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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

Almighty science?

We’ve given it far too much reverence

Almighty science?

(Krieg Barrie)

The universe, which scientists have always considered to be pretty big, may be a good bit bigger, according to some of those same scientists. In the interest of not embarrassing them by reporting statistics that they might have to adjust again in a few weeks, we’ll wait for the specific numbers.

For now, probably all we need to know is that spiral galaxies, like our Milky Way, are the most common type of galaxy encountered in the known universe. The largest known spiral galaxy, NGC 6872, which is 522,000 light-years across from the tips of its outstretched spiral arms, is about five times the size of the Milky Way. Bigger than anybody thought.

Maybe a bit easier to grasp was the recent assertion by Elon Musk, a scientific entrepreneur if ever there was one, that he expects to see advances in his field of space travel that will enable special rockets carrying 1,000 people to go most anywhere on Earth within 20 minutes.

One more adjustment by scientists of the size of our universe is unlikely to curtail space travel anytime soon. The crash of a Musk spaceliner would have more sober results.

Increasingly over the last century or two, the gods of science have been the measure of all things.

Not that the temples of scientism are on the verge of collapse—at least in the public perception. Increasingly over the last century or two, the gods of science have been the measure of all things. Theologians and ethicists, playwrights and lyricists, therapists and politicians, historians and pundits—like everyone else in society—all could have their say. But more and more, each would have to face up ultimately to the supposed precision of the scientist, who among them all seems to have a lock on reality, or at least on the tools for discovering reality.

So profoundly has this worldview pervaded our assumptions that much too often even our Christian apologetic has looked to science for its warrant of Biblical truth. For many years, one organization’s popular and apparently effective evangelistic booklet spelled it out: “Just as there are physical laws that govern the physical universe, so are there spiritual laws that govern your relationship with God.” The assumption of the physical becomes the very basis for the possibility of believing in the spiritual. It’s a tendency endemic to our age and altogether characteristic of the evangelical community in almost every modern context and expression. A white lab coat trumps a clergyman’s robe almost any day of the week.

Yet there is evidence that while all the rest of the world goes merrily along with implicit faith in the high priests of science, some of the high priests themselves are increasingly wracked with doubt. They are like ministers trying desperately to offer comfort and certainty to their parishioners, while enjoying little comfort and no certainty themselves.

The Wall Street Journal was not cheery about things. “[A] metaphorical gale is now roaring through the fields of scholarly thought about nature—and, by extension, threatening the confident faith in progress that has informed Western thought for centuries.”

The Journal continued: “At bottom, these observers see the breaking up of secular, rationalistic humanism, a philosophy that germinated during the Renaissance, reached full flower in the 18-century Enlightenment, and still permeates Western culture today. …

“Through reason, man would discover the ‘laws of nature.’ If man could just know enough and apply that knowledge, things would get better and better.

“But now doubts are eroding this secular faith. Nature, once viewed as inherently orderly, is coming to be viewed by many (although certainly not all) scientists as inherently disorderly.”

All this takes a lot of godly wisdom to comprehend. Our children won’t see much of this backpedaling anytime soon in their science textbooks. Still, alert Christians should be increasingly aware that huge changes are coming to a field of thought that has long been godlike in its immunity to challenge. 

Christians who take the Bible seriously should be especially careful in the near future (just as we should have been careful for the last several generations) to refrain from the temptation to keep adjusting our Biblical understanding just because of the latest scientific fad.

An important closing note: That excerpt from The Wall Street Journal is accurate. But it was part of a front-page article first published there in mid-1994—25 years ago. You might like to read it again, just to get the context.

Comments

  • not silent
    Posted: Fri, 07/05/2019 11:19 pm

    I agree that science shouldn't be an idol, but I don't think it's bad in and of itself.  I think we have made the mistake of allowing atheists to make the rules and control the conversation. 

    In the past, Christians were often the ones driving science as they sought to understand the universe God gave us.  God made the universe, which means he made science.  We don't have to concede this arena to those who oppose God.  Please note that I am not suggesting that we try to force science to prove the Bible.  While I think the Bible is certainly TRUE, I don't think it was meant to teach science.  Imagine how long Genesis would have been if God had had to explain quantum physics and 21st century cosmology to Moses!  

    God has shown me many times how science glorifies God and demonstrates the gospel. In fact, the more atheists try to disprove God, the more the universe seems to prove he is real.  I don't know if there is a multiverse or not, but I use the concept all the time with atheists since they generally accept it but believe the Bible is mythology (even though they quote it a lot!)  The Apostle Paul used Greek poetry to preach to the Athenians-he knew it was something they understood and would accept. 

    Therefore, when atheists insist there is no god, I sometimes ask how they know I haven't had contact with a highly intelligent, benevolent extra terrestrial who exists in more than one dimension, who can control quantum physics (i.e., create, do miracles) and who can travel through wormholes from one universe to another and transport humans to those universes (i.e, if there are all kinds of possible universes then there is a heaven and a hell).  That almost always causes weeping and gnashing of teeth. But it helps me get in the door so I can eventually share the gospel.  

  • RC
    Posted: Tue, 07/09/2019 11:04 am

    While there is no scientific evidence for a multiverse, the idea of comparing it as a concept to the existence of heaven and hell makes sense.  God obviously exists outside of our universe, as He created it.  

  • JennyBeth
    Posted: Fri, 07/26/2019 04:13 pm

    Science indeed makes a very shaky god for those who truly pursue it, though most people content themselves with the highlights that seem much more reliable. I was intrigued recently by the argument from conservative Biblical scholar Dr. John Walton (a professor at Wheaton, and formerly at Moody) that Young Earth Creationism is itself an attempt to conform the Bible to the material scientific worldview, in that it is an attempt to make the Genesis account about material processes rather than the functions/roles within God's creation. He treats it thoroughly in his "The Lost World" books, but you there are also many of his lectures on YouTube that explain it. One treat for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fR82a-iueWw