Surviving Advanced Courses in Science
It is not just the Bible believing Christians who base their interpretations of nature on their worldview, so too do the secular scientists. It so happens however that the worldviews of these two groups, and thus the assumptions used in interpreting nature, are totally different. The most obvious assumption of the Christians is that God’s work and character are evident in nature. Mainstream scientists alternatively assume that God will never be revealed in nature, but only matter and processes.
One thing that cannot be overemphasized is how important it is to identify the assumptions used to draw conclusions from a given set of observations. The thing about assumptions is that they are based on the worldview of the expert. On this topic, philosopher of science, David Berlinski (b. 1942 and whose specialities are mathematics and physics) remarks: “Arguments follow from assumptions, and assumptions follow from beliefs…” (Berlinski 2009 The Devil’s Delusion p. 103)
The whole point is that there are no objective scientists. Everyone has starting assumptions. The Christian naturally confesses that God exists, that He is omnipotent and omniscient and has communicated with us. Nature is God’s handiwork. Thus the Christian confesses that we see testimony to God’s work and character when we look at nature. For example we read in Psalms 19:1-3 “The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.” The apostle Paul points out the importance of this revelation from nature when he quotes the above passage. Thus he writes “So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ. But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” We see God’s works revealed in nature.
The secular position contrasts sharply with the Christian view. Mainstream scientists maintain that natural explanations can be found for everything. No supernatural input will ever be evident. With different expectations on the part of secular individuals and some Christians, there is a big difference in the questions asked of natural systems and the answers obtained. For example, suppose that somebody showed you a photograph of an unfamiliar object (for example an alga). If you were to ask that person “How did you make that?” the only possible response would be some sort of process. However, if you were instead to ask “Did you make that?” then the person has the opportunity to reply that he did not make the object, that it is in fact an alga floating in lakes in the summer.
Similarly, in our study of nature, it matters what questions we ask. If a scientist asks “How did life come about spontaneously?” Then the only possible answer is a process. If the same scientists were alternatively to ask “Could life come about spontaneously?” In this case he has the opportunity to examine what cells are like and what biochemical processes in cells are like, and thereafter conclude that life could not have come about spontaneously. Thus the answers obtained from the study of nature depend upon what questions are asked.
The mainstream scientist approaches the study of nature with a specific agenda. Nature is to be interpreted only in terms of matter, energy, and natural processes, even if the results look ridiculous. A prominent geneticist, Richard Lewontin (b. 1929) actually stated this very clearly. In a famous review of a book by Carl Sagan, Dr. Lewontin wrote : “Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science…. because we have an a priori commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” (New York Review of Books January 9, 1997). What Dr. Lewontin said, was that scientists bias their studies so that only natural explanations will ever be obtained.
Secular scientists may restrict what explanations about nature qualify for the term ‘science’ but they cannot at the same time claim that what they are dealing with is truth. For example philosopher of science Del Ratzsch from Calvin College pointed out in 1996 that: “If nature is not a closed, naturalistic system – that is, if reality does not respect the naturalists’ edict – then the science built around that edict cannot be credited a priori with getting at truth, being self-corrective or anything of the sort.” (The Battle of Beginnings: Why Neither Side is Winning the Creation-Evolution Debate. InterVarsity Press. p. 167). Thus secular scientists, with their expectations of never seeing God in nature, have confined themselves to mechanistic explanations and interpretations. As Dr. Ratzsch remarks: “… materialists have no viable choice but to view the world through evolutionary spectacles of some sort.” (p. 197)
And concerning the creationists, Dr. Ratzsch remarks: “… creationists who accept the authority of Scripture and take it to be relevant to issues also will have unique input into their view of the cosmos, its origin and its workings. And there is nothing inherently irrational merely in the holding of such views — at least not on any definition of rational that can plausibly claim to be normative. Some critics will, of course, refuse to grant the honorific title science to the results of such views, but that is at best a mere semantic nicety. If the aim is genuine truth, the mere fact that a system purporting to display that truth does not meet the conditions of some stipulative worldview-laden definition of the term science can hardly carry serious weight.” p. 197 What better statement could there be to the effect that no one should be intimidated by the pronouncements of mainstream science? Any scientist, for example, who claims that science proves that man has descended from chimps, has based his remarks on a study of the issues biased in favour of a materialistic worldview. Conservative Christians do not need to be intimidated by such conclusions. The nature of the materialistic assumptions and objectives of mainstream science must not discourage Christians from studying science. It is very important to understand how the information content and irreducible complexity of the living cell (among other issues), can really only be understood in terms of creation by a supernatural mind. There are many who want their children to appreciate this and to be able to resist the appeal of mainstream science.
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