IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 2, Number 40, October 2 to October 8, 2000

"Science is Cold, Hard Fact; Religion is a Matter of Opinion"
A Conversation in Chicago

by Sam Andreades

Giles and Ottoman are old friends from college, where they took physical chemistry together. From there Ottoman went on to a stunning career in botany on the West Coast, while Giles became a Presbyterian minister on the East. They were both so excited about a new scientific discovery - how plant seeds retain the ability to sprout after long periods - that they decided to go to dinner to celebrate it. They have met in a restaurant in Chicago.

Giles: ...It is wonderful how God has provided the means of making this discovery, and the beauty of the natural order itself.

Otto: There you go. You know, Giles, I must say, I find it particularly annoying that you must drag religion into everything. I was speaking of a subject that has nothing to do with that side of life, and you simply cloud the issue by talking about God.

Giles: I appreciate your frankness, Otto, it is one of the things that I treasure in our friendship. But I must plead innocent to dragging religion anywhere it is not already present. According to my view, the incubator used in the experiment could not exist, except that God graciously made us capable of mastery over creation to this degree, and we could not know the results with certainty except through his disclosure. If this is so, then cloudiness would come of not considering God in our knowing.

Otto: You may feel that way if you wish, but I occupy a different world. In my realm science provides the foundation for certainty,1 and has done away with any need for crediting a higher power for what we know - whether it be "God," or whatever you wish to call it. Now, do not misunderstand me. I am not depriving you of your faith, if you must have it. I recognize the need some people have for faith in something beyond themselves, to give them assurance and comfort. I will even grant you that it does society good for many people to sustain these beliefs. Yes, religion is good. But someone in my position has learned too much to think of faith as personally necessary.

Giles: Your comments show that we do indeed occupy two different worlds, but I am curious about your statement "Science provides the foundation for certainty." What do you mean?

Otto: Well it is obvious, is it not? Out of courtesy, I did not want to dwell on a point so strong for my position and so weak for yours. First, scientific facts, upon which the method operates, are exact and objective. Second, these facts are passed through the indomitable machine of the scientific method. These empirical results, accumulated over years and years become laws. Thirdly, based on these laws, we develop our theories, which get more and more refined all the time. Row by row, fact by fact, this machine has constructed the edifice of our technical knowledge. Science, so unassailably constructed, tells us the way things really are. Religion, on the other hand, is a matter of opinion, as clearly shown by the absence of a consensus of belief about gods. This is what we might call the thoroughly unassured results of theology. Here, let's order.

I. Salad

Giles: I must say, you present a strong description, obviously based on a long time of reflection on your "machine," as you call it. But I wonder if perhaps you perceive quite accurately how science proceeds. Historically, any scientific2 discipline has progressed by long periods of accumulating support for a paradigm or model, punctuated by intellectually violent revolutions during which the old paradigm must be discarded.3

Otto: Now you are being arrogant. I am quite happy to allow you pronouncements about your religion. But stick to it and do not presume to cross over into my trade to tell me how it works. This is not how science works. We progress, layer upon layer, building up our knowledge.

Giles: It is this notion you have of "crossing over" that I find odd, my friend. As if religion and science have nothing to do with each other. (Giles takes off his tiepin and drops it to the ground.) Why did my tiepin fall to the ground?

Otto: Why, gravity, of course.

Giles: Yes, but what century you have lived in determines what that word "gravity" means. It has proceeded thus (Giles begins draw on his napkin). If you had lived in 300 BC, during Aristotle's science, or for a long time after, your tiepin moving up or down would have been a matter of it seeking its own substance level.

Otto: Yes, I know. Aristotle conceived everything to be made of varying parts of earth, water, air and fire, for these formed the concentric spheres of the cosmos.

Giles: Right. And movement up or down was an innate property of an object seeking its own place based on its composition of these four basic elements. My tiepin would have fallen only because "like moves to like."4 In 1697, Isaac Newton recreated gravity as a force. Newton's tiepin fell for a completely different reason.5

Otto: Yes, because a force of another body pulled it proportional to the masses of the bodies and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. So, science improved our understanding. What is your point?

Giles: My point is that it was not an improvement, built upon earlier work. The new theory of gravity needed to tear down the old theory to exist. This is evident enough from the resistance Newton received when he published. His mysterious forces acting at a distance were considered to be nothing short of the occult. When the theory's descriptive power won its acceptance, the best minds of physics became occupied with finding a mechanism for this mysterious "force at a distance."6 By the 1750's, they gave up, and "innate attraction" of objects ceased to be occult and instead became a reasonable explanation of reality. This involved a whole new conception the world.

