In a recent online conversation someone just assumed the knowability of science and the universe without knowledge of the history behind such an assumption. After posting the statement and my quick response, I will include other longer excerpts from a few sources both explaining this a bit more and defending the challenges to these assumptions, such as “this makes ‘science’ too easy.”
Sean said this:
➤ What do you mean justify it? How do I justify that we assume nature is uniform? Because that’s how it has been so far, and it shows no signs of changing.
A great response would have been that he is ASSUMING arguments from theism in this regard:
Indeed, there are certain philosophical presuppositions that must be assumed in order for science to be considered an effective, worthy endeavor:
✧ The external world is real and knowable.
✧ Nature itself is not divine. It is an object worthy of study, not worship.
✧ The universe is orderly. There is uniformity in nature that allows us to observe past phenomena and to understand and predict future occurrences.
✧ Our minds and senses are capable of accurately observing and understanding the world.
✧ Language and mathematics can accurately describe the external world that we observe.
(Via Explore God)
The atheist or Eastern worldview could not have advanced science under their worldviews auspices… and these assumptions from the Judeo-Christian faith are what made scientific advancement flourish so well in the West.
NOT TO MENTION that the falsely defined attributes of Quantum Mechanics to undermine logic are shown false in that we can know many things not only in logic but also in science… thanks to healthy presuppositions.
And in another article by Explore God, we have this [again] short summation that is explained further below it:
Modern science depends on some key assumptions derived from Christianity:
- Belief in the rationality of the universe. Scientists believed the universe was orderly and uniform because it was created by a God who was rational and ordered.
- Belief that mankind was created in the image of God. Since God is rational, man is rational and able to reason. Since man exists in an orderly universe, he is able to trust his senses, employ his reason, and understand the world.
Science begins with the conviction that the universe is knowable, that it is ordered, that sensory perceptions can be trusted, and that reason and rationality correspond to reality.
Here are the promised ~ longer ~ explanations to the above and how such assumptions were the foundations of Christian theology and it’s influence of the scientific revolution [this is also related to the myth behind “Islam’s Golden Age“]. The first study is by Dr. Henry Schaefer, who is [past?] Professor of Chemistry at the University of Georgia…
- and a prolific scholar with over 750 scientific publications to his credit. In this lecture, presented at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Schaefer confronts the assertion that one cannot believe in God and be a credible scientist. He starts by showing that the theistic worldview of Bacon, Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday and Maxwell was instrumental in the rise of modern science. He goes on to name many modern scientists and Nobel prize winners, including Charles Coulson, John Suppe, Charles Townes, Arther Schawlow, Alan Sandage, Donald Page, R. David Cole and Francis Collins, whose religious faith is an integral part of who they are as scientists. The video concludes with an exclusive interview with Dr. Schaefer where he discusses why a Christian worldview is more compatible with the findings of modern cosmology than a purely naturalistic and materialistic worldview. (www.arn.org)
- J.P. Moreland and William Lane Criag, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003), 346-350.
Scientism, expressed in the quotation by Rescher at the beginning of the chapter, is the view that science is the very paradigm of truth and rationality. If something does not square with currently well-established scientific beliefs, if it is not within the domain of entities appropriate for scientific investigation, or if it is not amenable to scientific methodology, then it is not true or rational. Ev erything outside of science is a matter of mere belief and subjective opinion, of which rational assessment is impossible. Science, exclusively and ideally, is our model of intellectual excellence.
Actually, there are two forms of scientism: strong scientism and weak scientism. Strong scientism is the view that some proposition or theory is true and/or rational to believe if and only if it is a scientific proposition or theory; that is, if and only if it is a well-established scientific proposition or theory that, in turn, depends on its having been successfully formed, tested and used according to appropriate scientific methodology. There are no truths apart from scientific truths, and even if there were, there would be no reason whatever to believe them.
