What Is Science?
We live in the most exciting technological age ever known to man—an age that has spawned breathtaking achievements that run the entire scientific gamut from placing men on the Moon to eradicating life-threatening diseases. Consequently, in this era of accelerated scientific wizardry, on occasion the tendency has been to think that man’s knowledge and ability know no limits. In fact, that very idea was echoed by the eminent evolutionary paleontologist, Richard Leakey, in his book, Origins:
During that relatively brief span evolutionary pressures forged a brain capable of profound understanding of matters animate and inanimate; the fruits of intellectual and technological endeavour in this latter quarter of the twentieth century give us just an inkling of what the human mind can achieve. The potential is enormous, almost infinite. We can, if we choose, do virtually anything; arid lands will become fertile, terrible diseases will be cured by genetic engineering; touring other planets will become routine; we may even come to understand how the human mind works (1977, p. 256).
The clear implication is that man, as a result of his own scientific advancements, can, and indeed someday will, find all, or enough of, the answers to life’s most pressing questions. George Gaylord Simpson, the late evolutionary scientist of Harvard University, ended one of his books with these words:
Man stands alone in the universe, a unique product of a long, unconscious, impersonal, material process with unique understanding and potentialities. These he owes to no one but himself, and it is to himself that he is responsible. He is not the creature of uncontrollable and undeterminable forces, but is his own master. He can and must decide and manage his own destiny (1953, p. 155).
MUST SCIENCE ELIMINATE MAN’S ACKNOWLEDGMENT
OF, AND DEPENDENCE UPON, GOD?
Today the citizens of most civilized countries are better fed, better clothed, and healthier than they have ever been. Transportational, educational, medical, industrial, and even recreational facilities are vastly improved, compared to those of previous generations. Prospects for the future should be brighter than ever. But are they? The irony is that as man’s knowledge has increased, so has his egotism. His newly found knowledge and technology simultaneously have ushered in a newly found smugness as well. What will happen, then, as science accelerates, while man’s relationship with and knowledge of his Creator degenerates?
Must science, and its amazing successes, eliminate man’s acknowledgment of, and dependence upon, God? Indeed not. In addressing this point, Edmund W. Sinnot has observed:
...the attainment of a working philosophical relationship between science and religion is more essential now than ever. An attempt to reach it has been my purpose here. To succeed where others have so often failed is more than I can expect, but any sincere effort to this end is worth making. Science and religion, ministering so diversely to the life of man, will necessarily follow different roads, but they still can powerfully reinforce each other. Surely they should enlarge their boundaries together. Both church and laboratory will be more effective in their service through such mutual aid. Reason and spirit are the pillars that support our Great Tradition. They must both be strong, but neither can be so without the other’s help. Between them they hold up the hopes of man today as he strives to fulfill his splendid destiny (1953, p. xi).
Science is merely man’s attempt to “understand God’s thoughts after Him.” Wernher von Braun, the foremost missile expert of the 20th century, declared that it is as difficult
to understand a scientist who does not acknowledge the presence of a superior rationality behind the existence of the universe as it is to comprehend a theologian who would deny the advances of science. And there is certainly no scientific reason why God cannot retain the same position in our modern world that He held before we began probing His creation with telescope and cyclotron.... I deplore the attitude that scientific enlightenment and religious beliefs are incompatible. I consider it one of the greatest tragedies of our times that this is so widely believed.... Through a closer look at creation, we ought to gain a better knowledge of the Creator; and a greater sense of man’s responsibility to God will come into focus.... Science and religion are not antagonists, but sisters. Both seek ultimate truth. Science helps to reveal more about the creator through His creation.... The public has a deep respect for the amazing scientific advancements made within our lifetime. There is admiration for the scientific process of observation, experimentation, of testing every concept to measure its validity. But it still bothers some people that we cannot prove scientifically that God exists. Must we light a candle to see the sun? (as quoted in Warner, 1972, pp. 314-317).
In a seminar on origins held at Murray, Kentucky on November 29, 1980, Russell C. Artist, former biology department chairman and professor emeritus at David Lipscomb University, commented: “The statement, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,’ is the very cornerstone of all scientific thinking.” If Genesis 1:1 is the cornerstone of science, then surely the charter of science is Genesis 1:28 where man is commanded to “subdue” the Earth. Science is man’s attempt to subdue and have dominion over the Earth. It is man’s attempt to understand God’s creation. English philosopher Herbert Spencer acknowledged that science is divided into five basic fundamentals: time, force, action, space, and matter. That is exactly what Moses wrote in Genesis 1:1—“In the beginning (time) God (force) created (action) the heavens (space) and the earth (matter).”
