Why doesn’t Science Include God Today? Science and Religion in History

Science in history 19th cent

The Western world today is embedded with the idea that scientific work should not discuss God and that science should base its methods of explanation on only natural explanations (this is called methodological naturalism), this means that scientific explanations cannot invoke supernatural entities such as God as an answer. Some people take this to means that science does not need God, or that science and religion are at war fundamentally. Whilst many people will probably assume that this is the way science has always been since the beginning, this is simply not the case when we look at the history of science and religion (in fact the word scientist wasn’t even invented until 1830s by William Whenwell).1

History reveals to us that science used to be the complete opposite, God was a natural part of scientific discussion. This was the case right from the onset of modern science (16th and 17 century) up until the 19th century (this was also the case before the onset of modern science right from Ancient Greeks thinkers such as Aristotle and Plato). It was completely normal to talk about God within the scientific framework, and well established names such as Newton, Copernicus, Galileo, Leibnitz, would frequently talk about God freely as part of their scientific endeavours (these men are also known as the fathers of modern science).2

This practice continued well into the 19th century with Christian scientists such as Maxwell, Faraday and Hershel; it was standard practice to mention God in scientific papers, but by the end of the 19th century this practice had almost completely stopped. The 19th century (Victorian era) was the period that set in stone the very idea we are so accustomed to today in which science should be purely naturalistic having nothing to do with religion or God. The looming question now becomes, what happened in the 19th century? what changed science from a theistic framework to a naturalistic one?3 4

How did science shift from a theistic to a naturalistic framework in the 19th century?

The shift from theistic science to naturalistic science is a long and complex history, however for the purposes of time we can focus our analysis on Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley and the X Club. It is interesting to note that most people today assume that when Darwin wrote the Origin of Species, this was the first time that evolutionary as a theory was exposed. In reality however, the idea of evolution was already highly prominent in the 19th century, and many version had already been proposed.5 Darwin’s idea had the most impact because he developed a novel method i.e. natural selection, that could seemingly explain eloquently how biological features of organism worked and developed without invoking God. (in fact, Alfred Russel Wallace also came up with pretty much the exact same theory around the same time as Darwin; Darwin was able to publish his book first and that is why we are all familiar with Darwin, but almost no one is familiar with Wallace).

When the Origin of Species came out, a man named Thomas Huxley took the opportunity to utilize the book to his advantage. Huxley was a scientist who did not accept the theological framework of science in which the church had control over scientific education. Whilst he was not against the idea that there might be a God, he certainly didn’t want the idea of God infused within scientific practice in any way and so he formed a group called the X Club (1864 – 1892) which was a private dining club in London which included nine men in total, all in various and prominent positions within science, philosophy or the media.6 7 These men all shared similar ideals to Huxley in wanting to rid science of aristocracy and highly theological implications so that science could be based on purely naturalistic methods. This group came to be known as the leading figures of the scientific naturalists.8

How Huxley and the X Club successfully shifted theistic science to naturalistic science by the end of the 19th century

The X Club – headed by Huxley – were devoted to one central aim. Their motto was ‘science, pure and free untrammelled by religious dogma9 and Huxley was not afraid to say exactly what his intentions were. The nine members of the X Club were men who were rising to scientific power in London during the latter part of the 19th century and this played a large part in their success as historian of science Matthew Stanley has revealed:

The X-Club worked very hard to place themselves in locales of scientific power. One easy measure of their success was the staggering number of leadership positions they occupied in scientific societies. But even beyond the personal achievements of its members, the group was able to have an enormous impact on the future of science by focusing on science education.10

As I mentioned above Huxley was not afraid to share his plans and he had already gathered much power within the community of scientific education. In a correspondence with a contemporary Huxley wrote that he wanted to create “a course of instruction in Biology which I am giving to Schoolmasters—with the view of converting them into scientific missionaries to convert the Christian Heathen of these islands to the true faith”.11 Huxley’s methods were very successful, and he was able to insert his naturalistic ideals into scientific practice very effectively. For example, he was heavily involved in the creation of biology professorships all over Britain, especially in the 1870s. He managed to place candidate that subscribed to his goal into many of these prominent positions in numerous universities around Britain such as University College London, Edinburgh and Leeds.12

Conclusion – science or politics?

As historian Ronald L. Numbers has made clear “virtually all scientists…whether Christians or non-Christians, came by the late nineteenth century to agree that God-talk lay beyond the boundaries of science”.13 It might be assumed that the push from theistic science to naturalistic science was an inevitable event, but as I have outlined here very briefly by assessing Huxley’s activities, this shift was certainly not inevitable but rather fully intentional. Darwin’s theory of evolution wasn’t the main factor that drove the direction of science. Huxley, the X Club and the scientific naturalists were (many Christians scientists at the time in fact actually embraced evolution and linked It to their belief in God), Huxley’s group just happened to utilize Darwin’s theory of evolution to their advantage because it proved to be the most useful out of the various other evolutionary accounts in riding science of theological underpinnings.

In fact, as Stanley has revealed, the shift to naturalistic science had almost nothing to do with the methods of scientific practice within a theistic framework at alll. For the most part the scientific naturalists used exactly the same scientific methods in conducting their standard scientific research (e.g. the reliance on the laws and uniformity of nature). Stanley makes clear that “The victory of the scientific naturalists in removing theism from the expectations and parlance of the scientific community had little to do with how science was done (despite their claims to the contrary) and much more to do with attempting to secure better access to professional positions, resources, and cultural authority.”14 Essentially the shift in science that Huxley and his crew battled relentlessly for, was much more socio-political than scientific. Scientific practice barely changed, even when Huxley’s and his team won the battle, what changed was the metaphysical presupposition behind how science should be done. Whereas at the start of the 19th century, the metaphysical presupposition was based on theism and Christian theology, by the end of the 19th century the metaphysical presupposition was now naturalism.