Advocates of weak scientism allow for the existence of truths apart from science and are even willing to grant that they can have some minimal, positive rationality status without the support of science. But advocates of weak scientism still hold that science is the most valuable, most serious and most authoritative sector of human learning. Every other intellectual activity is inferior to science. Further, there are virtually no limits to science. There is no field into which scientific research cannot shed light. To the degree that some issue or belief outside science can be given scientific support or can be reduced to science, to that degree the issue or belief becomes rationally acceptable. Thus we have an intellectual and perhaps even a moral obligation to try to use science to solve problems in other fields that, heretofore, have been untouched by scientific methodology. For example, we should try to solve problems about the mind by the methods of neurophysiology and computer science.
Note that advocates of weak scientism are not merely claiming that, for example, belief that the universe had a beginning, supported by good philosophical and theological arguments, gains extra support if that belief also has good scientific arguments for it. This claim is relatively uncontroversial because, usually, if some belief has a few good supporting arguments and later gains more good supporting arguments, then this will increase the rationality of the belief in question. But this is not what weak scientism implies, because this point cuts both ways. For it will equally be the case that good philosophical and theological arguments for a beginning of the universe will increase the rationality of such a belief initially supported only by scientific arguments. Advocates of weak scientism are claiming that fields outside science gain if they are given scientific support and not vice versa.
If either strong or weak scientism is true, this would have drastic implications for the integration of science and theology. If strong scientism is true, then theology is not a cognitive enterprise at all and there is no such thing as theological knowledge. If weak scientism is true, then the conversation between theology and science will be a monologue with theology listening to science and waiting for science to give it support. For thinking Christians, either of these alternatives is unacceptable. What, then, should we say about scientism?
Note first that strong scientism is self-refuting (see chap. 2 for a treatment of self-refutation). Strong scientism is not itself a proposition of science, but a second-order proposition of philosophy about science to the effect that only scientific propositions are true and/or rational to believe. And strong scientism is itself offered as a true, rationally justified position to believe. Now, propositions that are self-refuting (e.g., There are no truths) are not such that they just happen to be false but could have been true. Self-refuting propositions are necessarily false, that is, it is not possible for them to be true. What this means is that, among other things, no amount of scientific progress in the future will have the slightest effect on making strong scientism more acceptable.
There are two more problems that count equally against strong and weak scientism. First, scientism (in both forms) does not adequately allow for the task of stating and defending the necessary presuppositions for science itself to be practiced (assuming scientific realism). Thus scientism shows itself to be a foe and not a friend of science.
Science cannot be practiced in thin air. In fact, science itself presupposes a number of substantive philosophical theses which must be assumed if science is even going to get off the runway. Now each of these assumptions has been challenged, and the task of stating and defending these assumptions is one of the tasks of philosophy. The conclusions of science cannot be more certain than the presuppositions it rests on and uses to reach those conclusions.
Strong scientism rules out these presuppositions altogether because neither the presuppositions themselves nor their defense are scientific matters. Weak scientism misconstrues their strength in its view that scientific propositions have greater epistemic authority than those of other fields like philosophy. This would mean that the conclusions of science are more certain than the philosophical presuppositions used to justify and reach those conclusions, and that is absurd. In this regard, the following statement by John Kekes strikes at the heart of weak scientism:
A successful argument for science being the paradigm of rationality must be based on the demonstration that the presuppositions of science are preferable to other presuppositions. That demonstration requires showing that science, relying on these presuppositions, is better at solving some problems and achieving some ideals than its competitors. But showing that cannot be the task of science. It is, in fact, one task of philosophy. Thus the enterprise of justifying the presuppositions of science by showing that with their help science is the best way of solving certain problems and achieving some ideals is a necessary precondition of the justification of science. Hence philosophy, and not science, is a stronger candidate for being the very paradigm of rationality.
Here is a list of some of the philosophical presuppositions of science: (1) the existence of a theory-independent, external world; (2) the orderly nature of the external world; (3) the knowability of the external world; (4) the existence of truth; (5) the laws of logic; (6) the reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties to serve as truth gatherers and as a source of justified beliefs in our intellectual environment; (7) the adequacy of language to describe the world; (8) the existence of values used in science (e.g., “test theories fairly and report test results honestly”); (9) the uniformity of nature and induction; (10) the existence of numbers.
