TCQ Week 2: What is Science?

Jun 12, 2024 | Creation, Manuscripts/Outlines

Last time, we saw that science is essentially the study of the natural world. We looked at why we should care about science and what science has to do with being a Christian.

In short, we landed on the fact that in order to care for the natural world (The Dominion Mandate), we must know something about it. And in order to know something about it, we must study it. And the study of the natural world is what we refer to as science.

We also made reference to the fact that sometimes science is weaponized by those without a biblical worldview. Science has a good track record, they say, of providing natural evidence for what was once thought to be supernatural. We briefly discussed the fact that science has some limitations.

Today, we’re going to examine these claims in greater detail. We’ll consider whether science is even possible without a biblical worldview. We’ll look at why God seemingly made some of the choices he did when it comes to creation. We’ll consider whether science has the goods to answer the big questions of life. And throughout, we’ll attempt to give you practical tools to put this thinking to good use in your spiritual encounters and in your own walk with God.

Question: What are some of the big questions you’ve personally had and/or been challenged with by others when it comes to science?

The Purpose of Creation

Carl Sagan, the famous astronomer and host of the TV show Cosmos once wrote about the “pale blue dot” that is earth:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known. — Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1994

His worldview was supremely naturalistic. He did not believe in God. And many who share his beliefs point to this eloquent quote in defense of their claim that there mustn’t be a God. After all, we’re a heaping pile of insignificance within a vast (indeed, vaster than we can fathom) ocean we call the universe.

Yes, Sagan’s quote is eloquent. And yes, it has a ring of truth to it, and even some of the ideals he draws from it (be kind to one another) are sound. But they are in service to a dangerous idea: That there is no fundamental design. That for all the beauty to be found in the cosmos, most of it is waste. A byproduct. In service of nothing.

And we are just as “nothing” as anything else. Richard Dawkins, the famous New Atheist and biologist once quipped that we should not thank Jesus for dying for us, we should thank the stars. We’re made of the same stuff they are. They gave us life in their death.

But this picture of reality is missing so much. It needs many gaps to be filled in order to make sense of it all. In a world as senseless and directionless as the one Dawkins and Sagan promote, what does it even mean to seek purpose and meaning? Can there be anything more fundamental? Who cares what kicked off the Big Bang? Who cares whether the universe will end in heat death?

Yes—in this view—naturalism—the inevitable answer to every big question of life can be phrased: So What?

So what?! That’s it?! No, surely there must be more.

Oh yes I believe we live on a pale blue dot. But I don’t take away from it the grim picture of reality painted by Sagan. I take away from it that we live on a privileged planet, finely tuned and designed for life in order that God could accomplish his purposes. Let’s take a closer look at that more optimistic view.

What is the purpose of creation?

To Display the Glories of God

Revelation 4:11 and Psalm 19:1 give us rare insight into the creative purposes of God:

Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Rev. 4:11)

“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.” (Psalm 19:1)

There is maybe no greater question than, “Why does anything exist at all?” The Bible’s answer is so laughably simplistic: Because God wanted it to.

We humans talk about the purpose of our lives, our calling, etc. And rightly so, in some cases. But at the end of the day, we are here because God wanted us to be. He didn’t have to make this world. He didn’t have to make you and me. God simply wanted to.

I’m reminded of another Bible verse. We wonder at the stars. They are so beautiful and so big and wondrous. There are countless numbers of them. The universe, in many ways, balances because of them and their contribution. And yet, Genesis 1:16 says,

“And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.”

What?! Oh yeah, those giant flaming balls of gas that would swallow the earth in an instant if not for God’s impeccable design, yeah—he “made those also.”

Of course, there was also a theological significance behind this verse. The ancient cultures around Israel deified the sun, moon, and stars. God won’t even give them the dignity of a name. And to further prove that they were not worthy of worship, he made sure to create them on day 4, so as to not cause confusion around who the Creator really is.

The fact that we live on this “pale blue dot” does not make us insignificant. Exactly the opposite is true! The fact that in the entire known universe our planet is special says something not about science, but about our Creator.

Then there’s the Fermi Paradox to consider. It reasons:

  1. High Probability of Extraterrestrial Life: Given the vast number of stars in the Milky Way galaxy alone, many of which have planets in the habitable zone (where conditions might support life), it is statistically likely that there are numerous planets with life, some of which could develop advanced civilizations.
  2. Lack of Evidence or Contact: Despite this high probability, there is no conclusive evidence of extraterrestrial life. We have not observed any signs of intelligent extraterrestrial civilizations, such as radio signals or spacecraft, nor have we found any direct evidence of their existence on Earth or elsewhere in the solar system.