As I have mentioned, the entire history of science within the 19th century is a very long and complicated one. In this short article, I have simply brought out some of the key elements to help us to understand that the way in which we view scientific practice today is not something that is fundamentally set. The fathers of modern (Western) science were all believers in God and invoked him in their work.15 In the 19th century a large majority of prominent scientists were also Christian and they did excellent work. My aim here is to draw these points out to help us to better think about the relationship between science, theism religion and theology so that we can see that it isn’t a simple conflict thesis but rather a complex story featuring a heavily complementary relationship between science and religion for the majority of scientific history.16

 

 

References
1) Numbers, R. L., 2007. Science and Christianity in Pulpit and Pew. Oxford: OUP. P46
2) Harrison, P., 2015. The Territories of Science and Religion. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press
3) Numbers, R. L., 2007. Science and Christianity in Pulpit and Pew. Oxford: OUP.
4)    Stanley, M., 2014. Huxley’s Church and Maxwell’s demon: From theistic science to Naturalistic Science. Chicago: University of Chicago press
5)    Graeme, F., 2014. Human Evolution, Genes, Genealogies and Phylogenies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Prologue
6)    Barton, R., 2006. X Club. Oxford: OUP
7)    Stanley, M., 2014. Huxley’s Church and Maxwell’s demon: From theistic science to Naturalistic Science. Chicago: University of Chicago press…
8) Lightman, B and Dawson, G. eds. 2014. Victorian Scientific Naturalism: Community, Identity, Continuity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
9)    Barton, R., 2006. X Club. Oxford: OUP
10) Stanley, M. (2011), THE UNIFORMITY OF NATURAL LAWS IN VICTORIAN BRITAIN: NATURALISM, THEISM, AND SCIENTIFIC PRACTICE. Zygon®, 46: 536–560. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9744.2011.01198.x
 11) Huxley, Thomas H. 1871. “Huxley to Dohrn.” In Life and Letters of Thomas Henry Huxley, ed. Leonard Huxley, 1, 389. New York : D. Appleton and Company.
12) Desmond, Adrian. 2001. “Redefining the X Axis: ‘Professionals, ’‘Amateurs’ and the Making of Mid-Victorian Biology: A Progress Report. Journal of the History of Biology 31(1):3–50.
13) Numbers, R. L., 2007. Science and Christianity in Pulpit and Pew. Oxford: OUP. P46
14) Stanley, M. (2011), THE UNIFORMITY OF NATURAL LAWS IN VICTORIAN BRITAIN: NATURALISM, THEISM, AND SCIENTIFIC PRACTICE. Zygon®, 46: 536–560. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9744.2011.01198.x
15) The Christian Roots of Science – how Modern Science Developed out of a Belief in God
16) Harrison, P., 2015. The Territories of Science and Religion. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p194 – 198

 

Does Evil Disprove the Existence of God?

Doe evil disprove God picture

The existence of evil is probably one of the toughest challenges a Christian can face when in conversation. The reason for this difficulty is not because there are no good answer on Christian grounds (there are a number of good answers) but rather because the question of evil is more than often bonded heavily to emotional discontent. An intellectual answer is useful but we always have to remember that on an existential level, an intellectual answer likely will not fully rectify the situation.

That being said, intellectual answers are useful in displaying the coherence of the Christian worldview. In showing that Christianity does have answers to many of life’s toughest questions we are able to show the validity of the Christian worldview whilst simultaneously presenting its unique offer of hope in the face of suffering and evil.

Response 1) No God…no evil

This might sound counterintuitive but without God there are no objective morals. Sure you can have subjective morals but there is a looming problem with subjectivism. If one person decides that stealing money from the old lady across the street is a bad thing but another person decides that stealing that money is a good thing, both points of view are subjectively correct. On a moral level, there is no way to adjudicate between the two choices (you can suggest governmental laws of course, but it more than clear that government policies shift dramatically contingent upon whoever is in charge). In a situation like this, it is natural to think that clearly the former person is in the wrong, but what standard did you decide this by, your own? If your own, then rightly, the other person can decide their own standards; if their standards conflict with your own then there is nothing you can do about it. If you attempt to impose your standards onto them you are now imposing a moral law that comes from beyond yourself (because what you are suggesting is that their action is objectively wrong), but then the question arises, if the world is just material and there is no moral standard above the human mind, where did you get the idea that you are correct and they are wrong? (Let me quickly point out as Christian regularly do, that when we suggest this, we are not saying that you need to be a Christian to be a good person; we are saying that you need God for there to be any such concept as objective morality at all.)

The famous Christian writer C.S. Lewis was an atheist for a large portion of his life, and he describes how this very problem of evil actually drove him toward Christianity. He famously remarked that

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? 1

Lewis realized that his atheistic worldview couldn’t account for the pressing problem of the existence of real evil in the world. As Philosopher David Berlinski notes “In ‘The Brothers Karmazov’, Ivan Karmazov exclaims that if God does not exist, then everything is permitted2

Response 2) natural evil or moral evil?

