Scripture and Science In Conflict by Prof. Philip Stott —
Scripture and Science In Conflict by Prof. Philip
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on Science and Christianity
by Philip Stott
Science is the pursuit of knowledge about the
material world around us. It was realised more than four hundred years ago that
human reasoning alone is inadequate to ensure accurate conclusions in this
field. This realization led to the development of the "Scientific Method."
The first stage in this method consists of making
observations and measurements.
The second stage consists of studying the patterns suggested
by the observations.
The third stage involves proposing hypotheses to explain the
The fourth stage entails predicting the outcome of proposed,
but as yet unperformed, experiments on the assumption that a hypothesis
describes a general truth.
The fifth stage consists of performing such critical
experiments in order to test the predictions made by the hypotheses.
If the predictions are confirmed, then confidence is ascribed
to a hypothesis.
If sufficient experimental verification suggests that a
hypothesis is universally valid, it is given the status of a scientific
If at any stage experimental results contradict the
predictions of a hypothesis or theory it must be modified or abandoned as
By its nature the scientific method is limited in the range of phenomena which
are open to examination. Any field not open to direct experimental testing
cannot be considered "scientific."
Untestable speculation cannot be considered to be in any way "science."
Furthermore, extrapolation far beyond the range of actual experiment, especially
into the distant past or the distant future is unscientific.
Although the scientific method has been accepted as the set of guiding rules for
scientific investigation for well over hundred years it is clear that in many
instances these rules are not being followed today. Many scientists appear to be
paying lip service to these guiding principles, while pursuing a different
course in practice. It has become generally recognised, and clearly documented
by such philosophers and historians of science as Kuhn, Polanyi and Popper that
personal belief has played a more significant role than experimental
observations in several fields of investigation. This has led to the widespread
acceptance of "Ad Hoc" theories, unsupported additions to a hypothesis, which
explain away instances where predictions are contradicted by observation. In
recent years it has led to the general acceptance of the idea of the "Best In
The Field" theory. In practice this means the acceptance of a theory which is
philosophically acceptable even though contradicted by observation.
It is here proposed that this situation is unsatisfactory. Scientists should
address the situation by seriously investigating the experimental evidence for
generally accepted theories in order to establish a position in which science
can be seen to be based on the highest standards of responsibility and
integrity. This is particularly necessary since personal experimental
verification by each individual scientist can, of necessity, be only very
limited. Knowledge is largely accepted by hearsay and from review of literature.
HISTORICAL AND PHILOSOPHICAL PERSPECTIVES
The scientific method in the form outlined above and nominally accepted today is
essentially the product of scientists working under the Christian world view.
Francis Bacon, widely regarded as the "Father of Modern Science", stressed the
value of experiment rather than reason because, he argued, "Nature carries the
stamp of the Creator Himself, whereas man's reason carries the stamp of his own
foolish pride." Methodical Atheism, the study of Nature on the assumption that
God does not exist, has always had its followers, but has always suffered from
the inconsistencies of seeking laws without a Law-Giver, absolutes without an
Absolute. Since atheism makes man the highest intelligence, the highest
authority in the Universe, it has always carried a greater risk of accepting the
stamp of the scientist's own foolish pride. The Christian world view was held by
most of those involved in modern science, even those not actually professing
Christianity, until the latter part of the 19th century. To seek for patterns
and order in the creation makes sense within the context of a Creator who works
in an orderly fashion. To seek for laws in the creation makes sense within the
context of a God who prescribes laws. Absolute values and absolute laws - values
and laws which do not depend on agreed convention, but have an inescapable
necessity - are possible, and obviously have meaning, in the context of an
In the latter half of the 19th century scientists in great numbers turned away
from the Christian world view, and humanism became the dominant belief system in
science. Belief in theories of origins due to random chance materialistic
processes became widespread. It became common to entertain unverifiable
speculations, unsupported by experimental evidence, to uphold the humanist
position that the whole of reality consists solely of deterministic,
This world view has had drastic effects on almost every aspect of society.
Absolute moral standards have no meaning under a purely materialistic,
evolutionary world view. If the whole of reality is simply due to random chance
processes, then laws and moral values are purely conventional, they can be set
by society as a matter of convenience. They can be altered or ignored as a
matter of convenience also. This is a marked change from the formerly accepted
view that there are absolute standards for moral behaviour and the conduct of
life; standards laid down by the Creator of that life.
The consequence for science itself is that science has become entangled in
inconsistencies. The humanist world view has proved itself untenable. Examples
are legion. Fred Hoyle, after a distinguished career in cosmology, came to the
conclusion "the creation of the Universe, like the solution of the Rubic cube,
requires an intelligence." George Gaylord Simpson, during a distinguished career
in evolutionary biology, had to admit that matter and energy alone were
insufficient, and that for the explanation of life "the work required is
particular work, it must follow specifications, it requires information on how
to proceed." Leif Robinson, holding a prominent position in astronomy, has had
to admit that the whole of astronomy is confronted with "ever growing tidal
waves of disparate information", evidence which shows that astronomy, like many
other branches of science, is on the wrong track. These scientists came to their
conclusions not as a result of abandoning the humanist world view, but simply by
admitting that the evidence is overwhelming.
The inconsistencies in present day science have become so severe that there is a
growing realization that materialism is inadequate as a world view. Scientists
in great numbers are abandoning pure materialism. Most are taking one of two
directions. The first is to return to the Christian position, the acknowledgment
of a Creator. The second is to turn to the metaphysical concepts of the
religions of the east, particularly India; ideas centred on a "universal
consciousness", a "cosmic force", an "all pervading intelligence." Although very
ancient ideas, they are generally being grouped under the title "New Age."
