As we saw in our last blog post, Galileo thought that in the natural sciences it was a mistake to begin with passages of Scripture. Science, he said, must proceed by "sensible experiments and necessary demonstrations." And for the most part we would certainly agree. The strength and beauty of science is its ability to get at the objective facts, and it is able to do so precisely because it uses a careful methodology based on observation and experiment. The results are indeed spectacular and have benefitted us all.
But does that mean that the Scriptures have nothing at all to say to science? Most scientists, and certainly Tildeb commenting on this blog, would emphatically say "yes"! But we need to be careful here for several reasons.
First of all, divine revelation forms the philosophical basis for science. It tells the scientist that there is a real, external world to study. Moreover, revelation tells the scientist that there is a rational order to the universe – nature follows certain patterns and laws, and it does so precisely because it was created by an intelligent Supreme Being. Science, of course, is able to discover these laws of nature on its own – the ancient Greeks, in fact, did so, without the aid of revelation. Bur revelation provides the underlying rationale, the reason why. Greek philosophers struggled with the problem of the one and the many, but never successfully resolved it, and the reason is that there is no solution apart from a personal, infinite God.
Moreover, Scripture provides the ethical mandate for science and technology. Man was created in God's image, he is not just an animal, and was told to "subdue" the earth (Gen. 1:26,28). We are to engage in the responsible development of the earth's resources. Technology is not necessarily bad – it can be beneficial if used properly.
But Tildeb says "religious consideration directly impedes good science." But what is "good science"? It may be helpful here to make a distinction between practical or experimental science on the one hand and theoretical science on the other. Experimental science uses the scientific method of observation and experiment to uncover the facts of nature, and the results are clearly beneficial. But cosmology is another matter altogether. Here we are in the realm of theoretical science, which is far more speculative.
Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the theory of evolution. It purports to tell us what happened hundreds of millions of years ago. But there were no human observers hundreds of millions of years ago. Evolution, if it ever really happened at all, has never been directly observed. All that the evolutionist has to go by is the physical evidence, and the physical evidence is susceptible to more than one interpretation. Absent a means of testing the hypothesis, the hypothesis remains incapable of proof. The evolutionist is essentially engaging in philosophical speculation under the guise of "science." In some cases the perceived clash between science and Scripture is the result of faulty science.
Some scientists have asserted that an appeal to a supernatural first cause is a "science-stopper." Revelation, it is claimed, would provide an absolute explanation for reality, and that, in turn, would bring scientific investigation to an end. "Hogwash!" we say. Scripture does provide us with an ultimate explanation of reality, but that hardly stands in the way science investigating the particulars. That is, unless the only aim of science is to provide an ultimate explanation of reality! But by settling the issue of the ultimate origin and purpose of reality, Scripture leaves science perfectly free to investigate the particulars. God is omniscient, and as the scientist investigates the creation he is confronted with a reality vastly more complicated than his feeble mind can grasp. A thousand scientists can devote their entire careers to the study of nature, and will never exhaust what there is to discover.
Galileo was right – up to a point. Since God is the Author of both Scripture and nature, both are forms of revelation. When both are interpreted correctly, they do not conflict with each other. It is quite proper for the scientist to use the inductive method to study nature. But in the end Scripture, being an explicit verbal revelation from God Himself, must control our interpretation of all of reality. Science itself will collapse without it. (If you don't believe me, Tildeb, just ask your Post-Modernist colleagues in the Liberal Arts departments. They are atheists, too, you know.)
If science would confine itself to the observable facts of nature there would be no conflict between science and Christianity.