Puritan Gems

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Knowledge Of God Part III

The God of Science

“To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalms 19:1)
"Atheism is so senseless and odious to mankind that it never had many professors. Can it be by accident that all birds beasts and men have their right side and left side alike shaped (except in their bowels) and just two eyes and no more on either side the face and just two ears on either side the head and a nose with two holes and no more between the eyes and one mouth under the nose and either two forelegs or two wings or two arms on the shoulders and two legs on the hips one on either side and no more? Whence arises this uniformity in all their outward shapes but from the counsel and contrivance of an Author? Whence is it that the eyes of all sorts of living creatures are transparent to the very bottom and the only transparent members in the body, having on the outside an hard transparent skin, and within transparent juices with a crystalline Lens in the middle and a pupil before the Lens all of them so truly shaped and fitted for vision, that no Artist can mend them? Did blind chance know that there was light and what was its refraction and fit the eyes of all creatures after the most curious manner to make use of it? These and such like considerations always have and ever will prevail with man kind to believe that there is a being who made all things and has all things in his power and who is therefore to be feared." (Isaac Newton - A Short Schem Of The True Religion)
I love science. From as early as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the world we live in, by the living things that share this world with us, and by different minerals and where they came from. The vision of a night sky is enough to invoke wonder, even before one actually examines the vastness of the cosmos itself through the lenses of power telescopes. I was always curious about the way things worked, and wanted to know all I could about the mechanisms of cause and effect. In our scientifically advanced age, we have a tendency to take such advancement for granted, even becoming frustrated when our computers don’t work exactly right (or fast enough), or when our cell phones don’t get enough area coverage. But when we stop and consider what has gone into making these things work in the first place, we can’t help but be in awe.

However, as wonderful as science is, we must be careful to keep it in its place. In recent times, science has rebelled against its Christian foundations, and attempted to advance itself to idol status. Indeed, science has become the most popular haven for those who seek to burst apart the bonds of the Lord and cast away His cords from them. (Psalm 2:2). No field of study has attempted to present as harsh of a challenge to the Christian faith as that of science, but is such a challenge valid or logical?

The Failure of "Scientific Apologetics"

I am not a big fan of popular "scientific apologetics", as currently presented, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that they usually involve some pretty lousy science. When I was in the 6th grade, I was first introduced to a "science" that challenged my Christian faith. It was shortly afterwards that I was introduced to my first "scientific apologetics" comic book, which featured the now debunked yet still popular "moon dust" argument for a young solar system.

Of course, it is unfair to paint all scientific apologists with such a broad brush. There are a few that are scientifically sound, though many of these rely on questionable exegesis to support their concordist view of Scripture. Despite their best efforts, those attempting to approach God via science must implicitly accept naturalistic presuppositions. As a result, the best that they can expect to accomplish is to show that God "possibly" exists, or that God is the best explanation for the "gaps" that appear in the materialistic worldview. Those who tout “scientific evidence” as the primary tool of apologetics implicitly ignore the supernatural aspect of saving faith, and tend to offer a “god of the gaps” argument as the main naturalistic evidence of such faith. Consider the following statement from an atheist writer:

"Two popular god-gaps are the initial formation of life and the origin of the universe. While there are a number of hypothesis about both these issues it is difficult to say that there is a comprehensive scientific consensus - and so they are to convenient gaps where the religiously-minded can insert their deity of choice. It should be remembered however that the fact that science has no present explanation by no means means that god (or Uranus) exists. Indeed, if we were never to answer these questions it still wouldn't mean that Allah created the Universe or that Thor causes it to thunder."
Once materialism is conceded as the default worldview, the above statement is absolutely correct. The non-believer longs to establish science as the starting point for discussions concerning the supernatural, since science itself can neither directly prove nor disprove God’s existence. Increased examination or knowledge of the natural world, by itself, cannot convince the unbeliever, but instead renders him to be “without excuse” (Romans 1:20). As with knowledge itself, all that is meaningful in knowing God must be revealed to us by God (Matthew 16:17). God is more than simply the "God of the gaps"; he is the God of everything between the gaps.

