense of every other reality, and the study of that reality.
Indeed, to insist that evoking God as Cause means science comes to an end usually entails bad theology and falls afoul of the law of the excluded middle. To make the issue either/or is both to show ignorance of the rise of the Christian-theistic origins of modern science and to put into practice the blunder of begging the question. If God created the world and He invites us to explore it and to analyze it, most assuredly He does not want us to emit the cry “God did that!” and walk away from our scientific experiments and hypotheses. At the same time He does not want His creatures to do science as if He was not the Designer, Creator and Sustainer of both man’s faculties and the extended world which those faculties investigate. Indeed, the dominant idea of science as naturalism cannot itself uphold science as a pursuit because naturalism as metaphysical dogma fails to give a coherent account of either. As Horton rightly says,
The natural sciences…excel in weighing, measuring, observing, and predicting, but they exceed the bounds of their competence when they reduce all phenomena to natural causes. (Ibid, 340)
Doing science in God’s world as if God isn’t there is no less culpable today than it would have been had Adam named the animals while pretending God did not exist. Further, it is no less irrational.
A big problem with scientific naturalism
(In these posts scientific, philosophical and methodological naturalism are used interchangeably). Cornelius Van Til observed that,
Non-Christian science has worked with the borrowed capital of Christian theism, and for that reason alone has been able to bring to light much truth. (Cited in Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, 377)
The reason for this is because philosophical or scientific naturalism is not self-justifying. Just because persons of all different persuasions can do science does not mean that these same persuasions are competent to act as an apology for science and/or the search for truth. David Hume’s arguments against cause and effect reduced everything to habitual practices within a state of affairs which could change tomorrow. We are merely “a bundle of perceptions.” We cannot know for sure that tomorrow will be as today. In fact, the standard Copi & Cohen Introduction to Logic (11th edition) lists that very belief as a classic example of the fallacy of begging the question! Hence, on naturalistic presuppositions the logic of testing hypotheses breaks down, because it relies on a belief about the future which is empirically closed-off and logically fallacious. A sine qua non for science, the principle of uniformity, is not itself open to the vaunted “scientific method”—within the naturalistic approach.
If Steven Pinker, Daniel Dennett or Richard Dawkins are to be believed, we are nothing more than brain chemistry. But if that is “true” then nothing is true and science is a futile self-delusion.
If the rational human mind is merely a biological product, which it must be if naturalistic evolution were true, then the mind is not an independent observer, no matter how complex or sophisticated it may be and it is therefore not truly free to explore or examine reality. The functions of the mind would be produced and controlled solely by the genetic chemical makeup of, and the environmental influences on, each individual. Because of the complexity of the mental faculties, the brain itself being incredibly intricate, there would be some natural variation in thought patterns, so not everyone would think exactly alike but the variations would be like the multitude of variations found in roses or in dogs. Just as ‘Peace’ and ‘American Beauty’ are both roses despite their significant differences, and Great Danes and Yorkshire Terriers are both dogs despite their differences, so atheism and theism would simply be examples of natural variations of human thought and one could not be more true than the other in any objective or absolute sense. (L. Russ Bush,The Advancement, 39)
This is science played on purely naturalistic instruments: no strings, no composer, no instruments.
Many philosophers of science have shown that there is no one agreed upon or completely serviceable definition of science (the pronouncements of scientists notwithstanding). The literature is vast (See e.g., Del Ratzsch, Science and Its Limits). Stephen Meyer demonstrates well in his books Signature in the Cell and Darwin’s Doubt that he and other I.D. advocates employ the very same tools which Darwin used and which scientists today use. The real issue is not how scientists operate, but which worldview these people operate within.
Scientists aren’t fools
A common defense which is heard when evolution and its mother philosophy are questioned is that scientists are not fools. Setting aside the obvious truth that all of us, scientist or no, can and have been fools, I shall narrow the definition down to the meaning that “scientists are aware of what they are doing.” And the reply one should give to that sort of answer is, “so what?”
