Monday, October 24, 2011

An Objective Search for Truth

I recently had a discussion with an engineer friend of mine about whether a Christian can truly “do science” when his conclusions are predetermined based upon his faith commitments.

At the outset, I must confess. I am not a scientist. The closest I ever came to it was a semester of engineering in college when I took some college-level science and math courses. I knew I was in trouble when my mouse trap car got negative yardage in the mandatory mouse trap car race for first year engineering students. The advanced math class taught by a non-native English-speaking professor was the final nail in the coffin for a career in any of these related fields.

Fortunately, the question raised by my friend is actually not a scientific question at all. It is rather a question related to epistemology (how one comes to know something) and metaphics (what is ultimate reality).  Epistemology and metaphysics are two subject areas within the classic disciplines of philosophy, which are, thankfully, within the boundaries of my educational bailiwick. 

Often, science is pitted against Christianity as a bitter enemy. What is missed when the issue is framed as “Science v. Christianity” is that it is not actually science that is opposed to Christianity. History shows us that great scientific minds of the past, like Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton, operated within a Christian Worldview (CW) while at the same time being brilliant men of science. The real conflict is between Naturalism and Christianity. The “Naturalistic Worldview” (NW) asserts, a priori, that nothing outside the physical, or natural, world exists.

“Science” can be done through the lens of either the CW or the NW. The question that interests me as a non-scientist is this: “Does the NW provide the requisite preconditions for doing science?”  In other words, does the NW provide the necessary starting point to make possible the scientific enterprise which all scientists agree to be legitimate? When the NW is examined objectively, it fails the test.

The reality is that Naturalistic scientists have to operate on “borrow capital” (to use Cornelius Van Til’s terminology).  They function under the assumption of an ordered universe with predictable laws. They unquestionably trust their senses. They interpret and rely upon complex “information” that is undeniably encoded within living organism. They utilize the immaterial laws of logic in their hypotheses. And yet, under the NW, they have no such intellectual warrant for doing so. A Naturalistic universe would not lead to order, information, or predictability, but rather chaos, randomness, and unpredictability.

On the other hand, the CW does provide a basis for the scientific enterprise. There is a consistency for the scientist who is a Christian between his foundational beliefs (i.e., CW) and his scientific method used in the laboratory. He has answers for all the questions for which the Naturalist can provide no answers. Why is there an orderly universe upon which we can “do science”? Why can we generally trust our senses? Why is there information encoded in living things? Why can we utilize inductive and deductive reasoning to lead us to objective truth claims? The answer to all of these foundational questions is that a being outside of nature provided those preconditions for science. This is no “God in the gaps” hypothesis. For no matter how long the Naturalist searches for alternatives to supernatural provision, it is logically impossible for purely naturalistic processes to provide these requisite preconditions for science.So in the final analysis, perhaps the question should be posed: “Is the Naturalistic scientist being objective when she vigorously defends a worldview that undercuts the scientific enterprise at its root?”

In closing this post, let me place before us the reality that only God can bring a person from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light (Eph. 2:1-10). He is ultimately the One who establishes the CW in the minds of believers. As John Calvin states:

The testimony of the Spirit is more excellent than all reason. For as God alone is a fit witness of himself in his word, the Word will not find acceptance in men’s hearts before it is sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit. The same Spirit therefore who has spoken through the mouths of the prophets must penetrate into our hearts to persuade us that they faithfully proclaimed what had been divinely commanded...because until he illumines their minds, they ever waver among many doubts! –Institutes, I, vii, 4

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