Arguments for God based on science also have a tendency approach “natural law” in a deistic fashion. God is viewed as being separate from "natural law" (though He occasionally intervenes in order to perform a miracle). As a result, “natural law” becomes an impersonal standard by which all things, including God, must be studied, and thus science becomes the "neutral" or "default" truth. Such approaches, however well-meaning, are actually immoral, because they implicitly deny the Lordship of Christ over the human mind and the created order, relegating God to be a mere hypothesis that may be tested by our autonomous gray matter, "... exchang[ing] the truth of God for a lie, and worshipp[ing] and serv[ing] the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen." (Romans 1:25). Instead, we are commanded to " your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy". It is only then that we may be "prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect," (1 Peter 3:15).

" wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don't know." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997 (ISBN 978-0-684-83827-4) "Letter to Eberhard Bethge", 29 May 1944, pages 310-312.)
The main weakness of any sort of “evidential” apologetic is that the unbeliever’s worldview is never challenged. The scientific approach, by granting a naturalistic worldview as the default, is left to try and prove a supernatural God by natural means. The unbeliever, on the other hand, is free from having to defend his presuppositions. He is never forced to defend his use of universal, invariant laws. He never has to explain how such laws can exist in a purely material universe. He never has to explain how the human mind, being an accident of biochemistry, is capable of perceiving such laws, or assuming any type of inductive reasoning. While the atheistic worldview cannot justify for any of these things, the scientific apologist is often willing to be “concessive on these basic points on which it should have demanded surrender” (Van Til).

Now there are certainly fascinating discoveries in science that can build our faith. We see the handiwork of God in the birth of the universe from nothing, in the creation of life from non-life, and in the precise mechanisms that allow life to exist. Volumes have been written on the Strong Anthropic Principle, which describes the way that the universe appears to be finely tuned for human life to exist. But we should also see God in the “scientifically explained” parts of nature, in the biochemistry of digestion, in the geology of a volcanic eruption, and in the cosmology behind the birth of a star. Who can miss the awe-inspiring order that makes science possible in the first place? The Christian can and should be inspired by God’s handiwork, for it is in this work that the Living God has been revealed to all men. John Calvin writes,

“And, first, wherever you turn your eyes, there is no portion of the world, however minute, that does not exhibit at least some sparks of beauty; while it is impossible to contemplate the vast and beautiful fabric as it extends around, without being overwhelmed by the immense weight of glory. Hence, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews elegantly describes the visible worlds as images of the invisible (Hebrews 11:3), the elegant structure of the world serving us as a kind of mirror, in which we may behold God, though otherwise invisible. For the same reason, the Psalmist attributes language to celestial objects, a language which all nations understand (Psalms 19:1), the manifestation of the Godhead being too clear to escape the notice of any people, however obtuse. The apostle Paul, stating this still more clearly, says, “That which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:20)....Paul, accordingly, after reminding the Athenians that they “might feel after God and find him,” immediately adds, that “he is not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:27); every man having within himself undoubted evidence of the heavenly grace by which he lives, and moves, and has his being...” (Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, Chapter 5)

God As The Foundation of Science

"Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: who created all these?” (Isaiah 40:26)
"You may find it strange that I consider the comprehensibility of the world to the degree that we may speak of such comprehensibility as a miracle or an eternal mystery. Well, a priori one should expect a chaotic world, which cannot be in any way grasped through thought... The kind of order created, for example, by Newton's theory of gravity is of quite a different kind. Even if the axioms of the theory are posited by a human being, the success of such an enterprise presupposes an order in the objective world of a high degree, which one has no a priori right to expect. That is the miracle which grows increasingly persuasive with the increasing development of knowledge." (Albert Einstein, 1956, Lettres a Maurice Solovine).
What is the proper role of science in revealing the one true God? How has he revealed Himself in nature, and to what effect is that revelation? As it turns out, science itself requires a Christian worldview, being based upon God’s creative attributes and His Providence. While Richard Dawkins may hide behind science in order to “become an intellectually fulfilled atheist”, one must make certain assumptions in order to even begin to do science that an atheist has no right to make. God is not dependent upon science, but science, as it turns out, must presuppose God.