There are attempts at reasoning through this. Perhaps the conditions on earth are just so rare that it’s no surprise we are alone in the universe? Perhaps no other civilization has passed an arbitrary “great filter” that leads to the development of more complex life?

Or—perhaps God only created one planet on which he intended life to live, and the rest are (1) in service to his creation (for example, forming the conditions which make life on earth possible) and/or (2) God simply wanted to show off and display his glory.

I know that when I look at the heavens, I’m in awe of what God has made. It doesn’t bother me at all that we seem to be alone and special in the universe. It’s one of the greatest pieces of evidence for Christianity as far as I’m concerned, which leads to my next point:

To Make God Known to us Personally

God not only wants to display his glory to us. He fundamentally wants to have a relationship with us. Note, he doesn’t need to, he wants to. Big (and important) difference.

There are two ways in which God communicates to us: Special Revelation and General Revelation.

Special Revelation is Scripture. This is the carefully orchestrated direct communication of God to man through a human agent. That human agent can be in the form of a prophet or the written Word.

General Revelation is nature. This is how God communicates using the world around us. We cannot learn specifics about God through nature, however, we can learn generally about the world God made and use reason to come to conclusions about God.

There are two mistakes many Christians make when it comes to General Revelation that we need to discuss.

Nature is not a Book

Some contend that God wrote two books, not just one. The book of Scripture and the book of nature. This is usually argued to make the case that what we learn from the study of the natural world can inform the correct interpretation of Scripture.

So, for example, the mainstream scientific view is that 13.8 BYA, there was a “Big Bang” that kicked off the development of—well, everything. The “nature is a book” proponents want us to use that as a data point, not materially different from Genesis 1:1—“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.”

On this view, since both mainstream science (i.e., the study of the natural world) and Scripture speak to the beginning of everything, they should be used to interpret one another. Therefore, Genesis 1:1 is describing the Big Bang.

This sounds really good and promising…if not for at least three flies in the ointment.

The first is that nature simply isn’t a book! Sure, both nature and the written word need interpretation. But books contain propositional statements that can be interpreted. Nature, however, must first be studied and then placed into propositional statements, which must then be interpreted. So at the very least there is one additional layer of interpretation when it comes to the natural world versus Scripture.

The second comes down to the assumption of something called Concordism, which is the view that science and Scripture can be directly mapped onto one another. That requires a lot of unpacking, and will be discussed much further in lesson 4.

The third problem deserves its own section:

General Revelation is not Science

My brothers and sisters who take the “two books” view often conflate science and general revelation. It’s important to note that these are not the same thing. Science is the study of the natural world. General revelation is the natural world!

Yes, we learn about the natural world through science. But so many use this view to justify believing what the mainstream (or consensus) of scientists believe. But if the history of science has taught us anything at all, it’s that the consensus is often wrong.

So, the vast majority of scientists—whether secular or religious—believe in the Big Bang. Does that mean we should see Genesis 1:1 as teaching the Big Bang? In my view, no. The Big Bang is an attempt at understanding all of cosmic history. It’s an interpretation. But there are other views available.

And when you take Genesis 1 at face value, you will see very many problems in lining it up with the history of cosmic life held by the Big Bang. It’s important we remember that the heavens declare the glory of God, not “the mainstream scientific consensus interpretation of the history of cosmic life”.

If we have that straight, we can be assured that God intends for us to use nature as a way of connecting more deeply with him. There is a reason why observing the stars, sitting by a beautiful lake, or taking a hike through the mountains makes you feel like you are closer to God in some way. You are.

This idea of connecting with God personally through nature is taught in Scripture. For example:

Proverbs 30:24-28 (KJV) — “There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise: The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer; The conies are but a feeble folk, yet make they their houses in the rocks; The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands; The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.”

Job 12:7-10 (KJV) — “But ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee: Or speak to the earth, and it shall teach thee: and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee. Who knoweth not in all these that the hand of the Lord hath wrought this? In whose hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.”

This direct application of nature to the human experience is not only useful in the “mountainous instagram photo with a Christian quote while drinking morning coffee” sense, but also a very scientific sense. For example, we’ve used ant trails to help create traffic patterns in major cities around the world.

Other examples include:

  • Velcro: Inspired by the way burrs stick to animal fur, George de Mestral invented Velcro.
  • Bullet Train: The design of the Shinkansen Bullet Train in Japan was improved by mimicking the beak of a kingfisher bird, resulting in reduced noise and increased speed.
  • Gecko Tape: Adhesives inspired by the way gecko feet adhere to surfaces.