Otto: All you have done is to describe the scientific revolution of the 17th century, in which the European world graduated from a medieval, religious mindset, and began to understand the world scientifically.

Giles: Were Aristotle and Newton so very different? After all, all men by nature desire to know.7 Methodologically, there were striking similarities.

Otto: The Athenian did not use math in his description.

Giles: True, but he deduced his model on careful, empirical observation of movement and verification by weighing experiments. When someone burned a piece of wood, the air and fire in it could be seen to be visibly released to fly upward, and the remaining earth and water dropped down. This must be why many historians of science consider the Lyceum headmaster to be a scientist, the first, in fact.8

Otto: Nonetheless, the scientific revolution only happened once.

Giles: It is curious, Otto, that you speak as if there were only one scientific revolution. Revolution is going on all the time. Was the story of gravity over?

Otto: Well, no, I suppose not. In 1916, the answer to why your tiepin fell changed again.

Giles: Radically changed (Giles scribbles again on his napkin). The theory of General Relativity, we must never forget, was first and foremost a theory of gravity. Ever since 1916, the tiepin has fallen because space-time is warped around the earth. No more of this force acting at a distance - it is just a matter of geometry.

Otto: Newton's theory just turned out to be a special case of Einstein's, that's all.

Giles: Look at the equations, Otto. Can you derive Newton's from Einstein's? (See Napkin 1.)

Otto: No.

Giles: Are any of Newton's terms preserved by some relation in Einstein's?

Otto: No.

Giles: Can you even believe in the tensor equation while still believing in innate forces?

Otto: No, I guess not.

Giles: It is a different Weltanschauung. And this latest paradigm-maker knew enough of science to predict even his own theory's replacement. He said, "It [Relativity Theory] will have to yield to another one, for reasons which at present we do not yet surmise."9 (Giles writes two question marks on the bottom of his napkin and hands it to Otto).

Otto: Well, this is an interesting diagram. But it is only an isolated instance, perhaps a peculiarity of physics. Most science does not proceed by violent shifts. When botany makes a statement about something, you can trust it. And this is the difference I am trying to highlight between science and religion. Since you have crossed over to criticize science, is it fair for me to step over to religion to make my point?

Why does my tiepin fall?

1. Aristotle's like moves to like:10

Movement? = QE - QF ( + QA - QW )

2. Newton's law of universal gravitation:11

Fgravity = g(Mm)/r2

3. Einstein's Gravity Tensor:12

Gµ?= 8pTµ?

4. ??

Napkin 1

Giles: I say again that this line you are crossing is imaginary, and I must deny that I am "criticizing science." I have the greatest admiration for the scientific enterprise, and for men and women with the talent to engage in it, which I lack. But cross away, if you will.

Otto: Take this statement of Jesus Christ, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."13 Now, however much spiritual enlightenment you may derive from the statement, it is a pre-scientific assertion, and we now know that what Jesus says, that a seed dies, is simply not true, because a seed is not alive.14

Giles: Again, I must ask, not true according to whose science?

Otto: What do you mean, whose science? Oh I begin to see. You do not believe science is a uniform structure.

Giles: Exactly. Look. (Giles takes another napkin and starts scribbling.) Let us go back to our first scientist, since he was also the greatest biologist of the Greeks.15 He is responsible for the gross divisions of living things and under the worldview of his scientific paradigm, the seed has a soul, and could be said to die when it goes underground and then is resurrected.16

Otto: In Jean Baptiste de Lamarck's time, however, the definition of life is corrected. The occurrence of metabolism and reproduction earn the distinction of the title, "living" (and you must agree this is a better definition), so a seed is not alive, and therefore cannot die. That settles the issue. Only further refinements follow.

Giles: Not exactly. Driesch and his sea urchins change the view of what makes life life,17 and again the seed that dies is fashionable, since it could contain the vital force.

Otto: Oh vitalism, how quaint. Ever since the discovery of DNA, no serious biologist would listen to that theory with a straight face.

Giles: But you are overlooking something.

Otto: What?

Giles: Driesch was a rather serious experimental biologist of his day, and consequently vitalism was a serious paradigm.18 And the current scientific view of life comes with no guarantee. If Artificial Life computer scientists have their way, non-life to life will come to be defined as a continuum, and anything that contains the instructions for its own replication will end up pretty high on the scale.19 In this case the seed will again be considered capable of dying. There. (Giles finishes writing. See Napkin 2).

Otto: It is just a linguistic change, what you mean by the word "life." So what?

Giles: Funny you should say that. I thought you said that science told us the way things really were.

