rule away, science; but nothing really changes

YahooScience ran a story this morning about the possibility that science will one day rule out the existence of God. Whoop-de-freakin’-do. This is nothing new, people. For millennia, many notable thinkers, seeking to understand the cosmos in purely physical or materialistic terms, have all reached a similar conclusion. (Leucippus, Democritus, Epicurus, and Lucretius come to mind). But then again, this conclusion is not in any way surprising given the parameters and method of inquiry, which necessarily preclude the existence of anything and everything abstract, spiritual, supernatural and/or divine.

To say this another way: studies of things physical or material can only explore/examine things that are physical or material; such studies cannot explore/examine things that are theological, especially God who is–by definition–not physical or material. (1 Cor 2.14 might work well in this case). Thus, the study of science and the study of theology require different approaches and lines of inquiry; and that is a point that John Polkinghorne has been banging on about for years!

Moreover, feelings of superiority in one field do not provide sufficient or acceptable grounds for demeaning the work and conclusions of another. (This practice of demeaning has characterized the recent polemic against religion, where people of faith [i.e. Christians] are considered “lunatics” or uneducated half-wits).  Just because there is no place for the existence (and even activity) of God in scientific inquiry, or just because science believes it can answer all questions pertaining to the universe without positing the existence of God; neither of these necessarily displaces or even disproves the existence (or even sovereign providence) of God. All it proves is that God is not a part of the inquiry.

Let me be clear: I am not opposed to the advances made by science, nor do I think the fields of biology, astronomy, physics, or even chemistry are a waste of time. I am simply opposed to the (paradoxical) assertion that such fields of science (either in themselves or collectively) possess comprehensive–if not complete–knowledge of how the cosmos and life function so as to displace the need for God. “Paradoxical” because the moment Science claims for itself “complete understanding of the universe” is the moment it ascribes to itself a fundamental attribute of divinity.

One comment

  1. I’m reading David Kelsey’s book, Eccentric Existence, and in discussing the process of human birth, he says:

    “The same processes [of human birth] are also properly analyzed, described, and explained by the relevant sciences in a wholly naturalistic way-that is, in total abstraction from any consideration of or reference to God’s involvement. However, the theological claim that these processes are located in the larger context of God actively relating to them blocks the tendency to construe the sciences’ descriptions of these processes as having the status of ontological remarks about the concrete reality of those processes as parts of our proximate contexts. The theological claim is that, ontologically speaking, God relating to these processees is essential to their concrete reality. Consequently, descriptions of these processes that abstract from God’s relating to them do not take the processes in their concrete actuality, but only describe certain aspects of them abstracted from their concrete reality.”

    He continues, “This in no way invalidates the relevant sciences’ explanations of the processes. It only challenges construal of them as sufficient ontological descriptions of ‘reality'” (1:250-51).

    Basically, the immediate context of scientific description is not able to make ontological claims as theology does, and the larger context in which the claims of the sciences are properly located is the ontological context of theological claims. For Kelsey, the larger theological claim gives concrete actuality to the proximate descriptions of science (what a stunning idea!).

    I find this helpful also for evaluating recent claims that science has ruled out the “soul” because we’ve discovered naturalistic explanations for the processes that have previously been attributed to the soul. I think it is helpful and complements the issue you raise with this post.

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