Are Science and Secular History compatible with Faith?

Two Kinds of Science

What I will do today is real simple:  I hope to show you that not all sciences are the same. I hope to leave you with ways to help you decide which scientific results should affect your beliefs and which should not.  In doing so I think you will see that while science is a firm foundation for technology, it is not a firm foundation for a worldview – for beliefs about origins, identity, purpose and destiny. 

Let me try to explain by using the table below. On one side are sciences that ask the question: how do things work? Or, what is it made of? In other words it inquires about the Nature of Things. On the other side are sciences that ask the question: how did things come to be? In other words it inquires into the Origin of Things.

Nature of Things

Origin of Things

Physics

Paleontology

Chemistry

Cosmology

Biology

Evolutionary biology

Etc …

Etc …

These are very different categories of sciences due to the very different questions that are being asked. It is important for every Christ-follower to understand this distinction and know which sciences are solid and reliable and which are not as reliable.

On the left are listed sciences like Physics, Chemistry and Biology.  Physics tries to understand how things move, how atoms work, how electricity, light and gravity work.  Chemistry then tries to understand how atoms can combine and form the millions different substances that surround us. Biology builds on chemistry to study objects that have life. All these essentially inquire into the nature of the things that surround us.

On the right side is the other set of sciences. This set asks questions about the past. It tries to determine how things came to be or what things were like in the past. For example Paleontology tries to understand the creatures that lived a long time ago. Cosmology tries to explain how the universe came into existence and formed into what it is today. Evolutionary biology tries to explain how we have all this diverse forms of life on the planet. Questions about the origin of species, origin of Life, origin and evolution of the universe are all addressed in this second category of sciences.

The first key difference between these two categories is that the results from the sciences on the left are verifiable by experiment. This is extremely important.  If there is a disagreement between two scientists on an issue, it can be settled in the laboratory with an experiment.  The second set of sciences does not have that option as the object of study is in the past. So disputes are not easily resolved.  Another way to state this is that conclusions from this category do not qualify as scientific truths as per Feynman’s definition below. The conclusions are less reliable and harder to verify and can be overturned.

According to Richard Feynman: “The principle of science, the definition, almost, is the following: The test of all knowledge is experiment. Experiment is the sole judge of scientific Truth.” (Feynman, 1963). Scientific truth is truth that is uncovered by the scientific method. When a hypothesis is supported by experiment it moves closer to scientific truth. When supported by multiple experiments, by multiple groups of scientists over a period of time it becomes a scientific truth. Scientific Truths can never be proven wrong because they are true. It is as close to Absolute Truth as we can get with only our senses. The truths can be refined but never proven wrong. Those that are not scientific truths can be proven wrong and history has lot of well-known examples. One example of Scientific Truth is Newton’s laws of motion. They are true whether we believe them or not. As you may know, Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity improved on Newton’s laws by showing that they were approximations of Einstein’s equations. Nevertheless, Newton’s laws are still as valid and as applicable as before but now we know the limits of the validity.

A second major difference between the two categories arises from the first one. Because a past event is harder to conclusively verify in a lab, multiple scenarios can be made to fit the same set of evidence depending on what beliefs we may hold about what actually happened. Consider the fossil evidence which can be analyzed in multiple ways in the laboratory. Going from the fossil evidence to what may have actually happened to that animal in past requires filling in the gaps with stories based on beliefs about what may have happened. And these stories will change over time depending on new evidence that comes in.  Meanwhile, multiple stories may fit the same fossil evidence. This does not happen in the first category because different scenarios can be tested in a lab and disputes can be settled with a degree of certainty that is not available to the second category.

On a practical level, this means that while a purely evolutionary scenario of life can be constructed, a completely theistic scenario can also be constructed using the same evidence without any loss of intellectual integrity.

A third major distinction arises when we consider the technologies that have emerged from these two categories. The various products of technology that we enjoy in our daily lives, our cars, phones, planes, rockets that took us to the moon, all emerge from this first set of sciences. In other words everything that has changed our lives when we think of science and technology comes from this first category. To put it very bluntly, all technologies emerge from the first category. Almost no technology emerges from the second. In other words NOTHING USEFUL EMERGES FROM THE RIGHT SIDE! Nothing in your life is changed materially. But instead, it offers an alternate view of our origins, purpose and destiny. In short, it competes with religious views. It tells us where we came from, it tells us what our purpose is, and it tells us where we are going. I must hasten to add that there is one exception: Forensic Sciences that tries to understand how an event happened in the past related to a crime or accident. This of course is very useful, but it does not produce new technology. Instead it is used to generate proofs by analyzing evidence that can be used in a court case.

There is a fourth, final, and most significant distinction. This is also very good news for the Christ follower: the Bible does not disagree with the first category of sciences!  On the flip side, all the conflicts with God and the Bible emerge from the second category of sciences. Below is a summary of the differences.

Nature of Things

Origin of Things

Physics

Paleontology

Chemistry

Cosmology

Biology

Evolutionary biology

Etc …

Etc …

Verifiable in a Lab

Hard to verify in Lab

Single Scenario

Multiple Scenarios

Source of Technologies

No Technologies

No conflicts with Bible

Conflicts with Bible

Here is the final take away: these two categories are very different.  The sciences on the right are not of the same caliber as the ones on the left – they do not even qualify as scientific truth. As a result, the sciences on the right are not reliable enough to base your life on. Nothing you hear from the right column should require you to change your views about your faith or the Bible. The ones on the right do not produce things that make our lives easier, but instead compete with religion in answering the big questions of life. The problem is that people club all these sciences together and assume that all sciences have the same validity and the results that are proclaimed cannot be rejected. But now you know that that level of reliability only applies to the first category. The second just goes along for the ride.

© 2012 George Valliath