Science and Origins Part 2: Science and Worldview

Last time, discussing origins, I began a discussion that will surely have some arguing I’m anti-science, ignorant, etc. My argument is that we live in a culture that commits a sort of epistemic idolatry where the sciences are concerned: the culture we live in has given the modern scientist’s word something of the flavor of holy writ. My point of course was not that science is a useless venture, but that science is not performed in a vacuum, and that science has a necessarily subjective element; human beings are interpreting data, forming conclusions and testing conclusions and therefore these conclusions must be concerned with human error and are influenced by human biases. I used questions of forensics as an example of this phenomenon, in the recent past a number of innocent men were sent to jail in part because of scientists. My point is that science is interpretation of facts by human beings who are as prone to error as experts in other fields are.

I could, of course, include other examples of errors (such as phrenology) or examples of bias (such as Darwin’s racial biases influencing his belief that humans were the result of an evolutionary process). But the example of forensics suffices for my purposes. Scientists might well object, suggesting either that science is self-correcting, so is inherently more reliable than other courses of study, or that science has systems of peer review that weed out biases. Yet, this is also true of other academic disciplines, and peer review has both a positive quality (weeding out bad studies) but can also make science (or for that matter other fields of study) self-referentially absurd.

Again, my point is not a denigration of science, but rather a more realistic assessment of the limits of the scientific method. Some scientists are perhaps intoxicated by the hubris of absolute superiority, but I don’t assume that is true of all; I think scientists are people like the rest of us. So science as a human endeavor is limited, it is limited by the limits of our instrumentation, by our situation, by our biases. Furthermore the most reliable elements of science would not be the “big” points, what some in the wake of Thomas Kuhn refer to as Paradigms,[1] but smaller issues that are more easily tested. For example, we are probably more certain of the development of frogs from tadpoles than we can be certain of many aspects of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. The bigger points, the paradigms are areas where the questions can’t be answered by science alone, philosophy and theology[2] are involved in how that data is interpreted and understood.

An example of this would be the controversy surrounding the “red shift.” The red shift, I am told, demonstrates that the universe is expanding. If the universe is expanding, then it logically cannot have an infinite past history.[3] Before Hubble, Einstein had in fact altered his theory due to his own conclusion that the universe is self-contained, and various theories were released to save naturalism from the fact that the universe had a beginning, this would create massive problems for naturalism. The opposition to the Big Bang does not appear to be principally motivated by scientific concerns, but by philosophical and religious ones. In short, they did the same things with the sciences to avoid the possibilities of a beginning to the universe as they accuse young earthers of doing on various theories involving time dilation, the speed of light and interstellar distances.

This leads to, I believe the importance of the Intelligent Design movement, but that will be discussed next time.


[1]Thomas Kuhn essentially tried to discuss science in terms of what is often described as “worldview,” along with a number of other terms. This scholarship goes back at least as far as German Idealist philosophers and their use of the term Weltenshauung, as well as Christian theologians, Francis Schaeffer is the best known proponent on the lay level.


[2]Atheists will object, claiming their “theology” has absolutely no influence on scientific discussions, but this is because they have a deficient understanding of what theology is. To state categorically God doesn’t exist is not only a philosophical statement, but a theological one. It is a statement of religious faith that will have inevitable influences on later conclusions made by individuals in the sciences.

[3]In philosophy speak, for an extended period, atheists argued that there was an “infinite regression of causes,” which means there is no first cause in the universe.

If the universe is expanding then there is a limit as too how small it can have been, which led to the discussions of the big bang. This has also led to the resurgence of the Kalam Cosmological Argument for the existence of God and a teleological argument for the existence of God from Cosmic fine tuning.