Otto: Yes, but, here is your confusion. The underlying science has nothing to say about these philosophical questions of what "life" is.20

Are Jesus' words scientific? Can a seed die?
1. Aristotle
  300 BC
Soul in allYes
2. Lamarck
Metabolism & ReproductionNo
3. Driesch
4. Mayr21
Active DNANo
5. Langton
ContinuumYeah, sure
Napkin 2

Giles: Strange, then, that it is called biology. It is the biologist's answer to the question that has flip-flopped, because any biological theory carries with it a view of life. On the one hand you overestimate what scientific theories can give us, on the other hand you underestimate what scientific theories carry within them. Have we any reason to expect no more flip-flops as we keep getting a better scientific paradigm?

Otto: Yes, we do! You see, Giles, I am not so easily persuaded because I do not share you pessimism.

Giles: Pessimism? As has been said, if you wed your worldview to the current scientific paradigm in this generation, it will be a widow in the next. This is only pessimism if you think too highly of science.

Otto: The grand achievements of science demand a positive attitude. It seems probable that most of the grand underlying principles have been firmly established and that further advances are to be sought chiefly in the rigorous application of these principles to all the phenomena which come under our notice.

Giles: Yikes! Those were the exact words of Albert Michelson in 1894, just as his measurement of light experiments were turning up the tiny aberration that led to Einstein's revolution.

Otto: Yes, but we have had Einstein's revolution. And it is over. We now know so much more. I feel an undeniable conviction, deep down in my gut, that we are living on the threshold of really knowing.

Giles: This gut feeling, is it religious or scientific?

Otto: The discovery in numerous scientific disciplines is accelerating to breakneck speed. Through our Cosmic Background Explorer satellite we have seen to the outer reaches of the quasars and to the first microseconds of the universe. Using nuclear magnetic resonance we have gazed upon our protein molecules, the basic elements of which life is comprised. We have almost mapped the very human genome! I still believe there are grounds for cautious optimism that we may now be near the end of the search for the ultimate laws of nature.22

Giles: You feel that physics, as we know it, could be over in six months?

Otto: Yes.

Giles: So did Max Born. In fact, he said so in 1928, right after Dirac discovered the equation that governed the electron. Everyone in physics felt that they were nearing the end...that was, until the atom was found to contain neutrons and nuclear forces. Physics is not over.

Otto: Yes, but now things are different.

Giles: Otto, my dear friend, you have fallen prey to chronocentrism.23 The fact is that every generation that ever lived has felt itself to be on the brink of ultimate discovery. Our accomplishments are impressive - I delight to admit them, and even celebrate them just as you do, hence our lunch together - but they justify no claim to a qualitative difference between earlier generations and our own. Astute cultural observers within these past generations complained of this same pretension to foundational knowledge. Blaise Pascal, for example, in the 1600s had to do with his own peers' theories "Of All That Can Be Known" and "Of the Principles of Things."24 Apparently that attitude had not diminished much by the end of the 1800's, in the days of George Bernard Shaw, since...

Otto: Yes, I know: "Science is always wrong. It never solves a problem without creating ten more..." But Shaw was no scientist. Do you agree with him?

Giles: I would not be so brusque. I would rather say that if you expect science to give you the truth, it will always be wrong. But if you expect no more from science than what it gives, it is never wrong.

II. Second Course

Otto: Well, your arguments are all from history and, in the words of one applied scientist, "history is bunk."25 The machine of science is unassailable because the method of science, proceeding as it does in its certain, methodical fashion, produces the truth.

Giles: Yes, you mentioned that before. And I am startled that you choose the metaphor of a machine. You surely belittle your job. Parts of the scientific method require work from you that a machine could never do, subjective work at that.

Otto: Like what?

Giles: Like evaluating competing hypotheses to decide which one to pursue. Occam's razor may be applied differently by different people, depending on what constitutes simplicity in their worldviews.26 Similarly the principle of "elegance" in forming and pursuing hypotheses is undeniably subjective. I have heard it said, for example, that good wrong ideas are extremely scarce, and good, wrong ideas that even remotely rival the majesty of string theory have never been seen.27

Otto: Well, perhaps "machine" was not the best choice of words...

Giles: And further, I cannot see how the principles upon which scientists depend to do their work could be considered "unassailable" without God. Science depends upon, first of all, order in nature. As Einstein put it, "All science requires faith in the inner harmony of the world."28

Otto: Yes, well that is just the way the world is.

Giles: You are being unscientific to stop your questioning there. Why is the world so? Why does it make sense for physicists to look for a grand unified theory of physical forces?

Otto: Those are philosophical questions, not scientific ones.

Giles: Secondly, to do any science at all, we must depend upon uniformity in nature through space and time.

Otto: Of course, you only state the obvious. James Hutton and Charles Lyell would not have gotten far without this assumption.29

Giles: But, you see, it is an assumption. In other words, it cannot be proven.

