God and Science: Friends or Foes #2

10. God and Science #2 PhilosophyFollowing on from our last blog, the history of science seems to present a deep concord between the rise of science and belief in God. Perhaps, however, this is just coincidence. Maybe God and science are at war in a different arena—the philosophy of science. After all, surely the assumptions enabling the scientist to engage in their discipline leave no room for belief in God? Does not the practice of science lead one to adopt at least a methodological naturalism—the belief that everything can be explained by natural laws without appealing to a supernatural realm, agent, or mind?

THE PROBLEM OF SUCCESS: Unveiling Assumptions

Success is rarely a problem until it is used as a shield to deflect thoughtful enquiry. Given modern science’s track record over the past 300 years (space flight, smart phones, and hopefully soon hoverboards!), almost no one stops to question whether the assumptions enabling science are best explained by a naturalistic or a theistic universe. People may do science, but they don’t ask why they can do it or why they should trust their findings. Science simply works. And yet beneath this unchecked confidence two basic assumptions cry out for explanation…

Assumption #1 … The universe is rationally intelligible (obeys discoverable laws)

Assumption #2 … Our cognitive faculties are reliable (correspond to reality)

The layperson should rightly ask any scientist two questions. First, “Why is our universe governed by natural laws intelligible to us?” Second, “Why should we trust that our brains aren’t tricking us when we try to engage in studying the universe?” The scientist should then present you with a tale of two philosophies.

A TALE OF TWO PHILOSOPHIES: Naturalism vs Theism

In naturalism, matter creates mind. The universe is a brute fact. It simply exists, and the metaphysical reason for its existence need not be explained. Although the so-called “natural laws” that often bear the name of their discoverer (Newton, Ohm, etc.) could follow from the General Theory of Relativity and Quantum Theory, which in turn may one day find explanation in a Grand Unified Theory, this is where the chain of explanation stops. As to why there exists anything at all, why the universe has law-like operation, and why our abstract thought experiments and empirical observations correspond to reality, we are left asking. Science as a tool, and naturalism as a philosophy, simply cannot offer an explanation for these questions. It is a tale with limited explanatory power.

In theism, however, one supernatural mind both creates matter and designs minds. The law-like order of the universe stems from a lawgiver; someone made the laws. The reliability of our cognitive faculties stems from an intelligent designer; someone made our minds. When connected to God’s command to rule over and subdue creation (Gen 1:28) and His promise to reveal himself within nature (Ps 19:1-3; Rom 1:19-20), the theist has both an impulse to investigate God’s design and the confidence that God enables us to do so with acuity.

It seems to me that nothing in the philosophy of science conflicts with belief in God. An intelligent designer makes perfect rational sense of an ordered universe and intelligent minds. Conversely, there is cause within naturalism to question both the impulse to engage in science and the reliability of the results. Why, given a random universe spawned and governed by chance, should we predict order to be discovered? Why, given that we’re biologically geared towards survival and not truth, should we trust anything our mental faculties tell us about the world, including that we’re here by natural selection? These questions form the basis of Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism.

THE VERDICT: Philosophy Favours Theism

If naturalism is true, then I think we have good reasons to doubt the basic assumptions enabling science. Without a belief in assumption #1, there would have been no impulse to do science.  Without the reality of assumption #2, there would have been limited to no success in the results of science. Theism offers the best philosophical underpinning for these assumptions. It would seem then, that far from verifying the conflict hypothesis that God and science are foes, the philosophy of science portrays their deep friendship.

Perhaps, though, it is naturalism’s final bastion–the results of modern science–that have made God an unnecessary hypothesis. Has cosmology and biology relegated God to the ever-decreasing gaps? Tune in to next week’s blog to find out!

Dan Paterson is director of operations at Traverse, and a Pastor at Ashgrove Baptist Church.

Three Popular Resources on the Philosophy of Science & Christianity…
1) Is There A God? by Richard Swinburne
2) God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God by John Lennox
3) Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig