Claims Based on the Authority of Science
and How to Assess Them
As a Christian confronted by statements "based on science," how do you handle such claims when they conflict with your beliefs?
Science and technology are increasingly influential in life today all over the world. This brochure is intended to advise Christians who are not scientists on how to evaluate claims based on science that have wider consequences. Our teacher is Dr. Richard Bube, a Christian and scientist who has had extensive experience teaching classes on science, on Christian faith, and on the interaction between them. He has also spoken and written extensively as a Christian and science professor on how science and Christian faith relate.
Christians encounter issues involving science, as illustrated by the following commonly-raised questions:
These and similar questions can be answered in a way that is faithful to both authentic science and authentic Christian theology. Here's how.
How to Approach such Questions
The following list can be applied in evaluating issues involving both science and Christianity:
Define key words.
We first need to define what we mean by the key words of science and theology so that we are not misled in subsequent discussion by the use of inappropriate definitions. This is not some kind of irrelevant scholarly exercise but the everyday, common-sense insistence that we know what key words mean and that they be used consistently. Critical distinctions in meaning between words are also important, such as between the concepts of:
Do scientific laws describe (provide valid insights into the nature of reality), prescribe (cause physical events to happen) or explain totally (making any other kind of description, as from Christian theology, irrelevant)?
Do we really prove anything in either science or theology - that is, provide absolute certainty of ultimate reality - or do we instead seek for evidence concerning that reality upon which we can make our faith choices?
Scientific uses of these words implies simply that we have a description capable of predicting the future accurately from a knowledge of the present (determinism) or a description that is capable only of predicting probabilities (chance). Is there a necessary connection between the scientific uses of these words and the basic worldview of Determinism (there is no real freedom or responsibility in life) or Chance (nothing has any ultimate meaning or purpose)?
Pseudoscience is a discipline that looks like science and sounds like science but fails the basic tests for authentic science. It corresponds to bad science, done irresponsibly, makes claims of producing results that authentic science cannot (such as an ethical system), or sets out to scientifically demonstrate the validity of some previously chosen philosophical or religious position.
Pseudotheology is a discipline that looks like authentic Christian theology but fails the basic tests for authentic theology. It applies bad hermeneutics, done irresponsibly, and makes claims to produce results that authentic theology cannot (such as identify physical mechanisms for phenomena), or sets out to theologically demonstrate the validity of some previously chosen philosophical or scientific position.
A rational act is one taken after consideration of the evidence; a nonrational act is one taken without consideration of evidence; an irrational act is one taken in spite of the evidence to the contrary. Authentic Christian faith is a rational faith.
If supernatural is differentiated from natural by insisting that supernatural means that "God did it," it is easy to conclude that natural means that God didn't do it. Rather, natural is our description of how God ordinarily acts in the universe, and supernatural is our description of the meaning of this action and of some specific actions that might not be scientifically describable by their very nature (miracles).
Avoid the "faith versus reason" dichotomy.
Faith and reason are essential aspects of all human activities, including both science and Christian theology. Both make assumptions (faith) and draw conclusions from them (reason). The belief that the universe is rationally comprehensible is an assumption of science. Faith in this assumption not only motivates scientists to do research, but actually makes it possible and effective. The same belief can be a reasonable conclusion drawn from biblical teaching about our universe as created by a rational God. Consequently, science and faith are not opposites. Blaise Pascal, an earlier Christian and scientist, said that science is the activity of "thinking God's thoughts after him."
Identify tricky assumptions.
The following assumptions are often made in arguments involving science. Ask if the argument you are hearing assumes one or more of them:
This is a faith commitment, not a scientific conclusion.
This is also a faith commitment and not a scientific conclusion.
This is a confusion of scientific chance (probabilistic descriptions) and a worldview (Chance: no meaning or purpose).
Although difficult to defend when identified, the unthinking acceptance of these false assumptions (and others like them) is common and often controls public thought.
Seven Patterns Relating Science and Christian Faith
There is more than one way that people have related their understandings of Christianity and of science. Dick Bube has identified seven of them. For each, we can ask, "What does this pattern tell us?" and "What does this pattern tell us about?"
The first group of patterns share the common assumption that science and theology tell us the same kinds of things about the same things. That is, science and theology address the same kinds of questions to the same subject-matter and are thereby alternative ways of achieving the same kind of knowledge.