Otto: But experience proves it. If Ford builds a car and it works, and then Toyota builds a car, it's going to run too, because internal combustion happens the same every time.

Giles: Otto, you must see that you have fallen into a circular argument. It is this experience we are testing in our experimentation. The great king of logic, Bertrand Russell, acknowledged this openly: "Hence we can never use experience to prove the inductive principle without begging the question. Thus we must ... forego all justification of our expectations about the future."30 You are claiming certainty from your method, which you cannot have. In other words, sometimes your car stops running.

Otto: Now, now. That is not because internal combustion has changed...

Giles: No, but something has affected the internal combustion of which you were previously unaware. Something has not remained uniform.

Otto: Perhaps we should stick with geology. It is undeniable that geological processes are uniform through time.

Giles: You mean, like the polarity of the earth's magnetic field? It flips every few hundred thousand years without warning.31

Otto: Yes and no one knows why. But that is because the earth's magnetic field is a mystery yet to be solved.

Giles: Nonetheless, if you were an aborigine cooking your dinner 30,000 years ago, serenely trusting in your geological processes, the world would have turned up side down on you magnetically.32 This is a geologic process that is anything but uniform. Uniformitarianism may be taken for granted all the time by scientists in their daily "grind" (I use the term only out of courtesy to your analogy), but the surprise we experience when it breaks down shows it to be only an assumption.

Otto: But besides this principle, science depends upon reasonable assumptions. We assume that our sense perceptions (and their extensions)33 are giving us valid information, that moral responsibility exists, that consensus of acceptance in publishing decisions brings about the best results...

Giles: Reasonable all, perhaps, but none of them provable. Since you cannot guarantee that these presuppositions are true, you can never guarantee me that a particular result of a current science paradigm is certainly true, that is, really the way it is, the final answer.

Otto: Now hold on. I can refute what you say in a moment. I need merely to cite the achievements of science as proof that it gives us certainty. We can put a man on the moon through science. This building we sit in does not fall down because of science. So much of your life enjoys the results of science; you should be ashamed of yourself for calling its power to deliver truth into question.

Giles: Science was designed to give us power, yes, as stewards over God's creation, limited power from limited, provisional knowledge.

Otto: But its achievements are mind-boggling. If it is not giving us truth, what on earth is it giving us?

Giles: Science can give us an ever-tightening grasp of an actual reality.34 But your pragmatic reasoning is unable to provide the certainty you claim. Do not misunderstand me. I did not claim that science gave us nothing, nor that it was useless, nor that through it we do not learn about the world. I only question your claim to certainty about the world through it, and especially in a world where there is no God. Current scientific models are like a map at a just-acceptable resolution. You can use a map to get somewhere. But you'd never mistake the dot on the map for the real place.35 We used a map of the whole country to find our way to Chicago, but once there, we had to lay the map aside for one with a better resolution. Using a subway map, we found our way through the city to our restaurant. And once here, we used an entirely different scheme to find the way to our table. Even the kind of map changed. In this last instance it was directions from the hostess. And so on.

Otto: All I can think is that this huge building we are in is possible because of Newtonian statics.

Giles: Yes! It is a map good enough for sending up a skyscraper, but not good enough for sending up a rocket to nearby stars. And Einstein's gravity tensor map, my word - that map is so new, we have not even figured out how to use it. But they are maps, and need to find their place in some other source to deliver truth.

Otto: But most of science does not proceed by violent revolution.

Giles: True, most scientists spend their lives filling out an existing theory, uncovering the small anomalies that will eventually grow to bring the whole theory crashing down.

Otto: I mean more than that. You cannot say that all of science is provisional.

Giles: All of science is provisional. There. I said it.

Otto: That is outrageous. Is evolution provisional? Is the periodic table provisional?36 Are you suggesting we throw out heliocentric thought?

Giles: Slow down. One at a time. First, I am not suggesting that we throw out anything. I am affirming that inevitably all of them will become passe and be discarded. As to Darwinian evolution: as a religion, it is thriving. But as a scientific theory, it is showing signs of its age. Punctuated equilibrium cannot make over all its wrinkles.37

Otto: And the periodic table?

Giles: I praise Mendeleev's and Moseley's organizational achievement,38 and have nothing but admiration for the prediction and power granted us as stewards to subdue the earth through their mapping. But in some sense, it already has been bypassed as an explanation of the "basic elements" of nature. And the inner transition metals were made obscure by the table. Different organizations of the elements, based on improved atomic models, highlight them. The asymmetries to be explored allow one easily to imagine providing a different organization in the future.

Otto: And the earth's revolving around the sun?

