Monday, October 29, 2007

Origins of Scientific Method

Most people do not know that Christianity played a major role in the development of modern science and in establishing respect for the "scientific method" which propelled the advances of science since mid-renaissance times. A list of well-known scientists of that era includes many devout Christians who were not ashamed to express their faith.

These early scientists perceived the rules governing the realm in which we live -- its matter, forces, energy, processes, and life forms -- as constant and harmonious. They observed the apparent order and beauty of the visible universe through systematic visual observations and through their instruments ranging from telescope to microscope. Their study of earth's myriad life forms revealed incredible beauty and interdependence. Judeo-Christian scripture in dozens of passages pointed to the distinctives of the universe, the earth, its life, and humanity. No other holy book remotely approaches this level of accuracy. Scientists of faith were propelled forward in their pursuits by the statements of scripture.

Genesis 1 reads like a primer in scientific method from its opening statement clearly identifying the frame of reference and initial earth conditions to the orderly description of a chronological sequence of events, final conditions, and conclusions. Other passages in the New Testament encourage us to test and study, certainly a hallmark of scientific method. Thomas Torrance, Scottish theologian, has written how Reformed theology, at about the time of the Protestant Reformation, played a vital role in helping early scientists develop some of the tenets of scientific method which laid the groundwork for advances in scientific knowledge. In the last few centuries and, in particular, in the last few decades, this knowledge has revolutionized our lives. Let's give thanks to God that He has permitted humanity to discover and apply HIS laws.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Blind Faith?

People of faith familiar with the discoveries and achievements of science enthusiastically affirm the value of science in affirming the existence of a loving, powerful God. This is not just wishful thinking on our part. The universe is governed by laws and principles which shout consistency and predictability. The laws are written in mathematical language and operate in an identical fashion everywhere in the universe. The Bible speaks in many passages that God created the universe and also set in place the laws by which it operates. This is true in both the physical universe (Proverbs 8:22-31, Isaiah 40:21-28) and the biological realm (Job 38-41, Psalm 139:13-16).

The cosmos and the biosphere "speak" (Psalm 19:1-4) in a clear voice. In our cosmic dimension of time, cause and effect phenomena occur. This means when we observe the effect of an orderly, physical universe operating according to regular, mathematically quantifiable laws, we may conclude the physical universe itself had a CAUSE. It also means when we observe complex living systems operating according to orderly, predictable principles, those living systems and their orderly operation had a CAUSE. Atheists and agnostics disbelieve or question the existence of such a CAUSE. They assert that order somehow formed from disorder, chance, and randomness. This belief demands a great deal of blind faith.

Christians are often accused of having blind faith. Quite the contrary, our faith (let's call it a "belief system" instead) is based on logic, reason, and evidence. Unbelievers frequently accuse Christians of being short on these qualities. Christians who put forth the effort to strengthen their belief system with careful, diligent study, however, should never be accused of having blind faith.

If you have questions about any point I raise in these posts, or questions about science and faith generally, just click on the email link to the right.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Constitutional Protection -- From What?

The science/religion interface sometimes gives Christians joy as a faith strengthener. In other cases it is a cause for sorrow and suspicion because science seems opposed to our Christian belief system. My purpose in these posts is not only to create enthusiasm for science's faith strengthener role, but also to instruct you on sources of difficulty and misunderstanding in our quest.

Much suspicion results from a string of court cases starting in the 1960s which ruled that the teaching or even any mention of supernatural creation in science classrooms is equivalent to teaching a particular religious view and is, therefore, "establishment of religion." Courts cite the constitutional principle that any arm of government, including public schools, may not promote any particular religious view, such as a particular view of supernatural creation. The concept of a recent creation, and even the idea of creation of new species at widely spaced time intervals along the timeline of earth's 4.5 billion year history, are clearly religious views. For centuries science and religion were intertwined, but only in the last two centuries have scientists begun to depart from the marriage which had been the rule. In the last fifty years the science community has perpetuated a full blown divorce.

Courts now side with litigants who insist origins explanations must be naturalistic because science has defined itself as a naturalistic enterprise exclusively. In history classes religious topics merit discussion, but in science classes they are out of bounds. One could only wonder what naturalistic history, music, or literature studies would be like. The Supreme Court has taken the "establishment of religion" clause to an extreme. There is no constitutional mandate against the teaching of bad science. Religion is OUT, questionable science is IN, and truth still begs for a hearing. We must never lose the desire to discover the truths about God's creation available to us through the gift of scientific discovery.

Monday, October 15, 2007

50 Years of Naturalism

Society's confidence in science (see Oct. 9 post) has helped birth the philosophy of naturalism: Nature is "all there is." This philosophy guides scientists known as metaphysical naturalists who say there is no God, as well as methodological naturalists who may believe in God, but in practice assign no relevance to God.

Scientific naturalism as a fully developed philosophy has been with us for roughly the past half-century. What has strengthened the movement toward scientific naturalism? Let's consider one highly significant factor. The decade of the 1960s was a watershed era in both biological discovery and in the teaching of biology. Armed with new discoveries in molecular biology, emphasis in the teaching of biology changed from specimen-based study to biochemistry and molecular biology. DNA had been pinpointed in the 1940s as the bearer of genetic information, its structure was discovered in 1953 by Watson and Crick, and the genetic code was cracked in the 1960s.