“Science,” says Harris Rall, “stands for a way of study, and an attitude of mind. To leave theories and prejudices to one side, to bring an open mind and ask only for the truth, to study concrete facts with endless patience, to try to find an order of behaviour in the world, as indicated by these facts, to test these findings by experiment and more facts—this is the spirit and method of science” (1936, p. 66). Geneticist John Klotz, in his text, Genes, Genesis and Evolution, stated that “science, on the other hand, is man’s groping for the truth. Science deals only with the natural, with things that can be apprehended by the sense organs. Science deals with those things that can be measured” (1970, p. 11). The Oxford Dictionary defines science as “a branch of study which is concerned with a connected body of demonstrated truths or observed facts...” (emp. added).
The key to these thoughts, and thus to science, is that science deals only with those things that can be observed with the five senses. Simpson suggested that “the goal of science is to establish generalizations and explanations for observed facts. The mere gathering of facts is quite useless unless the observations are directed toward this goal” (1965, p. 15). Science, therefore, is an attempt to gather and explain the facts about the Universe in which we live. It is, says Simpson,
an exploration of the material universe that seeks natural, orderly relationships among observed phenomena and that is self-testing. We may well add, but not as a part of the definition, that the best answers are theories that apply to a wide range of phenomena, that are subject to extensive tests, and that are suggestive of further questions (1964, pp. 90-91).
Margaret Balcom has noted that science is “primarily a method for dealing with matter (objects) in action through (1) observation and experimentation, (2) analysis, (3) derivation of a physical law (a concept), (4) prediction in terms of that law. Science is concerned with a given physical system already in operation” (1967, p. 592, emp. added).
Since science is “concerned with a given physical system already in operation,” what is the origin of this system? Science is powerless to explain origins. It may define methods, qualities, and limits, but it cannot determine origins. Evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky has well said that “science is cumulative knowledge” (1962, p. xxi). But science is not adequate to explain everything. It provides many, but not all, of the answers. Albert Wells remarked:
As knowledge of the universe expands and man’s position within it becomes both more central and more critical, so increases the demand for meaning, as well as for effective means of moral and spiritual control of the achievements science has made possible. Science cannot give us these. The scientific task fosters integrity and character. A persistent and passionate devotion to truth cannot help but build trustworthiness in the man who engages in the quest. But science is not at all sufficient to itself. It is, after all, quite limited as far as being able to answer the real questions is concerned (1962, p. 72, emp. added).
Thornton Whaling, in his book, Science and Religion, wrote:
Physical science knows by experimentation and observation; historical science knows through credible testimony; psychology, by immediate consciousness of freedom and personality; philosophy through the universal laws of pure reason or thought; religion, by the answer of the infinite Personality to the call of moral and spiritual need. And to claim that knowledge belongs alone to any one of these fields is to ignore the breadth of possible knowledge and the high endowments of human nature, through a certain concealed Pharisaism which is the essence of conceit and obsurantism. For natural science, history, psychology, ethics, philosophy, or religion to affirm that there is only one mode of cognition, and that way its own, is to betray a fatuous pride which convicts of lack of real culture in the court of high reason (1929, pp. 12-13).
Science is a marvelous enterprise that has benefited mankind in more ways than would be possible to list. But its continued success is dependent in large part on an understanding of its proper nature and correct use. An understanding of what science is, how it works, and its inherent limitations will not only help us appreciate science, but prevent its abuse as well.
Balcolm, Margaret (1967), in The Christian Century, May 3.
Dobzhansky, Theodosius (1962), Mankind Evolving (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press).
Klotz, John W. (1970), Genes, Genesis and Evolution (St. Louis, MO: Concordia).
Leakey, Richard and Roger Lewin (1977), Origins (New York: E. P. Dutton).
Rall, Harris (1936), Faith for Today (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury).
Simpson, George Gaylord (1953), Life of the Past (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press).
Simpson, George Gaylord (1964), This View of Life (New York: Harcourt-Brace).
Simpson, George Gaylord (1965), Life: An Introduction to Biology (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World).
Sinnot, Edmund (1953), Two Roads to Truth (New York: Viking).
Warner, Wayne, ed. (1972), One Thousand Stories and Quotations of Famous People (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Wells, Albert (1962), The Christian Message in a Scientific Age (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press).
Whaling, Thornton (1929), Science and Religion Today (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press).
Originally published in Reason & Revelation, January 1981, 1:2-3. Copyright © 1981 Apologetics Press, Inc. All rights reserved.