Can You Accept “Revealed Wisdom” and Still Be “Scientific”?

“[S]cience and religion are two essential components in the search for truth. Denying either is a barren approach.”  — Dr. Martin Andreas Nowak, mathematical biologist

Bible and DNA helixOnce upon a time (actually, it was about a year ago) in a land far, far away (OK, it was here in NE Florida), I had a brief but interesting discussion. I had been taking a few skills & personality assessment tests, which involved identifying what I thought my strengths & weaknesses were, figuring out my personality traits, etc. While discussing the results with a couple family members, the religiously-agnostic one noted, “Huh! You consider yourself ‘scientific’?” I was surprised that this was a surprise to him.

Whereas my relative has a PhD (in the social sciences), I only have a B.S. (in Computer Information Systems), but I still think of myself as scientifically-minded. True, I’m not a practicing scientist or even a “science nerd” or “nut”, but I do have a healthy respect for science, love “science apologetics” (not to mention, science-fiction), and consider myself to be skeptical and analytical by nature. But, this wasn’t good enough for him. I could hear the condescension in his tone. Suspecting where this was going, I asked,

“Why don’t you think I am (or can be) ‘scientific’?”

His response was very telling:

“Because you believe in ‘revealed wisdom’.”

There you have it — an obvious bias towards scientism/naturalism and implicitly against the idea that any true knowledge can come from anything other than (naturalistically-defined) “scientific” research & analysis. As a theologically conservative Christian, I accept “revealed wisdom” (i.e., the Bible as the Word of God), which is by definition (according to secularists like him) not empirically verifiable. Before getting off on a tangent, though, we agreed that it was not the right time to pursue that subject further.

So, I’m gonna do that now….

I would like to address two questions. First, can the Bible be tested? Yes. Next question? Seriously, though, let me expand & restate the question: “Does it make sense to believe the Bible is a revelation from God?” In the book A World of Difference, Kenneth Samples answers this query with the following list of six reasons why it is in fact “intellectually credible to believe the Bible is God’s actual revelation to man”:

  1. “Unlike most other religious books, the Bible is uniquely connected to history. Therefore, many of its central claims are open to historical investigation (verification/falsification).
  2. To some degree, a number of the scriptural accounts (though certainly not all) have been corroborated or supported by extra-biblical historical sources and archaeological evidence.
  3. The bibliographic evidence (manuscript abundance, authenticity, and integrity) on the part of the Bible far surpasses all other ancient literary works, secular and religious.
  4. Though written in antiquity, the Bible presents a cosmology (a singular beginning to all matter, energy, time, and space) that matches well with the prevailing views of modern science.
  5. The Bible appeals to the fulfillment of prophecy and to miracles to substantiate its claims. Both areas can be evaluated in terms of their historical accuracy and explanatory power and scope.
  6. The Bible presents a realistic view of human beings (their nature, predicament, and resolution) and offers a world-and-life view that is rational, viable, and existentially fulfilling for humanity.”

Each of these six could be further elaborated on in multiple posts of their own. But, I think this is sufficient for now to show that, unlike certain other religious texts, the Bible is subject to scientific & historical testing, and it scores very well.

Galileo painting with quoteSecond, do religious ideas (and those who hold them) have a place in science? Not long ago, Tad Cronn wrote a column at “Political Outcast” in which he touched on this:

“Without the idea of an eternal, consistent God who creates natural laws that reflect his own character, there never would have been a reason to explore the natural world and expect predictable results from it. What [Bill] Nye fears is actually seen in the Muslim world, where Allah is understood to be capricious and likely to change his mind on a whim, making logic and scientific endeavors pointless. Some of the most famous early scientists were Christian….”

Indeed, as sociologist Rodney Stark and others have reasoned, this is most likely why science was effectively stillborn in the East (despite early and sporadic progress in some places) but flourished in the West.

Cronn went on to list a few of those early scientists. It had a couple errors, but I have corrected and added to it here:

  • Roger Bacon (1214-1294; early advocate of “scientific method” and known for work in optics, which was influenced by Muslim scholar Alhazen)
  • Georgius Agricola (1494-1555; “father of mineralogy”, renowned for treatise on mining & metallurgy)
  • Francis Bacon (1561-1626; “creator of empiricism” and advocate of “scientific method”)
  • Galileo Galilei (1564-1642; physicist, mathematician, astronomer)
  • Johannes Kepler (1571-1630; laws of planetary motion)
  • Francesco Maria Grimaldi (1618-1663; free fall of objects, diffraction of light)
  • Blaise Pascal (1623-1662; mathematician)
  • Robert Boyle (1627-1691; “founder of modern chemistry”)
  • John Ray (1627-1705; “father of English natural history”)
  • Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723; “father of microbiology” and discoverer of single-celled organisms)
  • Isaac Newton (1642-1727; physicist, laws of motion and universal gravitation)
  • Michael Faraday (1791-1867; principle of electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism, laws of electrolysis)
  • Charles Lyell (1797-1875; Principles of Geology)
  • Gregor Mendel (1822-1884; founder of genetics)
  • James Clerk Maxwell (1831-1879; theory of classical electromagnetism, Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution)

