“We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:18
Science is humble, for we scientists say that we don’t know everything. Christianity is arrogant because it states the Christian reality as fact; thus, confusing faith with fact.
This is a variation of an argument I heard recently. It deserves a detailed rebuttal, as it is lacking on several levels. The arguer saw science as humble, fully admitting it did not have all the answers, but saw Christianity as a bit closed off to this kind of humility, as Christians begin by stating faith as fact. In other words, science, he believed, started with an “I don’t know, but let’s discover” posture, whereas Christians begin with an “I already know posture.” The reader will also want to see my previous post regarding God of the gaps, as there is some overlap. In this segment we’ll look at four problems with the above notion.
It creates a false dichotomy between science and Christianity
We will look at this in more detail in a later post, but it is historically inaccurate to pin science against Christianity. Scientific investigation is not made void by Christian beliefs. What is happening here, it seems, is a slip between various forms of naturalism, as it relates to scientific investigation. Methodological naturalism, for instance, “says roughly that modern science does conduct itself and should continue to conduct itself with the assumption that in the areas that it investigates, all the particular events and all the general patterns take place according to general laws that for the practical purposes can be regarded as impersonal.” Ontological naturalism, on the other hand, is the “view that there is no personal God and that the physical domain is all there is.” It should be clear to the reader that ontological naturalism is not required to do science, as methodological naturalism would suffice as well. While methodological naturalism is close to the truth, one need not be forced to forgo all considerations of God.
Vern Poythress offers a Christian view:
Methodological naturalism has always been incoherent, because it has always secretly depended on God to dispel the threat of irrationality, and to govern the world in a way that guarantees the regularities that we observe in scientific law. And yet methodological naturalism is close to the truth, because God invites people made in his image to explore the regularities. God as primary cause does not evaporate the secondary causes. We cannot grant ourselves any divine certainty that God will not make exceptions to the normal course of things, but we do have grounds for exploring the normal course.
What is more, there is a kind of Kantian prejudice being posited here with regard to what can be known (phenomenal realm) and what cannot be known (noumenal realm). This “science vs. Christianity” paradigm begins with the presupposition that we cannot know God except by a “leap of faith.” To be sure, God is incomprehensible and cannot be know. However, this incomprehensible, triune God condescended by way of covenant and made himself known. Since we are made in His image and are recipients of His revelation, we know ectypally or analogically what God knows archetypally (see: Reformed Dogmatics (Vol. 2) by Herman Bavinck). Thus, the entire framework of this critique is itself a bias. Scott Oliphint elaborates further:
Any study of the ‘natural’ only, with the supposition that only the ‘natural’ is rational, will by definition have to exclude anything that does not comport with the definition of the ‘natural.’ Your Kantian paradigm – in which there are the data of science, which one can know, and then the (at least logical) possibility of faith, which cannot partake of rational knowledge, is owing, I’m sure you recognize, not to science, but to a philosophical prejudice that itself is not scientifically or evidentially justified.
It fails to see the commitments and faith projections posited by scientists
As we’ve seen above and in a previous post, there are presuppositions everyone posits as a starting point. For instance, science presupposes regularity and repetitive patterns in the universe, the laws of logic, the reliability is senses, etc. These commitments must be present, foundationally, for one to even begin to think about science. Therefore, it is evident that every worldview makes a faith projection at core.
The above statement is also a bit misleading. The argument presupposes a kind of neutral position that the arguer invites the listener into. From this supposed neutral position – a position where we take for granted the preconditions of intelligibility – the arguer demonstrates his humility: “Start with me in this neutral, blank-slate position where we can explore the unknown without stating, like the Christians do, a certain knowledge.” It is misleading because there is no neutral worldview (see: Worldviews and Point of Contact). Thus, the arguer is actually inviting the listener to agree with his foundations (or blueprint) from the outset.
