A little atheist myth about science.

Myth: Even when scientists believe in God, they become practical atheists whenever they do science; they never bring God into the laboratory.

FALSE

That is neither true historically nor conceptually.

Let’s consider the great pioneers of modern science – the scientists of the scientific revolution (who produced modern science as we know it). Believe it or not, they were not looking for “naturalistic” explanations of things. They simply looked for consistent explanations of things. The reason they believed that nature would behave consistently is because they believed that God ruled nature.

Atheists often tell us that that bringing God into the laboratory (bringing the theistic worldview into scientific endeavours) will lead to lazy inferences: that is, supernatural explanations. It is as if God becomes a conceptual crutch – an escape clause in every difficult anomaly whereby they can simply say, “God did it,” while atheists, who must assume nature causes everything, are left to do the hard work of figuring out the natural patterns and causes of things. (This is all part and parcel of the broader atheistic myth, that science and theism are essentially opposed.)

Of course, this would entail on the theist’s part an inconsistent model of nature – a nature that lacks the resources to produce the systems around us. For a scientist to invoke supernatural explanations for things would be to assume that nature, unaided by God, is unable to behave in the way that it has been observed to.

But the mistake this makes is not that it brings the theistic worldview into the laboratory; it is that it fails to consider the way in which God governs nature: rationally, consistently, and uniformly. The scientific revolutionaries – almost all of them Christians – didn’t make that mistake. They assumed that nature would behave according to intelligible patterns and laws, because they believed in a divine intelligence as nature’s lawgiver.

Thus when they came across an anomalous piece of data, rather than calling it a miracle, their way forward was not to suspend belief in a divine intelligence, but to invoke their belief in God by assuming that the anomaly must be a consistent part of a divinely designed pattern that had yet to be discerned.

Then they searched for the pattern. And the rest is history.

This myth does not seem to pass the test of history, let alone pure reason.

On the Progressiveness of Science and Conservatism of Religion

We all know how often science and religion are pitted against each other. And it happens in so many ways. Various inherent differences are suggested between these two enterprises. They say that science appeals to reason while religion appeals to authority; science improves society while religion hinders society’s progression. We’ve all heard the fairy tales – you might not call them fairy tales, but I do. Anyway. There’s one particular difference that I commonly hear suggested as existing between science and religion, which I want to address here. And that is that science is inherently progressive, while religion is inherently stubborn or static.

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We have been taught to believe that world history turned its big corner in the late 18th Century with the birth of modern democracy and the rise of modern science.

The Christian claim is that world history turned its corner when Jesus came out of the tomb.

– N.T. Wright

The final end of Science is to tell us what will happen. But the end of History is to tell us what did happen. “That is physically impossible” is a scientific statement. It will not suffice as an adequate refutation within the field of History.

An exercise in reduction.

– Written 13th June 2010

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I like thinking about what you can reduce things to.

Take your computer for example. At glance we can reduce a computer to its components of either hardware or software. Where the hardware is stuff like the screen, the speakers, the hard drive, the circuit board – all the “physical” things, the things you can hold. Then there’s the software, which is stuff like Windows, iTunes, internet browsers, and all the programs, which you can’t touch. They seem to be composed of information, as if they have some other mode of existence compared to the solid hardware components. But really they’re both reducible to material substance. All the information in a computer – the images, the text, the sound – exists according to the physical state of the computer; in the various switches turning on and off and whatnot, or the code imprinted on the CD being read by the laser. Everything that we see on a computer can be explained by some physical component located in that computer.

But further than that, all these components can be reduced to things smaller and smaller; everything in a computer can be reduced to the substances (plastic, silicon, metal) they are made out of. And then, all those substances can be reduced to their molecular structure, and all those molecules reduced to the different atoms that compose them. And all these atoms are only differentiated by the number of protons, neutrons and electrons that form them. That all means that a computer, with all its capabilities, can be explained by as little as its exact arrangement protons, neutrons and electrons.

It is clear that almost everything in the world we see is reducible to physical matter. In fact the only thing that might not be is the mind. Philosophers and scientists alike are asking the question these days; is human consciousness reducible to the physical states in the brain? Continue reading