Can you even have science without God?

Society's latest buzz phrase is "trust the science!"  This phrase has been tossed around like a political football for the past two years.  What if we get away from the ideological usage of this phrase and take this as an opportunity to think more deeply about where science even came from?

Today, many scientists who shape public opinion are materialists.  They believe that the world and human life are the product of unguided, random, natural processes.  However, historians of science have asked where scientific methodology came from, and they have found it to be rooted in Western culture's Christian understanding of nature, opposed to a materialistic understanding of nature.  To understand why this is, one must look at the foundation of scientific methodology.

Contrary to what many believe, science is not just a set of facts.  Rather, science is a method to discover truths about nature.  As a methodology, science assumes two underlying truths.

Assumption 1: There is an order to the universe.

The whole purpose of science is to discover the order of the universe, so science cannot even get off the ground unless that order is affirmed.

The problem for the materialist is that if the world is purely material, then there is no logical account of universal, rational laws, but rather, all of nature is a result of random, unguided, patternless forces.  There are no rules to the game the universe plays, and any attempt at trying to discover a rule is like trying to predict the winning lottery numbers.

However, this doesn't seem to be the way the world operates.  There do seem to be rules to this game.  If I drop a ball, it falls.  If I start a fire, it produces heat.  Our basic experiences tell us that the world does operate according to some sort of laws.  The question is, then, how do we account for them?

For the universe to have a rational structure, it must be designed by a rational Mind.  What worldview accounts for creation by a rational Mind?  Historically, it is grounded in Christianity.  As sociologist Rodney Stark writes, "Christianity depicts God as a rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being, and the universe as his personal creation.  The natural world is thus understood to have a rational, lawful, stable structure, awaiting (indeed, inviting) human comprehension."  Christianity accounts for order in the universe, whereas materialism cannot.

Assumption 2: Humans have the cognitive ability to discern the order of the universe.

Scientific endeavors would be useless if we didn't believe two things: that the universe has order and that we, as humans, are capable of discerning that order.

If we assume a materialistic worldview, our mental activities are simply the result of unguided forces and evolved brain function.  Thoughts are reduced to neurons firing in the brain.  Francis Crick, famous for discovering the double-helix structure of DNA, says, "Your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules."  Since our thoughts are simply the result of neurons firing in our brains, how can we trust them to guide us to truth about the laws of nature?  Once again, materialism falls short.

For us to have a consistent epistemology to do science, we must have something that guarantees continuity between the order of the universe and human cognition.  Johannes Kepler, famous for discovering the three laws of planetary motion, sums it up nicely: "God, who founded everything in the world according to the norm of quantity (mathematics), also has endowed man with a mind which can comprehend these norms. ... God wanted us to perceive these laws when he created us in His image in order that we may take part in his own thoughts."  The same God who created the universe also created our minds, so our mental capacities reflect the structure of the universe he made.  By virtue of being made in the image of God, we are equipped and enabled to discover the beautiful design of the universe he created.

Looking at the roots of science has freed us of the political baggage of the phrase "trust the science."  Science depends on two prior assumptions about the nature of the universe: that there is an order to the universe and that humans have the cognitive ability to discern that order.  Ironically, a materialistic view of the world provides no reason to "trust the science," for materialism does not account for the order or the intelligibility of the universe.  By contrast, Christianity provides the fundamental assumptions that make science possible.

When people say, "Trust the science," they are unintentionally affirming an underlying Christian worldview.  For to trust the science, we must first trust God.

Hunter Kallay is a graduate student at Houston Baptist University, where he studies philosophy.

Image via Pixnio.

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