It’s seems like a pair of Lukes are the ones who have taken the most interest in my science posts. In the midst of my conversation with Luke S. (below on part 5 of the creationism series), I said, “Science itself is an act of faith.” Luke A. then asked me to give a justification of that claim. That is the purpose of this post, which I am now typing between sips of Kool-Aid.*
First, let me mention the titles of two books. I am not mentioning them because I want anyone to go out and read them (I certainly haven’t), but only because the titles say a lot. Immanuel Kant published a book entitled Religion within the Bounds of Reason or something to that effect. The title says a lot about Kant’s approach to religion: it must be subsumed under autonomous human reason. In recent times, Nicholas Wolterstorff (I think it was him) wrote a book entitled Reason within the Bounds of Religion. In other words, human reason must be subsumed under faith, not vice versa. I haven’t read either book, but the titles do say a lot about the worldviews behind them.
I have, however, read G. K. Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy. That is where my comment about science comes from. Chesterton says something to this effect: “Reason itself is an act of faith.” If reason is an act of faith, then science must likewise be an act of faith, because science presupposes reason as its primary tool.
So now I must justify the claim. First, it is important to look back over the history of science. Where did modern science arise? It arose in the Christian West. It did not arise among Hindus or Buddhists or Muslims or any group of people who did not believe that the created world reveals something of God to us. In order for a person to approach the scientific task, that person has to have a number of presuppositions in place. Here are some of the presuppositions one must have in order to reach conclusions based on the scientific method:
1. There is a real world out there outside of myself (contra idealism, contra many Eastern religions).
2. My senses are reliable. My perceptions are not distorted to the point that I have lost touch with the real world.
3. My ability to make inferences on things like causality is likewise reliable. In other words, my brain functions such to allow me to make true conclusions about the external world. Therefore, my brain must not be subject to blind forces of deterministic chance such that all of my reasoning could be attributed to nothing more than random molecules banging around in my head.
4. Other people have minds.
5. While we may come to different conclusions, I must assume that other people have the same basic sensory percpetions, which are also reliable for the purpose of putting them in touch with the real world. Their reasoning processes likewise must be given some level of credibility.
6. The world exhibits patterns of uniformity such that, based on a good number of observations, one may reason from particular events to general conclusions.
There could probably be more presuppositions listed. Hindus would never come to these conclusions. Hindus deny the reality of the world. Atheism probably never could have given rise to science. Atheists have no basis on which to accept the above presuppositions. Philosophers have long debated whether we can accept the things I listed above. Kant denied that we could know the world as it truly is, but he did believe that all people have the same mental equipment (concepts) that enable them to make sense of the data that they encounter (percepts). The only way he could ground this assumption about the uniformity of our mental equipment was his belief in God (Kant was a deist). Hume’s thought-experiments about causality indicate that science rests on a large number of unproven assumptions which, if jettisoned, would render the scientific enterprise completely meaningless.
Because science presupposes the six things listed above (as well as other presuppositions), science itself cannot prove these things. It must accept them on faith. My contention is that only a belief in God can provide a foundation for belief in those presuppositions. If there is no God who has revealed information to me about himself and the world he created, then how can I be sure that other people have minds? How can I be sure that what I perceive about the real world actually puts me in touch with the real world? How can I trust my reasoning ability? It is only by presupposing that God has made me in his image and has placed me (as part of the human race) over his creation, with all of the proper mental equipment that is needed to carry out that task, that I can even begin to do science in the first place. If we are nothing but the products of blind, evolutionary determinism, then we have no ground for our scientific claims. It is no accident that Christianity gave rise to modern science. Science is an act of faith.
Let me finish this post with an illustration that I got from Ronald Nash’s book Life’s Ultimate Questions (I think he got it from someone else). Imagine you are on a train. As you look out the window, you notice that on a green hillside a number of rocks are arranged in a pattern that spells out a message: “Welcome to London.” You have to decide how those rocks came to be in that arrangement. Either an intelligent agent arranged them for the purpose of communicating a message, or they came into that arrangement by random, naturalistic processes.
Let’s say you opt for the former: intelligent design. Then you would be justified in thinking that you actually were entering London. But what if you opted for the latter: naturalistic processes? Would you be justified in thinking that the train really was pulling into London? If there is no intelligence behind the message, then there is no link between what the message says and objective reality. Therefore, you would be a fool to conclude that a random arrangement of rocks actually told you something about the geographical location of your train.
Modern science is in the same predicament. Scientists rely on their own abilities to perceive and understand the world, just like the train passenger relies on the rocks to tell him where he is. And yet, naturalistic scientists believe that their own abilities were not given to them by an intelligent Creator but rather are the result of blind chance. Naturalistic scientists are like the passenger on the train seeing the rock formation, believing that it was random, and yet concluding that it provides reliable information about where they are. Without faith in a Creator, an intelligent designer who gave us the mental equipment to know this world in the first place, science has no foundation.
*Not really, we don’t keep Kool-Aid at our house.