Giles: Otto, if the earth and the sun were the only objects in space, could you tell which was going around which?

Otto: No. But they aren't the only objects. The rest of the planets and stars allow us to fix them in space.

Giles: So you see, it is a matter of perspective. Yes, it helps a great deal to think of the sun as the center and the earth going around it. But isn't it at least imaginable, that other concerns might predominate in future science to highlight earth as a center around which the universe "turns"?

Otto: Only if the anthropic principle39 turns out to be right. Boy, the next thing you know, you will be trying to tell me that the earth is not round.

Giles: Well, er, it's not actually. Earth's shape is somewhat flattened, the radius at the poles being 21 km less than at the equator.40 Its rotation makes it vibrate slightly, giving it a squat pear shape. These are small deviations, a matter of meters, but they mean it is not really true to say that the earth is a sphere.

III. Desert

Otto: All this talk of theory and method cloud the issue. The problem you have is not distinguishing between scientific facts and laws, which do not change, and scientific theories which do. What difference does it make if I lack certainty in my presuppositions? Or if theories change? A fact is a fact. The statements of science are exact and objective. They are immutable.

Giles: And what is a scientific fact?

Otto: A scientific fact is something that is confirmed to such a high degree that it would be perverse to withhold one's provisional consent.41

Giles: I think the examples given have shown there is no distinction. Facts change too. Give me an example of your scientific fact.

Otto: Take this water for your tea. I can make the scientific statement, "Water boils at precisely 100 degrees C." Now that is simply true. There is none of this worldview rigmarole attached. It is a simple, objective fact, discovered by science.

Giles: Is it really that simple?42

Otto: Of course.

Giles: But your statement as it stands is simply not true. (With this, Giles produces a remote digital thermometer sensor and drops it into the pot of boiling water on a hot plate that was brought for their tea. The display on his hand-held monitor reads 100.076 degrees C.) Your statement, you see, is only an approximation, not a certainty.

Otto: Oh, but of course, you cannot do the experiment with ordinary tap water. The impurities in the water have raised the boiling point. It is only pure water that boils at exactly 100 degrees. I just left out one word. Try it with some distilled water, and you will see that it stands.

Giles: Does it? (It turns out that Giles always carries distilled water around, for just such an occasion. Producing it, and pouring it into a beaker, he brings the water to a boil. Stranger still, the temperature now reads 98.87 degrees.) Again, the statement is only an approximation.

Otto: Oh I have forgotten the vapor pressure. The water must be at the air pressure of sea level. If we just travel down to that seafood restaurant on the lake, what is it called, The Blue Oyster, we will see the statement made certain...

Giles: I am afraid you are missing the point. The expectation that you may reach an end to your qualifications is ill fated. There are other qualifications that you will need to make at the seashore, and still others that are yet unknown, that will forever prevent your statement from being absolute, from being always true, from being certain.

Otto: But it works, I tell you, it is true enough.

Giles: Ah, then I think we agree it is "true enough." This is another way of saying "an approximation." This or any scientific fact could only be held forth as unassailable if it were precisely specified.43 But it cannot be. Because our brains have proven so small, and the creation so beautiful in complexity, we may be certain of only one thing in science.

Otto: What is that?

Giles: Ourselves surprised.

Otto: Sure, there is always the chance of surprise. The surprises that nature has tucked away are one of the joys that make science worth doing.

Giles: If you admit this, you must, it seems to me, admit that old theories and "facts" will always prove inadequate for describing the world as we will find it.

Otto: You move too quickly. There is no reason why we need to denigrate old scientific models. The problem with old theories is only the lack of circumspection with which they were phrased.44 If only they had limited their claims to their immediate vicinity, to the special case in which they were operating, then we would hear nothing of your unfair accusation of outdated theories.

Giles: Excuse me, sir, but which one of us is being unfair? Should the great Newton have said, "velocity is equal to a directional change of distance divided by a change in time, but I make no claims at how this theory will hold up as you move closer to the speed of light?" How would he have known it was the speed of light that was the funny thing? How could he possibly have known that the length of an object was going to depend upon its velocity? You might as well say that the onset of labor in human women depends upon placental release of CRH (corticotropin-releasing hormone),45 that is, except when a comet is passing within 2 million miles of the earth.

Otto: Perhaps it does. But say that and you will never get published.

Giles: No doubt you are right. I might be dismissed as promoting the occult. And more importantly, I will never be able to generalize my results to make predictions. All predictions by nature are in as yet unmeasured spheres of activity. If you circumscribe the theories as you propose, you will end science. No predictions will be possible.

Otto: But still, the objectivity of scientific statement, uncluttered by subjective assumptions, is what sets it apart from other endeavors.

