Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


series
On Science, part 1: belief versus knowledge

I originally posted this series here some months ago, in a slightly simplified form, but removed it along with all the other material I included in The Wisdom Of God, since it had become obsoleted. However, I have increasingly found a need for it to be available in an immediately browseable form, and so I […]

I originally posted this series here some months ago, in a slightly simplified form, but removed it along with all the other material I included in The Wisdom Of God, since it had become obsoleted. However, I have increasingly found a need for it to be available in an immediately browseable form, and so I am reposting it now.

A great deal is made of science in the world today—much emphasis and trust is invested in scientific inquiry when it comes to discovering things about reality. The success of technology has resulted in a world where science is the first field to which people look in the search for answers about a great many questions, whether scientific or not.

Any Christian ought to be ready to fully refute any scientific argument raised against his faith. There is no need to be a scientist to do this; refuting scientific arguments does not require any intimate knowledge of scientific theories, or experiments. As with any apologetic you make, you need only look to the presuppositions upon which any scientific argument is built, and expose them as irrational and unjustified. Without a sound foundation to science itself, any scientific argument is incapable of even getting off the ground. To take the obvious example, you have no obligation to address the theory of evolution, when you have already refuted the basic assumptions upon which it relies. If the assumptions are unjustified, then the theory is unjustified.

It should be immediately obvious to any Christian that whatever status science has in the process of acquiring knowledge about reality must be defined by the foundation for all knowledge: Scripture. It cannot be superior to Scripture, nor equal with it: it must be entirely subordinate. So, in the positive sense, we can say that Scripture has supremacy over science, and science must work within whichever constraints revelation imposes. Whatever we know about reality starts with Scripture, and so whatever utility science may have must be determined from there also. We can therefore discover the proper place of science in the Christian worldview, and evaluate its place in secular worldviews.

In the negative sense, though, we can also critique science’s rational standing without explicitly involving the Bible at all. Since so many people look to science for knowledge, and judge religious questions in light of it (including many professing Christians, who judge revelation’s accuracy by science!), we can examine the presuppositions which underly scientific inquiry, and determine whether they are rational and justified. If they are not, we can then proceed to demonstrate how science is incapable of justifying any conclusion it may reach, any theory it may originate, and any belief it may claim: and thus how it is utterly impotent to produce knowledge of any kind.

It is worthwhile to do this because a majority of people, both Christian and non, are completely unaware not only that science is not necessarily reliable, but that it is in fact necessarily unreliable: completely incapable of providing us with knowledge about anything. The most unaware are often those who ought to be the most cognizant of science’s hopeless position: the scientists themselves. These people tend to have a certain attitude of surety verging on smugness, and look down on philosophical fields as involving vacuous guesswork and stuck-up mind-games, detached from the practical reality of the universe.

Now, it’s true that philosophy, as a study, is worthless without Christian presuppositions; but this should give no cause for smugness on the part of scientists, since their presuppositions and methods are built upon this worthless philosophical framework. Anyone who thinks that science is removed from philosophy is an ignorant fool, since science is founded upon philosophy and reason. In fact, where philosophy ends and science begins (or vice versa) is often extremely difficult to say. And anyone who thinks that reason is detached from reality is also ignorant and foolish, since reason is all about the essential nature of reality. Even a nonbeliever, entirely unconvinced of biblical truth, cannot refute or deny the essential necessity, validity, and reality of logic; whereas refuting scientific theories tends to be trivial.

But many scientists, from graduates to professors, are quite oblivious to the importance of philosophy to their own study: because instead of having received an actual education, learning from the ground up, starting with the philosophy of science, they have learned only theories and beliefs. Each theory and belief reinforces the existing faulty suppositions of which the scientist is either unaware, or in which he is naively confident. Richard Dawkins is an obvious and high-profile exemplar of this problem. Of course, the same holds true in most any area of study, and any university degree is merely a long and expensive program for conditioning the mind in irrational thinking and unquestioning belief—albeit disguised as the development of critical thinking and skeptical inquiry. A Christian university student who is not already trained in biblical thought may be crippled by the intellectual indoctrination he receives; his “education” is literally worthless except as an exercise in trivia. The notion that university-educated folk are better thinkers than average is only true inasmuch as they are better at thinking wrongly, having spent a great deal of time learning how.

That said, then, there is a single basic, foundational error intrinsic to any field of scientific endeavor—that is, a reliance on induction. It is no exaggeration to say that the forms in which this error manifests are legion; but, for the purposes of this discussion, I will demarcate them into two essential layers which can be evaluated separately. The first layer is comprised in the reliance on an empirical epistemology. The second is in the form of reasoning which constitutes the scientific method itself. I demarcate them thus because the first error is, at least in principle, correctable. Although empiricism is the epistemology adopted by secular scientists, it should not be intrinsic to science at all. Like any other field of inquiry, the biblical epistemology is the only valid basis for knowledge-acquisition. The second error, on the other hand—scientific reasoning—is entirely necessary to scientific endeavor by definition, and is thus not correctable.

Although I will examine the empirical epistemology first, I will do so through the lens of the scientific method itself. This will better explicate the secular approach to knowledge-acquisition, and more coherently demonstrate the common error which relates empiricism with the form of scientific reasoning itself. Since the scientific method is central to scientific endeavor, and thus reveals most aptly the problems with scientific presuppositions, it is the sensible locus for this discussion.

The scientific method, then, is defined by Wikipedia as “a body of techniques for investigating phenomena and acquiring new knowledge, as well as for correcting and integrating previous knowledge. It is based on gathering observable, empirical, measurable evidence, subject to the principles of reasoning.” Merriam-Webster elaborates that these “principles of reasoning” entail “the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.”

Notice that the scientific method is indeed purported as a method of acquiring knowledge. Knowledge, as I’ve extensively covered, is defined as justified, true belief. Therefore, the scientific method must be able to not only produce beliefs about things, but produce true beliefs, and also justify them. In other words, scientists must be able to know that their beliefs are true.

This scientific knowledge-acquisition occurs through “the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.” This being the case, we can break the knowledge-acquisition process into two basic parts: observation; and the reasoning which scientists do about that observation, in order to come to the conclusions which they claim as knowledge. These two parts coincide with the demarcation I mentioned before between the empirical metaphysic, and the form of reasoning in the scientific method.

It is easy to prove that neither of these things is able to yield any knowledge at all; and, further, we can also show that the knowledge which science claims, and has claimed, is in fact necessarily false. In other words, science does not even produce true beliefs which it simply cannot justify, but rather false beliefs which it nonetheless passes off as both true and justified anyway. To demonstrate this, we must examine first empiricism, and then inductive logic: that is, observation, and scientific reasoning. After we have done this, I’ll conclude with the correct, biblical view of science.

Continued in part 2 »

2 comments

  1. Frank

    Quick question, what is your take on the days of Genesis and the age of the earth? What books would you recommend on the subject?

  2. Dominic Bnonn Tennant

    Hey Frank, I am YEC, but I’m not hugely interested in all the various evidences and arguments around the issue, so I haven’t investigated them very deeply. I found Jon Safarti’s book Refuting Compromise to be pretty good, but other than that I’m afraid I can’t offer any recommendations.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

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