Most of these assumptions are easy to understand and, in any case, are discussed in more detail in other parts of this book. It may be helpful, however, to say a word about (9) and (10). Regarding (9), scientists make inductive inferences from past or examined cases of some phenomenon (e.g., “All observed emeralds are green”) to all cases, examined and unexamined, past and future, of that phenomenon (e.g., “All emeralds whatever are green”). The problem of induction is the problem of justifying such inferences. It is usually associated with David Hume. Here is his statement of it:
It is impossible, therefore, that any arguments from experience can prove this resemblance of the past to the future, since all these arguments are founded on the supposition of that resemblance. Let the course of things be allowed hitherto ever so regular, that alone, without some new argument or inference, proves not that for the future it will continue so. In vain do you pretend to have learned the nature of bodies from your past experience. Their secret nature, and consequently, all their effects and influence, may change without any change in their sensible qualities. This happens sometimes, and with regard to some objects. Why may it not happen always, and with regard to all objects? What logic, what process of argument secures you against this supposition? My practice, you say, refutes my doubts. But you mistake the purport of my question. As an agent, I am quite satisfied in the point; but as a philosopher who has some share of curiosity, I will not say skepticism, I want to learn the foundation of this inference.
We cannot look here at various attempts to solve the problem of induction except to note that inductive inferences assume what has been called the uniformity of nature: The future will resemble the past. And the uniformity of nature principle is one of the philosophical assumptions of science.
Regarding (10) (the existence of numbers), in general, if we accept as true a proposition like The ball on the table is red, we thereby are committed to the existence of certain things, e.g., a specific ball and the property of being red. Now science uses mathematical language much of the time and such usage seems to presuppose that mathematical language is true. This, in turn, seems to presuppose the existence of mathematical objects (e.g., numbers) that are truly described by those propositions. For example, the proposition Two is an even number seems to commit us to the existence of an entity, the number two (whatever our analysis of numbers turns out to be), which has the property of being even. The same theory of truth used outside of mathematics (the correspondence theory) applies within mathematics as well. Now the debate about the existence and nature of numbers is a philosophical one, and thus stating the debate and defending the existence of numbers is another philosophical task presuppositional to science.
There is a second problem that counts equally against strong and weak scientism: the existence of true and rationally justified beliefs outside of science. The simple fact is that true, rationally justified beliefs exist in a host of fields outside of science. Many of the issues in this book fall in that category. Strong scientism does not allow for this fact and therefore should be rejected as an inadequate account of our intellectual enterprise.
Moreover, some propositions believed outside science (e.g., Red is a color, Torturing babies for fun is wrong, I am now thinking about science) are better justified than some believed within science (e.g., Evolution takes place through a series of very small steps). It is not hard to believe that many of our currently held scientific beliefs will and should be revised or abandoned in one hundred years, but it would be hard to see how the same could be said of the extrascientific propositions just cited. Weak scientism does not account for this fact. In fact, weak scientism, in its attempt to reduce all issues to scientific ones, often has a distorting effect on an intellectual issue. Arguably, this is the case in current attempts to make the existence and nature of mind a scientific problem.
In sum, scientism in both forms is inadequate. There are domains of knowledge outside and independent of science, and while we have not shown this here, theology is one of those domains. How, then, should the domains of science and theology be integrated? To this question we now turn.
 John Kekes, Tic Nature of Philosophy (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman & Littlefield, 1980), p. 158.
 David Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748; Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965), pp. 51-52 (section 4.2 in the original).