Pattern 1: Science has destroyed Christian theology.
In case of conflict, both science and theology cannot be right. It is either science or theology and science always wins.
Pattern 2: Christian theology in spite of science.
As in Pattern 1, the choice between science and theology is either/or, and theology always wins.
Pattern 4: Science demands traditional Christian theology.
This pattern agrees with Patterns 1 and 2 that science and theology cover the same ground in the same way, but concludes that science provides all the evidence needed to prove to anyone the truth of traditional Christian theology.
Pattern 5: Science redefines Christian theology.
Because science and theology cover the same ground in the same way, traditional theology must be redefined and rewritten to agree with modern science.
Pattern 6: A new synthesis is needed for a redefined science and a redefined theology.
Agreeing with previous patterns on what science and theology are, Pattern 6 offers instead more of a condition to be desired than an accomplished state of affairs. This pattern says that science and theology should tell us the same things about the same things but they both need to be reformulated to make this possible.
Not all patterns view science and theology as having the same goals, questions or methods. Pattern 3 assumes just the opposite.
Pattern 3: Science and Christian theology are unrelated.
Science and theology tell us different kinds of things about different things, so there is no common ground and no possibility of conflict. Neither has anything to say about the other. This pattern is perhaps the most commonly chosen pragmatic pattern of all.
Finally, Pattern 7 offers a different perspective on the problems associated with all of the previous patterns.
Pattern 7: Science and theology offer complementary insights.
Science and theology each provide valid insights into what reality is, according to its own perspective. Integration of insights from each allows us to have an adequate and coherent view of reality. Several essential aspects of this complementary view are:
In science and theology we develop descriptions of the world in which we live, and its relationship to God, its Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer. The complete, detailed description of these relationships to God transcend both human experience and language. God has chosen to reveal himself to us using theological descriptions that we can understand, which at the same time are able to show us valid insights into his truth. These descriptions are not meant to be exhaustive, and it is appropriate that we integrate them with authentic scientific descriptions of the mechanisms of God's activity in the physical universe.
The complementary approach provides a creative framework from which to view some of the basic questions involving science and technology:
Above all we emphasize time and again, "God is the Author of the whole story."
For Further Reading
For further study of the relationship between science and Christian faith, read Richard Bube's book, Putting it All Together: Seven Patterns Relating Science and Christian Faith, published in 1995 by University Press of America, 4720 Boston Way, Lanham, Maryland, 20706; or, 3 Henrietta Street, London WC2E 8LU England.
The American Scientific Affiliation
The American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) is a fellowship of men and women of science and related disciplines who share a common fidelity to the Word of God and a commitment to integrity in the practice of science. ASA was founded in 1941 and currently has about 2500 members. The stated purposes of the ASA are "to investigate any area relating Christian faith and science" and "to make known the results of such investigations for comment and criticism by the Christian community and by the scientific community."
Dr. Richard H. Bube is Emeritus Professor of Materials Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, the leading school of science and engineering from which Silicon Valley developed. That's the lower San Francisco Bay area electronics industry where Stanford graduates Bill Hewlett and David Packard started Hewlett-Packard, the electronics giant that built the first audio signal generators for creating the sound effects in Disney's movie classic, Fantasia. Semiconductors are the key components of modern electronics and are found in cars, home appliances, telephones and personal computers as integrated-circuits (ICs) or "micro-chips," those bug-like looking devices on circuit boards, with black (plastic) bodies and "legs" (pins for interconnection) on their sides. Some companies, such as Motorola and Intel, concentrate on building microcomputer ICs. The electronics industry is now the largest industry in the United States, as measured in sales, and is still growing quickly. Dr. Bube has done electronics research in industry (RCA) and academia, mainly on photoelectronics and more recently, on "photovoltaics," the conversion of light into electricity. Solar cells are a result of photovoltaic research, and he has written books and papers on this subject.
Besides being past chairman of his department at Stanford U., Dick is also a husband, father and grandfather, who delights in enabling fellow Christians to better cope with our increasingly technological society. He and his wife, Betty Jane, have several children. He was also president of the American Scientific Affiliation. Dick has written his autobiography (which even includes some poems and short stories) called One Whole Life. (Copies can be obtained directly from Dick for copying and mailing cost ($25). Make requests to: Prof. Richard H. Bube, 753 Mayfield Avenue, Stanford, California 94305; e-mail address: bube@leland.Stanford.edu