This response is more straight forward, it is a distinction that everybody is more or less aware of: moral evil and natural evil. Moral evil is evil done by the will of a person, natural evil is to do with natural disasters of which we generally have no control over (but this is changing quite dramatically – consider the Anthropocene).

Moral evil: from the Christian perspective – and if in conversation with someone who genuinely wants to know – the foundational answer is in the book of Genesis. We find that God created the world very good meaning no suffering or evil (according to traditional theological interpretations). However, Adam and Eve’s own desires took advantage of God’s gift of free will; they ate of certain fruit and caused sin to enter into the world. Sin means separation from God, and God’s nature is the definition of goodness and so sin effectively means separation from the source of goodness…God. Hence moral evils by the free will of persons now occur.

Natural evil: is slightly tougher to tackle naturally, but there are a number of things to say about it (I’ll only mention two vey briefly). Firstly, naturally evil must be separated from a mundane natural event. The only reason we call a natural event evil is because it negatively affects us as humans. (consider a powerful storm on Jupiter, would it be classed as evil?).

Secondly, I particularly like a response given by Christian apologist J. Warner Wallace. He says

God may tolerate some natural evil because it is the necessary consequence of a free natural process that makes it possible for freewill creatures to thrive. Scientist-theologian John Polkinghorne suggests that God has created a universe with particular natural laws that make life on earth possible so that humans with free will can exist in the first place. As an example, the same weather systems that create tornadoes that kill humans also create thunderstorms that provide our environment with the water needed for human existence. The same plate tectonics that kill humans (in earthquakes) are necessary for regulation of soils and surface temperatures needed for human existence3

Response 3) Evil will be dealt with justly if Jesus is who He claimed He was

The final response hinges on the validity of Christ. Effectively, if Christ really did die on the cross and come back to life as He claimed He would, then evil will be deal with and done away with once and for all in the near future, and that we can be sure of. However, if Christ was a liar or a lunatic (as C.S. Lewis famously states in Mere Christianity) then there is no hope at all in this world: you’re born, you live, you suffer, you die, that’s it. No justice served, so in effect it doesn’t seem to matter how you chose to live your life. Why is this? Well Jesus came into the earth for the very purpose of dealing with evil (remember God is the definition of goodness and sin is separation from God). Jesus stepped in and acted as our scape goat taking on the punishment that was due to every human for our sinful acts (e.g. selfishness, lying, greed etc.). Because of this we now have a free path back to God (who is goodness) and this means we can rest assured that suffering and pain in this world will not last forever, but that at some point every evil deed will receive its just dessert because God is a God of justice as well as love.

And so now the entire fate of evil depends on the status of Jesus Christ. Was he a liar, a lunatic or was he really Christ? How can we answer this question? The only way is to look at and asses the historical evidence surrounding Christ. Here are some articles below to help with addressing this topic of the reliability of Christ and the Bible itself:

 

 

References 

1) Lewis, C.S. (1952) Mere Christianity, UK: Geoffrey Bles. p52

2) Berlinski, D (2008) The Devil’s Delusion, US: Crown Forum. p19

3) Wallace, J,W (2017) Why Would a Good God Allow Natural Evil?, Available at: http://coldcasechristianity.com/2017/why-would-a-good-god-allow-natural-evil/(Accessed: 15th February 2018 ).

Is Faith Compatible with Reason?

confused-2681507_960_720

Well of course not! is the type of response some might be tempted give upon pondering the question for less than a few seconds. Many people today assume that faith is about taking a leap into the dark and believing in something where there is no evidence. (This is a common thought process about belief in the Bible). But is it really the case that faith and reason are not compatible? Not only is it not the case, but the evidence suggests that it is the other way around, reason depends on heavily on faith! How so? Let’s take a quick look.

Firstly, what does it mean to reason? To reason means to be able to think clearly about an event/occurrence and to formulate a judgment. Reasoning is about giving justification for something and having rational grounds for giving that justification.

Secondly, what does it mean to have faith? Well there are at least 4 different types of faith, I will briefly explain.

  • Warranted faith: this is faith that everybody employs e.g. you don’t check the four legs of your chair every time you go to sit on it – You don’t run your tap water under chemical lab tests each time you go to drink from it. You essentially have faith in that these things will not end up harming you in some unexpected way.
  • Irrational faith: irrational faith is faith where there is simply no supporting evidence e.g. the belief that there is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is irrational simply because there is no evidence for it whatsoever (not to mention that it is physically impossible when you understand the mechanics of a rainbow!)
  • Blind faith: this is when someone ignores the evidence in front of them in order to keep believing what they want to (religious people are charged with this most of the time).
  • Evidence based faith: this is faith that you put into something when there is enough evidence to support it e.g. you allow your dentist to peer into your mouth with extremely sharp objects based on the conviction that they know what they are doing (because the evidence supports the fact that they do).

Looking at the definition 1) and 4) of faith, we can see that reasoning is at the centre of their claims. 1) requires us to have faith based on what we have done and/or observed in the past (inductive reasoning), and 4 requires us to have faith based on the evidence that is at hand. Number 3) and 2) use reason in a negative way, but notice even with both of them you still need to employ some type of reasoning ability in order to hold to those positions, even if it is bad reasoning ability.

How does reason/logic depend on faith?

Let’s look at reason first. What do we reason with? “Our brains/minds”, and how do we know that our logical capabilities are trustworthy? “Well I know that my mind is trustworthy because I can trust it…I can have a rational conversation with someone…”, and right there is the problem! In order to argue that your mind/logic is valid you have to use your mind/logic to think about and then form the sentence that you want to say. In other words, you have to assume that you are logical in order to argue that you are…logical, there is no real way out of this loop and in philosophy this is what is called circular reasoning.

