Why Science Needs The Christian Worldview
Christians can be confident in a discussion on the nature and use of science, precisely because only the Christian worldview can provide the necessary preconditions for the intelligibility of scientific inquiry. Science requires a significant number of philosophical assumptions just to conduct empirical investigation.
The non-Christian account of science falters under the weight of numerous internal contradictions. It should be remembered that non-Christians do science (and usually do so very well), but they cannot give an account for the very science they are doing without relying on the “borrowed capital” from the Christian worldview. According to Cornelius Van Til, unbelievers use the good gifts of God, which are spread throughout creation and on which they unknowingly depend in their thought and life, without giving God the glory. Non-Christian scientists are able to avoid utter nihilism and skepticism in science only by being inconsistent with their own worldview and borrowing some elements of God’s revelation.
What are those borrowed elements? What are some of the most important presuppositions without which scientific investigation should prove impossible? A brief list of such presuppositions includes:
1. THE UNIFORMITY OF NATURE
The laws, properties, or characteristics of objects and phenomena of a particular class do not vary over distance or time. Nature should be regarded as uniform.
Since nature is considered uniform, one may, from a limited number of objects/phenomena of a class, properly induce generalizations about all objects/phenomena of that same class.
3. ONTOLOGICAL/EPISTEMOLOGICAL REALISM
Nature has an objective existence as an interdependent system, and is both intelligible and accessible to the human intellect.
4. MATHEMATICAL REALISM
Nature can be described accurately by the use of mathematics.
5. METHODOLOGICAL, EPISTEMIC, AND ETHICAL VALUES
Examples of these would be the common claims that some methods constitute good science, others bad or pseudo-science; good theories have certain characteristics; and scientists ought to report accurately and honestly.
6. THE RELIABILITY OF THE HUMAN MIND AND SENSORY FACULTIES
The human mind and senses “fit” the natural world, and the use of the laws of logic aids discovery of truth and tends to falsify error.
7. ONTOLOGICAL/CONCEPTUAL CATEGORIES
Observed phenomena and entities are defined a priori by known classes such as objects, facts, events, etc. and are construed in a scientific tradition as planets, waves, species, etc.
8. THE USEFULNESS/ADEQUACY OF HUMAN LANGUAGE TO DESCRIBE NATURE
Nature corresponds to the mind in such a way that human language closely “fits” nature.
9. THE EXISTENCE OF SINGULARITIES, ULTIMATE BOUNDARY CONDITIONS, AND BRUTE GIVENS
Certain features/constants of the cosmos are simply taken for granted (eg. the mass of a proton, some values for forces, free acts of moral agents, etc.).
THE NECESSARY PRESUPPOSITIONS
My argument is that only the Christian description of the world offers these presuppositions necessary for scientific inquiry. The philosophical preconditions for science are in the pages of the Hebrew and Greek scriptures. According to Scripture, God is the transcendent and almighty Creator of heaven and earth, and everything owes its very existence and character to His creative powers and definition (Genesis 1; Nehemiah 9:6; Col. 1:16–17).
He makes particulars in creation the way they are and determines that they will function as they do. According to Psalm 147:5, “His understanding is infinite.” Ephesians 1:11 declares that God sovereignly governs every event that transpires, determining what, where, when, and how anything takes place. This includes the motion of the planets, the molecular world, and the death of a sparrow. Isaiah 40:12–28 celebrates the power, creation, providence, delineating, and directing of Yahweh. God has the freedom and control over the created order as the potter has over the clay (Romans 9:21). Moreover, knowledge is possible because of a corresponding capacity created in us by God.
THE UNIFORMITY OF NATURE
The atheist worldview cannot account for the uniformity of nature on which to base the scientific process. David Hume has taught us that to say the future will be like the past is to beg the question. Since the uniformity of nature is an unjustified assumption in the atheistic worldview, there is no basis upon which to engage in scientific activities. Bertrand Russell succinctly states the problem of assuming the uniformity of nature in The Problems of Philosophy:
The problem we have to discuss is whether there is any reason for believing in what is called ‘the uniformity of nature.’ The belief in the uniformity of nature is the belief that everything that has happened or will happen is an instance of some general law to which there are no exceptions… But science habitually assumes, at least as a working hypothesis, that general rules which have exceptions can be replaced by general rules which have no exceptions… Have we any reason, assuming that they (scientific laws) have always held in the past, to suppose that they (scientific laws) will hold in the future.
The problem is that without a basis for the uniformity of nature there is no basis for induction. Russell continues that the business of science is to find uniformities, such as the law of gravitation and the laws of motion. Is it possible to formulate general laws of science in a world with no basis for the uniformity of nature? Russell answers this in the negative by writing the following:
Experience might conceivably confirm the inductive principle as regards the cases that have been already examined; but as regards unexamined cases, it is the inductive principle alone that can justify any inference from what has been examined to what has not been examined. All arguments which, on the basis of experience, argue as to the future or the unexperienced parts of the past or present, assume the inductive principle; hence we can never use experience to prove the inductive principlewithout begging the question. Then we must either accept the inductive principle on the ground of its intrinsic evidence, or forgo all justification of our expectation about the future.
Christians are not left with such a problem, precisely because the uniformity of nature and induction are compatible with the Christian view of the world. God, who is providentially in control of all events, has revealed to humans that we can count on regularities in the natural world. Because of this regularity, the endeavors of science will be fruitful. Science would be impossible without the truth of the Christian worldview.