“Science or Faith” or “Science and Faith”? (3 of 5)

We often hear that “science is at war with religion,” a story that has been around since the “Enlightenment.” However, it is the wrong story, because the story is based on at least three wrong assumptions. One wrong assumption is that “Science is about facts and Christianity is about faith, and facts win.” Last week I discussed one reason why this assumption is wrong. This week I offer two more reasons to reject this assumption.

 

Response 2: Science Is Not Only About “Facts” But Also Involves “Faith”

Implicit in this assumption is the belief that science is all and only about those things that one can empirically verify. If it can be measured, put in a beaker, studied under a microscope or telescope, or otherwise seen, it is “scientific” and thus a “fact.” If not, it is simply a matter of “faith” that one cannot know to be true.

The problem with this is that much of the practice of science involves belief in what cannot be seen. Furthermore, these beliefs are foundational, supporting the entire scientific enterprise. All aspects of scientific study depend on philosophical premises that cannot be seen. Therefore the science/fact verses faith/belief distinction implicit in this assumption breaks down.   

 

Laws of Logic

For example, the laws of logic are assumed as a scientist designs experiments, runs tests, records results, and draws conclusions. Yet the laws of logic are immaterial things. Therefore the scientist must first put his faith in the existence and reliability of these immaterial realities before he can even begin doing science.

I certainly believe it is appropriate to have faith in the existence and universal validity of the laws of logic, and therefore these laws should be used in scientific study. But the point is that the laws of logic are things that cannot be seen and therefore cannot be scientifically verified. They are not “facts” in the way this assumption defines facts (as empirically verifiable entities). They are items of faith the scientist begins in order to do science.

 

Reliability of the Senses

Another example is the belief in the reliability of the senses to perceive the external world. The scientist has faith that the world is as she perceives it. Based on this she does science by observing phenomena and drawing conclusions. Though there have been many who challenge the reliability of the senses to perceive an external world (such as George Berkeley), I do believe this is an entirely reasonable belief to have. Yet it is nonetheless a belief—a matter of “faith”: belief in something (the assumption that my senses give me reliable data about the world) that one cannot see and therefore cannot verify scientifically.

If the scientist is asked to defend this belief, she has to appeal to even more which is unseen to justify further this assumption. It is no accident that modern science developed in areas where the Christian worldview flourished, which provided a rationale to trust the senses: God created us with the ability to see things as they truly are. 

Those who held this belief founded the modern scientific enterprise, such as Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, Carl Linnaeus, George Cuvier, Andre Ampere, Michael Faraday, Charles Babbage, James Clerk Maxwell, Gregor Mendel, Louis Pasteur, and Lord Kelvin. This line of Christian scientists continues into the 20th and 21st century with luminaries such as George Washington Carver, Sir Robert Boyle, Allan Sandage, and Francis Collins.

The point is that scientists must begin with faith in the reliability of the senses in order to do science, a belief that can’t be seen or scientifically “proven.” Furthermore, this assumption, when challenged, is best defended by belief in another unseen reality (God), the belief that gave rise to modern science in the first place.

 

Continuity of Past and Future

A third example is the belief in the continuity between the future and the past. In science, one makes repeated observations, and from this data predictions are made. However, all this assumes the future will resemble the past. Again, this is a belief the scientist brings to the lab, not one he discovers there. He has faith that the future will resemble the past, and based on this belief he ventures to predict the results of experiments in light of what he has previously observed.

Once again, I agree this is an extremely reasonable belief. However, the point is that it is another item of “faith” per the definition above: “belief in that which one cannot see.” The scientist believes this before doing science. It is not known as a result of doing science.

Again, if this assumption is challenged (as it has been by David Hume), one must appeal to God for its justification. Modern science developed by defending this assumption on the basis of God being a God of order, and therefore we giving us reason to expect his creation to be orderly. Part of this orderliness is the regularity of cause and effect, such that causes that led to effects in the past will lead to the same effects in the future. Therefore, they argued, it is reasonable to believe the future will resemble the past.

 

Values

A fourth example of an article of faith the scientist must hold before doing science is the existence of values necessary for scientific study. Examples include “do not falsify data,” “do strive for internal consistency and clarity,” and “a theory should be fruitful in guiding new research.” Notice none of these meet the definition of “fact” used in this assumption. Rather they fall within the above definition of faith. Faith in these values is essential to doing science. Once again these assumptions have been challenged. Since the beginning of the modern scientific age, these values have been defended by appeals to God’s nature.

These are only four of at least ten unseen realities that the scientist must have faith in before beginning to do science (I touched on a few more in point 2 of an earlier blog here.). Therefore science is not only about “the (empirical, observable) facts.” The practice of science involves faith as well—belief in things that one cannot see and therefore one cannot verify scientifically. This is a second reason to reject the assumption that “Science is about facts and Christianity is about faith, and facts win.”

 

Response 3: Christianity is Not Only About Faith, But Also Involves Facts

Our Christian faith should also be grounded in facts. This is a third reason the “Science is about facts and Christianity is about faith” assumption is wrong.

Throughout Scripture we see God giving us reasons to believe, and expecting us to base our faith on these reasons. He says to Isaiah, “Come, let us reason together.” (Isaiah 1:8). When Jesus was asked for evidence that he is God, he didn’t tell them to “just have faith” but gives them a proof: that he will raise from the dead three days after his burial (Matt. 12:40). Peter tells us always to be ready to give an answer—literally “a rational defense”—of the hope that we have in Christ (I Peter 3:15). True faith is grounded in fact, not contrary to it.

We are not only instructed to base our faith on facts, but Scripture gives us verifiable facts to ground our faith. Scripture is full of claims that can be verified or falsified—that we can have good reason to believe are true. For instance, Genesis 1 claims that the universe began at a point in time—it is not eternal. The idea of a beginning point ran contrary to the prevailing view of astrophysicists and cosmologists for many years, who preferred the “steady state” model of the universe—the universe had always existed in a steady, unchanging state.

However, data from the Hubble telescope and the discovery of background radiation indicated there was an initial explosion in which all matter came to be—known as the “Big Bang” (I blogged more on this here).  Robert Jastrow, Professor at Columbia University and Founder and Director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, commented on the implications of the Big Bang when he said,

For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountain of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries. Robert Jastrow, The Enchanted Loom: Mind in the Universe, p. 19.

Scientists have confirmed the Big Bang cosmology. This cosmology also confirms the truth claim of Genesis 1 that the universe came to be at a point in time.

The resurrection of Jesus is another historical event capable of proof or disproof. Here I blogged on the evidence that proves the resurrection (I’ll write more on the nature of “proof” next week). Again, we are not asked to make a “blind leap of faith.” Rather, we are asked to place our faith in that which we have good reason to believe is true. (This “faith based on fact” is a recurring theme in my blog posts, and will continue to be in future posts.)

The fact that Christianity is based on facts that can be independently confirmed is a third reason to reject the assumption that “Science is about facts, and Christianity is about faith, and facts win.”

 

Conclusion

In summary, there are at least three good reasons to reject the prevalent assumption that “Science is about facts and Christianity is about faith, and facts win.” First, it assumes science is necessarily about facts, which is false. Second, it assumes science gives us certainty, which is false. And third, it assumes Christianity is not about facts, which is false.

Next week I’ll tackle the second of three assumptions underlying this “Science or Faith” conflict narrative, and show why this second assumption is equally flawed.

Until then, grace and peace.

 

For further reading I suggest Christianity and the Nature of Science: A Philosophical Investigation by J.P. Moreland; Chapter 3: The Limits of Science