Are Origins a Question of Science, or Philosophy?

Aug 22, 2017 | Apologetics, Article, Creation, Philosophy, Theology

Note: This post makes mention of Ravi Zacharias. It is with a heavy heart that I must acknowledge a tragic independent report concerning evidence of sexual abuse and predatory behavior on the part of Ravi Zacharias. This man was a huge inspiration to me, as is evident from reading my blog, and the news was more than heart shattering. Some ministries leaders have come to the conclusion that removing articles about and references to Ravi is the right move; I have come to a different conclusion, and here is why:

  1. Though I cannot begin go to imagine the grief or pain of those Ravi hurt and the emotional toll of his behavior, it is also the case that to discredit a piece of information due to the character of the source of such behavior is to commit the genetic fallacy. If I quote or mention Ravi, it is because I believe those items to contain truth value on their own merit.
  2. To go back and change previously written information without a careful disclaimer is, I believe, a form of revisionist history. If a disclaimer must be offered anyway, I believe there is value in keeping the material accessible. So while I know it is a difficult ask to say, “Just trust the ideas and disregard his personal character,” I must ask that of you as a careful thinker.
  3. I have seen a lot of comparisons by Christians to not removing Ravi’s work because biblical characters like King David and others had fallen into terrible sin, and they have obviously been given to us as a gift to learn from (Romans 15:4). Why “cancel” Ravi if we’re not “cancelling” the Bible? It does seem to me, though, that there are two problems with this line of thinking: (1) These books are inspired by God and thus we can trust his revelation to us. They were examples given for a purpose. (2) These characters also seemed to show true biblical repentance of their wicked actions. Ravi remained unrepentant until his dying day. Therefore, I do not think these are 1-and-1 comparisons. This behavior reflects SERIOUS error and dangerous behavior on the part of Ravi and, to an unknown degree, RZIM as a whole, and that must not be taken lightly or swept under the rug.

I do not expect you to agree completely with this decision. I do ask that you respect the thought, prayer, and seeking of counsel in which I engaged regarding it.

It has long been debated whether origins can be known from a scientific perspective. Many creation scientists contend that there should be a differentiation between “origin science” and “observational science,” while most mainstream scientists say that there is just “science”—no difference between the two options put forth by creationists. I want to submit that, perhaps, we are both wrong. To loosely paraphrase the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen, “Evolution theory began in the philosophy department—it had nothing to do, ultimately, with Charles Darwin and scientific theory!” The implications of this are astounding. If this claim is true, any scientific endeavor that sets out to prove evolution is merely science attempting to validate a philosophy. But, that’s what creation scientists are doing too—right? Yes! Both evolution and creation are philosophical ideas about the beginning of the world—not scientific ones.

The King of the Sciences—Not Science at all?

  The great Theoretical Physicist, Dr. Stephen Hawking, says in his book The Grand Design, “Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.” But is this statement true? Is Philosophy no longer the King of the Sciences? I don’t believe this for a second. As a matter of fact, I think perhaps it is Mr. Hawking who has not kept up with philosophy! There are some questions about life that thus far, science just cannot answer. Furthermore, this article says that science IS philosophical, and that, “Professor Hawking has probably been talking to the wrong philosophers, or picked up some wrong ideas about the kinds of discussion that currently go on in philosophy of science. His lofty dismissal of that whole enterprise as a useless, scientifically irrelevant pseudo-discipline fails to reckon with several important facts about the way that science has typically been practised since its early-modern (seventeenth-century) point of departure and, even more, in the wake of twentieth century developments such as quantum mechanics and relativity.” Thus I would be more apt to believe that science is the field of study that has become bankrupt in such a subject as Origins—not philosophy.

What Happened to the Queen?

