Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Two Beautiful Books: Science... err... correction: Nature and Scripture (Part 4)

In previous posts I have been attempting to give Christians a framework for living as believers in a world that puts a great deal of weight on science, and what I have been trying to do is to help my Christian readers learn to think biblically about science and consistently as a Christian. I have been using the analogy of building a house--I want to help you build an intellectual and spiritual "house" in which you can "live" as a Christian in our day and age. In the first two posts, we started to do that by talking about God's revelation of Himself and His truth. Then in the previous post we began to look at human fallibility. In each post, we have added a new "section" of our "house":
  1. In the first post of this series, I defended the idea that all truth is God's truth, and in some fashion all truths point us to God, which is the concrete for our foundation in the metaphorical houses we are building. 
  2. In the second post of this series, we looked at the Belgic Confession and saw that God reveals His truth and we discover it through the two "books" of nature and Scripture. From that I argued that God has revealed Himself infallibly in the books Scripture and nature, and since God is the author of both books there is no inherent contradiction between the two. When it comes to the house we are building, this is the foundation upon which we will build everything else.
  3. In the third post of this series, we began to look at human fallibility, and I argued that when apparent conflicts arise, it is not because science and the Bible are in conflict but because we human beings are either interpreting Scripture wrongly, the scientific data wrongly, or both wrongly. We can think of this as the framework for our house, upon which we can put a metaphorical roof and walls. 
I ended the previous post in this series by reminding you all that the "framework" that we just built tells us the nature of apparent conflicts. But, then, I asked a question the questions "What gives rise to these conflicts? From where do they come?" That is part of what human fallibility adds to our understanding and what we will discuss today, and from this we will see the source of the apparent conflicts or "clashes" between "science and Christianity." Here it is in a nutshell: the apparent contradictions are not a clash between science and Christianity; they are a clash between two worldviews that we fallible humans hold: naturalism and theism.

Now, let us talk briefly about worldview. Everyone has a worldview, which is a set of assumptions or presuppositions that help us to interpret the data we get from God's revelation, whether through Scripture or the natural, physical world. The assumptions of our worldview are beliefs that we may not even think about consciously, but they are beliefs that affect our interpretation of everything that we read in Scripture or observe in nature. For example:
  • Naturalism is a worldview that holds a number of assumptions/presuppositions:
    • There is no such thing as a god or higher power. This is assumed by someone who has a naturalistic worldview before they even look at the data from their scientific research. And, the assumption that there is no god is going to lead one down a particular path of interpretation of data because, from this worldview, all explanations, even those about the origins of the universe itself, cannot appeal to anything beyond the physical universe. 
    • Along with that, the naturalist assumes that the physical world--matter and energy--are the only things that exist. There is no such thing as the "supernatural" or a spiritual realm in this worldview. They assume that if something cannot be tested by the scientific method, then it simply does not exist. This leads to the assumption there can never be a non-physical explanation for anything in our universe or in the history or our world, and they interpret all data with that assumption.
  • Theism is a worldview that holds a number of differing and conflicting assumptions/presuppositions:
    • God does exist. He is, in some fashion or another, the creator and sustainer of the universe in which we live. This assumption leads one down another path of interpretation of all data, especially those about the origins of the universe itself, and this path of interpretation can be quite different from the path someone with a naturalist worldview takes.
    • Along with this, the theist assumes that there is a spiritual realm along with the physical. He assumes there are things that there are parts of reality that scientists cannot probe through the scientific method, and as a result, some scientific theories may be incomplete because without the spiritual component they cannot get the whole picture. For example, theories about consciousness, emotion, the origins of religion in humans, and the origins of the universe cannot be completely understood by the scientific method, and a theist knows that some information has to come from another source. The Christian theist goes further and says that the Bible is our source that helps us understand these things that science cannot test or probe.
Now, these two worldviews are absolutely in conflict, and when we take that into account, it is no wonder that they will at times produce conflicting interpretations of scientific data. When it comes to the origins of the universe, for example, the naturalist must grope for some type of way that the universe could create itself because he cannot accept the explanation of God being behind it. That puts him at odds with the verse first verse of Scripture and everything else from then on. But, it is his naturalism that is at odds with Scripture, not science. 