Both atheists and theists have to deal with this problem, but unfortunately for atheism there is no good justification for this it seems since human beings (and their minds) are the product of time and chance (on atheistic naturalism), so there is no way to appeal to anything other than the human mind, which means that the atheist worldview is built upon circular reasoning [see Prof John Lennox]. Fortunately, on biblical theism, God is a logical being and He is beyond the universe meaning that even though a theist has to use their own logic in order to argue for their logic, they can reasonably ground the idea that their logic is trustworthy upon the concept that God – who is a logical being – has created us to be logical beings so that there is good reason for us to believe that our reasoning is in fact valid. 

Can science and faith mix?

What is science? Science effectively is the study of the natural world, especially relating to casual relations, the scientific method is usually (but not always) based on observation, testing, repeating and then validating results.

Today, science is a go to for many people who are opposed to religion, the usual claim is that “we believe in science, and you just believe in an old disproven book”. (I have dealt more fully with this question in another of my articles I don’t believe in God, I believe in Science). Now what is the assumption implicit in this claim? The assumption is that science is to do purely with logic and evidence whilst faith in the bible is simply about blind faith in a disproven book. (if you want to look at some reasons why the bible is a reliable historical book then check my other articles Can We Really Trust the New Testament?Atheist Scholar Agrees that the New Testament is Reliable?). What is the problem with the assumption? Well simply put…it’s wrong. We have already look at the various definitions of faith we have also looked at how reason by default relies on faith itself, but we can take this further.

Science as an endeavour is based upon a multitude of beliefs i.e. scientists have to ground what they do in certain beliefs before they can do what they do, in others words they need to exhibit faith. How so? Let’s look at a few examples.

  • Our minds have the capability to study the world: this is not something you create in a lab, scientists do not create their minds to be able to study the world, they can only work with the fact that they are able to, but then this becomes a belief, it is not scientifically justifiable, it is a faith position that scientists hold to every single day that they step into the lab. [See Prof John Lennox 5:06]
  • the laws of logic and universe: scientist cannot account for why the world seems to act so orderly and why their logic also seems to, in fact it baffles them, but it is a blessing because it allows them to do their work. Since science is based heavily on prediction and repetition, an orderly universe is the perfect environment to work in however scientist didn’t create the order, it is something which they have to have faith in before they can work from it. [see atheist physicist Paul Davies article Taking Science on Faith]
  • The idea the “science should be done”: again, this is not something that you test and find the results to in a lab, it is a philosophical (and political) position/belief that one takes with them into the lab in order to do science.
  • Moral truths: Science can tell you what will happen if someone drowns in a river, but science cannot tell you to jump into that river in order to save the person who is drowning. Moral truths are outside the bounds of science, yet scientists rely on ethics and ethical conduct e.g. “science is a good thing to be done” and that “truth telling is a principle that should be upheld” in order for them to keep doing what they do.
  • God’s existence: the fact of God’s existence or non-existence is not something that science can demonstrate because by definition, God is outside of the realms of science. Science deals with the natural only, God is a supernatural metaphysical being so there is no possibly way for science to decide on the status of God. Anytime a scientist states that God has been disproven by science they are making a fallacious and unscientific faith claim.

Faith and science are involved in a much more complicated relationship then is assumed by much of the general public, and once people begin to understand this point more clearly, I think it will serve as a useful foundation for positive dialogue between faith and science. In the academic field in fact, this understanding is already largely coming into prominence with many university course now developing such as Philosophy, Science and Religion and Philosophical Theology. Also, well established organizations such as the Faraday Institute, ISSR and CTNS (and many more around the world) employ and/or work with world-class theologian and scientists and philosophers from wide ranging backgrounds (theism, atheism, Buddhism, Hinduism etc.) in order to promote this type of unifying dialogue.

The Christian Roots of Science – how Modern Science Developed out of a Belief in God

Ancient Greek

When it comes to talking about the development of science as we know it in the West, the standard pop level narrative usually goes:

‘From the time of the Ancient Greeks, figures such as Aristotle were the fathers of science, and then unfortunately the Roman Catholic Church came into power during the Middle Ages/Medieval period (5th cent to around 15th cent) and during this 1000-year period, science was stagnated, that is, until science finally broke free from its religious roots in the early modern period i.e. the scientific revolution from the 16th century onwards. At this point modern science developed rapidly (finally) due to the fact that scientists were no longer religiously constrained as they once were.’

This is more or less a brief summary of what I would say the average person – who might not yet have done much research -would concede regarding the origins of modern science. Now I am not pointing fingers at anyone who takes this view, I myself assumed this version of history to be true growing up since it permeated Western culture so much.

What I want to do in this brief overview however, is to unpack and describe how this popular level depiction is simply untrue, in fact the evidence that modern historians of science now present to us seems to suggest the complete opposite – that it was when science embraced religion, and more specifically a literal interpretation of the Bible, that science really began to develop rapidly.

The Ancient Greeks, the Middle Ages and Science?

Let’s start with the Greeks. Firstly, I want to dispel the myth that the Ancient Greeks (mainly Aristotle) were the fathers/originators of the current progressive science that we all cherish now. I also want to dispel the myth that the Ancient Greeks were highly scientific and that they didn’t entertain supernatural/religious ideas that were outside the realms of materialistic science.

