License

I have written an e-book, Does the Bible Really Say That?, which is free to anyone. To download that book, in several formats, go here.
Creative Commons License
The posts in this blog are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. In other words, you can copy and use this material, as long as you aren't making money from it, and as long as you give me credit.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Is Scientific Knowledge Reliable? (modified)

Is scientific knowledge reliable?

The simple answer is "usually." The hard part, of course, is to know when it is and when it isn't. Unfortunately, we humans lack the omniscience that would let us know which of the findings of science are reliable, and which aren't.

God has revealed Himself to us in several ways. Some of these are:
the Bible
human reason
our consciences
the wisdom of godly people
the guidance of the Holy Spirit
the evidence of nature, and especially
Himself, Jesus Christ, the God/man

The bible is clear that God does reveal Himself through the evidence of nature. In other words, through the observations of science. Here are two passages that say that:
Psalm 19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.

and

Romans 1:20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Both of these are from the ESV, which allows such use, if proper attribution is given. I thank them.

There are two very good reasons for thinking that scientific knowledge is, at least partly, reliable. First, it works. Second, it is one of the ways God is revealed to us.

So scientific knowledge is, at least often, reliable. Again, how do we know how reliable it is, and which knowledge is reliable, and which isn't? We don't know which, or how reliable. One thing history teaches us is that science is pretty good at making predictions. As scientists begin to observe various types of phenomena, they almost always get better and better at being able to tell us what is going to happen in the future, related to that particular phenomenon. This was true of astronomy, which is nearly perfect in the predictions it makes. Weather prediction has improved greatly within my lifetime. So has medical prognosis.

Another thing history teaches us is that, although the predictions may be very good, the underlying explanations often change, sometimes radically. If you are interested in explanations that have been mostly or entirely discarded, see phlogiston, or aether. Consider also the progression in our concept of gravity: 1) heavy things fall 2) Newton said that gravity was an attractive force and 3) Einstein said that gravity was due to the warping of space-time. Good predictions were made before Newton was ever born. But the explanation of gravity has changed markedly.

A third thing history teaches us is that some statements that seem to be scientific are not. Carl Sagan famously said that "The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be." Carl Sagan, Cosmos, p. 4. New York, Random House, 1980. (The book was based on the TV series of the same name.) This was a statement of faith, not of science. Sagan had no experimental evidence ruling out extra-cosmic entities. (I don't have any experimental evidence showing that there is a God, outside the cosmos, either.) But he was a famous scientist, hence his statement seemed to be scientific. He may have thought of it that way himself. But he was wrong.

Science, with its experiments, and its replication, is a pretty good system. It tells us a great deal about God's creation. But it isn't perfect.

Amplified from a post of Jan 19, 2005.

Thanks for reading

4 comments:

David Ellis said...


Carl Sagan famously said that "The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be." Carl Sagan, Cosmos, p. 4. New York, Random House, 1980. (The book was based on the TV series of the same name.) This was a statement of faith, not of science.


I don't think Sagan was proposing the proposition that our observable universe is all of reality. Rather he was defining the term "cosmos" as he was using it:

as meaning simply reality itself; the totality of existing things.

Which makes the statement, not an article of faith, not a factual claim at all, but something which is true by definition.

david ellis said...


The simple answer is "usually." The hard part, of course, is to know when it is and when it isn't. Unfortunately, we humans lack the omniscience that would let us know which of the findings of science are reliable, and which aren't.


Do you think we have some other method of finding knowledge which is able to distinguish fact from fiction in those cases where science, and empirical investigation in general, cannot (currently or, possibly, ever) give us an answer?

For example, if science is unable to either verify or falsify say, reincarnation, do you think there is some other tool available to us which can provide reliable knowledge on the issue (as opposed to mere opinion or conviction)?

elbogz said...

My belief in God, came though encountering God within my heart. That day my life and belief’s changed, and I no longer doubted God’s existence. But lately it seems that faith has been rattled some by the pursuit of science and knowledge.

I have spent the better part of the last few years following the Intelligent Design Debate, The experts spouted, here is “proof’ of an designer, or God. I shouted back at them that was not the truth. Why was the”scientific proof” of God only be found deep inside a molecule. Why would God hide it way down there? Why isn’t each rock marked “Made by God”?

When you look for scientific proof of God, you end up finding proof there is no God. Man has looked forever for proof of Noah’s flood, or the Israel’s exodus of Egypt, or the city of Sodom and Gomorrah. They found no proof. They found proof there was death long before Noah. They found no archeology of one million people walking across the wilderness. It’s hard to look at 200 million years of geology in Utah and say, wow that is exactly what the bible said. You look at the rocks and say, wow, why didn’t the bible describe that?

Faith is faith, and science is science. When one uses the bible as a science book, it leads to great confusion. When one uses Science to find God, it leads to even greater confusion. I don’t know why that is, but mixing the two can really rattle your faith.

david ellis said...


My belief in God, came though encountering God within my heart.


The "heart" seems a poor truth-barometer. Nothing is more prone to allowing self-deception and wishful thinking to shape our beliefs than using "I feel it in my heart" as our criteria for what's fact and what's fiction.