Science in Christian Perspective
Davis A. Young
Grand Rapids, MI 49506
From: JASA 36 (September 1984): 156-158.
Judge Overton defined "creation-science" as religion and
not science. Dr. Geisler does not like the implications of that
definition for public school science education. He believes
that creation is as scientific as evolution. Therefore "creation-science" ought to be included in public school curricula.
The Definition of Science
The scientific community rigorously excludes from the definition of natural science all reference to supernatural causes. As Judge Overton indicated in his opinion, science is guided by natural law and is explanatory by reference to natural law. Natural science restricts itself to material causes. Geisler believes that this restriction to natural, material causes in science is arbitrary and biases the situation in favor of naturalism and against supernatural religions like Christianity. He says that if science were limited to material causes then such disciplines as archaeology, psychology, and sociology could not be sciences because they plainly allow for mental (intelligent) causes as well as material causes. But what the judge was talking about, what is at the center of the creation debate, and what goes on in the public school classroom is natural science, i.e., physics, biology, chemistry, earth science, and astronomy. But these sciences are not like archaeology or psychology. They are not concerned with the activity of the human mind nor with human culture. Natural science is restricted to material causes. The term "science" in the rest of this response will generally refer to "natural science. "The Limitations of Natural Science
Now without question many individual natural scientists have adopted a "naturalistic" philosophy and are unashamedly anti-supernatural. They are convinced that the scientific enterprise is possible only in terms of a world that exists apart from God. Some non-Christian scientists have even mistakenly thought that because natural science does restrict itself to natural law and the natural world that there is nothing but natural law and the natural world. They have fallen into a scientism which assumes that science can explain everything and that science is the only road to truth. Non-Christian scientists have also commonly made antiChristian pronouncements in the name of science. They have made such pronouncements as if scientific investigation had led to their conclusions. Because we often encounter individual scientists who display a "naturalistic" bias we might mistakenly assume that naturalism or anti-supernaturalism is built into science itself. Such is not the case.
Natural science is defined by a scientific community that is composed of both Christians and non-Christians. Natural science is said to be explanatory of the empirical world in terms of natural law only because the methods of natural science have limits. Natural science cannot make theological, economic, moral, or aesthetic judgments, for example. Individual scientists certainly are capable of answering questions of a theological, moral, or aesthetic nature. They can do so because they are human beings capable of operating in more than the scientific mode of thought. When, however, an individual natural scientist makes a theological or an aesthetic judgment he does not do so on the grounds of natural science. Although the individual scientist can come to religious and aesthetic conclusions as a human being, the methods of natural science are incapable of leading to religious, moral, economic, or aesthetic judgments. Conclusions about good, evil, sin, grace, providence, beauty, value, miracles, God, and love are outside the competence of science.
A geologist can stand on Glacier Point overlooking Yosemite Valley and be emotionally overwhelmed by the magnificence of the panorama. The geologist may also firmly believe that God in His providence brought Yosemite Valley into being. He or she did not, however, arrive at the conclusion that Yosemite Valley is an awe-inspiring sight through a scientific geological investigation. Nor did our geologist arrive at the conclusion that Yosemite Valley is the work of divine providence through a scientific geological investigation. These conclusions were of an aesthetic and religious, not a scientific, nature. The science of geology cannot help us to tell whether a rock is beautiful although a geologist as human being can make such a determination. The science of geology cannot help us to discover God's providence even though the geologist as human being can make the discovery. All the science of geology can do is enable us to explain the origin and history of a rock in terms of the laws of nature operating under certain natural conditions.
The fact that the capabilities of natural science are limited
in this way does not mean that there are no other legitimate
ways to view the world. Natural science does not deny the
legitimate existence of aesthetics, economics, and theology.
Natural science simply does not view the world in the same
way as these other disciplines. Natural science neither
affirms nor denies that God could have miraculously created
a rock or the Earth instantaneously. Natural science simply
does not make that judgment because such a judgment is out
competence. Aesthetics can tell us that
Yosemite Valley is beautiful, but is not competent to tell us
whether Yosemite Valley was miraculously created by God
or formed by glaciers. Such a limitation on the competence of
aesthetics does not mean that aesthetics has an anti-God
bias. Similarly science's limitations do not imply that science
is defined in a "naturalistic" way.
Creation is Known by Faith not Science
The truths of creation and providence are revealed in Scripture. At least the initial creation (Genesis 1:1) was a sheer divine miracle by which God brought the world into existence. This creation is, to me, as certain, indeed more so, than any scientific conclusion. Nevertheless, the power of God displayed in the created order (Romans 1:20) is clearly seen through the eyes of faith of the regenerated Christian and is not discoverable by scientific investigation. Moreover, it is by faith and not scientific investigation that we understand that the universe was formed at God's command (Hebrews 1:3). My belief regarding the creation of the universe by God would be excluded from public school science classrooms by Judge Overton simply because it isn't a "scientific" belief as Geisler suggests. My beliefs about creation and providence are pre-scientific. So were those of Kepler, Boyle, Newton, and Maxwell. The Christian belief in creation forms the presupposition of natural science. Creation is not the conclusion of scientific inquiry. It is the basis of scientific inquiry. Belief in creation lies at the heart of the thoroughly religious, biblically-directed world-and-life view that I bring to bear on the world around me. I believe that the entire scientific enterprise would be totally impossible apart from the truth of the doctrines of creation and providence. Indeed, some religious world-view lies behind each person's conception of the very possibility of natural science. The proper, correct religious foundation of natural science cannot, however, be discovered through application of the methods of natural science. Natural science cannot explore its own foundations scientifically. The foundations of natural science are of a religious-philosophical nature and cannot be taught as science although we may dearly wish that they would be taught and discussed in public schools.