The first issue here is that the term scientist wasn’t invented until the 1830s by a man named William Whewell1, so whenever someone talks about Aristotle doing “science”, they are already presupposing the wrong foundation (because said person probably has modern science in mind). “Science” back in Aristotle’s time was actually called Natural Philosophy (which tell you something already about its nature), and this term held strong all the way until the 1830s.

Aristotle, contrary to common thought, was highly religious in the sense that he had no problem positing a type of god within his worldview (metaphysics). His god was called the “Unmoved mover”, or the “Prime mover” and in fact this god was an essential part of the makeup of the world because Aristotle realized that there had to be an efficient cause which was the ultimate explanation for motion in the universe and this cause had to be unmoved itself or the primary mover in order that it could initiate motion within the universe, as it was observed by Aristotle, without being affected by it.2

This Aristotelian philosophy was adopted throughout the Middle Ages and leading Christian thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274) sought to create a synthesis between Aristotelian philosophy and Christian theology. The culmination of this synthesis is most evidently seen in Aquinas’s work Summa Theologica in which he answers some 10,000 questions in the areas of philosophy and theology.3

The Religious Roots of Modern Science

Here is where things get interesting, as we have pointed out, the usual story goes that during the early modern period science broke free of religious roots and that is why there was such a huge advancement in it. However, this as I have suggested is simply not the case, in fact contrary to popular belief Medieval Christian thinkers actually laid down the foundational work for the development and longevity of modern science as modern historians now report:

What made it possible for Western civilization to develop science and the social sciences in a way that no other civilization had ever done before? The answer, I am convinced, lies in a pervasive and deep-seated spirit of inquiry that was a natural consequence of the emphasis on reason that begun in the Middle Ages. With the exception of revealed truths, reason was enthroned in medieval universities as the ultimate arbiter for most intellectual arguments and controversies. It was quite natural for scholars immersed in a university environment to employ reason to probe into subject areas that had not been explored before, as well as to discuss possibilities that had not previously been seriously entertained4

Secondly, it wasn’t a refrain from the Bible that led to the advancement of science, but rather the embracing of the Bible that led to it:

Strange as it may seem, the Bible played a positive role in the development of science. … Had it not been for the rise of the literal interpretation of the Bible and the subsequent appropriation of biblical narratives by early modern scientists, modern science may not have arisen at all. In sum, the Bible and its Literal interpretation have played a vital role in the development of Western Science5

One of the most obvious pointers in favor of this is to note that all areas of modern science we cherish today were started by thinkers who believed in God: Newton, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, Einstein, Copernicus, Boyle, Leibnitz and so on are all known as the fathers of modern science, and yet all of them were firm believers in God.

In Isaac Newton’s General Scholium (the appendix to his more famous work The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) he wrote that “This most elegant system of the sun, planets and comets could not have arisen without the design and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being. […] He rules all things, not as the world soul but as the lord of all. And because of his dominion he is called Lord God Pantokrator”6  

Rene Descartes – who was the first to successfully describe how we could represent space using mathematical equation (using his term extensions) is known as the father of western philosophy and in a letter to the catholic theologian Marin Mersenna in 1630, he notes that “God sets up mathematical laws in nature as a king sets up laws in his kingdom7

Breaking Aristotelian Roots – Holding Christian Foundations

For modern science to develop, Medieval thinkers did have to break free of some ancient shackles, but those shackles certainly were not Christianity and/or the Bible, in fact these shackles were rather ancient Aristotelian philosophy. Christian theology remained widely in play throughout the Medieval period right into the early modern period and beyond; what was abandoned was the synthesis between Aristotelian physics and theology in favor of a new philosophy that stemmed directly from the Bible. Professor of History Thomas E. woods elaborates on the words of prize winning historian of Science Jaki Stanley, “…in order for science to progress, it was up to the scholastics of the High Middle ages to carry out the depersonalization of nature, so that for instance, the explanation for falling stones was not said to be their innate love for the centre of the earth8. This idea of objects having an innate love for the earth stemmed directly from Aristotle’s four causes, namely his last one which he called final cause (teleology) in which every object and being had an intrinsic essence and this essence led it to its ultimate purpose/goal. There was no such conception as gravity until Rene Descartes and Newton and came onto the scene, dispelled with this old Aristotelian philosophy and developed the new Biblical philosophy of nature each with their similar three laws of motion based on the fact that a rational and orderly God had created a rational and orderly laws governed universe in which could be studied as God’s second revealed  book, the book of nature.9

So, as we have seen here in this brief overview, most modern historians of science now hold to the picture that it was actually the literal interpretation of the Bible that aided in the rise of modern science. Far from Christianity being pushed to the wayside, Christianity was the driving force behind the rise of modern science as we know it today. This is why we find comments like this from leading historians of science littered all over the academic world today:

Christianity set the agenda for natural philosophy,’[according to historian of science Stephen Gaukroger] and played the most crucial role in the subsequent cultural success of science10

  1. (2017) William Whenwell, Available at: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/whewell/
  2. Aristotle, Available at: http://www.iep.utm.edu/aristotl/#H4
  3. Thomas Aquinas () Summa Theologica, Available at: http://www.iep.utm.edu/aristotl/#H4
  4. Thomas E. Woods (2012) How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization , United States: Regnery History. p66
  5. Harrison, P., The Bible and the rise of science, Australasian Science 23 (3):14 – 15, 2002
  6. Newton, General Scholium
  7. Thomas Dixon – Science and Religion – A Very Short Introduction (p47)
  8. Thomas E. Woods (2012) How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization, United States: Regnery History. p79
  9. Peter Harrison (2015) The Territories of Science and Religion, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. p77
  10. John Henry – Cambridge companion to Science and religion – Religion and the Scientific Revolution. p43

I don’t Believe in God, I Believe in Science!

