Is Science Ever-Changing and Thus Untrustworthy? (RJS)

Karl Giberson’s new book, The Wonder of the Universe: Hints of God in Our Fine-Tuned World, is divided into two parts. Part One describes the wonder of our universe, the process of discovery that led to our modern understanding of the universe, and the fine-tuning of the cosmological constants that make life on our planet possible. Giberson is an excellent writer and he tells this story well. Part Two looks at design arguments in more detail. But between these two sections Giberson has an interlude – a look at the nature of science and the nature of scientific investigation. This interlude is the focus of today’s post.

Giberson begins his discussion of the nature of scientific investigation with a quote from Dr. Mohler’s speech at the Ligonier Ministries 2010 National Conference. (Giberson starts the quote at “remember” – I’ve included a little more of the context.)

The assured results of modern science. There is so much that is packed in that mental category, that intellectual claim. Just remember first of all that science has changed and has gone through many transformations. The assured results of modern science today may very well not be the assured results of modern science tomorrow. And, I can promise you, are not the assured results of science yesterday.

I posted on Dr. Mohler’s speech a couple times shortly after it was given (Houston, We Still Have a Problem and Houston, Here’s the Situation). This speech is a clear and careful presentation of many of the aspects that Christians find troubling with an old earth and evolutionary creation. As such it provides an opportunity to interact with these concerns and consider alternative views.  This view – that the assured results of science are provisional – is not unique to Dr. Mohler. It is expressed by many, from laypeople in our churches to Christian leaders, professors, and thinkers. I have heard variants of this concern even from some who are ready and willing to entertain or embrace an evolutionary understanding of creation.

In the interlude of his book Dr. Giberson frames the discussion to interact with this very common understanding about the “assured results of modern science.” He also looks at the counter claims – that science has “assured results” and that these either disprove God or prove God. This is an excellent section in the book – and I will outline some of the arguments below.

How do you view the “assured results of modern science”?

Is science an ever changing construct or is there something more fundamental?

How does this compare with the assured results of biblical interpretation?

Science is accumulative. Giberson begins his discussion by pointing out that the changes in “assured results” are not as profound as often assumed unless one retreats to the pre-scientific era, and perhaps not even then. There is a definite direction to scientific discovery as there is a direction to the passage of time.

The idea that science constantly changes is largely fiction, based on our lopsided familiarity with scientific revolutions and lack of awareness of ongoing ordinary science. The typical scientific advance … is one that extends, encompasses, and absorbs rather than refutes old understandings. Only rarely do new ideas require that old ideas be discarded.

Even truly revolutionary ideas are often compatible with many previous ideas. … Newton’s ideas have not been discarded; they have simply been shown to have a restricted domain of application. When I teach mechanics to engineering students, I use a textbook based entirely on Newton’s laws of motion. If Newton’s own treatment wasn’t so opaque, we could still be using his book from the seventeenth century. The revolution that “toppled Newton” was the discovery of certain extreme situations where his theory did not work. (p. 127-128)

This is an important concept – science builds and grows on the foundation of those who came before. Changes occur with new realms of observation and experience.

Science is a community exercise and a community conversation leading to community consensus.

The central ideas of science are never based entirely on the work of a few scientists. While certain great scientists like Darwin and Einstein may provide the initial flash of genius, the idea flows from the margins of science into a much larger world until thousands of skeptical specialists are thinking hard about it. … The moment a new idea appears in the scientific literature, critics spring into action, motivated by everything from self-defense to curiosity to an enthusiasm for knowledge to a desire to be famous.  (p. 129)

I have come to realize recently how deeply engrained this approach is in my psyche. It gets me into trouble because in the larger world people do not expect such challenges and such apparent distrust.  If someone, anyone, puts out numbers or ideas of any sort my immediate reaction is to test and prod until convinced. This isn’t malicious or a power play – or isn’t intended to be – but it is off-putting and misunderstood by those who do not expect to have to defend their statements or their statistics.

The arrogance of science is that absolutely nothing is accepted on authority. Everything is subject to dispute and requires defense. It is this process that builds consensus.

It is also important to understand that minority positions are not necessarily wrong. As Giberson points out, most if not all, consensus positions began as minority positions. But these minority positions will be subject to scrutiny and the onus is on the proponents to demonstrate that the ideas are true as it is also on those objecting  and those simply interested to try to demonstrate that the ideas are false. Giberson uses the Intelligent Design arguments of Michael Behe as an example here.  The general response to Behe’s ideas was not persecution (well, except by some militant atheists) but testing and prodding as is common in the scientific community. The largest problem with Intelligent Design today is that its proponents have put forth no positive evidence and the initial hypotheses have not stood up well to the tests and prods of others. Intelligent Design will wither and disappear if there is no explanatory value to the hypothesis and no evidence for its validity.

Does the process of consensus building in science lead you to trust or distrust the results? Why?

How Science Works: Giberson goes on in this interlude to explore the question of the nature of science and scientific investigation. The inductive method proposed by Francis Bacon is not a productive philosophy of science. It is far too limited and lacks predictive power. It is based on facts and probabilities rather than theories and predictions. The processes of modern science are far more sophisticated based in broad explanatory theories.

Ideas that prove reliable guides to new truths are like medicines that work – their proof is in their pudding. This is the best way to think about ideas that claim to be scientific. Does working with them generate new knowledge about the world? Do the ideas easily incorporate new information, as it is discovered? Do the ideas make startling and remarkable predictions that can be confirmed? (p. 137)

The Standard Model of particle physics predicts that the Higgs Boson which provides mass to all particles must exist. The Standard Model also sets limits on what the mass or energy of the Higgs Boson must be. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern, like the now decommissioned Tevatron at Fermilab before it, is searching for evidence of the Higgs Boson.  It now appears, so say my colleagues who work in this area, that such evidence has been found, although the statistics are not yet sufficient to claim that the Higgs Boson has been definitively observed. We anticipate that the particle will be officially discovered sometime this year when the LHC resumes measurements.