This example comes from Lambert Dolphin’s online library and is an article entitled, “Christianity and the Birth of Science,” by Michael Bumbulis, Ph.D. The actual article is much larger, but this is a great example of the assumptions assumed by the scientific revolution:
a. A belief in an “only God.” This belief had two major implications. Only a lofty and vigorous monotheism could instill a sense that there existed a being so powerful that He created ALL there is to create. Pagan gods were too often seen as PART of nature. The birth of science needed a God bigger than that. Secondly, this God was a personal God with a will. Just as He willed certain moral laws, He could be perceived as willing laws of nature. In fact, this type of assumption/perspective actually turned into an apologetic argument, where theologians and scientists would argue the laws of nature implied a Lawgiver. Whether or not the argument if valid is irrelevant. I’m simply highlighting how the medieval mind would easily see it from the opposite angle – a Lawgiver implied laws in creation. Pagan gods were simply not seen as Lawgivers.
b. A belief in a rational God. This belief has a major implication. A rational God would create a rational creation, a creation that would turn out to be ultimately intelligible. Thus, all one had to do was uncover what was there waiting to be uncovered. One didn’t have to worry that such searching would be in vain. No one worried about a deceiving god. Or a creation that was ultimately an illusion.
c. A belief that the Universe was created ex nihilo. This belief had several major implications.
i. If the universe was created, it is not eternal. Thus, it was also not necessary. Since it need not exist, there must be a reason why it exists. Furthermore, since it could have existed in another form, there must be reasons why it existed in the form that it does. A contingent universe arouses curiosity. A necessary universe does not.
If a Christian is curious about Creation and God’s reasons for creating what He created, the obvious place to start is by studying Genesis. Whether or not one interprets Genesis as metaphor, myth, or history, one big truth arises from this account – ALL is creation. That is, the earth and the bird are every bit creation as the stars and the sun. It’s this type of insight which enabled folks like Buridan (see below) to describe heavenly motions in terms of terrestial motions. It’s hard for us modern folks to appreciate how radical it was to describe the movement of the heavens as being like a man jumping or a smith’s wheel turning. But this was a crucial step. And it was a crucial step that helped to get around Aristotle’s philosophy.
ii. It is true that the Bible doesn’t clearly distinguish between the natural and the spiritual. But some type of distinction is assumed, otherwise, the miraculous would be meaningless. The distinction the Bible makes is between the Creation and the transcendent Creator. And this is a distinction which was very important to the birth of modern science. Pagans made no such distinction. A tree would never be studied because a tree was a divine representation! And Eastern religions could care less about the tree, as it was either an illusion or a distraction. But in Christianity, the tree was desacralized. Thus, it could be studied. And since it was made by a rational Creator, a Creator who instructed us to “subdue the earth,” the impetus was there to study the tree. Why? Because it didn’t necessarily exist. It was made and thus need not exist. Thus, to understand the tree, one couldn’t deduce its existence from first principles, one had to actually “take it apart” and figure out how it worked. And since God was rational, it was thought that the tree would ultimately be intelligible.
This distinction between Creation and God was essential to science. For it is this very distinction that is behind what we now call the “natural” and the “spiritual” (anyone who can see this relationship will clearly see how science is indebted to Christianity). That is, if you simply remove God from the picture, Creation becomes the Natural. And God is over there in the “Spiritual.” But this distinction was not commonly found among the worlds religions. Their views were inherently monistic and pantheistic. As Francis Bacon would write:
“For as all works do shew forth the power and skill of the workman, and not his image; so it is of the works of God; which do shew the omnipotency and wisdom of the maker, but not his image; and therefore therein the heathen opinion differeth from sacred truth; for they supposed the world to be the image of God, and man to be an extract or compendious image of the world.” Bacon would add that this pantheistic view resulted in “the greatest arrest and prejudice of further discovery.”
iii. Another simple implication is that a creation implies an act of creating. This would be an important point of speculation for medieval philosophers, and their speculations would turn out to be important in the birth of modern science.
d. If you are going to think God’s thoughts after Him (as Kepler said), you’d better have reasons for believing this could be done. Part of this reason stemmed from the belief in a rational God. But also important was the belief that man was created in the image of God. This belief enabled folks to trust their own reason, as their ability to reason was not only viewed as a gift from God, but it was also a way in which humankind reflected God. Furthermore, the Incarnation was also probably relevant. For if God became man, then maybe the chasm between Man and God wasn’t so huge. So maybe it wasn’t so absurd to think God’s thoughts after Him. After all, a Muslim would never dare to “think God’s thoughts after Him,” as God was viewed to be totally different from humankind.
