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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Science as Recipe thinking

I was once asked to give a talk on science to our Children's Church. Here, with slight modifications, is what I told them:

Do you like hamburgers? I do, usually.

If someone makes a hamburger, what do they need? A recipe. Well, they probably don’t look on a piece of paper to see what to do, but they have a recipe in their head, or somewhere. And a recipe for hamburger probably works well. Besides how to make a hamburger, there may be other questions on the mind of the cook. For example, she might worry about not having enough money to buy hamburger meat. She might worry about whether it is wrong to kill cows to make hamburger meat. She might worry about a person in their family who is allergic to wheat flour, so can’t eat a hamburger bun. She might worry about what a hamburger means. None of those thoughts are in the recipe, whether in the head, or written down.

Science is a lot like recipe thinking. It is about what things are made of, how they work, and how they are put together. Scientists can try out things, like trying out new stuff in a recipe. But there is a kind of non-recipe thinking, about higher stuff. There are two big words for this kind of thinking—theology and philosophy. Theology is thinking about God, and philosophy is thinking about what is true, and how we know things. Science can tell us what a rock is made of, and maybe where it came from, but it can’t tell us why there are rocks in the world.

Your pastor asked me here to talk about creation. Creation is about how the world came to be here, how living things came to be here, and how people came to be here. Science can give us recipe thinking about how the world is put together, how living things work, and how humans work. But this recipe thinking can’t tell us why, or what it means. I need higher, non-recipe thinking.

The most important question about how the world, living things, and humans came to be is this one: Are we here by chance, or on purpose? This question isn’t recipe thinking. It is higher thinking. If your school science books say that they can tell you about whether the world, living things, or humans are here by chance or not, they are wrong. They can’t do it. You need higher thinking for that.

Before I discuss this further, I want to point out a danger: thinking that the Bible says things that it doesn’t really say. For instance, a man named Galileo said that the earth goes around the sun. Others said that the Bible says that the sun goes around the earth. It seems to, because it was written by people who believed that, and God allowed them to put their thoughts in the Bible, but the Bible doesn’t really say that the earth goes around the sun, or that the sun goes around the earth.

Some people think that the Bible says that the world is only a few thousand years old. The earth may be only a few thousand years old, but the Bible doesn’t say so—people do. Some people think that the flood in Noah’s time caused almost all the rock formations and mountains all over the world. Maybe, maybe not. The Bible isn’t really clear on that. But to argue that the Bible is clear on this, or other ideas that it is not clear on, is dangerous.

Back to the difference between recipe thinking and higher thinking.

Recipe Thinking (Science)
Take hamburger meat, made into patties, lettuce, tomato and cheese slices, mayonnaise, ketchup, and hamburger buns made from wheat flour.
Fry patties until done, then place in buns with other ingredients.

Higher Thinking (Theology & Philosophy)
Can I afford hamburger meat?
Is it wrong to kill cows?
Is my child allergic to wheat flour?
What does a hamburger mean?
These questions are important, but not part of a recipe.

Let us compare chance and purpose:

Chance: 1) Your underwear is on your foot, there's a blue sock on your left hand, a handkerchief on your head, your pants are on your right arm, and there's a brown sock on your right ear.
2) The world is just here. It has no purpose or meaning. The same is true of living things and human beings.

Purpose: 1)Underwear, socks, handkerchief, pants, in the usual places, because someone thought about it and planned it that way.
2) The world is here because God planned it. So are living things and human beings.

Are thoughts about whether we are here because of chance or purpose recipe thoughts or higher thoughts?

They are higher thoughts. Scientists can think about them, but so can you or I, or a truck driver. Scientists’ thoughts about these things are no more likely to be right than anyone else’s.

Two dangers:
1) I repeat one I discussed above: don’t claim that the Bible says something that it doesn’t say. (The Bible doesn’t say how old the earth is, or what the first people looked like, or how long ago the first people lived.) There's another danger.
2) Don’t claim that science’s recipe thinking can answer questions needing higher thinking. Science can't prove that there was a purpose to creation, or disprove it.

We need both recipe thinking and higher thinking, but we need to be careful to distinguish the two kinds.


superrustyfly said...

Recipe Thinking. This sounds like the title to a book to be written. You should write one.

Martin LaBar said...

I'm probably past that.

Thanks, superrustyfly.