Scripture and Science In Conflict by Prof. Philip Stott Introduction

Scripture and Science In Conflict by Prof. Philip Stott Site Map
 

Foundational Statement
on Science and Christianity

by Philip Stott

INTRODUCTION
 

Science is the pursuit of knowledge about the material world around us. It was realised more than four hundred years ago that human reasoning alone is inadequate to ensure accurate conclusions in this field. This realization led to the development of the "Scientific Method."

By its nature the scientific method is limited in the range of phenomena which are open to examination. Any field not open to direct experimental testing cannot be considered "scientific." Untestable speculation cannot be considered to be in any way "science." Furthermore, extrapolation far beyond the range of actual experiment, especially into the distant past or the distant future is unscientific.

Although the scientific method has been accepted as the set of guiding rules for scientific investigation for well over  hundred years it is clear that in many instances these rules are not being followed today. Many scientists appear to be paying lip service to these guiding principles, while pursuing a different course in practice. It has become generally recognised, and clearly documented by such philosophers and historians of science as Kuhn, Polanyi and Popper that personal belief has played a more significant role than experimental observations in several fields of investigation. This has led to the widespread acceptance of "Ad Hoc" theories, unsupported additions to a hypothesis, which explain away instances where predictions are contradicted by observation. In recent years it has led to the general acceptance of the idea of the "Best In The Field" theory. In practice this means the acceptance of a theory which is philosophically acceptable even though contradicted by observation.

It is here proposed that this situation is unsatisfactory. Scientists should address the situation by seriously investigating the experimental evidence for generally accepted theories in order to establish a position in which science can be seen to be based on the highest standards of responsibility and integrity. This is particularly necessary since personal experimental verification by each individual scientist can, of necessity, be only very limited. Knowledge is largely accepted by hearsay and from review of literature.
 

HISTORICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL PERSPECTIVES
 

The scientific method in the form outlined above and nominally accepted today is essentially the product of scientists working under the Christian world view. Francis Bacon, widely regarded as the "Father of Modern Science", stressed the value of experiment rather than reason because, he argued, "Nature carries the stamp of the Creator Himself, whereas man's reason carries the stamp of his own foolish pride." Methodical Atheism, the study of Nature on the assumption that God does not exist, has always had its followers, but has always suffered from the inconsistencies of seeking laws without a Law-Giver, absolutes without an Absolute. Since atheism makes man the highest intelligence, the highest authority in the Universe, it has always carried a greater risk of accepting the stamp of the scientist's own foolish pride. The Christian world view was held by most of those involved in modern science, even those not actually professing Christianity, until the latter part of the 19th century. To seek for patterns and order in the creation makes sense within the context of a Creator who works in an orderly fashion. To seek for laws in the creation makes sense within the context of a God who prescribes laws. Absolute values and absolute laws - values and laws which do not depend on agreed convention, but have an inescapable necessity - are possible, and obviously have meaning, in the context of an absolute Creator.
 

In the latter half of the 19th century scientists in great numbers turned away from the Christian world view, and humanism became the dominant belief system in science. Belief in theories of origins due to random chance materialistic processes became widespread. It became common to entertain unverifiable speculations, unsupported by experimental evidence, to uphold the humanist position that the whole of reality consists solely of deterministic, materialistic processes.
 

This world view has had drastic effects on almost every aspect of society. Absolute moral standards have no meaning under a purely materialistic, evolutionary world view. If the whole of reality is simply due to random chance processes, then laws and moral values are purely conventional, they can be set by society as a matter of convenience. They can be altered or ignored as a matter of convenience also. This is a marked change from the formerly accepted view that there are absolute standards for moral behaviour and the conduct of life; standards laid down by the Creator of that life.
 

The consequence for science itself is that science has become entangled in inconsistencies. The humanist world view has proved itself untenable. Examples are legion. Fred Hoyle, after a distinguished career in cosmology, came to the conclusion "the creation of the Universe, like the solution of the Rubic cube, requires an intelligence." George Gaylord Simpson, during a distinguished career in evolutionary biology, had to admit that matter and energy alone were insufficient, and that for the explanation of life "the work required is particular work, it must follow specifications, it requires information on how to proceed." Leif Robinson, holding a prominent position in astronomy, has had to admit that the whole of astronomy is confronted with "ever growing tidal waves of disparate information", evidence which shows that astronomy, like many other branches of science, is on the wrong track. These scientists came to their conclusions not as a result of abandoning the humanist world view, but simply by admitting that the evidence is overwhelming.
 

The inconsistencies in present day science have become so severe that there is a growing realization that materialism is inadequate as a world view. Scientists in great numbers are abandoning pure materialism. Most are taking one of two directions. The first is to return to the Christian position, the acknowledgment of a Creator. The second is to turn to the metaphysical concepts of the religions of the east, particularly India; ideas centred on a "universal consciousness", a "cosmic force", an "all pervading intelligence." Although very ancient ideas, they are generally being grouped under the title "New Age."