So, at the heart of these "science vs Christianity" debates is not really a conflict between science and the study of Scripture, because again, referring back to the previous post, science and the study of Scripture by exegesis are tools. They can no more conflict with one another than a hammer can conflict with a circular saw. Yet, when fallible humans start to use these tools and interpret the data they get from them within their worldview of theism or naturalism, then the apparent conflicts will arise. And, the source of the conflicts is competing worldviews.

See, the Christian can look at the Bible and scientific data and say, "The data from this scientific research and the data from my study of Scripture are not in conflict because God is revealing Himself through both. It's the interpretation of the data that is conflicting. However, if one interprets the data from Scripture this way and the data from the natural world through scientific research that way, we can see that they harmonize perfectly." Now, sometimes that is a really, really hard thing to figure out how to do, and there may be times when we never really figure it all out (we will talk more about this in an upcoming post). But, that is not because science and Scripture are in conflict. It is because one's interpretation of the data from science, Scripture, or both is in error. And, when atheists scientists are interpreting data through a naturalist worldview, you can bet that sometimes their interpretation of the data will conflict with Scripture, but that does not mean science itself does. This is a conflict of worldviews (and therefore interpretations of data), not a conflict between science and Christianity. 

When we boil conflicts down to a clash of worldviews, this helps disable the alleged "privilege" that "science" has over Christianity and Scripture. It "levels the playing field," we could say. It is not science saying these things that appear to conflict with Scripture but a naturalist scientist saying them. And, naturalists like Richard Dawkins, for example, do not have the monopoly on the interpretation of data from the sciences. They might say, "Science says the fossil record proves that evolution is a fact that Christians must accept," but science cannot say that at all. Science only gives the data. Their interpretation of the scientific data says that, but a Christian looking at the data through his theism and derive an equally valid interpretation that is both faithful to Scripture and the natural world. And, when Dawkins or someone like him says it is wrong, the only reason for that is because he believes only natural explanations are acceptable. But, why does he believe naturalism is the correct way to view the universe? He accepts it only by faith. He cannot prove that there is nothing beyond the physical universe of energy and matter. There is no way to prove that. He simply assumes it is true, and then claims that his interpretation of the scientific data from his naturalistic worldview is the only right one. But, he does not have the monopoly on interpretation of scientific data.

Now, Christians have worldview commitments as well, as noted above, and we need to be honest about those. But, the point of saying all this is to bring the debate up out of the realm of competing interpretations of evidence and put it where it belongs: competing worldviews. That is where the conflict really lies. And when we do that, we "level the playing field." Christians have a bias towards theism and atheists have a bias towards naturalism, and both of us can interpret the scientific data within the assumptions of our worldview, which for the Christian means taking what the Scriptures tell us into account as well. Once we bring that out, we can move the debate from competing interpretations of scientific data to which worldview can best explain the universe in which we live. Can naturalism? I would argue "no," and of course it is not just me. There are many books that have shown the many failures of the worldview of naturalism, including one that I discuss here by an atheist (i.e. an atheist critiquing the atheistic worldview of naturalism). (I would highly recommend you read this post and check out the book to which I am referring: Mind and the Cosmos by Thomas Nagel.)

A helpful example of what I have been talking about in this post would be the infographic that I critique in this post. There, I show how there is a hidden assumption in many of the things that some popular scientists claim "science says," and when we expose that assumption, we get to the heart of the matter: which worldview can best explain the reality in which we live. 

Alright, that is enough for today. In the next post I will begin to talk about how we move forward. Now that we have a biblical view of science and Scripture and now that we have seen where the source of the apparent conflicts really lies, how do we move forward and live as Christians in a world that puts a great deal of weight on the sciences? How do we (using the analogy of the intellectual and spiritual "house" in which we "live") put a roof and walls on the foundation and framework we have laid? Well, we will talk about that in the next post. 

By His Grace,

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