The Uniformity of Nature and the Problem of Inference

"Thus says the LORD: If I have not established my covenant with day and night and the fixed order of heaven and earth," (Jeremiah 33:25)
In our last post concerning the knowledge of God, we examined several problems with the idea that “man is the measure of all things”. Scientists have a tendency to be empiricists, holding that firm observation by sense experience is the pathway to true knowledge. We touched briefly on the issue of uniformity in the empiricist worldview, particularly with empiricist William Clifford. In his essay, "The Ethics of Belief", Clifford examines the "limits of inference", and tells us that "we may add to our experience on the assumption of a uniformity of nature". Clifford writes,

"What this uniformity precisely is, how we grow in the knowledge of it from generation to generation, these are questions which for the present we lay aside..."
Yet Clifford never actually deals with the issue of uniformity. Yet like most empiricists, he has to use inductive reasoning in order to establish universal laws of science, logic, and morality. Yet his own empiricism cannot justify or account for this sort of reasoning. David Hume, in his work on "An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding", undermined any sort of inductive reasoning by concluding that "causes and effects are discoverable, not by reason but by experience", since we have no way of proving that the future will be like the past.

“all the laws of nature, and all the operations of bodies without exception, are known only by experience… The mind can never possibly find the effect in the supposed cause, by the most accurate scrutiny and examination. For the effect is totally different from the cause, and consequently can never be discovered in it… Why then should we give the preference to one [effect], which is no more consistent or conceivable than the rest? All our reasonings a priori will never be able to show us any foundation for this preference.

In a word, then, every effect is a distinct event from its cause. It could not, therefore, be discovered in the cause, and the first invention or conception of it, a priori, must be entirely arbitrary. And even after it is suggested, the conjunction of it with the cause must appear equally arbitrary; since there are always many other effects, which, to reason, must seem fully as consistent and natural. In vain, therefore, should we pretend to determine any single event, or infer any cause or effect, without the assistance of observation and experience.” (David Hume – An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Section IV: Sceptical Doubts Concerning the Operations of the Understanding)
This is an insurmountable obstacle for the naturalist, since induction is an a priori requirement for the establishment of any universal law, and induction assumes nature to be uniform. But on what basis will an atheist make such an assumption? Empiricism cannot account for inference, since any establishment of a universal law in an empiricist’s worldview would require universal sense experience. Omniscience can only be attributed to God, and our understanding of inference can only be revealed to us by an omniscient and omnipotent God (Genesis 8:22, Psalm 104:14, 20, Psalm 147:15-18, Jeremiah 33:25, Acts 17:28, Hebrews 1:3). Without God’s creative attributes and his providence, natural laws would be impossible, not to mention the ability of the human mind to comprehend such laws. The fact that scientists use inference without hesitation is proof that they know God and his attributes.

Physicist and popular science writer Paul Davies offers this observation:

"In the ensuing three hundred years the theological dimension of science faded. People take it for granted that the physical world is both ordered and intelligible. The underlying order in nature – the laws of physics – are simply accepted as given, as brute facts. Nobody asks where they came from; at least they do not do so in polite company. However, even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith that the universe is not absurd, that there is a rational basis to physical existence manifested as lawlike order in nature that is at least part comprehensible to us. So science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview."

The Non-Objectivity Of "Normal Science"

As a result of Christianity's concessions to the naturalistic worldview, it is often accepted that science is "neutral" or "objective". However, that is not, and indeed cannot be, the case. Thomas Kuhn, in his work "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", shows how science, by its very nature, must operate within a certain paradigm. Experimental observations quickly eliminate competing paradigms, and after a time, anomalies are simply ignored or explained away. Experiments in what Kuhn refers to as “normal science” are expected to yield certain results.

Now this expectation is very acceptable once inference can be justified. Occasionally, a paradigm may be altered if enough anomalies occur to warrant such a shift, such as Einstein showing that Newtonian physics doesn't apply for objects at high speeds, or the discovery that certain material laws must be altered that the quantum level. But what do we do with a paradigm like Darwinian Evolution? This paradigm, too, has been altered in order to account for a lack of evidence. The neo-Darwinian model of gradual change has been replaced by "punctuated equilibrium" in order to account for a lack of fossil evidence. Consider Darwin’s own words concerning the Cambrian explosion.

“There is another and allied difficulty, which is much more serious. I allude to the manner in which species belonging to several of the main divisions of the animal kingdom suddenly appear in the lowest known fossiliferous rocks...if the theory be true, it is indisputable that before the lowest Cambrian stratum was deposited long periods elapsed… and that during these vast periods the world swarmed with living the question why we do not find rich fossiliferous deposits belonging to these assumed earliest periods prior to the Cambrian system, I can give no satisfactory answer...the case at present must remain inexplicable; and may be truly urged as a valid argument against the views here entertained." (Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species: On the sudden Appearance of Groups of allied Species in the lowest known Fossiliferous Strata, Sixth Edition (London: John Murray, 1872), Chapter X, pp. 285-288.)
In the nearly 150 years since Darwin wrote these words, no fossil discovery has been able to account for the ancestors of the Cambrian phyla, as admitted by late Harvard Paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould.