Science and civilization made great advances under the Christian world view predominating in Europe and North America throughout the last few centuries. India, the home of the "New Age" religions, has been remarkably lacking in comparable advance. A new brand of science following "New Age" philosophies is likely to end up with insuperable inconsistencies. The possibility of a universe progressing because of a driving force within itself, because of information developed by and within itself, is contrary to all known experimental evidence, and appears to be as feasible as lifting oneself up by one's own boot straps. The odds seem to be heavily stacked in favour of a world view centred on the Creator. This is not surprising since modern science is essentially a product of this outlook in the first place.

Since science is essentially a product of the Christian world view, and since many scientists are returning to this position, it would be advisable to consider carefully the outlook that should be brought back into this discipline after so many years of absence.
 

PRINCIPLES FOR THE PRACTICE OF SCIENCE
 

Science must conform to the principles of the "Scientific Method." This implies that the results of experiment and observation should be taken seriously, even where they conflict with generally accepted or personal theories.

It has been shown repeatedly that a limited number of observations can be fitted into several different hypotheses. Only if all the possible observations relevant to a particular field were known would it be possible to arrive at certainty. Personal commitment to a particular hypothesis based on limited evidence is a very human propensity, but a scientist must be prepared to relinquish any hypothesis which is contradicted by observation.
 

In all cases where every possible item of information on any field is not available it is necessary to make a-priori assumptions. The assumptions form a vital part of any scientific discussion. It should be recognised by all scientists that such assumptions exist, they should be clearly stated as such and not as proven facts, and should remain subject to critical examination.
 

Science is regarded with considerable respect by the general public, and has great influence on many aspects of society. It is the responsibility of all scientists to report honestly on their work, especially when presenting material to those who are not in a position to appreciate the assumptions involved. The record of scientists in this respect, in recent years, has been alarming. It should be recognised as unacceptable to continue with the currently popular practice of presenting ideas to the public as established, while in reality they are only supported by reasonable probabilities, or which are simply possibilities for which a probability has not even been established. The popular excuse that it would confuse the public to tell them of the uncertainties must be considered dishonest and unacceptable.
 

CHRISTIANITY IN SCIENCE
 

A scientist approaching science with the Christian world view must obviously follow the scientific method but in addition he recognises a source of information which is of great value in guiding the direction of all research. This source of reference is the Bible, the Word of God, which, by its own testimony, it identifies with the Lord Jesus Christ, as is clearly seen in John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Jesus claimed that this Word is authoritative, as in Matthew 24:35, where He said "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."

 The Bible testifies that its whole witness is true, as stated in II Timothy 3:16 "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:."

A scientist who professes to be a Christian should recognise that the guidance of the Word is not only valuable, but is indispensable. This is seen in Proverbs 3:5-6 "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."

Recognition of this has potentially great benefit for scientific investigation, as pointed out in Psalm 119:130 "The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple." and in Job 32:8 "But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding." History suggests that these are no idle promises. God-fearing, Bible-honouring scientists like Newton, Faraday, Euler, Maxwell and Kelvin were responsible for many of the greatest fundamental advances in the whole of science.

If it is valuable to acknowledge the Word of God as a source of understanding, it should be unnecessary to be ashamed of reference to Scripture. As pointed out in Luke 9:26 "For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's, and of the holy angels."

A scientist who makes use of the wisdom expressed in the Bible is at an advantage in two important ways. Firstly, any hypothesis which is clearly in direct conflict with Biblical statement can be immediately deduced to be suspect or incorrect, so that undue time need not be spent on attempts at experimental verification. Secondly, positive suggestions for worthwhile lines of investigation may be suggested. Science entails searching for the mode of operation of the creation. Such research is likely to be much more fruitful if it seeks processes compatible with the way the Creator has revealed that He works. The great scientist Johannes Kepler noted that the privilege of a scientist is to think God's thoughts after Him. A researcher is much more likely to arrive at such thoughts if he first studies the general mode of thought that the Creator uses.
 

A scientist who accepts the authority of the Bible needs to be especially aware of the possibility of error in human reasoning, and the inadequacy of worldly wisdom. He needs to heed the warning in I Corinthians 1:20 "Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" The history of science is full of examples of theories, some of which were held as proven beyond reasonable doubt, which now stand abandoned, an embarrassment to those branches of science which once upheld them, the Phlogiston Theory, Paint-pot Genetics, Caloric, Darwinian Evolution...

Science can deal legitimately only with what can be measured. The Bible deals with what man cannot find out for himself by measurement but can only know by divine revelation. Secular humanistic science has chosen to reject the Bible's revelation and to fit its measurements instead into a set of assumptions consistent with its own worldly wisdom. The implication is clear. To start with the wisdom of this world and attempt to reconcile conclusions reached on this basis with the wisdom of God is inconsistent.
A search for truth must start from a world-view grounded in the Truth.

This was first presented at Tyndale Theological Seminary, the Netherlands, November 1992. It is also the Appendix of Vital Questions, Khanya Press 1994.