  Of course, there is now another good question that ought to be addressed. What happened to Theology—the so-called Queen of the Sciences? Simply put, she has been all but abandoned! There was a time during which it would have been unthinkable to make assertions about origins from a perspective void of theology. Cultural history tells us that this has also been a discussion amongst the philosophers and theologians–the “scientists” only got involved recently! Consequently, theologically informed accounts of origins are really the only ones that make sense. Evolutionary suggestions such as abiogenesis not only are lacking in support and observation, but cannot answer the question of “why?”–the question that philosophers and theologians long to know and discover. There are certain terms mainstream scientists stay away from (and others they frequently equivocate on) to make statements and assumptions about origins appear scientific, but truth to be told, most assertions from these scientific communities are nothing more than religious statements! You are welcome to believe anything you want–but let’s be careful what we call “science.” I’m okay admitting that my belief in God is just that–a belief. But I argue that to remain intellectually honest, most scientists must come to terms that they too have a belief–not a settled science.

Should Philosophy Inform Science?

  Before I give you my rationale, we should explore one final question–should we allow philosophical claims to inform the scientific research we conduct? The rubber meets the road here, and the reason is that I believe most scientists would answer that question with a resounding, “No!” This is evidenced by those who say that creation science is not a valid field of study. All creation science is, ultimately, is conducting research to find scientific evidence to support a philosophical claim about the origin of the world. But this is precisely what science has done since the beginning of time! Philosophy has always informed science! It’s only since folks like Dr. Hawking have come along to say “we’ll take it from here” that suddenly, philosophical claims are not allowed. I’m calling for a return to intellectual honesty. Make room for the philosophers again, and let those who have legitimate philosophical claims about the universe do the science necessary to substantiate those claims and produce reasonable models. So let’s answer the question: Who gets to speculate about origins–the scientists, or the philosophers?

Science Predicts and Tests—Philosophy Speculates and Explores

  To put this another way, science is (supposed to be) “hands-on”, while philosophy is more “hands-off”. Historically speaking, it is asking too much of the scientist to speculate on the beginning of the universe! Science, in the traditional sense, is the process of making predictions based on a hypothesis, then testing the hypothesis, observing the outcome, tabulating the results, and stating the conclusions. The question is to what degree should a hypothesis be made? Well since the observing and testing phases are what makes science what it is, it is logical to assume that science can only be performed on that which can be seen and tested. Therefore, scientists can really only hypothesize about something which can be both seen and tested. Practically speaking, it is proper for a scientist to see something occurring in nature, formulate a hypothesis, and carry through to the conclusion. However, to postulate further than the depth of what can be observed is to LEAVE the realm of science altogether. This is exactly why speciation and variation are scientifically testable and observable, and why to then inflate the terminology to include Macroevolution (which is untestable and unobservable) is unscientific and frankly, dishonest. When creationists make claims like the above, we are not attempting to call evolutionists names or even to shoot the golden calf–we’re just simply calling it like we see it. To observe a dog varying into different types of dogs is scientific–to speculate that the dog shared a common ancestor to a banana (without any actual supporting evidence) is philosophical (and borderline religious). Creationists are not guilt-free on this matter. There have been times when the creationist community attempted to argue philosophically about scientific matters. This problem is not so bad today, but in the past, many natural phenomena such as lightning, for example, used to be attributed directly to God. Now, that is not to say that God isn’t the Creator of the lighting, and it still could be directly His doing in a given situation (after all, the Bible says the wind and seas obey Him). But we now know that there is a natural mechanism which causes lightning to strike, and therefore we need not invoke religious authority each time the weatherman calls for thundershowers. The philosopher, on the other hand, observes the world and asks “What explains the world we see today? Who made it, and why is it here? What did the world look like in the beginning, and how did it get to look like it does now?” With that said, I do believe science can give us very specific information about whether or not these philosophical claims hold water. I hold that the earth is really only around 6,000 years old, and I also believe there is good scientific evidence to back that claim up. However, there are those who can use the same evidence and show that the earth is billions of years old! At this point, the discussion moves past science and onto philosophy because NEITHER of us was there, and “age” is not reliably testable by scientific standards. It would be instructive to point out here that, though science can give us helpful insight into that which can be observed and tested, we must remember that it is ultimately nothing more than a series of educated guesses and conjecture and should not be glorified. So while the philosopher speculates about the origin of things and explores the different possibilities, the scientist simply makes predictions based on these possibilities and tests the data to see which proposal holds up.