I recall advising high school freshmen and their parents in the 1960s concerning the new emphasis in course offerings in biology, explaining that biology no longer emphasized dissected specimen study. Rather, it stressed biochemistry and study of molecules carrying genetic information. This had been the basis of evolutionary Darwinism's transition to "Neo-Darwinism" in preceding years, based on advances in knowledge of genetics. Society's changes in the intervening years have occurred at a dizzying pace. Many factors contributed to these changes, but changes in the life sciences were highly significant.

The discovery of successful science methodology in the previous few centuries did not generally result in increased respect and awe for the author of nature's laws. Neither did discovery of the incredible complexity and power of genetics drive scientists or society toward reverence for the Creator God. Instead, most of our scientists have become more self-empowered. Naturalism has become their religion.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Scientific Self-confidence

Some people think naturalism has scientific implications only. In future posts we will examine its broad impact on our entire culture. But for now, let's look back a few hundred years.

Seventeenth century fathers of scientific method -- Bacon, Descartes, Galileo, Newton, Pascal, and Boyle to name a few -- were generally uninhibited in expressing the reality of the Creator of matter, energy, time, and space. They recognized God as the author of laws which mediated the behavior of all things in the cosmos. Their early study, description, and application of these laws set the world on a path toward what became known as the Scientific Revolution. Early fathers of the revolution would be astonished had they been able to visualize outcomes in the 19th, 20th, and now the 21st century.

In the 19th century scientists built on the foundations of the early fathers of scientific method. The momentum of scientific progress increased with the volume and pace of discovery. But there was a tragic downside. Many scientists began to place more and more faith in their own ability to discover and apply scientific laws, and less and less faith in the God who authored them.

Early scientists, therefore, began to revel in their newfound autonomy and self-reliance, just as a young child learning to walk excitedly strolls off only to encounter dangers he could not visualize. Should his parents prevent him from exploring, discovering, and learning to walk? No. We would no more wish to prevent our children from learning to walk than we would wish to change the history of the development of scientific inquiry and discovery.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dawkins-Lennox Debate

Last night's live debate from the UAB campus between Richard Dawkins, well-known atheist and author of The God Delusion, and Dr. John Lennox, Christian apologist and scientist, both from Oxford University, was a mind stretcher. Christians would do well to critically evaluate atheist/agnostic viewpoints in order to sharpen their own apologetics skills.

Among their many points of discussion, I'll mention two. First, Dr. Dawkins made the point that faith is blind and science is evidence-based. Dr. Lennox countered that faith is clearly evidence-based and stated "It is the very nature of science that leads me to belief in God." Efforts to clarify the meaning of "faith" as an evidence supported belief system should be made by the Christian community.

Dawkins conceded "The origin of the universe is a genuinely difficult problem. Cosmology is waiting for its Darwin." In contrast, Lennox pointed to the uncreated God, producing a created cosmos which he described as exquisitely fine tuned. Then Lennox characterized as errant the idea promoted by atheistic naturalists, that incoherent, chaotic movement of particle matter has somehow self-organized into our fine tuned universe of ordered and information-rich biosystems. Logical coherence cannot result from logical incoherence, whether in physical systems or in our process of thought.

When the respectful debate was complete, it was obvious that contrasting worldviews separated the participants, not science. Once again, I encourage all Christians to pay attention to such exchanges in order to overcome misconceptions that the Christian faith is irrational and unscientific.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Scientific Naturalism and Court Decisions

"Let science be science, and let religion be religion." How often have we heard similar statements? One example of this firmly established naturalistic worldview in our society is the 2005 decision by U. S. District Court Judge John E. Jones III. He ruled that the Dover, PA board of education could not allow even the mention of the existence of alternate theories of biological origins to their students. Darwinist evolution must be the sole proposal -- no critical analysis, no discussion of its possible weaknesses permitted! Scientific method, which thrives on critical analysis of evidence, took a back seat to the science community's firm commitment to philosophical naturalism. Even in the face of plentiful evidence in the fossil record that new life forms appear quite suddenly, no one in the public school setting is permitted to offer anything but a naturalistic explanation, however weak that explanation may be. To do so is "establishment of religion" according to Judge Jones.

Naturalistic scientists and many others who feel such mention of an alternative to the theory of evolution would amount to "government establishment of religion," congratulated each other and pronounced creationism dead. But this titanic philosophical struggle may just be in its early stages. Good Christian science scholars such as Dr. Hugh Ross, astrophysicist and theologian, a frequent guest on The John Ankerberg Show, have proposed a scientific creation model matching the requirements of science - in particular, its ability to predict. Progress in this area will be slow. After all, the model of naturalism for the origin of the cosmos and its life forms has taken two centuries to become what it is today.

The philosophy of science and how science ought to operate has changed many times. Philosophies change, but we should be thankful that truth (what is really real) does not change. Our commitment to discover truth in origins history should be unswerving.