SCIENCE, CHRISTIANITY AND SKEPTICISM

(Investigator 13, 1990 July)


Skeptics are skeptical of the paranormal – any testable claim that is contrary to what experimental science has established – and usually also of the supernatural. Many skeptics, therefore, see skepticism and Christianity as incompatibles.

M. B. Foster (The Christian Doctrine of Creation And The Rise of Modern Science 1934) argued:

"The modern investigators of nature were the first to take seriously in their science the Christian doctrine that nature is created…" (pp. 453, 448)
The ancient Creeks had a science based on contemplation and deduction. What was (empirically) observed was used to illustrate what was deduced.  Christian investigators reversed the process so that the empirical – information gotten through the senses and by experiment – became the evidence for theories.

Christian investigators believed the universe to be ultimately upheld by God by means of universal consistent laws. (Hebrews 1:3)  God made humans with abilities and senses such that they could dominate nature. (Genesis 1:26-28; Psalm 8:6-8) Reliance on the senses is therefore the way to discover nature and its laws. Use of the senses (empiricism) could, however, be improved using scientific instruments and controlled experiments.

Founders of various scientific disciplines who, more or less, accepted Christianity included:


Kepler (1571-1630) Physical astronomy
Pascal (1623-1662) Hydrostatics
Boyle (1627-1691) Chemistry and gas dynamics
Steno (1638-1687) Stratigraphy
Newton (1642-1727) Calculus
Linnaeus (1707-1778) Botany and Taxonomy
Faraday (1791-1867) Magnetic Theory
Babbage (1792-1871) Computers
Agassiz (1807-1873) Ichthyology and Glacial Geology
Simpson (1811-1870) Gynecology
Mendel
(1822-1884) Genetics
Pasteur (1822-1895) Bacteriology
Thompson (1824-1907) Thermodynamics
Lister (1827-1912) Antiseptic surgery
Maxwell
(1831-1879) Electrodynamics
Ramsey
(1852-1916)
Isotropic Chemistry


William Charlton (Philosophy and Christian Belief, 1988) says:

"Christ omitted to give any specific directives about experiment and research; still, it is largely thanks to his influence that people abandoned the belief, fatal to those activities, that the natural world is controlled by spirits that must be approached by priests offering sacrifices." (p. 86)
The idea of "testing" occurs a number of times in the Bible.

Daniel, for example, conducted an experiment in which four men consumed water and vegetables for 10 days. These were to be compared to other men who consumed wine and the "king's rich food" for 10 days. In modern scientific language the four men would the "experimental group" and the other group would be the "control group". (See Daniel chapter 1)

The Bible also gives principles that skeptics and scientists must follow if they want their research to be worthwhile:

"He who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him." (Proverbs 18:16)

"It is a snare for a man to say rashly, 'It is holy,' and to reflect only after making his vows." (20:25)
A number of prominent scientists in recent decades fiddled the data and manufactured false results. Respect for Bible command to "speak the truth" would have prevented this and enabled science to advance more quickly.

During the past four centuries numerous churchmen and scientists construed the Bible as containing answers to scientific questions. Repeatedly such men came to grief when the Bible apparently lost out. Just as often, however, the Bible seemed to bounce back for extra life by turning out right after all.

For example, until the l870s there was much debate whether eagles found their prey by sight or smell. The Bible says by sight. (Job 39:29) Cassell's Book of Birds (T R Jones 1869-1873) described an experiment with vultures in which animal skins stuffed with hay were left in open view but dead, putrifying, animal carcases were hidden from view. (Volume 1 pp. 9-10) The vultures followed their eyes, not their nose, every time.

Other examples of Bible statements being tested and confirmed even in the 1970s and 1980s are not hard to find. If we get enough examples of the Bible triumphing in the long run over opinion of skeptics, and doing so in many topics and subjects, we might even form an inductive generalization by asking; "Could this happen in every case?" (Whether we can get "enough" examples we'll have to leave for a future discussion.)

No matter how many testable statements in the Bible and Christianity we test and (hopefully) confirm the skeptic will still draw a distinction between the natural and the supernatural and argue that we can't test the latter.

The sciences of mathematics and physics, however, predict the existence of other dimensions besides the four – length, breadth, depth and time – that we experience. Perhaps in those others lies the supernatural.  Physicists and astronomers speak of "black holes" and the "singularity". R. Davies (The Edge of Infinity 1981) says: "The singularity may represent the limits of science itself – the interface between the natural and the supernatural."

If science points back to the supernatural in this way then the skeptcs' distinction between the natural and supernatural cannot be definite and final. We can't today directly test whether tomorrow will come. We can, however, use inductive generalization based on past experience and based on the belief that scientific laws are uniform across time and space and infer that tomorrow will come. Using inductive reasoning we can not only be reasonably certain that tomorrow will come but we can also be reasonably sure about numerous specific details that tomorrow will contain.

Perhaps inductive reasoning could similarly help us penetrate the supernatural and acquire probable knowledge about it.

Put briefly I've argued that science and empiricism arose from belief in the supernatural, then got divorced from that belief and married to skepticism and now, ironically, point back to the supernatural. Perhaps we see here an application of the Bible words:

"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart." (1 Corinthians 1:19)
(A)

Investigations into the claims of the Bible:

http://users.adam.com.au/bstett/

http://ed5015.tripod.com/