Humans—even those opposed to God and his purposes—cannot help but to fulfill the Dominion Mandate. That’s because God has crafted nature in such a way that it reflects his glory and goodness and allows us to get to know him through it. He is the Great Engineer, the Great Scientist, and our Great Creator, all in one.

To Provide a Context for the Redemption Story

This is a simple point that is often overlooked. God wanted to create human Imagers—people who would bear the image of God and be able to share eternity with him forever.

The story has to take place somewhere, and Earth is the ideal kind of place. This gets into the weeds of God’s sovereignty a bit, but in short, I believe that God had a range of options available to him when it came time to create a world. Philosophers talk about various kinds of “worlds”:

  • Possible Worlds
  • Feasible Worlds
  • The Actual World

Possible worlds are those that could be. For example, there is a possible where everyone gets saved. However, we know this is not true in the actual world—the one we live in. But why? Wouldn’t it simply be better if God had created a world in which everyone was saved! Nobody would have to go to hell!

That’s where the idea of a feasible world comes in. Perhaps it was simply not feasible for God to create such a world. Perhaps a world in which everyone gets saved is a puppet world, where there is no free will. Perhaps in that world only two people exist. Et cetera.

Of course, by “world” we mean “all of time, space, and matter”—not simply planet Earth. Nevertheless, the planet Earth we have is the actual world! That means we live in exactly the place necessary in order for God to carry out his purposes with (1) mankind in general and (2) you and me!

It means you—YOU—were created as a part of the plan. And while you may not get to see that plan except in hindsight, how cool that before God made the world you find yourself in, there was a calculation made by God to consider every single possible world with every single possible state of affairs, and YOU made the cut.

Every day you spend on Earth ought to be spent with a kind of intentionality that honors God’s creative choice.

What are The Limits of Science?

In our quest to examine whether science can prove the Bible wrong, it is paramount to consider what science is even capable of, for that matter, why it’s even possible. Last time, I mentioned that folks like the New Atheists and the late Stephen Hawking believe science has replaced philosophy.

I said that, ironically, the statement “science has replaced philosophy” is itself philosophical. That statement was not arrived at using science. It is a statement of one’s belief—a view called scientism.

Anyone who claims that science can prove the Bible wrong on any point has misunderstood the nature of science and philosophy. This section will serve as a corrective for that mistaken view.

What Makes Science Possible?

In his book The Bible Among the Myths, Old Testament professor John Oswalt writes:

It was not until the biblical idea of one personal, transcendent, purposeful Creator was allowed to undergird them that science and logic were able to be fully developed and to come into their own. Without that undergirding, they fall to the ground under a barrage of contrary data … We in the last two centuries have shown the truth of this statement. We have tried to make logic and science stand on their own, and they have begun to destroy themselves.

Oswalt is touching upon a very important and undeniable fact of reality: The sheer possibility of science requires there to be a mind behind the universe.

Science requires something called The Uniformity of Nature. It’s the ability for scientists to test their predictions and come to repeatable conclusions. Without such uniformity in nature, science would be impossible.

That is why it’s a fact of history that a methodology for science was not developed until there was a clash between Greek Philosophy and the Hebrew concept of Monotheism. Without the idea of one, solitary, Creator God, there was nothing but chaos. It was a pantheon of gods fighting one another.

The Greeks brought the philosophy. The Hebrews brought the stability. Literally, if it were not for Christianity, the scientific method would not have seen the light of day.

Couple this with clear biblical teaching that the world was not only created by God but is also upheld by him, and you have the preconditions for science. A uniform world that (1) is fundamentally logical and (2) can be explored using mathematics.

No God, no science.

Before we move to the next section:

I’m going to use the word “philosophy” a lot, and I think it’s important to understand what is meant. You might be thinking, “I don’t ever use philosophy… why does this matter?” If you’re thinking that, congrats, you just used philosophy! Philosophy is the art of making distinctions. Of separating this from that. Of thinking about how we experience the world.

Philosophy is definitive and inquisitive. It gives definitions and asks questions to seek new definitions. But this is not a philosophy class. For our purposes here, I just need you to be able to identify the difference between a philosophical statement/conclusion and a scientific statement/conclusion.

With that in mind, let’s examine three major differences between science and philosophy:

Science Predicts and Tests—Philosophy Speculates and Explores

Scientists seek to understand. And so do philosophers. But they ask entirely different kinds of questions and seek entirely different ways of understanding.