e. Almost all cultures throughout history have had a cyclical cosmology. This makes sense. We live on a spinning globe which is in turn spinning around the sun, and this produces natural cycles on earth. And its these cycles that led to a cyclical cosmology (just as appearances also led to Geocentrism). But this cyclical view is not fertile ground for science. Science entails the notion of progress, a belief that we can progress towards a state where we understand nature. The Christians inherited from the Jews a sense that was most “unnatural,” a sense that stemmed from revelation – cosmology is linear. That is, God created and works through history. For example, His delivery of the Israelites from Egypt would never happen again, so it must be retold. The Christians inherited this spirit. Their history became as follows: Creation – the Fall – the coming of Messiah- the death of Messiah – the birth of the Church – the return of Messiah. It was a linear view where history was progressing towards a goal. This linear thinking was important to science. Why? Intellectuals from cyclical world views tend to think “there’s nothing new.” Instead of looking for something new, they look to the wisdom of ancients who represent a Golden Age. But the Christian could say, “Hey, maybe the ancients didn’t know everything. Maybe there is something new to be learned, something that has NEVER been known before.” And to find this new material, they need look no further than Creation, for the Author of the Bible (who shows his intentions in linear fashion) is also the Author of Nature.
To see the importance of linear thinking, consider how cyclical thinking stunted the birth of science in Greece. Let’s consider one of the greatest Greek philosophers, Aristotle. Aristotle attempted to explain the world in typical Greek fashion. Aristotle postulated a law (in “On the Heavens”) which stated that the rate of at which falling bodies speed toward the center of the earth, or its surface for that matter, was determined by their weight. Aristotle said that if two bodies were dropped from the same height, the one with twice the weight as the other would reach the ground twice as fast as the lighter one. This law was simply accepted. And how odd this is! Any construction worker would have observed that this was not true. Anyone could have tested Aristotle’s claim with a very simple experiment -climb a house and drop two objects of differing weight. But no Greek ever seemed curious enough to simply test this claim! Why was this? Why were they so blind to such basic science?
Well, we have to understand Greek cosmology. For them, the universe existed as an eternal cycle of birth-life-death-rebirth. This cyclical view of nature prevented the birth of science. For one thing, the notion of an eternal universe went hand-in-hand with the notion of a necessary universe. Aristotelian physics was simply taken to be necessarily true and known through introspection. It seems intuitively obvious that heavier objects would fall faster than lighter objects. But the Greek mind never thought to test it. And what a simple test it is! Furthermore, the cyclical view of nature eliminates the perspective of progress. And without the belief in progress, there is no need to look further once you think you have it all figured out. Aristotle endorsed, in a manner-of-fact way, the idea of eternal cycles. One way he did this was to make reference to cultural history. He explicitly stated that inventions familiar to his contemporaries had been invented in innumerable times before. But he did add that the comfort provided by the technical brand of those inventions available in his time represented the highest level they are capable of providing. This attitude also hindered science. If reality exists as a series of eternal cycles, the tendency is to think either one is at the bottom, and a hopeless, inward perspective develops, or one is at the top (as Aristotle thought), and complacency develops. Greek success with mathematics, coupled to their cosmogony, led them to think they could deduce reality and questioning those deductions by silly experiments was unthought of.
Unfortunately for Christendom, Greek philosophy was merged with Christian theology. And this, more than anything else, is what caused the birth of modern science to be delayed. The break with Aristotle stemmed from Christian theologians who questioned Aristotle’s self- evident truth of the eternal universe. Their theology taught otherwise, that the universe was created ex nihilo. This teaching was formally and solemnly declared in 1214 as the Fourth Lateran Council (although is was debated a long time prior). The declaration essentially stated the truth of our finite creation, but said we could only know this from revelation. This declaration freed Christian thinkers as they began to reinterpret the world simply by assuming as fact the temporality and contingency of the universe.