Giles: Modern scientific description is not as innocent as all that. Description itself is explanation. Even the description of facts in the lowest dimension presupposes a system of metaphysics and epistemology.46

Otto: Look. If what you say is true, we can never know anything for sure. If you don't believe that anything can be precisely specified, we are completely adrift!

Giles: I think we have come to the crux of the matter. The dilemma that faces non-Christian science, or non-Christian methodology in general, is that one must either know everything or one cannot know anything.47 Certainty evades us as creatures apart from God. Here, let me pay the check.

IV. Going Home

Otto and Giles leave the restaurant, and decide to walk back to the airport, strolling along the side of the great lake, before they catch their respective planes home.

Giles: What a beautiful sunset! God is beautiful.

Otto: There you go again, bringing God in.

Giles: I thought I had justified my position. He is in.

Otto: You've done nothing of the kind! You started out as I did, claiming certainty, but erroneously it turns out. You as a Christian fare no better. If science fails to provide it, we are both alike adrift. Where would your certainty come from?

Giles: God provides certainty through the Bible.

Otto: Oh no, not the Bible! Can't you think for yourself?

Giles: No, I cannot. I thought that was the point of our discussion. If I start without God, and try to know anything for certain, I fail. But if, as the Bible claims, God has broken into history and has given us what theologians call "special revelation," that is, a word from outside the universe letting us know how things really are, then I have certainty.

Otto: Why?

Giles: Because I can be certain of what he says, and proceed in my thinking from there. Suddenly, I have justification for believing that science leads me to truth, although its results are unable to be interpreted apart from the revelation. I have a consistent system of thought because I have this "sure word of prophecy."48

Otto: But how can you know the Bible is that?

Giles: There are many, many indications that the Bible is God's Word to us, that it is God-breathed,49 so to speak. But ultimately, it is autopiston50

Otto: That's easy for you to say.

Giles: ...self-authenticating, as an ultimate authority must be. If it really is the authoritative word it claims to be, then there can be no greater proof of it than what it says of itself.

Otto: Now you've lost me.

Giles: Look, our minds are too small, hence our science too weak, to provide us with the certainty we need. Even the great scientist, the giant among us, must confess himself to be "like a boy playing on the sea shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."51 And the Scriptures proclaim that that great ocean of truth was wrapped up in one man, Jesus Christ, who died to bring us certainty, not only about the world, but also about our forgiveness before God, the most important discovery of all.

Otto: I don't see what Jesus Christ has to do with it.

Giles: One of the principal ways the Bible describes Jesus' work as our savior is as a prophet.52 As prophet Jesus answers man's problem of ignorance, supplying him with knowledge.53 He came to tell us the way things really are, thus granting us a foundation on which to know.

Otto: It is this idea of not beginning with one's own thoughts, of not being able to discover the truth objectively by one's own self that I find most distasteful about your Christianity.

Giles: There is no alternative and no real objectivity. Either we admit the need of our thinking to be tethered to God's certain Word, or we set ourselves adrift in a world of chaos.

Otto: In other words, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge."54 But it is so bracketing.

Giles: You are perceptive in focusing on this distaste as the main issue. The Bible says that this distaste for being creatures dependent upon our Creator, dependent even for knowledge, is precisely our problem. It is the meaning of sin, the rejection of our dependence on God. But there is answer for that distaste in Jesus.

Otto: Well, here we must part, for we are taking different planes home, I see. It has been a most unusual celebration of science.

Giles: Farewell, my friend.

Otto: Farewell.

