Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Myth of the Authority of Science

When the first edition of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published on November 24, 1859, all 1250 copies sold out on the day of publication. The world was waiting for a theory with scientific prestige to render the Bible and God obsolete, and men immediately jumped on the bandwagon of Darwinism. George Bernard Shaw described the relief of men at bring rid of God and declared “the world jumped at Darwin.” [R.J. Rushdoony]

“For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen. 3:5) So said the serpent to Eve in the Garden so many thousands of years ago. As Lucifer did before him, man failed to resist the tantalizing possibility of becoming god-like on his own terms of god-likeness. The idea of unqualified independence and thorough autonomy was exceptionally appealing to our first parents. Man was seduced by an idea that could never be realized. And since that day, man has remained seduced by his own selfish desire to function entirely independent from God. This desire is exposed nowhere more clearly than it is in the field of science.

The view that modern science is fully capable of unravelling the mysteries of reality and should serve as our final authority for warranted belief about the physical universe is a claim that is based, not on scientific principles, but on the desires and ambitions of a deceived, fallen, and totally depraved philosophy. Hence, Christians seeking to embrace the hermeneutical principle of reinterpreting Scripture so that it comports with scientific theory display acceptance of a view that is fundamentally opposed to the authority of God. Scientific evidence and scientific theories should all be interpreted in a manner that is consistence with the clear teachings of Scripture because Scripture alone is our final authority for warranted belief. In other words, if x is a clear contradiction of Scripture, it is unwarranted to believe x regardless of the claims of science. If a scientific theory clearly contradicts clear teachings of Scripture, we must conclude that there is something wrong within the scientific paradigm supporting the theory and move to re-examine all related theories and underlying assumptions supporting its conclusion.

I will walk through some basic but enlightening facts about the nature of science in this short article. The goal is to demonstrate that the very foundations of modern science are anything but scientific, anything but agreed upon, anything but certain. From the definition of science to scientific method to a variety of theories and paradigms, the opinions vary widely.

If scientists were more critical of their philosophy of science, their foundation for science, perhaps articles such as this one would not be necessary. Before you go placing your faith in science and turning you entire theological foundation upside down on its head, there are a few things you should know.

Having surveyed some of the attempts at defining science, it seems to me that there is no clearly agreed upon definition of science. One definition says that science seeks to discover facts about the material universe and to fit those facts into a conceptual scheme. Science begins with the observation of objects and of events in the physical universe. Another approach says that the general principles that guide science involve observation, intuition, experimentation, debate, and reformulation. Yet another definition says that these observations are tested through scientific method. But isn’t the scientific method itself a method that must be scrutinized scientifically? How can it be? Moreover, as we will see, there is no such thing as one agreed upon scientific method the same as there is no truly agreed upon definition for science and how it should proceed.

The foundation of science then is philosophical in nature as oppose to scientific. Science is unable to provide the necessary preconditions for its own intelligibility within a purely scientific paradigm.

In order for science to be intelligible, nature must behave in a simple and predictable way. But this not an observation of science. It is a philosophical presupposition concerning nature. Moreland writes, “Although inductivism continues to persist in the popular conception of science and even in the minds of many scientists, very few, if any, philosophers of science accept it. [Christianity and the Nature of Science]

Science does not start with an observation. Science begins with a problem to solve and that problem is already bound up with numerous presuppositions. The project cannot even begin without prior commitments. Science requires a framework within which to operate and that framework precedes science instead of being the product of it. Scientific laws are not constructed by the mere observation of uninterpreted phenomena. Indeed, science is not nearly as scientific as many blindly suppose that it is.

The fact is, as Moreland has said, that scientific practice or theories are formed, tested, and used according to accepted criteria for what science itself ought to be. And the basis for these criteria is as philosophical as philosophy gets. You cannot very well subject something to a set of criteria until you have put the criteria together. And in order to do that, you must always have some framework in place that precedes, and therefore, is not subject to itself. So before you run around spouting off about facts being scientific, you had better understand exactly what the nature of “scientific” actually is. 

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