For example:

Scientists are curious about how the natural world works. They ask questions that can be tested and measured, like “How does gravity work?” or “What causes a disease?” To find answers, they make predictions based on what they already know, conduct experiments, and observe what happens. They collect data, analyze it, and see if their predictions were correct. If they find new information, they might adjust their ideas and test again.

Philosophers, on the other hand, tackle deeper questions about life, existence, and what it means to be human. They ask questions like “What is the meaning of life?” or “What is right and wrong?” These questions often don’t have straightforward answers that can be tested in a lab. Instead, philosophers use logical reasoning and careful thinking to explore these big ideas.

Unfortunately, in our modern world, what tends to happen is that everyone can become an influencer and these roles get confused. Ever heard of Neil DeGrasse Tyson? He’s a great example of someone who often draws philosophical conclusions from his scientific work. He’s a smart astrophysicist, but that does not make his opinions about, say, the compatibility of science and faith correct.

Lawrence Krauss is another popular scientist who confuses these roles, and therefore confuses his followers. His book “A Universe from Nothing” made waves years ago, because it contended that yes, it was really possible to get a universe from nothing. (I.e., How could nothing create everything?)

In short, his book dealt accurately with the nature of quantum physics. But he drew an incorrect philosophical conclusion. Quantum physics requires the existence of a “vacuum” — which is a thing! By “nothing,” though, philosophers mean “the absence of anything at all” — literally, “No thing.” Krauss did not prove that possibility in his book, because it is impossible to prove. But that did not stop many from questioning their faith (or hardening in their atheism).

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

Strictly speaking, science is mechanistic. It begins with what is already known and attempts to answer how things work. Once you start wondering why things are the way they are, though, it leads into philosophy.

Many of the world’s greatest scientists are trying to find the answer to the question, “why do we exist?” We know this because there is an obsession in the scientific community with the possibility of finding a “theory of everything” (TOE).

Yes, the TOE would deal primarily with the unification of the four fundamental forces of nature:

Electromagnetism: Described by quantum electrodynamics (QED).

Strong Nuclear Force: Described by quantum chromodynamics (QCD).

Weak Nuclear Force: Unified with electromagnetism under the electroweak theory.

Gravity: Described by General Relativity.

But in so doing, scientists hope to open up entirely new ways of understanding reality. They are trying to do science in an effort to achieve a philosophical answer.

Will they ever achieve a TOE? Possibly, in a scientific sense. But again, we mustn’t think that such a thing would—or even could!—disprove the existence of God. It would simply, as science should, give us more insight into the mechanisms by which God controls and upholds our universe (Colossians 1:17).

When you’re having a discussion with someone who claims that science holds the answers to everything (which we’ll eventually discover), I would encourage to ask them why they think that is the case.

You could provide them with examples of scientists gone wrong, like Carl Sagan, Neil Degrasse Tyson, or Lawrence Krauss. In stepping out of their field, they have shared their opinions (which of course they are entitled to), but they’ve done so without doing the hard, rigorous work of the philosopher. And they’ve made mistakes because of it.

I’m not saying people can’t have opinions. What I am saying is that some of the loudest voices declaring science disproves God have not even faced the reality of science’s limits. They are a long way away from disproving Christianity or the Bible.

Science Looks for Patterns—Philosophy Looks for Weavers

It’s common to hear scientists refer to the “tapestry of life”. I like this phrase, because it’s a subconscious admission that a tapestry must be woven. And for scientists, “nature” is the weaver. But here again, science has overstepped its bounds. It’s not in the nature of science to look for weavers—that’s what philosophy does!

Science is fundamentally driven by patterns. When we notice patterns in nature, that leads us to form hypotheses which we then test. As we’ve seen, science describes how things happen. Storms are a common example.

In the ancient world, you will see that the gods are usually associated with forces of nature. Baal was the Canaanite storm god, and Zeus is known as the god of thunder, for example. Of course, we now understand why storms happen. They are not connected to the wrath of God or any gods (at least not normatively), but are naturally occurring phenomena caused by the interaction of atmospheric conditions. When warm, moist air rises and cools, it condenses to form clouds and precipitation. The clash between different air masses can create thunderstorms, with lightning and thunder resulting from the rapid heating and expansion of air.

