First of all, thanks to those who wrote after last month’s article, “Seeing is believing”. Not everyone wanted their letters published, but we enjoyed (I hope) the correspondence behind the scenes. One thing I did realise as we swapped ideas and attitudes was that it seemed, at times, as if we were all talking in different languages. Words were being used that meant different things to one another: simple words, really, like Science and God!
For some, God is only a “concept, something that people developed to meet a need”. Their belief is that “primitive” peoples came up with the idea of a God in order to explain the world around them, a world that had not yet been interpreted by science, and which held terrors, mysteries and uncontrollable features. According to this view, as increasing knowledge explained more and more of these things, God was therefore rendered unnecessary as an explanation of life’s mysteries.
What those who believe this fail, I think, to recognise is that believers in God, particularly God as preached by Christians, is not confined to what is unknown or unexplained. God, to us, is a real, objective reality – the most real of realities, in fact. God, in Jesus, is someone we have met, relate to, have experienced in the most intimate and personal ways. Scientific discovery is not a threat or an enemy, it simply provides ever more evidence of the design and perfection of the universe God created and pronounced to be “very good”.
The other word that seems to be defined somewhat differently by all is “Science”, and here I must admit to some laxity when it comes to writing about the subject. Science is, or should be, an objective exercise, unwilling to make statements without evidence and sceptical of speculation and unfounded theories. However, there is another word that can be used here, and that is “Scientism”: which claims that science is the only valid way of seeking knowledge, or applies science to a wide range of questions where it has no valid context.
Science, properly understood, is concerned only with what can be seen and deduced through the natural senses. The supernatural, should it exist, is not within its sphere of study, by definition. Scientism, on the other hand, takes the incredibly arrogant and irrational stance that anything that cannot be studied through the scientific method simply does not exist.
That is not something science could, or should, ever say. There are enough aspects of life in this universe that science cannot explain (consciousness, energy, gravity, morality, etc.) that there is no need for people to expand its mandate into other areas.
There is another serious problem with scientism and the way in which it has become confused with science in the popular mind. By confusing the nature and role of science, the idea has been given that any scepticism regarding any aspect of popular science is the result of an anti-science bias, usually by “religious” people. One correspondent, perhaps unconsciously, put it well by referring to an anti-science, anti-evolution attitude of religious people. This is the great elephant in the room these days: evolution.
To be unconvinced about evolution is to be anti-scientific. Is this fair? Scientism has promoted this idea for almost a century, and adherents are quite happy to make the statement that “evolution is a fact, not a theory”. But here’s another word we can interpret differently (and people think the Bible is open to interpretation!). Everyone will accept that evolution within species is a fact: all dog breeds are from a single ancestor. Likewise cats, horses, sheep, etc. But evolution between species is not something that anyone can demonstrate. The theory that all life comes from a common source is a theory, and one, I would add, with no solid, scientific evidence. I would welcome a clear presentation of such evidence that is not based on speculation, assumption or wishful thinking.
In any case, not being a believer (it does take a lot of faith) in evolution or big bangs as the source of all things, does not make me anti-science. What is anti-science is the position held by many that the supernatural, religion, or whatever, is not real, that God does not exist, simply because their science cannot observe, measure and replicate it. That is a statement that goes beyond the legitimate concerns of scientific pursuits and to say that anything not susceptible to “scientific”inquiry simply does not exist is to declare without evidence, without reason, and without taking into account the testimony of countless millions throughout history. It is also, at its base, a statement of blind faith.