  1. With the often-expressed opinion that modernism is dead, I must take issue. Postmodernism might be the rage, but modern man is still alive and well, trusting in the Baconian dream, and liable to turn up on any street corner.
  2. As a concession to Otto, Giles is using the term "scientific" in the overly narrow meaning it has acquired since the Middle Ages.
  3. The reader may immediately recognize the indebtedness of this paper to ideas from Thomas S. Kuhn's seminal work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Second Ed., Enl. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970, first ed. 1962). I have acknowledged below when examples are coming directly from his book, but because Kuhn needed to write in such a grand sweep, examples were lacking. I hope this paper contributes some exemplification of his ideas.
  4. Aristotle's "like moves to like" discussion may be found in Book IV, Chapters 3-5, of "On the Heavens," Aristotle, The Complete Works of Aristotle, The Revised Oxford Translation, ed. Jonathan Barnes, Volume I (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 506-510.
  5. I am bypassing the scholastics "tendency to fall" model in jumping from Aristotle to Newton.
  6. Kuhn, pp. 105-106.
  7. This is the first line of Aristotle's Metaphysics.
  8. Consider, for example, Elul: "The Greeks...were the first to have a coherent scientific activity and to liberate scientific thought," in Jacques Elul, The Technological Society (La Technique ou l'enjeu du siecle), tr. John Wilkinson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1973, orig. 1954), 28.
  9. Einstein is so quoted in John Barrow, Theories of Everything: The Quest for Ultimate Explanation, as quoted in John Horgan, The End of Science: Facing the Limits of Knowledge in the Twilight of the Scientific Age (Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1996), 60.
  10. As Otto pointed out, Aristotle did not use math and so did not write this equation (I did), but he described movement in these terms. From sea level, the greater the quantity of air and fire (QA and QF), the more an object would tend to move up, to the upper spheres, while the amount of earth and water in it (QE and QW) would be dragging it down. Air and water were the minor terms.
  11. g = the gravitational constant. M and m = the two masses, and r = the distance between them.
  12. Einstein's is a tensor equation; G is a higher order vector. So this is actually 10 field equations though it looks like one, w/ µ and ? ranging from 1 to 4, the dimensions of space-time.
    G = the curvature tensor telling how space curves at a given point due to the presence of mass-energy there.
    T = mass-energy tensor telling how much mass and energy is at each point
  13. John 12:24.
  14. This point I heard raised by the father of Andrew Levin, a friend from college. The father rejected the Bible, and Christianity, ostensibly on the basis of this Scripture.
  15. Behe rates Aristotle above Hippocrates (c. 400 BC), most likely because Aristotle studied and wrote about so much of the world. He provided the basic biological categories. Michael J. Behe, Darwin's Black Box, The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution (New York: The Free Press, 1996), 7.
  16. The philosopher defines "soul" and mentions seeds as possessing it in "On the Soul", Book 2, Chapter 1 in Aristotle, 656-657.
  17. Driesch, Hans Adolf Eduard (1867-1941) was a German experimental biologist and philosopher, whose study of embryology led him to become a leading proponent of vitalism - the belief that the processes of life result from a self-determining principle not explicable by physiochemical laws.
  18. Driesch was trained by two of Germany's leading biologists: at the University of Freiburg, under August Weismann, and at the University of Jena (from which he received his doctorate in 1889), under Ernst Haeckel. Leo Kadanoff, a prominent physicist at the University of Chicago, points out that many reputable scientists held to vitalism not fifty years ago: Horgan, 27.
  19. A clear statement of this direction is given by Stephen Levy, Artificial Life: The Quest For a New Creation (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992), 6-7.
  20. Otto must speak out of two sides of his mouth to maintain neutrality and, at the same time, claim power to describe reality. But because worldview cannot be separated from scientific statements, he must contradict himself.
  21. Ernst Mayr writes, "The possession of a genetic program provides for an absolute difference between organisms and inanimate matter," in The Growth of Biological Thought (Cambridge: Belknap/Harvard, 1982), p55. He would add, though, that its DNA must be active for the entity to be living.
  22. This last sentence is verbatim from Stephen Hawking in Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (Toronto: Bantam, 1988), 156.
  23. I am not sure where this term comes from, but I first heard it in a sermon by Timothy Keller, at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, NY, 1997. He used it of the condescending attitude toward earlier generations, the feeling of having now arrived.
  24. So Pascal in his Pensées criticized Mirandola's work of 1486 and the 1644 work of none other than Pascal's contemporary, Rene Descartes: Blaise Pascal, The Mind on Fire: An Anthology of the Writings of Blaise Pascal, ed. James M. Houston (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1989, orig. 1656), 140.
  25. Henry Ford denied that he used this actual phrase, though he did not disavow the sentiment. According to Bergen Evans, though, attributing it to Ford has the support of many eminent historians: Bergen Evans, Dictionary of Quotations (New York: Avenel Books, 1978), 317. Unfortunately, the sentiment, if not the exact words, prevents many a scientist from maintaining perspective on his craft.
  26. The principle attributed to William of Occam, "All other factors being equal, the simplest explanation for an unknown is the most likely," often cited by describers of science, has a worldview hiding in the word "simplest."