[I often think Christians fail to realize that Big Bang cosmology represents a very powerful confirmation of their Christian faith. Every world view (including atheism) other than that shaped by Judaism and Christianity has proclaimed the Universe is eternal. In the thirteenth and fourteenth century, Christian philosophers took the bold step in denying that matter and time was eternal, something taught by all the great Pagan and Muslim philosophers. Yet they acknowledged that their denial could not be proven true, that it stemmed solely from their faith. And modern science has now corroborated their position!]
f. Finally, the Christian religion did indeed place emphasis on moral behavior and a concern for Truth. Both of these are important to science. Science is, after all, an attempt to uncover the Truth about the world. Science is committed to the notion of objective truth, truth that exists apart from individual belief. Since Christianity placed emphasis on this type of truth (in contrast to many forms of paganism), this religious attitude could easily be extended to the physical world. As for moral behavior, science depends on truthful reporting and honest experiments.
In addition to all these consensus assumptions, there is one more relevant point. Not only did the Bible provide a consensus on some basic assumptions about the world, assumptions important for the birth of science, but the very perspective about the book was important. God was viewed as the Author of the Book and the Book spoke of Truth. But for these Christians, God was also the Author of Nature. Yet, Nature was simply another book written by God in another code. The early scientists often used the metaphor about the *book* of nature. Seeing Nature as a *book* meant there were intelligible truths that could be uncovered with study. This whole attitude was already placed inside these men by their Christian religion’s attitude toward the Bible. For them, Nature wasn’t an illusion, Nature wasn’t evil, Nature wasn’t the playground of a myriad of gods or fairies, Nature wasn’t simply “matter and space.” Nature was a Book! And it was a book with containing new material from the Author of the Good Book. So uncovering new truths, uncovering God’s thoughts, was actually a religious endeavor!
Many of the founders of modern science were in fact amateur theologians. And their theology constituted important background belief for their endeavors. Let us consider two examples, Kepler and Pasteur.
Arno Penzias (1978 winner of the Nobel Prize in physics and co-discoverer of the cosmic background radiation) makes a very interesting point concerning Johannes Kepler. Speaking about the scientific goal to find the simplest answer possible (a philosophical principle which of course stems from a Christian theologian -see below), Penzias says:
“That really goes back to the triumph, not of Copernicus, but really the triumph of Kepler. That’s because, after all, the notion of epicycles and so forth goes back to days when scientists were swapping opinions. All this went along until we had a true believer and this was Kepler. Kepler, after all, was the Old Testament Christian. Right? He really believed in God the Lawgiver. And so he demanded that the same God who spoke in single words and created the universe is not going to have a universe with 35 epicycles in it. And he said there’s got to be something simpler and more powerful. Now he was lucky or maybe there was something deeper, but Kepler’s faith was rewarded with his laws of nature. And so from that day on, it’s been an awful struggle, but over long centuries, we find that very simple laws of nature actually do apply. And so that expectation is still with scientists. And it comes essentially from Kepler, and Kepler got it out of his belief in the Bible, as far as I can tell. This passionate belief turned out to be right. And he gave us his laws of motion, the first real laws of nature we ever had. And so nature turned out to redeem the expectations he had based on his faith. And scientists have adopted Kepler’s faith, without the cause.”
The other example concerns Louis Pasteur, a devout Christian who nailed down the germ theory. In this case, we can see the clear contribution of his Christian theology. Pasteur lived in a time when belief in spontaneous generation still persisted. Many biologists in his day believed microbes could spontaneously appear from chemicals and this was thought to be the cause of illness. This disagreed with Pasteur’s religious beliefs and theological beliefs involving Creation, so he set out to prove it false. And he succeeded with some clever experiments that are still taught in modern biology texts. Since Pasteur proved that microbes didn’t spontaneously appear from previous chemical states, he argued that illness must be caused by the transfer of microbes from one person the the next. Pasteur’s views and work influenced another Christian scientist/physician at the time, Joseph Lister, who then developed antiseptic surgery. So like it or not, the germ theory and modern surgery owe a great deal to the theological motivations that led to the rejection of spontaneous generation.