I believe in Science not God

In the greatly enjoyable 2006 comedy Nacho Libre, there is one scene where Esqueleto a small and quite skinny man finds himself in a wrestling ring forced to fight another much bigger and taller man, or be beaten up by him. Just before the events continue, Nacho and Esqueleto engage in the following dialogue:

Esqueleto: I can’t wrestle him.

Nacho: But you’re tall and fast like a gazelle, you can do it. Pray to the Lord for strength.

Esqueleto: I don’t believe in God, I believe in science. (1)

It is this last line by Esqueleto which is really at the heart of what I want to focus on in this article. At the foundation, much of the debate in today’s contemporary world about God and science stems from this very idea that it is ‘God vs Science’; the more science we learn the less we need God as an explanation.

Most people (believers in God or not) will most likely be familiar with the term ‘God of the gaps’. What people might not know however, is where this idea stems from. You would think it stemmed from some scientist in the past who thought about this God vs Science conundrum and then pushed the concept forward…but no, it actually originates from a 19th century Scottish evangelical theologian named Henry Drummond. When he coined the concept, it was not meant to be an argument against God since he himself believed in God. The whole point of him creating the term was so that people in general could be made aware of the apparent separation, and then not fall into the trap of actually using it as an argument against God! That’s right, the main purpose of the ‘God of the gaps’ invention was so that it would not be used as an argument against God. So how have we gotten to a point in this era where this is now one of the most common arguments against God, especially as employed by high ranking scientists such as Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss?

Well this brings me to another historical event which helps demonstrate why this thought is so captivating, although completely useless when applied logically to any situation. There is an account told (possibly apocryphal) about the 18th century French mathematician and astronomer Laplace in which Laplace presented his work to Napoleon, who asked him where God fitted in. Laplace replied to Napoleon by saying “I had no need for that hypothesis”.

Laplace’s reply is the same type of a reply that many non-believers in God will give (although worded differently) when confronted about a question to do with God and science. Within this mind-set, God is seen as a ‘God of the gaps’ explanation so that the more we find out about the universe the less we need God as an explanation. According to this idea, in our “evolutionary”(2) past, humans couldn’t explain much about the world and so they had to invoke god like beings to explain away phenomena like thunder and lightning (the Greek gods). Once however, we developed good science and figured out how those phenomena worked…poof, those gods vanished. So it’s basically the same thing with the God of the Bible today, we now know so much about the universe that God is simply irrelevant.

This sounds like such a conclusive argument, so it’s no wonder so many people fall prey to it and maybe feel comforted by it. However, ultimately it is very weak argument when analysed properly, and in order to show why this is, I will use none other than Ford cars to elaborate. (Oxford Professor of mathematics John Lennox alludes to this example all the time to make this same point).

Ford Cars, Science and God?

Imagine you own a Ford car, and after a while of use, the engine breaks down so you take it to the mechanics to have it fixed. Whilst there, you ask the local mechanic how exactly the engine works. At this point the mechanic delves into a very detailed and technical answer about internal combustion, and the four-stroke combustion cycle, and the tiny space for small explosions known as the piston for propelling the car etc. After this satisfying explanation, you then think about it all and proceed to ask the mechanic, “So how did the car come to exist in the first place?” The mechanic then replies by saying “Ah now that would be the work and brains of Henry Ford the creator of Ford cars.” Notice something very important here. Merely explain how the car worked did nothing to get rid of Henry Ford who is the explanation (the personal reason) for why the car exists in the first place. It is very easy to see that these two concepts – henry ford (the agent), and the laws of internal combustion (the process) – are not at war, but rather are complementing. If someone told you to pick one answer out of the two as an explanation of how Ford cars came to be, you would rightly tell them that that is a Ludicrous choice to try and make, both explanations are needed in order to give a complete account of the existence of the Ford car. (3)

Hopefully you are already able to see how this relates to the idea of science and God. Science is a method for explaining how things work (the mechanical explanation of the car), however God is the personal explanation for why there is a universe to study in the first place (Henry Ford). God and science not only do not compete, but cannot compete because they are in completely different categories. In philosophy, this type of mislabelling is called a category mistake: putting God under the umbrella of a scientific theory that can be done away with once a better theory comes along.

Genesis starts with the words “In the Beginning God created the heaven and the earth” This is to say that (as John Lennox puts it) “God is not a ‘God of the gaps’, he is the God of the Whole show.”(3a) He created the bits we do understand as well as the bits we don’t understand. To try to apply the ‘God of the gaps’ logic to the God of the Bible is to show a complete lack of understanding as to who the Biblical God is, not to mention it doesn’t even begin to address the issue of God at all because by definition, the concept doesn’t apply to Him.

Science and Religion in Conflict?

My reasoning so far is not meant to be used as conclusive evidence to show that God must exist. The point of this article is to expose the fallaciousness of the entire ‘God of the gaps’ argument against the existence of God. If we want to rightly source evidence for God’s existence, we can put forward the very same question that 17th century German philosopher Leibniz put forward when he asked the famous question, why is there something rather than nothing?

