What is Science?

by Chris Van Allsburg

There’s a new atheist website up, and it’s a good-looking one.  It’s called “Christianity Disproven.”  Now, it’s a good thing to dispel commonly held myths, whether in the Christian world or the atheist world.  To be fair, many atheists have the right to be upset with the Christian church here in America, because it has fostered and encouraged amid its ranks serious maladies including anti-intellectualism, broad, sweeping appeals for a “child-like” and “blind” faith, (where ‘child-like’ means non-investigative, as opposed to the biblical idea of trust).  Christians in America have been homophobic, racist, and violent.  They have also been greedy, sexually immoral and physically lazy, too.  So, it seems fair that atheists would have some serious reserves about wanting to be Christian! 

Many atheists bring powerful, sophisticated arguments against belief in God, the reliability of Bible, the resurrection of Jesus and so on.  Some of the most powerful arguments deal with the conflict between the divine attributes of omnipotence and omniscience, for example.  Or, they might sound the trumpet with a tight argument against the goodness of God and how that is incompatible with the evil he apparently allows.  These are worthy discussions.  However, there are a number of atheists who use shibboleths, clichés, and one-liners in order to frustrate theistic belief.  An example is found on “Christianity Disproved”

“This is AWESOME! I hope it helps people to understand where we really come from. We do not need “gods” any longer, we have science to answer our questions.”

My response: Science is the interpretation of the natural world. Nothing more, nothing less. In order to do science, you have to presuppose cause and effect, the uniformity of nature, that your senses are reliable, that your mind (or brain, granting physicalism) coheres and corresponds to the external world outside of yourself.
So on what basis does someone believe all these things? 
“Scientism” is an extreme form of classic foundationalism which says that beliefs are justified if they are self-evident or evident to the senses.  On what basis would you say these things are self-evident? Is classic foundationalism self-evident? No. Is classic foundationalism evident to the senes? No. Scientism therefore, is self-referentially incoherent.


That’s the end of my comment on the site.  I’d like to add some further thoughts on what science is. 

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Science is the orderly study systematic categorization of the truths in a given field. Philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn spoke of ‘paradigms” that change and evolve through verification, falsification and renewal (we might think of the Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis).

When we use the term “science” alongside (or in opposition to!) other fields of research, study and knowledge ( Latin, scientia), we are thinking of our conclusions regarding the natural world and the way it works, using models and predictions to anchor further speculations as to how things go, the fields of which study are the “hard” sciences of biology, chemistry, and physics, with hydrology, geology und so weiter. Many of these sciences (fields of study) are used to predict the future and speculate about the past.  In speculating about the past, and calling themselves “science,” it is only right that we restore history, theology, metaphysics and the so-called “soft” sciences to the realm of science, making “science” a general, all-encompassing term. 

Philosopher of biology Stephen C. Meyer, (Ph.D Cambridge) notes in his book, Signature in the Cell that since the time of the Greeks, up to the scientific revolution (1300-1700), philosophers, theologians and those who researched the natural world (‘scientists’), held to the worldview of idealism, which is to say that they believed mind preceded, originated and often-times sustained matter.  On this worldview, philosophy, theology and studies of the natural realm were rightly called “science” because they pursued fields of knowledge with the express purpose of delineating a systematic and taxonomic set of study in their particular fields.  Theology was the “queen of sciences” because it held the broader scope of all things under the rule and authority of the Almighty, an intelligent creator who orders an intelligent world, ripe for inquiry and study by his creatures (us).   
Enlightenment philosophers like Hume and Hobbes believed the opposite: matter gives rise to mind.  This is the worldview of materialism, that the universe has always existed, and that as time progresses, over eons and eons of flux and flow, simpler forms of life give rise to complex forms of life.  This is basically the Darwinian world-and-life view.  Given this worldview, we can see how belief in God is both unnecessary and quite possibly irrational. 

Today, when people say “Science tells us such-and-such,” or, “Science has buried God,” they are speaking from the worldview of naturalism…

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RC*Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, North Carolina is our newest chapter to receive official status from the host university. The Chapter Director is Chris Van Allsburg. Ratio Christi, a Christian apologetics ministry at Lenoir-Rhyne, has as its primary goal to offer Christian students a chance to learn how to think through intellectual issues that challenge the classic, orthodox, Christian message (like that found in The Apostle’s Creed). Students thinking through these issues are confronted with such questions as rationality and the existence of God, the exclusivity of the gospel, the problem of evil, the authority of Scripture, human sexuality, faith and works, and the nature of faith (is it blind, absent of knowledge, or is it evidential?). We have hosted speakers on a whole range of topics from abortion, atheism, postmodernism & free speech, women’s rights, violence in the OT, and archaeology and the OT.