- David S. Dockery and Gregory Alan Thornbury, eds., Shaping a Christian Worldview: The Foundation of Christian Higher Education (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2002), 131, 137-138.
…If science is the modern way to knowledge, let us review how science works. Science begins with the assumption that the universe is knowable, regular, predictable, and uniform. This is an assumption that cannot be confirmed by the scientific method. If the universe were capricious, the scientific way of knowing would not work. A traditional view of science is that scientists go about their business in an objective, empirical, and rational manner.’° The view was proposed by Francis Bacon (1561-1626) in Novum Organum (1620)…
When one considers the history of modern science and its contributions to knowledge, one sees that there were many areas of the ancient world that could have been home to our modern way of knowing. The ancient Greeks provided many concepts that are important to our modern way of knowing: observation (Aristotle), theory (Plato), mathematics (Pythagoras), astronomy (Ptolemy), and technology (Archimedes). The ancient Chinese made great discoveries: gunpowder, the compass, papermaking, the rocket, silk production, and accurate astronomy records. Yet neither culture was where modern science developed. Why? Science begins with the assumption that the universe is knowable, regular, predictable, and uniform. To the ancient Greeks, the capricious behavior of gods and goddesses made nature unpredictable. The ancient Chinese were never convinced that humans could understand the divine code that rules nature. Modern science developed in a culture that had a window that saw the universe as knowable, regular, predictable, and uniform. The Christian faith provided such a window.
The Christian belief in a Creator provided the basis for the assumption that the universe was really there and had value. Such an idea would be antithetical to a worldview such as Buddhism. The Christian faith provided the basis for the assumption that nature could be studied since it was a creation of God, not a god itself who might retaliate against too much probing or curiosity. The Christian view of God as a moral lawgiver also encouraged them to look for natural laws. The Christian faith in an eternal and omnipresent God led to the assumption that any natural laws would be uniform throughout the universe. Thus, the Christian faith had provided a window that saw the universe as knowable, regular, predictable, and uniform.
Experimental science was encouraged by the belief in creation ex nihilo. The concept of creation ex nihilo meant that God was not constrained by preexisting matter since he created the universe out of nothing. Thus, rational deduction will not provide the details of the universe; one must actually do the observations. Christian belief in the Fall of mankind in the garden of Eden encouraged Christian scientists to develop technology to help alleviate the destructive effects of the Fall. To the Christian, the faith in a Creator God presented nature as another avenue for discovering information about God. As Francis Bacon stated in 1605:
Our saviour saith, “You err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God”; laying before us two books or volumes to study, if we will be secured from error; first the scriptures, revealing the will of God, and then the creatures expressing the power; whereof the latter is a key unto the former: not only opening our understanding to conceive the true sense of the scriptures, by the general notions of reason and rules of speech; but chiefly opening our belief, in drawing us into a due meditation of the omnipotency of God, which is chiefly signed and engraven upon his works.
Thus, faith encouraged the study of nature.
- Bradley Monton, Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design, (Peterborough, Ontario [Canada]: Broadview Press, 2009), 62-64.
FOLLOWING SUPERNATURALISM MAKES THE SCIENTIST’S TASK TOO EASY
Here’s the first of Pennock’s arguments against methodological naturalism that I’ll consider:
allowing appeal to supernatural powers in science would make the scientist’s task too easy, because one would always be able to call upon the gods for quick theoretical assistance…. Indeed, all empirical investigation beyond the purely descriptive could cease, for scientists would have a ready-made answer for everything.
This argument strikes me as unfair. Consider a particular empirical phenomenon, like a chemical reaction, and imagine that scientists are trying to figure out why the reaction happened. Pennock would say that scientists who allow appeal to supernatural powers would have a ready-made answer: God did it. While it may be that that’s the only true explanation that can be given, a good scientist-including a good theistic scientist—would wonder whether there’s more to be said. Even if God were ultimately the cause of the reaction, one would still wonder if the proximate cause is a result of the chemicals that went into the reaction, and a good scientist—even a good theistic scientist—would investigate whether such a naturalistic account could be given.
