Does Science Deserve Its Pedestal?
by Kenneth Richard Samples
A relative latecomer on the scene of human intellectual history, modern science emerged in full form in Christian Europe around the middle of the seventeenth century. In the ensuing 400 years, it has risen to such great heights that it now enjoys unprecedented societal esteem and generates great expectations. For many of the world’s intelligentsia, it is the supreme mode of acquiring knowledge. Science has been granted such a privileged status in modern society that we might say it has been placed on an intellectual pedestal.
Why has such honor been bestowed upon the scientific enterprise? There are two basic reasons: (1) science’s perceived independence as a discipline or practice, and (2) the amazing results that have been produced through the scientific method. A brief exploration of these two factors will help determine whether science’s lofty position is warranted. Also, in thinking about science, Christians can identify two extreme views to avoid.
Reason #1: Science Functions Apart from Belief Systems
Many people (including some scientists) seem to think that the scientific method functions independently of any formal, underlying beliefs. Because of this alleged independence, they think that rigorous application of the scientific method can be counted on to produce trustworthy results. In their view, the level of independence and objectivity that the scientific enterprise putatively enjoys leads to reliable knowledge that stands in stark contrast to the supposed knowledge that is rooted in religious and/or philosophical beliefs.
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In fact, however, the scientific method depends on a number of critical underlying assumptions or beliefs that cannot be validated solely by science itself. If a scientist is to go about his work with any confidence, he must, for instance, believe in such profound presuppositions as:
• The objective reality of the cosmos
• The intelligibility of the cosmos
• The order, regularity, and uniformity of nature
• The validity of mathematics and logic
• The basic reliability of human cognitive faculties and sensory organs
• The congruence between the human mind and physical reality
Successful engagement in scientific research is dependent upon belief in foundational truths like these, yet these truths cannot wholly be derived from scientific experiments. In other words, in order for science’s empirical (experimental) venture to thrive, certain non-empirical assumptions about the world must be true…