Science Tests Faith


Today I listened to an excellent podcast called Speak Life.  The episode I listened to was titled “Is Science The Enemy of Faith?”  It contained a short lecture delivered by a guy named Glen Scrivener.  The lecture was brilliant on several levels.

It started with a story  about a botanist named Betty who analyzed rather than appreciated a rose she had received for Valentine’s Day.  With this, Scrivener was showing that it is possible to understand the inner workings of the universe without understanding what the universe was for.  This is an idea that I’ve been mulling for about 20 years.  The idea first came to me when I saw a rainbow in the sky over Cincinnati during a snowstorm (yes, a snowstorm, not a rainstorm) and I realized that science could explain how that rainbow got there but could never explain why it was there or why it excited me so much.  I wrote a poem about this, in fact.  That poem is now lost, and probably for the better.  But Bettys (or is it Betties?) are still around, and every time I encounter them I feel like Ted Danson in this scene from Gulliver’s Travels:


Another great thing Scrivener said in the lecture was “scientism of the gaps”.  There was a question time following his lecture, and someone asked about Christians using “God of the gaps” arguments.  These arguments merely apply God to whatever is unknown, and for that reason they are not regarded very well.  Scrivener in reply said that some scientists are guilty of a similar poor argument he called “scientism of the gaps”.  As the name suggests, this is just applying some scientific principle, such as “natural selection”, or, even worse, some scientific fact which simply has not been discovered yet, to whatever is unknown.  I had never heard that phrase “scientism of the gaps” before, but I had encountered this type of thinking.  I particularly encountered it when I wrote a paper on the Cambrian Explosion in grad school.  At that time, I ran across this video:

Professor Valentine there states that there “must have been” the kind of biological build-up Darwinian evolution requires, and he admits that there is no evidence for that build-up, but still concludes that such a build-up is “probably right” and “must have been”.  I just don’t see the qualitative difference between saying something like that and saying something is because “God made it that way”.  It does seem like scientism in the gaps to me, and it seems as poor as God in the gaps.

More than anything, though, this podcast reminded me of a TV special that aired on Fox during my final year of Bible college.  The special was called Signs From God: Science Tests Faith and was hosted by Giselle Fernandez.

Image result for signs from god science tests faith

For some reason I thought this was called “Science Vs Faith” and was hosted by Soledad O’Brien, which is why it took me forever to find.

I remember the special being promoted less as “science tests faith” and more like “science versus faith”.  And I remember thinking at the time, “What science?”  I probably could have also asked, “What faith?” as the “signs from God” being tested were not signs I would have based any of my faith upon.  Indeed, while the general consensus seems to be that all science is against all faith, a quick survey of the many branches of science shows that this is not close to being true.

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Not even close to being exhaustive, but the best I could do in the space I had.

Does geology argue against faith in any degree?  Or forensics?  Physics?  What about math?  Computer science?  Political science?  None of them do.  In fact, no true scientific fact (that is, an observation of the natural world) can argue against faith, and no scientific field does, either.  Rather, as Scrivener says in the podcast, what really argues against the faith (or tries to argue against it) is a scientific philosophy, a worldview or even religion which uses science and looks like a science and influences science but is not itself a science.  You can also call it naturalism, materialism, philosophical materialism, etc.  But you really can’t call it science.  It isn’t.

Image result for faith naturalism where the battle really lies

That, as Alvin Plantiga says, is where the conflict really lies, what the conflict really is.  It is not science versus faith.  It is scientism versus faith.  It is not a conflict of “fact versus myth”, as some would like to present it.  It is a conflict of one worldview against another.

Scrivener ably defended my worldview in his lecture.  He left lots of room for true science (observation of nature) as well (indeed, based on his comments, there were lots of Christian scientists in the room with him).  He showed that science is not and really cannot be the enemy of The Faith and vice versa.  And I completely agree.

The Real Meaning of RIP

Someone famous died today.  Who it was isn’t important (well, it is, but you know what I mean).  What is important is that all sorts of posts and tweets began appearing after news of this person’s passing was released.  A good deal of these posts and tweets contained the acrostic (or is it an abbreviation?) R.I.P.  Some of these posts/tweets contained this acrostic at their ends, like a footnote.  Others had it prominently in their beginnings.  These latter posts/tweets not only mentioned R.I.P. but directly, prominently wished it upon this deceased person.

R.I.P., of course, means “rest in peace”.  And I have a couple problems with it.  The first is that it spells rip, which is rather aggressive considering the situation.  It is great sentiment, but it is not really expressed in a great way.

The second and more important problem I have with this phrase is that it presupposes a spiritual element to life.  Actually, what it presupposes is an afterlife, an existence which continues after this present life.  That is not so much a problem for me, really; I believe there is such an afterlife.  But it is a problem for materialism, the worldview which is competing with The Faith for the minds of our society.  Materialism (sometimes called philosophical materialism or naturalism to distinguish it from the consumerist, love-of-physical-possessions type of materialism) asserts that there is no spiritual component to existence, that existence is only the material or matter.  This worldview is presented by some as the only “reasonable” interpretation of the universe.

Things get sticky, though, when these materialists start using R.I.P.  Because the fact of the matter is that there is no such thing as R.I.P. in the materialistic world.  There is simply non-existence, the cessation of existing.  That’s not “rest” or “peace”.  That’s just nothing.  Now that’s a “reasonable” conclusion I came to on my own, but you don’t have to take it from me.  Take it from a guy much smarter than me: Dr. William Provine.

Or if not him, how about Sherlock Holmes (the Benedict Cumberbatch version)?

Sherlock says this to a pair of children, and Watson immediately rebukes him for doing so.  And yet what he says is exactly what he should have said to not just a pair of children but all children if materialism is correct.  It is what is true if materialism is correct, what has to be true and has to be said if materialism is correct.

What we see, then, in R.I.P and Watson’s reaction to Sherlock’s comment is that people have a hard time living according to the materialistic worldview.  Even if they intellectually agree with it, they have emotional trouble living by it.  It is rather unlivable.  It doesn’t seem to fit real life.  It doesn’t seem to work.  It doesn’t seem to be what we need.  We just plain don’t like it.

And maybe the fact that we don’t like it on these emotional and practical levels says something about it’s truth.  Maybe we have this trouble with the materialistic worldview because we feel it isn’t the right worldview.  Maybe we find ourselves wishing for the rest and peace we don’t believe in because something hardwired in us says there must be such rest and peace.