Thursday, October 4, 2007

Christianity and the Scientific Method

I don’t like being called a pseudo-scientist.

But that is what I am, according to my philosophy lecturer, who asserts that my views are based solely on an outdated book and run contrary to all the available scientific evidence. I say ‘asserts’ because she certainly hasn’t argued it to her ‘Critical Thinking’ class.

Mostly the course has been relatively objective, looking at how to derive the validity of simple arguments, and describing some common fallacies. These last couple of weeks, however, have been significantly different, with a new lecturer speaking on the subject of pseudoscience. It’s funny listening to the intonation of the lecturer’s voice change as she talks about psychics on the one hand, and science on the other. Science and scientists are lifted up to almost divine status, while any belief system purporting to the supernatural is belittled and mocked.

A lot of the discussion has been centred on some of the more mystical beliefs people hold, such as astrology, homeopathy and parapsychology, and as such I agree with a lot of the criticisms made. The underlying assumption, however, seems to be that Science is the only avenue to truth, and it is this that I take issue with. The question of whether science has the capacity to answer everything hasn’t (yet) been touched on, instead we just hear time after time that if science says something is true it must be true.

I must be perfectly clear, however, that I am not against science as such. I am against science being exulted and, in a sense, worshipped. I am deeply impressed by the scientific method, and believe reason is a great gift to be used to its utmost. It is based on this attitude to the sciences that I have been pondering the following comparison.

As far as I am aware, most scientists (religious or not) admit that there are limits to science. Likewise, in theology, we willingly concede that there are limits to what we can know of God. The difference seems to be that we Christians claim to know where the mystery line is, and boldly declare that “that’s something we can’t know until we get to heaven,” or similar such statements. Scientists, by contrast, admit that they don’t know something, but keep working away to see if they can figure it out. To tell the truth I find the scientist’s approach more appealing.

Now there is most definitely a place for recognising that God’s sovereign ways are beyond our capacity to understand. Indeed the Bible clearly warns us not to tell God what he should and shouldn’t do, something about clay and potters. My point is not that we will be able to discern everything about God through reason, that would lead to arrogance, I just find ‘the mystery card’ to be a convenient cop-out used by many Christians. Instead I like to think the mystery line isn’t so clearly defined, and that we have plenty of room to exercise our intellectual muscles.

One of the things I find most attractive about Christianity is that it is so simple that a child can understand and believe it, while at the same time being intellectually stimulating enough that the greatest mind can ponder it for a lifetime. Moreover, at every step of the way, it is not dry theory but a living reality that satisfies every thirsty soul.


Paul said...

What does your lecturer refer to when using the word science? The scientific method or something?

I've just finished working my through a existentialist work, and one of the fiction themes (the book uses two authors to look at Kierkegaard's ideas) it refers to is the problem of people who live in a society where science is the main authority. One problem is, science cannot refer to the individual only generalisations about people. So how then do we live?

I've appreciated writings like Feyerabend's "How To Defend Society Against Science", and Macht has always had good things to say about science, and more recently what he calls the "new atheists".

Marcus said...

When she says science she's referring to what scientists do, I guess. Essentially she's saying we should be checking any ideas presented to us against the scientific method, if they don't line up reject them.

How are we supposed to live? We're just here to pass on our genes to another generation sooo.....(joke)