Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Use of Science

For many years (though some have come to doubt it) there has been a naive faith in science. It was thought science could solve all our problems and answer all our questions? But is this really true?

I want to make it clear that I am not opposed to science. I have no desire to go back to warming myself and cooking over an open fire. But it is not opposing a thing to ask how it should be used.

Science is an attempt to make generalizations about how things happen in nature. It can tell us what will happen and why it happened that way and how it could be made to happen differently. But it cannot tell us what should happen. Science allows us to do whatever we do more efficiently. It allows us to save lives--and destroy lives--on a grander scale than was ever thought possible before. But it needs something beyond science to inform it as to what the goals should be. What works is not an adequate criterion. Atomic bombs work quite well, but we need to consider carefully before dropping them.

Another issue is whether science is the only source of truth. The answer to this is that science cannot deal with all the questions. Science tells us about what will happen in the normal course of nature. But it cannot deal with unique events. If you want to know if Washington crossed the Delaware, you cannot answer it by doing an experiment and having a group of similar people with similar equipment try to cross. You have to check the historical record. If you see science as the only source of truth, than you end up with the absurd position (following Dave Hume) that a person who lived his entire life in Southern California is reasonable not to believe in snow because he has never seen it. You also make science impossible because every scientist would have to repeat every experiment and observation for himself before he could believe it. This sheds light on the question of whether science disproves the existence of miracles. Whether there is something beyond nature that can intervene in its normal course is not a subject science can even deal with. Science tells what will happen if nothing intervenes. It cannot tell if something will intervene.

In the final analysis, science cannot by itself solve all our problems and answer all our questions. It needs to be informed by something beyond itself. It is my assertion that at least part of what science needs to be informed by is Biblical Christianity. That the two are not contraries but complementary aspects of truth. But whatever you add to it, science by itself is not able to deal with all the issues. This is not an insult to science. It is not an insult to a screwdriver to say it is a poor tool to pound nails with. Everything has its proper use.

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