On an interesting final note, it is worth pointing out that another reason (amongst many more) why people seem to cling onto the notion of the ‘God of the gaps’ is because they think it supports the idea that science and religion have always been at war. Unfortunately, once again, this is simply not true. Almost all modern historians of science today now conclude that science and religion have never historically constantly been at war but rather that they have always complemented each other. Here are just a few quotes from professors and historians justifying this position.

 

  •  Historian of Science Edward Grant – speaking about the early Catholic Church:

What made it possible for Western civilization to develop science and the social sciences in a way that no other civilization had ever done before? The answer, I am convinced, lies in a pervasive and deep-seated spirit of inquiry that was a natural consequence of the emphasis on reason that begun in the Middle Ages(4)

  • Professor of Humanities Lawrence M. Principe:

The idea that scientific and religious camps have historically been separate and antagonistic is rejected by all modern historians of science(5)

  • Former Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford University Peter Harrison:

Today, people are less confident that history moves through a series of set stages toward a single destination. Nor, despite its popular persistence, do most historians of science support the idea of an enduring conflict between science and religion…In fact, contrary to conflict, the historical norm has more often been one of mutual support between science and religion. In its formative years in the 17th century, modern science relied on religious legitimation. During the 18th and 19th centuries, natural theology helped to popularise science (6)

 

Referencing 

[1] IMDb. 2006. Nacho Libre. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0457510/.

[2] I do not hold to the evolutionary account as being our true origins

[3] John C. Lennox. 2012. Not the God of the Gaps, But the Whole Show. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.christianpost.com/news/the-god-particle-not-the-god-of-the-gaps-but-the-whole-show-80307/.

[3a] Ibid.,

[4] Woods Jr, T., 2012. How The Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. 1st ed. United States: Regnery History. [Edward Grant – p 66] 

[5] Lawrence M. Principe, Transcript book for lecture course Science and Religion (Chantilly, VA: The Teaching Company, 2006), p. 23.

[6] Peter Harrison. 2017. Why religion is not going away and science will not destroy it. [ONLINE] Available at: https://aeon.co/amp/ideas/why-religion-is-not-going-away-and-science-will-not-destroy-it.

 

Is Christianity a Blind Faith?

Is Christianty a Blind faithSceptics of the Bible ranging all the way from professors such as Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking right down the average layman, seem to have acquired a unified definition of what the word faith means when it comes to the Bible over recent decades. In essence the most common definition of the word you will hear is: Having faith in the Bible is believing in the truth of the Bible without any evidence to support it. Another simple way to word this is to use the term ‘Blind faith’.

To me this seems quite odd. Firstly, the Bible has the definition of the type of faith a Christian has/should have within it, in the book of Hebrews chapter 11 verse 1 which states that, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” So it’s a bit of a straw man to redefine Christian faith as blind faith and then proceed to attempt to take it down based on that faulty assumption. Secondly, there are good historical and archeological evidences which heavily support the claims of the Bible to which even atheistic scholars such as Bart Ehrman and Gerd Luderman have attested to. Thirdly, many people might not realize, but there are at least five different definitions of the word faith that we humans can exhibit. What tends to happen in a back forth between a sceptic and a Christian is that when they both use the word faith in conversation, they define the word in almost opposite ways (in their minds) without realizing. The sceptic defines it in the context of “no evidence” whilst the Christian defines it in the context of “evidence”. Because they are unaware of this distinction between each other, the conversation can get quite heated, and both parties end up effectively talking past each other with no real progress. Ultimately speaking, definitions are key and it is always important to define exactly what you are talking about in order to minimize confusion when involved in an argument (argument in the philosophical sense which is just simply a dialogue between two or more people where premises and conclusions are presented and contested respectably between both sides).

So what are the five different definitions of faith?

  • Warranted faithThe type of faith that everyone exhibits. This is as simple as faith that when you sit down for example, your chair won’t break on you, or faith that when you go to drink tap or bottled water it won’t kill you, or faith that you will be able to drive to work every day without your car exploding on you. Warranted faith is essential to life and everybody alive, more or less, has to function with it.
  • Irrational faith – This basically means ‘faith even when the evidence is contrary to that position.’ For example, having faith that your friend is 25 years old when they are really only 20 years old and all the evidence (the person themselves, parents, birth certificate, school year…) shows that they are clearly only aged 20.
  • Blind faith – Blind faith is to have faith in something where there is simply no evidence for it. For example, the idea that aliens exist has no evidence to support it apart from wishful thinking due to the vastness of the universe. This type of faith in aliens by definition comes under the category of blind faith simply because there is no direct or indirect evidence for alien life in the universe to date.
  • Evidence based faith – This is simply to have faith in something because there is evidence to support it. For example, we have faith that the first president of the U.S. was George Washington because there is overwhelming historical evidence to support this idea. Or, we have faith in that the holocaust really did happen in the 20th century under the reign of Hitler (although some chose to believe that it did not – displaying irrational faith) because there is so much evidence to support this event.
  • Biblical faith – This is a bit of a different one as it only applies to those who take the Bible to be the Word of God. This faith only comes about as a result of being a follower of Christ. It is faith in the things of God and of what Jesus spoke about in the Bible, e.g. the spiritual realm and spiritual activity, the Biblical creation of the world, and eschatology (the end times – the events to come). As Christians, we can have faith in things of this manner only as given by Christ. A non-Christian would have no reason to exhibit faith in any of the same stuff.