“The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils.” (Stephen Jay Gould – Natural History Magazine, 1977)

Yet despite the failure of the fossil record to support the neo-Darwinian model, evolution has remained the paradigm, and those who work outside the paradigm are considered "unscientific". Many have abandoned the fossil arguments for evolution in favor of genetic arguments, but those fall short as well. No explanation has been given for how the extremely complex parts of a cell could have evolved in a naturalistic worldview, or how they could have survived as independent systems even if they had evolved. No mechanism has been discovered that can lead to beneficial speciation via natural selection while being able to avoid pure genetic drift. In spite of these and other challenges, genetic similarities are currently presented as the main evidence for evolution, since naturalistic evolution has become “normal science”. In contrast, the Christian can observe, for instance, certain similarities between the human and chimp genome and see a miraculous mechanism by which God beautifully and meticulously designed both creatures. (With the obvious physical similarities, finding genetic similarities is hardly surprising.) The evolutionist, on the other hand, can observe the exact same thing and see evidence of a common ancestor, not because the observable evidence demands such a conclusion, but because it fits the current paradigm.

The Nature of Evidence

Darwinian Evolution is one paradigm for which induction has exceeded its proper boundaries. Adherents demand materialistic explanations for all that exists, and if observable evidence offers no such explanation, the issue is shelved until such as time as one is offered. Whether such inferences are acceptable depend solely on one’s metaphysical presuppositions. In any case, science is not “objective”, for if it were, there could never be any scientific progress. This is true regardless of the paradigm and whether or not such paradigms are valid. Nor are scientists “objective” when it comes to observable evidence. What one considers to be valid “evidence”, and how one interprets such evidence depends entirely on ones metaphysical presuppositions. Consider this quote by geneticist Richard Lewontin:

“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” (Richard Lewontin, “Billions and billions of demons,” The New York Review (January 9, 1997), 31.)
Materialists like Lewontin have no desire to justify their precommitment to naturalism, but instead desire to be granted their worldview as the only valid starting point in the examination of any “evidence”. Such an arbitrary starting point is quite convenient for the naturalist. He’ll just define science as that which “cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door”, and then consider all creationist theories as “unscientific”.

Scientific Proof For God's Existence

Like Jonah, many dream of a place where God does not reign, and often this place is the land of scientific inquiry. Yet scientists live and operate in God’s universe, and cannot even begin to perform scientific tasks without basic assumptions for which only Christianity can justify. Yet one can hardly miss the substitute deity for which those who seek to maintain a naturalistic worldview bow to pay homage.

“Nature free at once and rid of her haughty lords is seen to do all things spontaneously of herself without the meddling of the gods.” – Lucretius
From whence comes this goddess “Nature”, and on what throne does she reside? Vern Poythress correctly observes that even the most strident atheists have a tendency to treat natural law as though it has divine attributes, including personhood. Such divine attributes are required in order to justify belief in human knowledge, logic, free thought, order, uniformity, and inference, all of which natural laws and the ability to comprehend such laws are absolutely dependent. Therefore, we may prove God’s existence by the following syllogism:

P1: If there is natural law, then God exists, since God is the precondition of natural law.

P2: There is natural law.

Conclusion: God exists.

Cornelius Van Til once compared atheists who constantly battle against the knowledge of God to a toddler sitting on her father’s knee while constantly slapping his face. Yet she would be unable to do so without the foundation that her father gives to her. So it is with the scientific assault on the Christian God. Science requires an objectively real and rational universe, providentially governed in order to main the necessary uniformity conducive to science, as well as an ordered human mind capable of comprehending both. Thus scientists, in order to even begin scientific inquiry, must acknowledge the Christian God (Romans 1:19-20), even unconsciously. The non-believing scientist wants to assume the benefits of God’s creation and providence, and yet denies the God who gave them. But despite our scientific progress, we are all still creatures dependent upon God for everything, including our knowledge of science.