Monday, September 5, 2011

On Board With Science

Were someone to deny the benefits of science in our modern world, he would be accused of being a crackpot. It is no exaggeration to say that science, particularly since the Scientific Revolution of the last four centuries, has changed our civilization. The previously untapped potential of science has burst upon the human race, and the benefits for mankind multiply with each passing decade. No one in the 16th century could have envisioned what was in store; no one in the 21st can accurately foresee what is yet to come.

The focus of this discussion will be the natural sciences—categorized generally as astronomy, biology, chemistry, earth science, meteorology, physics, and oceanography. These are also known as the hard sciences, not in terms of their difficulty, but in terms of our ability to discover knowledge in those fields empirically. We are able to quantify data through observation and experiment, using accepted scientific method.

Natural sciences are the basis for applied science. We credit applied science for the technology which powers our transportation, enables us to communicate instantly, provides medical knowledge to insure our health, affords multiple work-saving devices, supplies media entertainment, and makes quality foods of our choice available throughout all seasons. Cell phone technology was an unknown luxury a few decades ago, spurned by many with questions like, “Why do we need that?” Now we cannot imagine being out of immediate and potentially constant contact with our loved ones wherever they are. Access to instant weather radar enables us to become short term weather prognosticators. Years ago our automobiles were sometimes considered worn out at 70,000 miles. These days most well-maintained cars run like new with twice that mileage.

We need not be urged to “get on board with science” with respect to everyday applications of the hard sciences enumerated above. The implications and applications for our mundane experience are welcomed and generally non-controversial. In the area of philosophy of science, however, some controversy arises. Many members of our churches do not think very much about the philosophy of science. Philosophy of science is generally defined as concern with the assumptions, foundations, methods, and implications of science. It is in the area of implications of science and its reported findings that many people in our church pews experience problems “getting on board with science.”

Different branches of science include philosophical studies in their own respective disciplines. Among other topics, philosophers of biology spotlight evolution and its implications. Science philosophers in other branches of hard sciences may concentrate, for example, on the implications of our ever expanding technological innovations and the wide ranging effects of those rapid advances on society at large or on particular segments of society. Given that the field of biological science has especially strong appeal for those imbued with a naturalistic outlook, we would predict that philosophers in biological science would promote their findings in a manner to reflect an evolutionary view of life’s development, including humanity.

Accepting this philosophical implication has a major impact on the Christian worldview. On two fronts, conflicts exist. Evolutionary scientists have lively disagreements as they interpret their data, a predicted outcome of how normal science operates in all disciplines. More important, evolutionary scientists interpret their data within a framework of naturalism. They imply that the complex processes of life’s development--molecules to man--proceeded with God watching passively, if indeed, He exists at all.

On board with science? The phrase has an appealing ring. What young person in our day, immersed in the sea of advances brought by science, would not want to be on board with science? Proceed with caution. Interpretations of the biological data are variable, but the philosophers’ implications that ambiguous data all support naturalistic evolution do not vary. Science as a broad discipline was actively secularized by those antagonistic to religious viewpoints following the Civil War. Bioscience was part of the secularization.

As a science educator, I am enthusiastic about science and its remarkable potential. When we encourage people of any age to get on board with science, however, we must be sure we know which compartment of the vessel we are boarding.