Science Asks “How?”—Philosophy Asks “Why?”

  My next line of reasoning aims to focus on the type of questions asked by the scientist vs. the philosopher. It is far beyond the boundaries of science to ask questions of “purpose,” for these kinds of questions are purely metaphysical. A scientist who affirms evolution theory cannot logically ask the question of why “evolution” chooses to function how it does. However, perhaps subconsciously, they have done just that! When the evolutionist claims that the purpose of natural selection is to filter out the weak to the betterment of the organism/population, they must operate on the assumption that (1) there is a “more perfect” end to be achieved and (2) there is a mechanism in place that is aware of this “more perfect” end. The problem for the scientist is that natural processes are unguided and therefore have no reason to operate this way! Here again, the question must be diverted to the philosopher and recognized as a “why” question. This is quite bothersome for the naturalist. “Nature” would seem to have a purpose, but “nature” is inanimate and therefore, cannot have a “purpose.” Science can only bring glory to God in its intended purpose. Interestingly, mainstream scientists are almost overwhelmingly atheistic, and to their detriment. Their observations and studies are leading them to atheistic conclusions because they have an a priori commitment. The real issue is because they don’t want there to be a God, “science” has become god. Science has become the field of study that supposedly has an answer for everything, and yet in our observations, we simply find that it doesn’t. In both mainstream and creation science we have unanswered questions—to say that either is settled would be quite arrogant and false. Therefore, we must have science to continue asking how!

Science Looks for Patterns—Philosophy Looks for Weavers

  Here we begin to see not only the limits of science but also the limits of philosophy. Science must answer, “What mechanism created this pattern?” Philosophy must answer, “What weaver created this pattern?” But even so, philosophers will not be satisfied with that answer, because there is yet another “why/who” question: Who made God, and why? This is a legitimate question asked in the philosophy department. Now there are many philosophers who realize that ontologically, God is the greatest possible being and therefore is uncreated. But largely, this is where the conversation moves into theology! Without theology and a hermeneutical study of the Bible, we would not fully realize the uncreated nature of our God. God is, as Ravi Zacharias says in his book of the same title, “The Grand Weaver.” He weaves visible patters not only into our lives as beautiful works of art made for His glory and after His own image, but He weaves also the patterns that scientists so confidently claim disprove Him—beautiful patterns that we find in nature and in the order of things that speak wonderful testimonies to the kind of God we serve. As Paul said, truly, He “dwells in temples not made with hands” (Acts 17:24). As the Grand Designer of our world, God has every right to command all glory for the things He has done. He has simply done the impossible time after time, and indeed, did it first when He created the very world we live on and breathed into man the breath of life. There is a remarkable beauty to viewing the world through the Biblical lens. Things look so much different—so much clearer. You can see the face of God even in the laughter of a child. The love I have for my sons goes much deeper than chemical reactions. It comes directly from my loving Heavenly Father who loved me and died for me to save my soul from a real place called hell. To pretend that “science” gives us the ultimate satisfaction in our quest for knowledge is just that—pretending. We can choose to admit it or not, but the human heart has desires and longings that go far beyond filling our minds with more knowledge, and go far beyond millions of years of unguided evolutionary processes. And in order to understand those longings and desires and see any hope of having them fulfilled, we must give glory and honor to our Creator. That’s the only way to live a truly fulfilled life. Life’s purpose and life’s end makes so much more sense when understood in the context of life’s beginning. Science cannot give that context—but God can. And He will, if you ask Him into your heart, tell Him that you know you’re a sinner and you’re truly sorry for your sin, and ask Him to reveal Himself to you and to save you.Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!

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Hi, I’m Steve, an author, speaker, and Bible teacher with a heart for exploring God’s Word and God’s world.

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