Science, history, and the Bible
Published: 28 July 2012 (GMT+10)
In today’s feedback, CMI’s Shaun Doyle and Dr Carl Wieland address questions about how science and natural history work, and where evolution and the Bible fit into how we investigate science and history. David N. from Sweden writes in response to Evolution Answers Book? His comments are in red and comments from CMI’s Shaun Doyle are interspersed.
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Religion seems to be obsessed with the ‘satisfaction’ an answer brings. That is to say science is often unsatisfying in its answers, when it’s not plain offensive or repulsive.
I can’t speak for other religions, but truth is an integral part of the ‘satisfaction’ that Christian answers bring. Science can only approximate truth, and it is a human enterprise, which means it’s liable to the same distortions and errors that humans typically make in other areas. If this makes science ‘unsatisfying’ for anyone, then so be it.
Scripture on the other hand is deeply satisfying in that it is available to anyone to explore and interpret off the shelf, it is contained in one infinitely small book compared to the volumes upon volumes of scientific data out there, some of which unpleasantly hidden within peer reviewed journals, or relatively obscured articles. One piece of a scientific puzzle may be hidden in a textbook somewhere, another in a library in Geneva, in an old tome dating from the fifties.
Scripture is satisfying not because we have ready access to it, but because it is God’s inerrant revelation of Himself to us. It speaks infallibly to the whole of human experience, and it speaks accurately about the God who deserves worship. It encourages, rebukes, and motivates us to be what God created us to be, and it tells us of God’s gracious provision for restoring us to what we were always meant to be. Science can never satisfy in this way regardless of whether scientific answers are easy or hard to find. See our Bible Q and A and our Bible ‘contradictions’ and ‘errors’ pages.
So the author is right, science is an inherently unsatisfying, exasperating and altogether a ditch-digging effort in acquiring knowledge.
It is like this because of the inherent epistemological limits of science, not because it may require a research librarian in Uzbekistan to get the information.
Science may one day ask-what did the ancestry of this particular lizard look like? And an year into the research we may only have the answer that they were a certain shade of blue-ish green. But if you can accuse science of being unsatisfying, you can never accuse it of holding too little evidence to its credits.
What is ‘science’? Philosophers of ‘science’ can’t seem to agree on a definition, so we should be rather careful before we personify it (Please see ‘It’s not science’). Besides, the question you pose ‘science’ as asking is more accurately classed as a question of natural history. The millions-of-years ancestry of a particular lizard is not repeatable or observable, and neither is it testable—and all of these are typically considered defining characteristics of ‘science’. It’s important to note that this does not address the question of whether or not evolution is true; it merely places evolution in its proper category of study. What this does is it helps us more readily discern the investigative tools we need to address the question of whether or not evolution is true. (For more information, please see Cuvier’s analogy and its consequences: forensics vs testimony as historical evidence).
Now, it’s not merely ‘mainstream’ scientists who ask such questions—creationists can and do ask similar questions (See e.g. the creationist field of baraminology). However, we’re not guided by an axiom that says that all life is genealogically related (or that all life must be explained as the product of natural cause and effect), so we end up going in different research directions from evolutionary researchers. Evolution is not a conclusion from the data; it is a framework by which the data is interpreted, just like creation is.
You have a problem with fossils? Look at paleontology and geology. You have one with genetics? Allow yourself the 5–10 years required to explore the field sufficiently, doubt every single word, and you will find sufficient empirical data to support it.
We don’t “have a problem” with any of these fields. We disagree with those who claim that research from these fields proves that evolution is true and the Bible is not. Why? Because the issue is not about amassing “sufficient empirical data”. The issue is about the flawed axioms evolutionists use to ground their case, and that the Bible provides the only reliable framework in which to investigate natural history. Evolutionists can have all the data in the world at their hands, and they will still misread them because the glasses through which they read the data distort everything they see.
Saying outright that people could never have knowledge of what happened more than 6000 years ago, is like saying outright that people could never build a computer, or a rocket that goes to the moon. It is impossible to prove the inability of humans to achieve something. To this effect I wish your religion good luck.
It’s not the same thing because building computers and rockets is a matter of technological ingenuity, not natural history reconstruction like evolution and long-age geology. It’s not lack of technology that stymies us in reconstructing natural history; it’s the fact that the evidence (fossils, rock layers, genetics) is inherently incapable of providing testimony independent of the historian’s ideology that restricts what we can do. We can’t ‘read’ the rocks or base pairs in the same way as we can read Genesis, the Gospels, Josephus, or Tacitus.
Thomas L. from the United States writes in response to the article Make believe knowledge:
This article tries to make the case that all knowledge is basically accepted on authority alone. This is false. The epistemic method of science is fundamentally different from that of religion. Authority is disregarded in favor of evidence and explanatory power. Interestingly enough, the epistemic method defended in this article would also work for the Koran or any other holy book.
CMI’s Dr Carl Wieland responds:
Dear Mr L./Dear Thomas
Thanks for your comment on this piece, it is appreciated. I don’t think that it was intended to be a work of deep philosophy, but I am interested to know whether you really believe your own idealized version about how science is supposed to function, but almost never does in the real world. In terms of a formalized system, Hungarian science philosopher the late Imre Lakatos has probably most nearly approached what happens in reality. I recommend his works to you.
You might like to try using the search engine on our site to find more detailed discussions of how scientific methodology for historical sciences is subtly but profoundly different from that of operational/empirical science. Or visit the carefully grouped Q and A page.
Finally, re your comment about the epistemological approach working equally well for any ‘holy book’, there is a lot that could be said, but Holy books? and Using the Bible to prove the Bible? are a good start.