Monday, June 25, 2007

Science and the Nature of Reality

A couple weeks ago Slashdot and others had a bunch of postings on the Creation Museum, and the general opinion of the readers there was that creationist arguments (of which there are many, btw) are just one argument advocating magic, which ends up degrading not only into that strawman argument, but usually a bunch of ad-hominems about Christians being stupid and crazy...hence why they make up and believe this stuff.

Most people into scientism (the belief that science explains all details of reality) accept a great deal on their own faith too, and feel fine believing that giant-squids are prehistoric, extinct creatures (despite reports of dead ones being netted, etc)...until of course the Japanese shot film of live ones in 2005. So this, in and of itself, should be the lightest example of belief that reality in scientism may be different from the way reality actually is. But I digress.

Here is a good excerpt from a blog posting from Greg Boyd, writing from a conference about science and faith:

In today's session we had a fine discussion with another leader in the field of the dialogue between science and theology, Dr. Howard Van Til. For years he taught Physics and Astronomy at Calvin College, but then got into a good bit of trouble for teaching naturalistic evolution and he ended up retiring early in 1997 (I believe). He was a delightful, humble, very honest, and extremely irenic person. We discussed a wide range of issues, only one of which I can mention right now.

As we did the previous day, we discussed a great deal about whether science must be committed to naturalistic explanations and, if so, what implications this has for our understanding of the relationship between science and theology. I (and several others) argued that the issue really isn't whether science should or should not be committed to naturalistic explanations. I think it obviously should be. The issue is whether science needs to regard its naturalistic explanations as COMPREHENSIVE OF ALL REALITY.

If a miracle occurs, or seems to have occurred, I argued, I have no problem with scientists looking for a natural explanation. This is simply what they're paid to do. In fact, I have no problem with the scientist sometimes FINDING a natural explanation for an alleged mircle. I'm sure many times people claim to have experienced a "miracle" when in fact they've only experienced something a-typical, and there's a perfectly good natural explanation for why this a-typical event occurred.

What I have problems with is when some scientists claim that the whole enterprise of science hangs on the belief that all occurences MUST have a natural explanation -- that is, that nothing supernatural ever happens or ever can happen. In other words, they think naturalistic explanations are comprehensive of all reality. If someone thinks THIS belief lies at the core of the scientific enterprise, then, so far as I can see, there's no possible way Christian theology can be integrated with [their version of] the scientific enterprise.

But there's absolutely no reason for scientists to claim this. And there's absolutely no warrant for scientists to claim this. And many respected scientists don't in fact claim this. Yet, like Philp Clayton before him, this seems to be what Howard Van Til was (humbly and tentatively) claiming.

Look, the belief in God as a transcendent personal being IS a belief in the SUPERnatural. To try to integrate this belief into a framework where the supernatural is carte blanch dismissed is simply to try to integrate a belief in God with atheism. It's a contradiction. It doesn't work. End of story.

Fortunately, the scientific community as a whole is (so far as I can see) moving toward a more humble position. The more we learn about the world, the more we discover mystery. And this, I'm happy to say, leaves plenty of room for theology and science to talk to each other and learn from each other.