Christians and skeptics often talk past each other. It’s almost as if they are speaking different languages or, at the very least, speaking from a very different frame of reference. Recently, I observed this first-hand as I corresponded with an atheist about the role of science in developing useful knowledge.
He agreed with me that science does not have an “explanation” for everything and that for some things, it may never have. “On the other hand,” he said, “‘God did it’ has never impressed me as much of an explanation. I would prefer simply to admit ‘I don’t know.’” What he meant, I think, was that resorting to a supreme being who set things in motion, and whose laws guide the workings of the universe, is not helpful. No, more precisely, that resorting to such explanations is actually a step backward, a movement away from the acquisition of the knowledge that science promises.
In this, the skeptic is mistaken. Science can answer many questions, but all of these questions fall into the category of “how” things work, and not “why” or “for what ultimate purpose.” Things work a certain way, and the workings that we witness can be observed, studied and eventually understood. This yields great predictive power regarding future events, and allows for those events to be shaped through the use of modern technology. But science does not answer the question, “Who set all this into motion” and “What does that Creator want from us?”
Take for example the study of the Big Bang. Science and Christianity agree: the universe was created from nothing a very long time ago. Genesis (“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth) and the Gospel of John (“In the beginning was the Word…”) both assert what astronomy and physics have, relatively recently, discovered. The Bible doesn’t attempt to speak to the question of how God went about performing this amazing feat, and science does not tell us for what purpose the universe was created.
This is an important distinction, and one that seems to be increasingly lost on the many secularists who, seeing a conflict between science and faith, try to force all manifestations of religion from the public square. Perhaps an example from a much less esoteric source will help to illuminate the distinction I am attempting to draw. When police respond to the scene of a possible murder, they collect the evidence for a very specific purpose: to determine the “source” behind the killing, the answer to the question “for what purpose?” The coroner who does the examination can shed light on this determination, though the use of scientific knowledge, but their role is largely to determine how the person died. For example, if the investigators found the victim lying on the floor with a bullet wound to the head and a pistol lying nearby, science would tell us that the victim died as the result of exsanguination and damage to vital tissue caused by the entry of the bullet. But determining the manner of death would not answer the question the police are called upon to determine: was it an accident, suicide or murder? For that, other considerations must come into play, including other types of evidence left behind during the commission of the act. This may include further physical evidence, but it might also include a writing – perhaps a suicide note or other writings reflecting what the victim was planning to do. However informative and accurate the scientific evidence might be regarding the cause of death, it will never answer the most important questions: who did it, and why? For that, different questions must be asked. More to point, if these questions are not asked – if the mere asking of such questions is deemed inappropriate – the most important aspect of the inquiry will never be accomplished.
Similarly, as it applies to accounts of the creation events, science has come a long way in explaining the mechanisms by which the universe began to unfold and life to appear and flourish. But it has not the means to determine why any of this has occurred. Other disciplines, such as theology and philosophy, are better suited to weigh in on those types of questions. However fascinating the answers to the “how” questions might be, they pale in comparison to the importance of the “for what purpose” questions, especially if one considers how long “eternity” will be.
The two realms – science and theology – need not be in conflict. The conflict arises when the secularist insists on seeing the world as an endless series of “how” questions rather the seeing the one “why” that matters more.
Posted by Al Serrato