Creation and Evolution as Origin-Science
Geisler believes that creation is no less scientific than evolution. To establish this conclusion he introduces a distinction between origin-science and operation-science. Operation-science, he says, is based on observation of recurring patterns of events in nature. Such science deals with the world as it is today. Creation is not scientific in this sense because it hasn't been observed or repeated. But, says Geisler, neither has evolution been observed or repeated and therefore it is no more operation-scientific than creation. Thus creation and evolution fall into another category of science which he calls origin-science. This kind of science deals with singularities and is like forensics in that it builds up its conclusions by inferential reconstruction from evidence. In my judgment, there can be no hard-and-fast distinction between two such kinds of science.
The recurring patterns of events that natural science seeks to observe are condition-dependent. Natural events are repeated only if the material conditions of the event are the same. Science is not content simply with observed repetitions of events. It seeks to observe repetitions of events that are connected to (caused by) repeated material conditions. Scientists are interested in the conditions as much as in the observed recurring event.
Some events can be repeated indefinitely because the original conditions can be fairly well reproduced indefinitely. Consider the reaction of specified concentrations of ammonia and hydrochloric acid at specified temperature and pressure. Such carefully controlled repetitions lead to firm conclusions, often expressible in mathematically rigorous terms.
Not all events are controllable in the same way as a chemical reaction and may be repeated only in a very loose sense. Many modern-day observable events (supposedly operation-science) like volcanic eruptions and floods recur only in a loose sense because the original material conditions vary widely. These conditions can never be reduplicated. Each eruption or flood is really a singular event relative to a chemical reaction. Geological generalities about floods and volcanic eruptions are formulated from the results of similar singularities and thus must be expressed with somewhat less mathematical rigor than laws of chemical equilibrium.
Many modern geologic events are not even observed directly. The events must be reconstructed "forensically" from the results of the events by analogy with similar effects from known, observed events.
The origin of life and evolution are somewhat like modern geologic processes. These biological events may not have been repeated because the original conditions were not exactly reproduced, Although there was no direct observation of the inferred events, the effects of those events can be observed and the events "reconstructed" by analogy with similar effects of known, observed processes like genetic variation, mutation, and speciation. Clearly the "certainty" about evolution is less than for that of a chemical reaction. Nonetheless it is possible to reason from effect to cause by analogy with known processes and it is possible to seek to experiment with and try to reproduce original conditions.
The story with a Big-Bang creation, however, is different. Let us grant that science may well have run up against its limits in the Big Bang and can find no way to penetrate further into the past. This doesn't mean that creation becomes a scientific hypothesis. Science simply has nothing to say at this point. Creation, like the origin of life, has not been directly observed or repeated. But the difference lies in that creation, unlike evolution, was a condition-less event. Only God existed. There were no material conditions that could potentially be reconstructed to give another repetition of creation. Creation occurred not by necessity but by God's free choice. It was unconditioned. There is then no way to test the creation hypothesis, no way to try by theory or experience to duplicate the original conditions. But where there is no effort to reproduce conditions, to predict events from those conditions, and to test whether the event occurs when the conditions are met, then science is no longer being done.Discredited Scientific Hypotheses
Dare we appeal to scientific evidence to validate the idea of supernatural creation a few thousands of years ago? The overwhelming weight of evidence argues compellingly in favor of an old Earth with a long dynamic history and not in favor of creation a few thousand years ago. The geological community is virtually unanimous on that point. So if we did accept creation as a valid scientific idea then it would clearly fall into the category of the discredited hypothesis. The scientific evidence simply does not point to anything unusual having happened a few thousand years ago. It does not point, as does the expanding universe, to an event like a Big Bang in which the outer limits of science may be approached.
Geisler could have made a case that some aspects of "creation-science" other than creation do fall within the limits of competence of natural science. For example, the flood geology component of creation-science is scientific in the sense of being testable against the empirical world and explanatory by reference to the natural world. Flood geology, however, also has no significant observational support. It has been falsified repeatedly and is thus another discredited scientific hypothesis that has gone the way of phlogiston and sunken land bridges. On the basis of observational data the scientific community has discredited very recent creation and flood geology but has not discredited biological evolution. The question that must be answered is whether or not we should teach in public school science classes that thorouglily discredited scientific hypotheses have as much present validity as those scientific hypotheses which are still useful to the scientific community. One would hope Christians would not favor the perpetuation of disproved hypotheses.Conclusion-Christian Education