Science and civilization made great advances under the Christian world view
predominating in Europe and North America throughout the last few centuries.
India, the home of the "New Age" religions, has been remarkably lacking in
comparable advance. A new brand of science following "New Age" philosophies is
likely to end up with insuperable inconsistencies. The possibility of a universe
progressing because of a driving force within itself, because of information
developed by and within itself, is contrary to all known experimental evidence,
and appears to be as feasible as lifting oneself up by one's own boot straps.
The odds seem to be heavily stacked in favour of a world view centred on the
Creator. This is not surprising since modern science is essentially a product of
this outlook in the first place.
Since science is essentially a product of the Christian world view, and since
many scientists are returning to this position, it would be advisable to
consider carefully the outlook that should be brought back into this discipline
after so many years of absence.
PRINCIPLES FOR THE PRACTICE OF SCIENCE
Science must conform to the principles of the "Scientific Method." This implies
that the results of experiment and observation should be taken seriously, even
where they conflict with generally accepted or personal theories.
It has been shown repeatedly that a limited number of observations can be fitted
into several different hypotheses. Only if all the possible observations
relevant to a particular field were known would it be possible to arrive at
certainty. Personal commitment to a particular hypothesis based on limited
evidence is a very human propensity, but a scientist must be prepared to
relinquish any hypothesis which is contradicted by observation.
In all cases where every possible item of information on any field is not
available it is necessary to make a-priori assumptions. The assumptions form a
vital part of any scientific discussion. It should be recognised by all
scientists that such assumptions exist, they should be clearly stated as such
and not as proven facts, and should remain subject to critical examination.
Science is regarded with considerable respect by the general public, and has
great influence on many aspects of society. It is the responsibility of all
scientists to report honestly on their work, especially when presenting material
to those who are not in a position to appreciate the assumptions involved. The
record of scientists in this respect, in recent years, has been alarming. It
should be recognised as unacceptable to continue with the currently popular
practice of presenting ideas to the public as established, while in reality they
are only supported by reasonable probabilities, or which are simply
possibilities for which a probability has not even been established. The popular
excuse that it would confuse the public to tell them of the uncertainties must
be considered dishonest and unacceptable.
CHRISTIANITY IN SCIENCE
scientist approaching science with the Christian world view must obviously
follow the scientific method but in addition he recognises a source of
information which is of great value in guiding the direction of all research.
This source of reference is the Bible, the Word of God, which, by its own
testimony, it identifies with the Lord Jesus Christ, as is clearly seen in John
1:1 "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was
God." Jesus claimed that this Word is authoritative, as in Matthew 24:35, where
He said "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away."
The Bible testifies that its whole witness is true, as stated in II Timothy
3:16 "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for
doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:."
A scientist who professes to be a Christian should recognise that the guidance
of the Word is not only valuable, but is indispensable. This is seen in Proverbs
3:5-6 "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own
understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."
Recognition of this has potentially great benefit for scientific investigation,
as pointed out in Psalm 119:130 "The entrance of thy words giveth light; it
giveth understanding unto the simple." and in Job 32:8 "But there is a spirit in
man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding." History
suggests that these are no idle promises. God-fearing, Bible-honouring
scientists like Newton, Faraday, Euler, Maxwell and Kelvin were responsible for
many of the greatest fundamental advances in the whole of science.
If it is valuable to acknowledge the Word of God as a source of understanding,
it should be unnecessary to be ashamed of reference to Scripture. As pointed out
in Luke 9:26 "For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall
the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his
Father's, and of the holy angels."
scientist who makes use of the wisdom expressed in the Bible is at an advantage
in two important ways. Firstly, any hypothesis which is clearly in direct
conflict with Biblical statement can be immediately deduced to be suspect or
incorrect, so that undue time need not be spent on attempts at experimental
verification. Secondly, positive suggestions for worthwhile lines of
investigation may be suggested. Science entails searching for the mode of
operation of the creation. Such research is likely to be much more fruitful if
it seeks processes compatible with the way the Creator has revealed that He
works. The great scientist Johannes Kepler noted that the privilege of a
scientist is to think God's thoughts after Him. A researcher is much more likely
to arrive at such thoughts if he first studies the general mode of thought that
the Creator uses.
scientist who accepts the authority of the Bible needs to be especially aware of
the possibility of error in human reasoning, and the inadequacy of worldly
wisdom. He needs to heed the warning in I Corinthians 1:20 "Where is the wise?
where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made
foolish the wisdom of this world?" The history of science is full of examples of
theories, some of which were held as proven beyond reasonable doubt, which now
stand abandoned, an embarrassment to those branches of science which once upheld
them, the Phlogiston Theory, Paint-pot Genetics, Caloric, Darwinian Evolution...
Science can deal legitimately only with what can be measured. The Bible deals
with what man cannot find out for himself by measurement but can only know by
divine revelation. Secular humanistic science has chosen to reject the Bible's
revelation and to fit its measurements instead into a set of assumptions
consistent with its own worldly wisdom. The implication is clear. To start with
the wisdom of this world and attempt to reconcile conclusions reached on this
basis with the wisdom of God is inconsistent.
A search for truth must start from a world-view grounded in the Truth.
This was first presented at Tyndale Theological Seminary, the Netherlands,
November 1992. It is also the Appendix of Vital Questions, Khanya Press 1994.