With these definitions now in place it is easy to see which is which. The Christian faith falls under number four (Evidence based faith) and five (Biblical faith), not two or three as many assume. I don’t have enough time to go through actual points of evidence in this article however my other written articles Can We Really Trust the New Testament?Atheist Scholar Agrees that the New Testament is Reliable? give you a taste of some of the fundamental evidence that supports the case for the Bible being a historically reliable book.

Is Science Based on Faith?

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When someone is trying to prove a point (usually to do with the physical world), they will often refer to science by saying something along the lines of “it’s been scientifically proven that X is true.” After this is said, supposedly the case is settled unless there is some sort of evidence to the contrary. This points to the fact that today in current culture science has been venerated, and for clear reasons too – technological advancements (phones, space rockets, computers) – biological advancements (health care, genetics), the list could go on and on.

Great as this may be (and I am a huge fan of science), my one fear is that this sort of progress has led to a very biased approach towards how we view science. Many people have lifted science above all other fields of discipline such as, history, philosophy, art, politics and so on. The most extreme version of this bias comes in the form of scientism – the view that science is the only way to know truth – now this worldview is easily defeated (the statement itself cannot be scientifically tested and so if it is true…it is false), however, that isn’t my main focus here. I really want to focus on the concept of science and faith.

For clarification, when I say faith, I don’t mean it in the sense of religious faith in a creator (there are at least four different definitions of the word faith), I mean faith in the sense of warranted faith, the type of faith that everybody on earth exhibits on a daily basis whether they are religious or not in order to get through life. For example, when you go to drink water from the tap or a bottle, you do not conduct science experiment upon science experiment to determine if the water is clean to drink. When you are sleeping at night, you do not barricade yourself in your room for fear that a family member or friend will walk in and suddenly pull a knife on you in order to do you damage. The list runs deep but when we really take time to view how we live life, we realise that we really do exhibit a lot of faith, and that is what gets us through. The main question again I want to address is this: Is science based on faith?

Now before we get into this, we need to define the word faith. The English Oxford Living Dictionary defines faith as:

Complete trust or confidence in someone or something 

In this sense, we don’t necessarily have to include anything specifically religious at this point, we are just talking about having confidence and trust in something, and anybody is capable of that.

So, is science based on faith? Well on the surface, it seems that the answer is a clear NO, of course it isn’t. Science works via observation, testing, repeating and confirming results, it is in the business of strictly empirical findings. This would seem to be true, and it is! However, the question that I’m asking is not about what science does, but rather what it is based on…or in other words, what makes science possible? I will just focus on one topic below in order to try and help answer the question…mathematics (there are many more paths we could go down).

Mathematics, science and faith?

Science, especially the discipline of physics is based upon mathematics. Mathematics underpins science and seems to uphold it (in a sense). The problem here is that, mathematics – as any scientists will tell you – is law like, so much so that it is essentially referred to as “laws of mathematics”. In order for scientists to be able to land people on the moon, and to be able to send satellites into orbit around the world they have to utilise these laws of mathematics. The huge underlying questions however are: what are the laws of mathematics? Where did they come from? And why are they so consistent? Notice that scientists didn’t create and do no not uphold these laws of mathematics. Einstein knew this very well when he made the statement saying: “How is it possible that mathematics, a product of human thought that is independent of experience, fits so excellently the objects of physical reality?”[1]

The problem is that science is supposed to work empirically, however, the laws of mathematics are immaterial. E=MC2 is not something physical you can touch, it is an immaterial mathematical equation which helps us to understand the nature of mass and energy. Hopefully you are starting to see the big picture here.

Fundamentally, there is a major disconnect between ‘doing science’, and ‘knowing why science works’. The ‘knowing why science works’ part is something that is believed primarily by faith when it comes to truths such as mathematical laws. In fact, this topic cuts so deeply into the world of science that it caused Nobel Prize winning mathematician Eugene Wigner to write an entire paper entitled The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences. The last quote at the end of the paper is probably one of the most striking, and it puts a finger on Wingers central thoughts on the whole topic. Winger says that:

The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. We should be grateful for it and hope that it will remain valid in future research and that it will extend, for better or for worse, to our pleasure, even though perhaps also to our bafflement, to wide branches of learning.[2]

This to me is a bit like a statement of faith from Wigner, and this is not a bad thing! It is just simply an admittance that science does not contain all the answers, and furthermore, it is an admittance that science cannot even fundamentally account for why it works in the first place.

 

Science and Religion

With this now is mind, I think it is easier to show that the straight line that people tend to draw between science as being “empirical truth” and religion as being “based on pure faith” in not as easily marked as first thought. A few point to consider are that:

  • Faith is a concept that applies to everybody whether religious or not.
  • Science is based upon faith on mathematical laws (and we could extend this to faith in gravity, energy, and light as well since nobody in the world knows what any those things fundamentally are)
  • There are at least four definitions of the word faith (Warranted, blind, evidence based, irrational,) and so we must know which definition we are talking about when we speak about the word
  • Scientists have a fundamental faith in certain unexplainable phenomena just like religious people do. God’s existence cannot be explained by humans, but neither can the laws of mathematics, or gravity, or energy, both fields exhibit very large degree of trust…faith!

 

References:

[1] Max Jammer. 1921. Einstein and Religion, Princeton University Press,

[2] Eugene Wigner. 1960. THE UNREASONABLE EFFECTIVENSS OF MATHEMATICS IN THE NATURAL SCIENCES. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.maths.ed.ac.uk/~aar/papers/wigner.pdf.