  27. So Edward Witten argues for the truth of Super-String Theory by appealing to its beauty and majesty: Horgan, 69. I.e., the theory is too beautiful to be wrong. Since Witten is considered by many peers as the smartest physicist alive today, his words carry the blessing of grant money to physics departments that pursue work on this model. Thus millions of dollars of scientific research money, it can fairly be said, are being directed on the criterion of beauty.
  28. Thomas Levenson (writer), Einstein Revealed, Peter Jones and Thomas Levenson, producers (Boston: NOVA, 1996), video.
  29. Modern Geology, beginning in the latter 1700's and early 1800's, was developed by James Hutton and Charles Lyell on what they called Principle of Uniformitarianism, which states that by studying what is going on now one can infer what has happened in the past. Why? Because geological processes is assumed to behave in a uniform fashion through time.
  30. Bertrand Russell, "On Induction," in The Problems of Philosophy (1912; reprint, London: Oxford University Press, 1959), 69, 68,as quoted in Bahnsen, 620.
  31. A good discussion of this phenomenon is found in Frank Press and Raymond Siever, Earth, Second ed. (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1978), 441f. The authors conclude ironically: "Discordant data are the stuff of great discoveries."
  32. Fossil magnetism as a tool of science began when an Australian graduate student investigated a fireplace in an ancient campsite.
  33. The assumption must extend to extensions of our sense perceptions because in much science today people are studying phenomena through an instrument.
  34. Against Kuhn's relativism, I am adopting the view of critical realism, on the basis of the Holy Spirit's guarantee of leading us into all truth. This definition comes from John Polkinghorne (Cambridge professor of mathematical physics, Fellow of the Royal Society, and Episcopal minister), One World: The Interaction of Science and Technology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 22, 24.
  35. Charles E. Hummel, The Galileo Connection: Resolving Conflicts between Science and the Bible (Downer's Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 187.
  36. These criticisms were raised against Kuhn by Colin McGinn in a 1994 interview in Horgan, 57.
  37. Punctuated Equilibrium is, like Newton's gravity, more a description than an explanation. It is an attempt, much needed, to explain the systematic gaps in the fossil record, but not by offering any mechanism. The other wrinkles of evolution are well lit by Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin On Trial, 2d ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993); David Berlinski, "The Deniable Darwin," Commentary (June, 1996): 19-29; "Denying Darwin: David Berlinski and Critics," Commentary (September, 1996): 4-39; Behe, 1996; and Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (Bethesda, Md.: Adler & Adler, 1986).
  38. The periodic table as we now know it is credited mainly to the Russian chemist, Dmitri Mendeleev (1834 - 1907), although Lothar Meyer worked out a similar system at about the same time. Mosley used x-ray spectra to confirm the atomic number (number of nuclear protons) as the great organizing characteristic of an element.
  39. The anthropic principle, currently batted around in cosmological circles, states -- at least in one form -- that the universe seems to exist in such a way so that life on earth is possible.
  40. Richard Foster Flint and Brian J. Skinner, Physical Geology, Second ed. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1974), 407. Geodesists define the shape of the earth as a geoid, which is then approximated by a spheroid.
  41. This is Stephen Jay Gould's attempt to incorporate Thomas Kuhn's arguments, in Randall Balmer, In the Beginning...The Creationist Controversy (Chicago: WTTW, 1994).
  42. This example I developed from a different point being made in Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1998), 410.
  43. In other words, we would have to know everything to know anything apart from God. Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian And Reformed Publishing Co., 1974), 164.
  44. Kuhn anticipates this objection in Kuhn, 99ff.
  45. A recent, surprising finding, that the placenta contains a hormone to influence the timing of delivery, was reported in Roger Smith, "The Timing of Birth," Scientific American (March, 1999): 68-75.
  46. Cornelius Van Til, (Common Grace, 3, 85) as quoted in Bahnsen, 642.
  47. Cornelius Van Til, Defense of the Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Press, 1969), 133-138.
  48. 2 Peter 1:19.
  49. 2 Timothy 3:16.
  50. This word, meaning "self-authenticating," was used first in a secular setting, by Hero Mechanicus, in his work Definitions (2nd or 1st century BC), as a synonym for axiomatic. But it came to be applied to ultimate authority by Oenomaus in his work Philosophus (2nd century AD), where he used it while criticizing the Greek oracles as an authoritative source. The fragment containing this word was preserved in an extended quotation by Eusebius of Caesarea in his apologetical work, Preparatio Evangelica (4th century AD) 5:33. The Greek text may be found as Eusebius Achter Band Die Preparatio Evangelica (Berlin: Akademie-Verlag, 1954), 282. Later the word was recalled by Calvin (from Eusebius?) in describing the way the Bible claims authority for itself which, by nature, cannot be subject to any another: John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion In Two Volumes ed. John T. McNeill (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), 80. The concept is key to the doctrine of the Bible's authority and provision for certainty.
  51. This was how Isaac Newton assessed his life before he died, as quoted in Hummel, 148.
  52. Deuteronomy 18:15,18, Matthew 11:27, John 3:2, 6:68, Acts 3:22, 7:37, Hebrews 1:2, Revelation 7:17, 21:23.
  53. Chapter on Christ's offices in John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied.
  54. Proverbs 1:7.