Science and Spirituality: Is Harmony Possible?

Week 1: Who Owns Science?

January 29, 1999
Loren and Deborah Haarsma

Introduction of the course

What is a worldview?
Quick definition: It is how you answer the "big questions." Why are we here? Are we significant? Is there a God? If so, what is his nature? How does He relate to the world? How did we get here? etc.

Who owns science?
Three conflicting worldviews:
"No intervening spirit watches lovingly over the affairs of nature. ... No vital forces propel evolutionary change. And whatever we think of God, his existence is not manifest in the products of nature."
-- Stephen Gould, The Blind Watchmaker

"The unity we perceive in creation on the basis of our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord of the universe, and the correlative unity for which we strive in our human communities, seems to be reflected and even reinforced in what contemporary science is revealing to us.
-- Pope John Paul II, John Paul II on Science and Religion

"Nobody has a monopoly on truth ... There is no one correct way of knowing. There are ways of knowing. And Western conceptual methodology cannot discover any more basic truths to explain the mysteries of creation than can a symbolic/intuitive methodology."
--Hunter Havelin Adams, Portland Baseline Essay in Science

What is science?
Quick definition: Science uses the tools of observation, experimentation, and mathematics, plus creative guesswork and logical analysis, to build models of how the natural world works.

The world of data and The world of concepts:
Scientists use deduction, prediction, experimentation, observation, and induction to go back and forth between data and concepts.

-No data is free from theory.
-Sometimes there are major changes in theories, but the new must still explain old observations.
-It is an iterative process; it does get better.
-It is a community effort; lots of people sharing ideas, checking results.

Kinds of science:

-Measurement science: experiment repeatedly. (e.g. most physics, chemistry, cell biology)
-Observational science: fairly regular events, but little control over the events.(e.g. meteorology, ecology, planetary science)
-Historical science: events in the past. (e.g. cosmology, geology, paleontology) Ideas and results flow back and forth amongst these three. There are differences, but no sharp demarcation.

There is also pseudo-science or "folk science" -- ideas which are clothed in the language of science and claim to be scientific, yet lack backing by repeatable experiments or observations, theoretical explanation, and the consensus of the scientific community.

Some metaphysical assumptions needed to do science:

1) Events in the natural world typically have (immediate) causes in the natural world.
2) These causes and effects have some regularity across space and time.
3) These causes and effects can be -- at least in part -- rationally understood by us.
4) We cannot deduce it all from first principles, we must use observations and experiments.
5) This is a worthwhile pursuit.

Some metaphysical assumptions associated with the Christian worldview:

1) Creation is not pantheistic. The biblical view of time is linear, not circular.
2) God is consistent in His working in nature, so there are regular laws we can determine.
3) We are made in God's image and we are made suitable for this world, so we have hope to understand some of God's creation through the gifts He has given us.
4) God was free to create as he wished. We are limited and fallen people, so our preconceptions about how the world should work may not be the same as God's. We must use observations.
5) Science studies what God made, so it has spiritual value and is worth doing.

Judeo-Christian concepts where science and spirituality meet:
Creation -- God created the universe and humans.

God is sovereign over creation.
God created for his own purposes.
God is separate from the creation.
God is personally interested in creation.
Providence -- God's ongoing involvement in creation.
Stewardship -- God has commissioned humans to study and care for his creation.
Worship -- Praising God for his character as revealed in his creation.

Wonder and Awe -- universal response to the natural world:
All people respond with a sense of awe and pleasure at the beauty and power in the natural world, on an emotional, aesthetic, and spiritual level, regardless of their worldview. In the Christian worldview, this response naturally leads to worship of the Creator.

Twelfth Song of the Thunder

The voice that beautifies the land!
The voice above,
The voice of the thunder
Within the dark cloud
Again and again it sounds,
The voice that beautifies the land.

The voice that beautifies the land!
The voice below,
The voice of the grasshopper
Among the plants
Again and again it sounds,
The voice that beautifies the land.

[From Washington Matthews, The Mountain Chant: A Navajo Ceremony, 1887]

Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is hidden from its heat.

The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever.
The ordinances of the LORD are sure
and altogether righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the comb.
By them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can discern his errors?
Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless,
innocent of great transgression.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

[From the Book of Psalms, New International Version (Zondervan)]

Science and spirituality can be at harmony because the God who created the world is the same God who speaks through the Christian scriptures.

Copyright 1999 Loren and Deborah Haarsma

Return to outline of the series: "Science and Spirituality: Is Harmony Possible?", Last updated January 29, 1999