To drive the point home, an analogy might be helpful. With the advent of quantum mechanics, scientists have become comfortable with indeterministic events. For example, when asked why a particular radioactive atom decayed at the exact time that it did, most physicists would say that there’s no reason it decayed at that particular time; it was just an indeterministic event!’ One could imagine an opponent of indeterminism giving an argument that’s analogous to Pennock’s:
allowing appeal to indeterministic processes in science would make the scientist’s task too easy, because one would always be able to call upon chance for quick theoretical assistance…. Indeed, all empirical investigation beyond the purely descriptive could cease, for scientists would have a ready-made answer for everything.
It is certainly possible that, for every event that happens, scientists could simply say “that’s the result of an indeterministic chancy process; there’s no further explanation for why the event happened that way.” But this would clearly be doing bad science: just because the option of appealing to indeterminism is there, it doesn’t follow that the option should always be used. The same holds for the option of appealing to supernatural powers.
As further evidence against Pennock, it’s worth pointing out that prominent scientists in the past have appealed to supernatural powers, without using them as a ready-made answer for everything. Newton is a good example of this—he is a devout theist, in addition to being a great scientist, and he thinks that God sometimes intervenes in the world. Pennock falsely implies that this is not the case:
God may have underwritten the active principles that govern the world described in [Newton’s] Principia and the Opticks, but He did not interrupt any of the equations or regularities therein. Johnson and other creationists who want to dismiss methodological naturalism would do well to consult Newton’s own rules of reasoning….
But in fact, Newton does not endorse methodological naturalism. In his Opticks, Newton claims that God sometimes intervenes in the world. Specifically, Newton thinks that, according to his laws of motion, the orbits of planets in our solar system are not stable over long periods of time, and his solution to this problem is to postulate that God occasionally adjusts the motions of the planets so as to ensure the continued stability of their orbits. Here’s a relevant passage from Newton. (It’s not completely obvious that Newton is saying that God will intervene but my interpretation is the standard one.)
God in the Beginning form’d Matter in solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, moveable Particles … it became him who created them to set them in order. And if he did so, it’s unphilosophical to seek for any other Origin of the World, or to pretend that it might arise out of a Chaos by the mere Laws of Nature; though being once form’d, it may continue by those Laws for many Ages. For while Comets move in very excentrick Orbs in all manner of Positions, blind Fate could never make all the Planets move one and the same way in Orbs concentrick, some inconsiderable Irregularities excepted, which may have risen from the mutual Actions of Comets and Planets upon one another, and which will be apt to increase, till this System wants a Reformation…. [God is] able by his Will to move the Bodies within his boundless uniform Sensorium, and thereby to form and reform the Parts of the Universe….
A scientist who writes this way does not sound like a scientist who is following methodological naturalism.
It’s worth noting that some contemporaries of Newton took issue with his view of God occasionally intervening in the universe. For example, Leibniz writes:
Sir Isaac Newton and his followers also have a very odd opinion concerning the work of God. According to them, God Almighty needs to wind up his watch from time to time; otherwise it would cease to move. He had not, it seems, sufficient foresight to make it a perpetual motion.”
Note, though, that Leibniz also thought that God intervened in the world:
I hold that when God works miracles, he does not do it in order to supply the wants of nature, but those of grace.
Later investigation revealed that in fact planetary orbits are more stable than Newton thought, so Newton’s appeal to supernatural powers wasn’t needed. But the key point is that Newton is willing to appeal to supernatural powers, without using the appeal to supernatural powers as a ready-made answer for everything.
Pennock says that “Without the binding assumption of uninterruptible natural law there would be absolute chaos in the scientific worldview.” Newton’s own approach to physics provides a good counterexample to this—Newton is a leading contributor to the scientific worldview, and yet he does not bind himself by the assumption of uninterruptible natural law.