If that seems unkind let me clarify. To the objection that naturalistic scientists have good reasons for pointing to the Big Bang, or homology, or the fossil record as proof that they are on the right track, it may be pointed back that this is another non sequitur. Michael Polanyi, the famous chemist and philosopher of science, used the example of the premise “all men must die” to drive this home. Speaking of “primitive peoples” he said,
Such people believe that no man ever dies, except as a victim of evil magic…. Their denial of natural death is part of their general belief that events which are harmful to man are never natural, but always the outcome of magic wrought by some malevolent person. In this magical interpretation of experience we see some causes which to us are massive and plain…or even irrelevant to the event (like the passing overhead of a rare bird)…. The primitive peoples holding these beliefs are of normal intelligence. Yet they not only find their views wholly consistent with everyday experience, but will uphold them firmly in the face of any attempts on the part of Europeans to refute them by reference to such experience. (Michael Polanyi, Science, Faith and Society, 25)
Are these people fools? No. But then perhaps Polanyi is trying to get us to see that the question is inappropriate. The real question is, “is the worldview true?” to that question the Christian must answer the evolutionary naturalist as he would answer the “primitive” native: assuredly not! They have both cut off access to much truth by adopting a false perspective on the world. For as Phillip Johnson observes,
Natural science is thus based on naturalism. What a science based on naturalism tells us, not surprisingly, is that naturalism is true. (Phillip E. Johnson, Reason in the Balance, 8)
The neutrality myth
Another popular misconception touted by atheists and naturalistic scientists is that they are neutral in all of this. But that very opinion is a product of their naturalism. As we have said, and as others like Phillip Johnson have shown, within their outlook neither evolution nor the methodology it needs to sustain it are open to falsification. Certainly the rhetoric is there, but the reality is something else.
To help them keep the blinders on, they are enthusiastic advocates of the unbiblical Kantian dichotomy of phenomenal and noumenal, science and religion, or fact and value. The pragmatic dividends for doing this are immense. What it means is that the naturalist evolutionist can introduce teleology and design to his hearts content within the safe parameters of naturalistic method, while shoving teleological concerns which have Theistic implications into the non-scientific hinterland of “Faith.” Thus, it has been shown that,
Historically, purpose (or teleology) was a primary explanation or interpretive category in science. The connections between underlying purposes and observable things were perceived as being strong enough to allow the empirical study of nature to be a source of knowledge about God. Tracing such connections was a popular project for scientists until well into the twentieth century. (Del Ratzsch, Science and Its Limits, 95)
One need only think of Faraday’s public experiments or Maxwell’s having a Latin motto from the Psalms engraved over the doorway of the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge to see the truth of this assertion. Van Til put his finger on the real problem:
The difference between the prevalent method of science, that is scientific materialism, and the method of Christianity, the method of Copernicus and Pasteur, that is theistic science, is not that the former is interested in finding the facts and is ready to follow the facts wherever they lead, while the latter is not ready to follow the fact. The difference is rather that the former wants to study the facts without God, while the latter wants to study the facts in the light of the revelation God gives of himself. (Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis, 176)
Agnostic writer David Berlinski describes the quandary this bifurcation of reality (more accurately, the exclusion of God) leaves the naturalistic evolutionist in. He needs mindless processes to be purposeful:
The Darwinian mechanism neither anticipates nor remembers. It gives no directions and makes no choices. What is unacceptable in evolutionary theory, what is strictly forbidden, is the appearance of a force with the power to survey time, a force that conserves a point or a property because it will be useful. Such a force is no longer Darwinian. How would a blind force know such a thing? And by what means could future usefulness be transmitted to the present?
It is a rule which cannot be violated with impunity; if evolutionary theory is to retain its intellectual integrity, it cannot be violated at all. But the rule is widely violated, the violations so frequent as to amount to a formal fallacy. (David Berlinski, in Uncommon Dissent, ed. W. Dembski, 277)
So where does the problem lie? In which realm does the penny drop? Van Til tells us,
Eve was compelled to assume the equal ultimacy of the minds of God, of the devil, and of herself. And this surely excluded the exclusive ultimacy of God. This therefore was a denial of God’s absoluteness epistemologically. Thus neutrality was based upon negation. Neutrality is negation. (Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, 21)
The first and last resort of unbelief is to send believing scientists to Coventry by defining “Science” along strictly naturalistic lines. The problem of pretended neutrality as the problem of naturalistic philosophy generally, is a theological one.
(Next: conclusion of the series.)
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.