Christians Need Not Fear Scientific Inquiry
There is a sense in which the Christian should be the most passionate scientist of all because he should be rigorously open to truth wherever it is found. He should not be afraid that a new discovery of something that is true will destroy his foundation for truth. If our foundation for truth is true, all other truth can only support it and enhance it. It can’t destroy it. Therefore, Christians ought not to be afraid of scientific inquiry. This does not mean that we should uncritically accept all pronouncements and pontifications of scientists. Scientists are fallible and may occasionally make arrogant statements that go far beyond the realm of their own expertise.
I once read an essay by a well-known Nobel Prize-winning physicist (whose name will remain unstated so as not to embarrass him) who argued that the idea of “spontaneous generation” be abandoned in science once and for all. Spontaneous generation means that something comes into being with no cause. It comes from nothing. So far, so good. I was pleased to see a scientist debunk the myth of all myths, that something can come from nothing. This myth is still pervasive in the scientific community with respect to “chance.” Chance is given credit for creating the universe. However, such a prodigious feat is beyond the capabilities of chance. Why? Chance can do nothing because it is nothing. Chance is merely a word we use to explain mathematical possibilities. It is nothing. It has no power. It cannot produce, manage, or cause anything because it is nothing. It is spontaneous generation by another name.
I was glad the physicist repudiated spontaneous generation. My gladness abruptly turned to astonishment when the scientist said, “We must have a new model. We must speak in terms of gradual spontaneous generation.” I couldn’t believe what I was reading. “Gradual spontaneous generation”? How can something gradual be spontaneous? How can something spontaneous be gradual?
Our scientist wanted to debunk the myth that something can come suddenly from nothing and replace it with a better myth that something can come gradually from nothing.
I use this illustration only to show that even the most astute scientists can nod. They can fall asleep at the switch and be suddenly very unscientific in their pronouncements. To believe in gradual spontaneous generation of anything is to leap not by faith but below faith to credulity. Such a concept defies both aspects of the scientific method: rational deduction and empirical observation. Not only is the idea in violation of reason (breaking the law of contradiction), but it is impossible to observe empirically. What microscope or telescope is strong enough to observe anything doing something gradually spontaneously?
Occasionally we read an article about why a certain scientist believes in God or why some other scientist does not. I am delighted when a scientist says that he has studied his area of science and is driven to the awesome majesty of God. But he is no more an expert on the existence of God than you are. Why? Because that is a theological question, not a scientific one. Today when somebody steps outside of his area of expertise, people tend to follow and believe him. That is the basis of much advertising. For example, a baseball star may appear on television and promote a particular brand of razors. If that star were to tell me how to hit a baseball, he would be speaking with authority. But when he tells me the best razor blade to buy is a certain brand, then he is speaking outside his area of expertise. Advertisers understand that most people will easily transfer a person’s authority in one sphere to other spheres. Scientists may be guilty of this fallacy too. We must be wary of scientists who make theological statements outside the boundaries of their discipline.
The scientific method of inquiry is based upon a combination of two elements of knowledge: induction and deduction. Induction involves observing, measuring, and checking out particulars. Deduction involves applying formal laws of logic and coherency to those particular pieces that have been found. Both elements are needed in seeking truth. Some people are strong at induction and weak at deduction. Others are strong at deduction but are little short on their research, experimentation, or observation.
Christian science is, in the fullest sense, the responsible, sober, careful, humble investigation of truth using both induction and deduction, yet assuming at all times Aquinas’s principle that truth meets at the top. Our age cries for talented scientists who see the scientific inquiry as a true vocation and as a response to the mandate of God Himself. Rather than flee from the scientific enterprise or embrace intellectual schizophrenia that only destroys, Christians are needed by the thousands to venture into the realm of nature, armed with the knowledge of grace. We can show that a God who exists on the other side of the wall is concerned with life on this side of that wall.
When we oversimplify theology or oversimplify science, we encounter many difficulties between the two. Science is a complex enterprise. So is theology. Their relationship is to be studied closely and deeply if we are to discover an ultimate harmony between them.
One of my all-time favorite anecdotes concerns the meeting of a theologian and an astronomer. The astronomer was frustrated with the theologian for making religion too complicated. He said, “Why are you fellows so obscure? You talk about supralapsarian this and traducianism that. You quibble over fine points of predestination and God’s omniscience. For me religion is simple; it’s the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
“I understand your frustration,” replied the theologian. “You astronomers often confuse me with your talk of expanding universes this and exploding novae that. You’re always talking about astronomical perturbations and galactic anomalies. For me astronomy is simple: It’s twinkle, twinkle little star.”
This excerpt is adapted from Making a Difference by R.C. Sproul.