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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ignorance in science

Yesterday, I posted on Ignorance as submission, about how God knows everything, and we don't, and, sometimes, we have to just submit to that.

Today, I'd like to consider the question of ignorance in science. Really, the question of limits to science -- are there things that science cannot ever know?

I believe, and I am not alone, that God gave humans the ability to discover things, and that is part of the image of God (see here and here) in us. Part of discovering is what we now call science, God can be honored by good scientific work. Many of the great scientists of the past were deliberately trying to find out about how God made things, and even atheist scientists (and by no means all scientists are atheists) may honor God, unwittingly, by making new discoveries, or by developing new theories. Science can produce knowledge that can be terribly misused -- for example so-called atomic bombs, biological warfare, or using the Internet to spread racial hatred or to exploit women. But it can also produce knowledge that can be used for good. For example, the Internet can be used for communicating the gospel of Christ, or more efficient crops may be produced. But mostly, knowing more is a good thing.

It is possible that God has placed some limitations on scientific discovery, for His own reasons. I'm not aware of any such, but that would, I suppose, be possible. (One such reason might be to fight human pride.) That's not what I'm musing about here. I'm musing about limitations to scientific knowledge. Are there things that scientists can't learn? I believe that there are.

First, how do we know anything? How can I be sure that the computer I am typing this on actually exists, and that the yard I see out the window actually exists? Perhaps they are all the products of my imagination. Lest there be any doubt, I do believe the evidence of my own senses, unless there is very good reason not to, and so does every other sane person. But it is possible that I am deluding myself.

Second, why is there something, rather than nothing? Stephen Hawking, perhaps the most famous scientist of our time, recently said that that was the biggest mystery that he wished were solved. I don't see science solving that, ever. I believe that it is a limit on science. (Hawking is famously not a Christian. Neither is Michael Ruse, one of the most important philosophers of science, who also asks the question given at the beginning of this paragraph.) Hawking, with a co-author, wrote a book which claims to answer that question, and specifically claims that God need not be part of the answer, but the book has been seriously criticized, and not just on religious grounds. My judgment is that it does not really answer the question.

Third, what, if anything, came before the Big Bang? We don't know. I understand that some readers may believe that there was no such thing as a Big Bang. I disagree. The evidence is quite good, considering the subject, and I see no reason why a belief in the Big Bang and a belief in a supernatural Creator need conflict.

Fourth, where is a particular sub-atomic particle found, and what is it doing? For decades, scientists have believed that the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle sets limits on what we can know about very tiny particles -- one reason being that the very act of observation changes what we are trying to measure.

Fifth, there are things that we cannot know, because of time, distance, or both. For example, we cannot know exactly what is going on at this very moment, on planets around the stars in some distant galaxy, because, if we ever get there, too much time will have passed. The very evidence of what went on then, there, will have decayed significantly, or disappeared. On a more commonplace level, we can't predict the future exactly.

Sixth, in mathematics, which is a tool of science, there are things that cannot be proved, or disproved.

If science has limitations, does that prove that there is a God? No. It is certainly compatible with the existence of God, but the main evidence for God's existence is not scientifically oriented.

It may be that one or more of the limitations listed above will eventually be shown not to be limiting. Not knowing that is, in itself, a limitation on present science.

I have previously had a profitable dialog with an atheist, covering part, but not all, of the same ground, and you are welcome to read some of that.

Thanks for reading.


FancyHorse said...

I think that when God said, "Let there be light" that was a Big Bang! I see no conflict with the Bible and with the idea that the universe has been expanding since that time.

What I don't understand is, why did God create it all, and why did He create us? And why does He continue to love us when we are so unworthy? Why did Jesus die for us? (I'm very glad He did!)

Martin LaBar said...

No, we don't understand any of those things (and a lot more). See my previous post:

Thanks. I'm glad He did, too.

atlibertytosay said...

Dr. Labar … this is a good conversation.

I certainly dislike when one picks out a certain sentence to disagree and I'm trying to place it in context.

"… the main evidence for God's existence is not scientifically oriented"

I'm not sure if this is so. Archaeology and geology are science. These two sciences certainly point to things in the Bible being true. Our understanding or interpretation of these events is what convolutes the postulate.

While I'd certainly say this is my opinion, I believe that true faith with true spirtual connection can be factual as well. Otherwise, you don't truly believe - unless you believe it's fact. This isn't a braggart remark, but merely a statement of faith … My belief in God is so strong that I know it to be fact. I have brought Jesus into my heart and try with all that can to worship him mind body soul. My sinful erring humanness limits me sometimes, but I strive to try … now moreso than ever.

We have to be careful where we let human reason into our faith and certainly vice versa. I think this is where intellectuals start to stray from God when they think they have it all figured out. I say, the C.S. Lewis type of faith is dangerous.

I'm not condemning by saying this … but one doesn't get it until they get it. It's my reasoning that only if one can accept God the father, son, and spirit as a fact ~ do they truly understand the connection between God and science. I don't think it's easy. In some ways I think ignorance helps one to be saved. The more a man reasons without God, the further he falls from Him.

We do have scientific observational proof of faith and not just in the divine. Some athletes have so much faith in their performance that they sometimes do abnormally amazing events. Some (or all) of this "faith in performance" may be spiritual. It is factual though that the mind, body, and whatever you want to perceive as conscious or spirit prepare itself for some tasks. This is faith. This is what you are suppose to submit to God. God will reveal it as fact to you as a special gift or connection with Him.

The same can be said for "love". Love cannot really be scientifically proven, but it is a fact none the less. Love is a factual condition. To reason that it's just certain chemicals and neurons firing is missing the point of fact and factual faith.

I do agree with you that if one says "this science fact isn't true because of my understanding of faith" is dangerous … you border on being like a Saducee or Pharisee.

I will say that if we accept ANY science as permanent fact we step into a box of limitation. Had we done this, Einstein would have been seen as crazy person. I think we limit ourselves by not allowing factual faith and understanding our connection to God into science more.

The truly miraculous, like space travel, or creation of intelligent life; I doubt will be possible until we do.

Martin LaBar said...

I don't disagree with much of what you said, atlibertytosay, and I thank you.

However, there is one word in the phrase that you quoted that I would like to re-emphasize. "… the main evidence for God's existence is not scientifically oriented"

I didn't say, or hope that I didn't, that scientific evidence may be part of the evidence for the existence of God, but I would strongly assert that the main such evidences are the incarnation, life and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Bible, the work of the Holy Spirit, and the transformation that true belief in God can bring about in a human being. You, yourself, affirm that in your statement, a few lines below, about your belief in God.

No, "one doesn't get it until they get it." As Hebrews 11:3 puts it, by faith we understand God's creative work. It's always dangerous to base too much on a single verse, but I think that that one indicates that however much scientific evidence may point to a Divine Creator, for a Christian, it doesn't point there for an unbeliever.