However, does that scientific explanation invalidate God’s sovereign control over the storms? Or even the ability for a lesser (little-g) god to have some control over them? No! We have examples from both the Old and New Testaments where storms were miraculously manipulated by God. Science has showed us a pattern—a mechanism for how storms work. But it can’t:

  1. Prove that storms would work this way absent God’s holding together of the universe
  2. Prove that storms are not at least sometimes the result of action by God or a lesser god

Richard Dawkins has illustrated a similar pattern when it comes to biology. Despite being an ardent atheist, he has famous defined biology as:

“…the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”

This is puzzling, since when design is suggested as an explanation, it is hand-waived away as impossible. Unless—of course—it helps us avoid the God conclusion. For example, Dawkins is on record suggesting that something like panspermia is true. This is the view that life as we know it potentially arose from alien lifeforms “seeding” our galaxy with the fundamental building blocks of life. Where did the aliens (of whom we have no evidence) come from? Some Darwinian evolutionary process in a distant galaxy far, far away, of course!

Here again, we have a scientist using scientific conclusions (spurious ones, I might add) to venture into the realm of philosophy. When this happens, two inevitable conclusions result, which we’ll discuss in turn to finish out our lesson:

The Reification of Nature

Reification happens when one treats something that isn’t real or material as if it were. This often results in someone treating an abstract idea as if it has human qualities. It is not necessarily fallacious to do this. For example, the phrase “justice is blind” does not literally mean that justice is a material thing with no eyesight. It simply means that the rule of law is meant to be impartial and a standard that applies without any prejudice. This is intentionally used in a metaphorical sense to convey an idea.

Reification is fallacious, however, when it implies that a non-material force, idea, or abstraction has a will or power of its own. As it pertains to the subject of science and creation, we hear these all the time. Here are some examples:

“Life finds a way.” — This quote is from one of the best movies of all time, of course, Jurassic Park. But it’s a great common example of fallacious reification. Life can’t find anything. It doesn’t search for a way to do things. It has no consciousness at all.

“Science says…” or “Trust the science…” or “The science is clear…” — But science can’t communicate at all. Only scientists can, and scientists have worldviews and biases that affect how they interpret data and reach conclusions.

“The evidence speaks for itself.” — But evidence can’t talk. Evidence always needs to be interpreted. That’s why we have lawyers. And frankly, scientists.

“Natural selection has designed some amazing creatures.” — But natural selection is an immaterial process that has serious limitations. It’s a post-facto observation, not an agent with design intent or ability. It can’t design anything!

And the examples go on. Now you might say, “But these are clearly metaphorical, right?” For a technical audience, these might be considered metaphorical. But the problem is that these are usually used in communication with lay audiences.

It gives the false impression that we can/should have confidence in something that we cannot, even in principle, take confidence in. This makes believing ideas like evolution or the mainstream scientific consensus more palatable to some, giving them an excuse to believe it even if the evidence isn’t nearly as strong as it seems.

What are the fruits of this? Ironically, a return to ancient paganism:

The Deification of Nature

We know that reification isn’t harmless. It has consequences. This has become clear, since “most people” who find themselves not believing in God swing almost the entire opposite direction into worship of nature.

If you’ve ever heard the term “Mother Earth” mentioned, the Gaia theory, or called someone a “tree hugger,” you know exactly what I’m talking about. There are people who worship animals or who worship other humans.

This is all connected. And it all stems back to deifying nature in some way. Treating nature as if it is a god. The most obvious modern example of this is people referring to “the universe” as though it were a person. Clearly, the starts with the reification of understanding that sometimes things seem to happen in a divinely orchestrated way, even for those who do not believe in God.

But now, it’s so common to hear people say “the universe” when clearly, just 25-30 years ago, that same person might have instead said “God.”

This is not biblically surprising. We learn from Romans 1 that this will happen:

Romans 1:25 (KJV) — “Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.”

Make no mistake, even LGBTQIA+ theology (yes, I said theology) is deeply connected to this idea.

And notice—how interesting that much of this crowd weaponizes science against the Christian in many areas, but denies science when it comes to the fundamental premise of their religion—sexual identity.

So to sum up these first couple weeks: No, science is not something secondary we ought not to worry about. God wants us involved.

Because when we’re not doing our part to advance science and a biblical worldview, we end up with the deification of nature. The idea that we don’t need God, because nature holds us in her hands. (Hopefully you caught the reification fallacy in that last sentence ;)).

Science matters. It is the study of the natural world, but it has limits. And when those limits are violated, we end up creating a god out of it. That is a slap in the face of our wonderful creator who gave us the tools and command to study his world and give him the credit.

Let’s do our part to restore science to its rightful place.

Meet Steve

Meet Steve

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

I’m interested in the surprising connection between creation, theology, business, and storytelling. We explore those themes and more on this blog.

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