Tom Gilson

Something Positive About Science?

Several of my recent posts have been negative toward scientists: reductionists, Ethan Siegal, Stephen Hawking, Sam Harris, and “neuro-pseudoscientists.” I was sensitized to this recently when (for unrelated reasons) I ran across a comment Jordan left here a couple years ago:

You’re so pessimistic, Tom. I wish you’d post something positive about science once in a while.

I responded to that at the time, but it’s worth re-visiting. Do I have such a totally negative view of science? More importantly, is this typical of Christian thinking? My answer has two parts.

First, I have never heard of any thinking Christian who has anything but the highest respect for science. I’m recovering still from arthroscopic shoulder surgery. Am I grateful for medical science? Of course. Am I grateful for electronic information and communication science, for transportation, for all the science that makes my home comfortable and safe, for meteorology, for biology? Why not? Do I appreciate what we’ve learned about physics and cosmology? All my life I’ve been an avid reader in these topics and much more.

To varying degrees, this is typical of Christianity, the intellectual and spiritual home of great Christian scientists from Brahe to von Braun to Collins, not to mention dozens more greats I can’t take time to list.

But this is not a science blog. I don’t mind linking to interesting advances in science, and maybe I could do more of that, just as I could link to interesting news in, say, entertainment. Most of the time, though, I need to focus on matters that have an impact on Christianity. Usually that’s not science, but the kind of things I have typically focused on: scientism, the belief that only scientific knowledge is knowledge, and only scientifically-accessible reality is real. When someone like Sam Harris or Stephen Hawking says science makes God unnecessary, that’s an attack on truth that needs an answer. Believers need to know why such challenges need not threaten them, even though they seem to carry some intellectual authority; they need to know just how groundless such attacks are.

What about my position on Intelligent Design–is that anti-science? Not at all, for the challenge ID makes to evolutionary science is a challenge within the sciences, not against science. It’s only “anti-scientific” for those who think that science is necessarily naturalistic, which is an unscientific position to hold, not to mention philosophically unsupportable.

I am not negative toward science, and neither is Christianity. I am opposed to falsehood and illogic masquerading as science, especially where it impinges on the truth of Christianity. I think that’s a positive position, not a negative one: it’s positive toward truth and good thinking.

Note: I wrote this post on the morning of February 14, and scheduled it to appear later so that it would not crowd the previous posts. I did not know then that discussion on two threads would arise with a commenter named Katherine, or that part of that discussion would be related to the topic of this post. I am appending this note prior to this post’s scheduled publication time to clarify that situation, just in case there is any question (for instance, why I make no reference to that discussion in this post). I am making no other changes to this post.

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4 thoughts on “Something Positive About Science?

  1. I do think Christians in general need to talk more positively about science. But I don’t think there’s any problem with answering abuses of science like we’ve seen with Hawking, etc. It’s downright necessary.

    The problem is getting people to understand that just because a scientist says something doesn’t mean he’s “speaking science”. Scientists are entirely capable of engaging in philosophy, etc. Time and again people seem to miss this. I get the feeling that if, say.. a prominent physicist said “Stealing is wrong”, some people would come away with the idea “Science has shown that stealing is immoral!”

  2. It wouldn’t be necessary to post so often about science if scientists stopped talking nonsense about science. Some nonsense you can just let slide but in this case it matters because the supposed conflict between the findings of science and Christianity is so often put forward as justification for rejecting Jesus.

  3. Good point. I would add that these supposed findings get put forth with the authority of science behind them. It’s like the white-coated actor playing a doctor in the TV commercial: he seems to be one who should know what he’s talking about, so therefore many believe he knows what he’s talking about–even if he demonstrably does not.

  4. While I agree with Melissa, I think there is a different aspect that also requires a somewhat pessimistic perspective. Science, per the dominant scientific school of though today, all too readily claims an objective perspective that is all too often far too optimistic. But I think that much of science is very much a hermeneutical endeavor of sorts. It is not simply, as is often perceived, a matter of reaching the correct solution of a mathematical formula, but is very much dependent on its various presuppositions. Often science has sought answers to questions that it is a priori not equipped to answer. Not that this is reason enough to just dismiss the scientific endeavor, which is still a very worthwhile pursuit with many benefits to be had. But I think we as a society, let alone many Christians, need to exercise a more critically realistic mindset towards science.

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