Fails to take into account the kind of presuppositions posited by the Christian
Notice the argument: “We scientists start from the humble position of not knowing (hence the motivation for discovery), but the Christian begins by claiming to know.” There is some equivocation happening here. Take the previous farmer analogy: a farmer praises God for a good harvest, but the atheist asks, “Why are you claiming to know before you’ve looked into the matter?” What has the Christian claimed to know? The Christian claimed to know who did it, but made no claim to how it was done. Upon investigation it becomes evident that the means by which the good harvest came about was the soil, rain, and sunlight (secondary causes).
The Christian’s presupposition enables him to have confidence that there is order in the world, which enables him to conduct scientific experiments, and that there are laws of logic that enable him to think coherently. The atheist’s presuppositions are one of autonomy and self-ultimacy; he is able, it is believed, to discover ultimate truths within himself, apart from God. Both of us are bringing our presuppositions to the table. In no way does the Christian presupposition cancel out the ability to conduct science. The opposite actually. Science is exciting as we get to discover how it was (is) that God did (does) things. Claiming to know the Who does not mean we cannot discover the how. In fact, the Who makes the how intelligible.
Treats faith like credulity.
Faith is not arbitrary or blind, but is based on something. Credulity, on the other hand, is not. Believing that Jesus, for instance, rose from the dead, or believing that an invisible tea pot circles my head, are not on the same level. The Christian has faith that Jesus rose from the grave. This faith didn’t arise from a void, but came out of the prophecies in the Old Testament that pointed to this, from the testimony of Christ when He was on earth, from the eye witness accounts recorded during that time period, and from the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit, testifying to us the truthfulness of this event as it is detailed for us in Scripture. In all, we have reason to believe that Jesus rose from the grave, but no reason to believe an invisible tea pot circles our heads.
The Bible defines faith as “The assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB), “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV), “The reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen” (HCSB), or as “The confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (NIV). Notice the words used: the “assurance” or “reality” of what is hoped for, the “conviction” or “evidence” of things not seen. The very definition of faith means that faith is something that impacts our very lives – it doesn’t exist in a void, adrift from our daily routines.
The atheistic scientists bid us to live in a kind of Kantian world, as we have seen. They wish us to renounce our faith projections and beliefs, and take up their epistemological faith projections and beliefs. For them, how you live is reflective of the type of reality you believe is real, and what type of reality you think is real is reflective of what you think is factual; and since we align ourselves with the Christian faith, they believe we confuse fact with faith. “The Kantian influence,” writes Oliphint, “gave rise to the present praise of all things scientific at the expense of true, biblical faith. ‘Faith,’ in a Kantian context, can only have experience as it governs principle, not knowledge. The problem with this, however, is that the line between faith and fact is not as large as they might have hoped. As we have seen, the atheist makes faith projections. On these projections, the theist could make the same comment: You are confusing faith with fact.
The question boils down to this: How is one to live? For the Christian, we live, move, and have our being in God (Acts 17:28). We think God’s thoughts after Him (Ps. 119:66; 36:9), for the only reality is the reality God created (Col. 1:6), which we read about in God’s inscripurated word. Anything not in line with this reality is illusory. Given this, it should be clear that the Christian narrative, for the Christian, will not be divorced from daily life and what one thinks is true.
Speaking to the atheistic scientist, Oliphint says:
But now you have an irrationality problem. You commit to a discipline–science–that itself cannot move one inch toward progress unless it depends on and trusts universal laws. The very foundation of experiments and the testing of hypotheses assumes these laws. Without them, anything you inspect and any context in which it is inspected would be chaos… If the world is, as you want to assume, unguided, then there is no foundation left for your ‘scientific inquiry’ to be conducted… My ‘Authority,’ then, is God himself, speaking anthropomorphically in his Word, and ultimately in his Son. Given that authority, your algorithms can take their place. Without that authority, you are left with your own deluded, irrational, and non-scientific diatribes, which themselves can have no scientific foundation.
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12
Also in this series:
© copyright J. Brandon Burks
Vern S. Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 261.
 K. Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 214.
Ibid., 120, 216.