Modern science has built on the outstanding and often groundbreaking work of these scientists. Were they not “scientific”? Should we throw out their research and everything that grew out of it, simply because they accepted “revealed wisdom”? Nonsense! It’s pretty obvious that none of them said, “There’s some principle or law or phenomenon occurring in nature that I can’t figure out, but I know that God is responsible, ‘cuz the Bible tells me so, and that’s good enough for me.” That might have been sufficient for the average joe & jane on the street. But, these guys reasoned and performed experiments to better understand the world around them — or, as one luminary said, “to think God’s thoughts after him.” They (or others after them) were often able to apply that knowledge to make the world a better place.

Henry F Shaefer with model molecules

“The significance and joy in my science comes in those occasional moments of discovering something new and saying to myself, ‘So that’s how God did it.’ My goal is to understand a little corner of God’s plan.” — Henry “Fritz” Schaefer III

Speaking of modern science, here are several more contemporary scientists who also believe(d) in “revealed wisdom” and do/did not ignore it when doing their research:

  • John C. Eccles (1903-1997; Nobel Prize-winning neurophysiologist)
  • Charles H. Townes (1915- ; Nobel Prize-winning physicist, breakthroughs in radar, maser, & laser technologies)
  • Philip Skell (1918-2010; “the father of carbene chemistry”)
  • Allan Sandage (1926-2010; world-renowned astronomer and “Grand Old Man of cosmology”, first reasonably accurate value for the Hubble constant and the age of the universe)
  • Owen Gingerich (1930- ; astronomy, cosmology, history of science)
  • Gerald Schroeder (1938?- ; physicist, graduated from and worked at MIT; former member of U.S. Atomic Energy Commission)
  • Donald Knuth (1938- ; computer scientist, “father” of the analysis of algorithms, The Art of Computer Programming)
  • John Suppe (1943- ; former Blair Professor of Geosciences Emeritus at Princeton, best known for work on on “fault-related folding” theories in tectonics)
  • John Lennox (1943- ; Professor of Mathematics at University of Oxford, multiple advanced degrees)
  • Henry “Fritz” Schaefer, III (1944- ; computational and theoretical chemistry, recipient of multiple awards & honors)
  • Francis Collins (1950- ; physician-geneticist noted for his discoveries of disease genes and his leadership of the Human Genome Project (HGP))
  • Simon Conway Morris (1951- ; noted paleobiologist/paleontologist)
  • David Gelernter (1955- ; computer scientist known for concept of “tuple spaces”, a seminal contribution to the development of parallel distributed processing architectures)
  • Michael G. Strauss (1958- ; physicist working in quantum mechanics and subatomic physics)
  • James M. Tour (1959- ; Chao Professor of Chemistry at Rice University, co-founder of NanoComposites, Inc., widely acknowledged as one of the world’s most distinguished nanotechnology researchers)
  • Martin Andreas Nowak (1965- ; Harvard Professor of Mathematics and Biology in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, whose work ranges from the dynamics of infectious diseases, to cancer genetics, to the evolution of cooperation, to the origin of life)
  • Mark S. Whorton (19??- ; aerospace engineer, internationally recognized expert in the control of space structures)  [Note: Yes, folks, he’s a rocket scientist. Cool!]

I ask again: Are these men UNscientific? Is their work not valid or trustworthy, because they are theists — note, Schroeder and Gelernter are Jewish — who believe in special revelation? No, I think not. They and those on whose shoulders they stand have done incredible work, making amazing contributions in their respective fields of science.

Of course, I don’t put myself in the company of these men. As I said, I’m no scientist, nor do I play one on TV (or even on the Web). But, that doesn’t mean that I can’t be, in some sense, “scientific”. I’d like to think that my family member was being forgetful and not thinking clearly when he said what he did to me that day. For him to actually believe it, he (and anyone else who would agree with him) must either be ignorant of the facts or simply allowing his anti-religious worldview to blind him to the truth. If it is the latter, then he denies reality, and that’s not very scientific, at all.

“Many scientists do believe in both science and God, the God of revelation, in a perfectly consistent way.”  — Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize-winning physicist (“avowed atheist”)

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