The Scientific Method, part 2: Is It Biblical?

“The Universe has been wrought for us by a supremely good and orderly Creator.” — Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543)

In my last post (part 1), I briefly explained in principle and procedure what comprises the “scientific method”. Today, I want to get a bit into the intersection of “science” and “faith”, as you may have guessed from the question posed in the subtitle of this post. From this, you may think I’m questioning whether or not Christians should even use the scientific method. (That is, is it consistent with scriptural doctrine and principle? I mean, isn’t “science” supposed to be the enemy of “faith”?) I’m not. Rather, I am assuming the answer to that is “Yes” and am going a step further to ask if the scientific method can, in some sense, be found in the Bible. My original title for this post was going to be “Biblical Origins of the Scientific Method”, so that should give you some idea of how I would answer the question….

antique, brass Griffith Club microscope

Antique, brass “Improved Griffith Club Microscope”, patented by E.H. Griffith in Dec. 1886

The suggestion that the “scientific method” can be found in the Bible may sound odd to some of you, as it originally did to me. But, upon closer consideration, it really isn’t. I take my cue from astrophysicist & pastor Dr. Hugh Ross, whom I greatly respect and have quoted many times in the past. Ross is known for saying that the scientific method is really, or could/should be called, the “biblical method”. However, I am reluctant to make such a bold claim. By stating it that way, I think some people assume that Ross is claiming that the multiple steps of the scientific method itself (see previous post) are — to some degree, at least — explicitly found somewhere within the Bible and/or identified as such. When I first heard him say this, I thought it smacked of the tendency among certain Christians — though, not usually Dr. Ross — to overstate the strength of a particular argument when making a case. Still, I understand what he’s getting at. I would simply be more comfortable stating the idea differently, perhaps something like this:

“The underlying principles of the modern scientific method — e.g., searching and testing for truth, the necessity of careful observation, sticking with established facts, maintaining integrity — can be found, sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly, within Judeo-Christian scripture. Indeed, it might even be said that the Bible ‘inspired’ modern scientific method, given the preponderance of theists (particularly Christians) among those early founders of modern science.”

This seems to be what Dr. Ross is getting at, anyway. Perhaps it would be best, though, to let Dr. Ross explain his thoughts on the matter himself. The following can be found almost verbatim as an appendix in two of Ross’ books, Creation as Science and More Than a Theory:

“A major source of optimism for resolution of the creation/evolution debates, or at least for significant progress toward resolution, is that all the participants in the debates appear to agree on the best method for testing models. That method is popularly termed the scientific method, though a more accurate label would be the biblical method.

The Bible alone among the ‘scriptures’ or ‘holy books’ of the world’s religions strongly exhorts readers to objectively test before they believe. According to the apostle Paul, no teaching is to escape testing:

Test everything. Hold on to the good. (I Thess. 5:21)

Paul exhorts us that such testing, to be effective, will require objectivity, education, and training:

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is. (Rom. 12:2)

Testing before believing pervades both the Old and New Testaments and forms the heart of the biblical concept of faith. The Hebrew word for faith, ’emuna, means a strongly held conviction that something or someone is certainly real, firmly established, constant, and dependable. The Greek word for faith, pistis, means a strong and welcome conviction of the truth of anything or anyone to the degree that one places deserved trust and confidence in that thing or person. In every instance, faith in the Bible connotes the response to established truth. Just as there is no faith, from a biblical perspective, without an active response, neither is there faith apart from established truth(s).

Jeremiah 10:12 - colorful nebula bkgrdChristian scholars throughout church history, from the early church fathers, to Renaissance naturalists, to Reformation theologians, to present-day evangelical scientists, philosophers, and theologians, have noted a pattern in biblical narratives and descriptions of sequential physical events: the Bible authors typically preface such depictions with a statement of the frame of reference (point of view) and initial conditions and then close with a statement of the final conditions and conclusions about what transpired. The Scottish theologian Thomas Torrance has both written and edited book-length discussions of how Christian theology, and Reformed theology in particular, played a critical role in the development of the scientific method and the amazing advances achieved by Western science.”

In the post “Can You Accept Revealed Wisdom and Still Be ‘Scientific’?”, I answered the title question in the affirmative, investigating the subjectability of the Bible to scientific and historical testing and whether or not religious ideas (and those who hold them) have a place in science. As part of my argument, I listed many well-known scientists of the past and present who were/are theists. Among these august notables of science were Roger and Francis Bacon, whom I discussed in last week’s Part 1. So, obviously, there have been a whole lot of “people of faith” (i.e., the properly understood biblical concept of “faith”, as described above) who have had no problem applying the scientific method in their investigations of God’s Creation. As Dr. Ross (and others) point(s) out, it works pretty well for biblical investigation and interpretation, too. If only we would apply it more often….

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