Grey Thoughts
11.3.05
 
Science, Christianity and Reality
Does science and Christianity clash? Is science hostile to Christianity? Is Christianity anti-science?

The answer to all these questions is yes, and no. I'll explain that later, but first I think it is important to understand the real question that underpins these questions.

The very idea that something (science) can clash with something else (Christianity) is based on the concept of non-contradiction (Something cannot be both 'A' and not 'A' at the same time). So if science says something that contradicts with something Christianity says, both cannot be right. To be able to contradict, both positions have to be speaking to the same subject. (As a simple example, I say John is 15 years old, and you say Tim is 20 years old, there can be no contradiction between our statements as we are talking about different subjects. If we both make a comment about John's age, then there is the possibility of contradiction).

So then, what is the common subject that both science and Christianity are speaking about? I would say it is reality. Science attempts to describe the way reality is (and is not), as does Christianity. Clearly, there are places where there is great opposition between science and Christianity and I think we should explore the concepts of reality each position holds.

Christianity holds to a universe based on laws, which contains both natural and supernatural causes. It holds that the supernatural causes are rare.

Science holds to a universe based on laws, which it restricts to natural causes (methological naturalism).

Clearly, if an event is regular and repeatable, then both Christianity and science can agree about a natural cause. The conflict arises however, when unique, historical events are investigated, as Christianity does not assume a naturalistic cause (or assume a supernatural cause for that matter).

Christianity claims quite a few significant supernaturally caused events based on testimony from witnesses. Science rules out the possibility of ANY event it is investigating being supernaturally caused.

This means that the problem is not one of evidence, but assumption. If science cannot allow a supernatural cause because of its assumptions, then it will never conclude that something was supernaturally caused, even if it is! This means that science in these cases is no longer attempting to describe reality, it is merely undertaking an intellectual 'what if naturalism were true' type exercise. This is an important point to remember because if anyone claims that science has proven that (the Christian) God does not exist they are wrong. Science cannot prove God does not exist because it assumes he does not exist. It is begging the question. Which in logic, is a big no-no.

Of course, Christianity has also, in the past, done a few logical no-no's. One example is the claim that 'God put the fossil's there to test us'. This is an argument from ignorance, and a science stopper. As Christians, just because we find something in the natural world that we cannot explain according to our understanding of God's creation, it NOT mean we should explain it with an Ad Hoc supernatural explanation.

IF Christianity is true, then we should have confidence that every observation, when properly interpreted, will fit within the Christian belief system. Unless we have cause to believe an event is supernaturally caused (other than merely explaining away a difficult observation), then we should refrain from making such ad hoc judgements.

Note: This post is being submited to All things to all and their Showcase on Science and Christianity.
Comments:
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The Science and Christianity Showcase Excerpt: I am pleased to present the Science and Christianity Showcase. Contrary to the usual experience of scientists around the globe, this first time experiment has yielded excellent results...
 
I think your post hinges on the definition of "science". If science is methodological naturalism, then you're right. However, I prefer to think of science more as it (I think) originally arose: The use of the scientific method to try and discover the truth about the world around us. It's true that this is NOT the definition that most people (at least in evolution, etc.) use today, but I think it's more useful, as it shows that, when the scientific method is properly applied (i.e. not confined to methodological naturalism), it need not be at odds with Christianity.

So, really, I think your post is an excellent argument why methodological naturalism is NOT a good way to get at the truth (and why methodological naturalism is at odds with Christianity). But it's only relatively recently that methodological naturalism has become somewhat synonymous with science. And there are still some scientists (myself included) who do not subscribe to methodological naturalism.
 
There are two issues whose distinction is subtle but critical. Science operates according to methodological naturalism, but those notable few who use science to promote atheism are relying on philosophical naturalism. It is true that the physical world is all that science can investigate, but this is not the same as saying that the physical world is all that exists.

How to tell the difference? If someone is sure that an uncommon, non-repeating phenomonon has a natural explanation --and it might-- then this is philosophical naturalism: practical atheism. The alternative is to recognize that science has its proper place and contributes much to understanding, but it cannot provide an answer for everything. We're either putting our faith in a transcendant Creator who is outside the physical universe, or else we're putting our faith in the human mind, forgetting that the data available to it is fragmentary.
 
I agree with David.

I appreciate your attempt at a solution to the perceived conflict, but I don't actually think this is the best way to go about it.

You see, your argument hinges on the idea of the 'supernatural', which is not, in fact, a biblical concept. What is the difference between a 'natural' and a 'supernatural' cause?

Perhaps it might be more helpful speaking of 'primary' and 'secondary' causes...

"This means that science in these cases is no longer attempting to describe reality, it is merely undertaking an intellectual 'what if naturalism were true' type exercise."
Of course, if this was true, then a Christian could not in good conscience be a scientist...
 
Sorry, I didn't sign that last comment.

John Dekker
 
David,
I agree totally that the original scientific method was less concerned with Metholodogical naturalism (MN). Glad to know there are scientists out there who are not wedded to the concept.

Thanks for leaving a comment
 
kevin,
The problem with this is that science works on the observations and inferences of others.

How much work is done assuming Uniformitarianism assumptions?

Or the assumptions of the Homogenity and Isotropy of the universe?

I guess the crux of my post was trying to show where methodological naturalism oversteps its bounds is when science starts using unprovable assumptions about non-repeatable events.
 
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