Wednesday, September 15, 2010

God and Science Don't Mix?

In my class Foundations of Economics we discuss, as the name implies, the very foundations of economics as a social science. Because Grove City College is a Christian college, we have the freedom to examine not only human action as the practical foundation of human action, but have can dig deeper to investigate the divine origins of economics and science in general. In doing so, we investigate how the created order was fashioned in such a way to allow for scientific inquiry and do so from an explicitly theistic perspective.

Last year cosmologist Lawrence M. Krauss, had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal arguing that "God and Science Don't Mix." Ostensibly Krauss argues that "a scientist can be a believer. But professionally, at least, he can't act like one." He seems to be arguing a methodological point that when doing science, the scientist cannot do his work if he assumes that God is going to interfere with his experiments. He goes on farther, however, to claim that a belief in a God who acts in the world is logically irreconcilable with science and scientific inquiry. Krauss writes, "Though the scientific process may be compatible with the vague ideal of some relaxed deity who merely established the universe and let it proceed from there, it is in fact rationally incompatible with the detailed tenets of most of the world's organized religions."

Herman Bavinck
Krauss's piece has been ably answered, especially about how the occurrence of miracles is not incompatible with natural law, by Stephen M. Barr at First Things. In fact, Krauss and those who think like him had been answered as early as 1895 by Hermann Bavink in the first volume of his Reformed Dogmatics. In his chapter "Revelation in Nature and Holy Scripture," Bavink makes the following points:
A natural law only means that certain forces, under the same conditions, work in the same way . . . All these elements and forces with their inherent laws, according to the theistic worldview, are from moment to moment upheld by God, who is the final, supreme, intelligent, and free causality of all things . . . It is God's omnipresent and eternal power that upholds and governs all things . . . God is present in all things. In him all things live and move and have their being. Nature and history are his work; he works always (John 5:17) . . . Every force that asserts itself in it originates from him and works according to the law he has put in it. God does not stand outside of nature and is not excluded from it by a hedge of laws but is present in it and sustains it by the word of his power . . . Science, accordingly has nothing to fear from the supernatural (pp. 369-71).
I explain to my Foundations of Economics students at the beginning of the semester that, because economics is a social science, what Bavink says about science in general applies to economics in particular.

The only reason we have a world in which we can do science, including economics, is that God made it that way. As Francis Wayland defined it, a science is "a systematic arrangement of the laws which God established so far as they have been discovered of any department of human knowledge." As such, there are two necessary conditions that must be true in order for us to undertake science. Scientific laws must exist and we must be able to discover them. If there were no scientific laws to be discovered, then no matter how hard we tried to seek them out, we would never find any so there would be no scientific discovery. On the other hand if scientific laws existed, but we had no way of discovering them, we would also be unable to do science.

There is much evidence from Scripture teaching Christians we have nothing to fear from science. Indeed Scripture provides us with the reasons to embrace scientific inquiry. In the first place Scripture teaches us the God created and sustains the universe (Gen. 1:1; Col. 1:16-17). As Gary North has noted, from the account of the creation of the sun, moon, and stars we find that God created a world with purpose and order (Gen. 1:14-17).

Additionally, the late Stanley L. Jaki points out in his book The Savior of Science that God repeatedly uses the stability and natural regularities of nature as evidence that we can trust Him to keep His promises (Jer. 33:20-21; Ps. 72:5-7, 89:34-37, 119:89-90). Jaki points to these passages while arguing that the Christian view of the cosmos is the reason science developed in the West while remaining "stillborn" in the ancient cultures of Greece, China, India, and in the Muslim world. From the Scriptures Christian scientists adopted the notion that because God created a universe with purpose and stable order, there are scientific laws out there for us to discover.

God also affirms what our own self-reflection indicates--that we have the cognitive ability to discover those laws. In Genesis 1:28 we read that God created us in His image. Our cognitive faculties are part of that image. God thinks and knows everything. As finite creatures we also think and can know some things. Even though the image of God in us has been marred by the fall, it has not been removed. Therefore, not only are there scientific laws for us to discover; we also have the mental ability to discover them. Additionally, we have nothing to fear from science and the thoughtful scientist has nothing to fear from special revelation, including the accounts of miracles, because the God who reveals Himself in His written word is the same God who reveals Himself in the created order. One cannot and will never contradict the other.

As I emphasize to my students, the above applies not only to the natural and physical sciences, but also to the social sciences, especially economics. Part of the image of God includes our use of reason in purposeful behavior. All humans engage in action. Action implies a number of social regularities we call economic laws. That is one of the reasons economics is so important. When people either individually or as participants in society seek to create institutions or policies or develop habits that contradict economic law, it can only lead to disaster.

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