String theory strives to move beyond the Standard Model and provide a theory that explains, among other things, the properties of the Higgs Boson. These properties include its mass – something the Standard Model leaves as a empirically determined parameter.

Quantum theory is accepted because it works and it leads to new predictions and better understanding in some rather strange and counter-intuitive ways. The Standard Model is accepted for the same reason. If or when string theory in some form is accepted it will be for the same reason. Evolution is widely accepted as the foundational theory in biology because it works to both explain and predict – and it also leads to better understanding in some rather strange and counter-intuitive ways (although perhaps not as counter-intuitive as quantum theory or particle physics). Evolution is also widely accepted because connections with chemistry and physics provide mechanisms for the process of evolution that are plausible today and should be demonstrable in the future.

Do you think of science as inductive – building up probabilities from facts? What role should theories play in connecting these facts?

When should a theory be accepted?

What Science Can and Cannot Tell Us: There is one more important point in the consideration of the nature of science and the scientific method. In the last section of his interlude Giberson points out that science can address is the nature of what is, and this is all that science can address. It cannot provide meaning or value to these observations and theories. Science, on its own, cannot lead us conclusively either to or away from God. In the next section of the book he will look at design arguments, suggesting that they can take us part of the way to God … but no form of scientific investigation can provide a knock-down argument for the existence of God. We should not expect to find proof of God in science.

The Bible, for example, does not start with an examination of the natural world and conclude that there must be a God. Rather the biblical witness begins with the reality of God and uses that all-encompassing reality to understand the significance of the natural world. A Christian worldview thus starts from a foundation of faith in God and works out from there, or perhaps I should say down from there. It does not start from an inspection of the world and work up to God. (p. 142)

Giberson doesn’t put it quite this way – but I would say that the Christian worldview starts with the experience of God. It starts with His self-revelation in scripture, His self-revelation in the incarnation, His self-revelation in relationship with His people from Israel through to the church today, His self-revelation in the form of the Holy Spirit.

How far can science take us in the search for either meaning or God? What do we have reason to expect?

If you wish to contact me directly, you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

Image Caption: Star-Birth Clouds in M16. This eerie, dark structure is a column of cool molecular hydrogen gas and dust that is an incubator for new stars.   The color image is constructed from three separate images: Red show emission from singly-ionized sulfur atoms, green from hydrogen, and blue from doubly ionized oxygen atoms.  Credit: Jeff Hester and Paul Scowen (Arizona State University) and NASA (public domain)

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  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    Certainly there are valuable contributions to science and our understanding of the world around us. But it seems to me there could be several things one could conclude from these observations above.

    1. The majority view of science is probably right. Question: How does one avoid scientism, science trumping the Bible, or every worldview bowing to science?

    2. Intelligent design is laughable and has no explanatory power. Question: If true, then does that mean we come from unintelligence and there is no design to the universe?
    If there is no evidence for intelligent design, why should any one believe in an intelligent designer? There is a kind of irony that Christians believe in an intelligent designer but often speak in absolute terms that can anything good come out of the intelligent design movement?

    3. If the majority of scientists believe in evolution but not theistic evolution, why go against the majority viewpoint? Isn’t religion trying to accomodate science to its religous beliefs?

    4. Is it possible Mohler could be right on the limitations of science even if he is not right about the age of the earth or being heavily anti-evolution?

    5. If the majority of scientists today are skeptical or atheistic in their worldview and understanding of reality, does this possibly reveal that something may be problematic or amiss in the scientific method which so many people fully trust?

  • I haven’t read the book, although I would like to. However, a thought immediately sprang to mind as I read the title of this blog post ‘Is Science Ever-Changing and Thus Untrustworthy?’

    My thought was this.

    It’s essential to distinguish between the nature of the universe (known, partially known, and unknown) and the science that leads us to that complete, partial and absent knowledge.

    The universe may be changing, even the rules by which it functions may be changing, but its underlying nature is a unchanging given – just a given that we are only partly able to read.

    Science does indeed change, both in it’s underlying methodology and in the available technology we can harness for research.

    But our overall knowledge of the universe is expanding. Close to the expanding periphery it is less secure than towards the centre.

    But this change surely renders science more trustworthy as time passes. It can never be perfectly trustworthy, but it is improving.

    A good illustration of this is the Newtonian theory of gravity. Einstein showed it to be incorrect, yet it is still very close in most practical cases. It’s certainly good enough for calculating the trajectory of a rocket, for landing on the Moon, and so forth.

    Newton’s theory will always be trustworthy for most purposes and Einstein’s approach will always be slightly better. Science does not become more or less trustworthy over time, but the understanding it provides of the universe becomes more trustworthy.

    I think, as a generalisation, that is a fair statement.

  • Andrew

    I don’t think science is untrustworthy, it just has limited utility as a metaphysical base as previous understandings tend to be shown to be drastically simplistic.

    The world is more complex than we understand. That doesn’t negate that science is a good, useful thing. And that we’re growing in our understanding of how the universe works.

    But when we try to make the leap from what is to why it is, what the purpose of it is, etc., then we have to recognize its limitations. To build some metaphysical system on the current state of science (think of determinism coming out of the work of Newton, but later abandoned) is doomed to fail. This is because the science will most likely grow to a deeper understanding that likely won’t contradict what came previously, but show that it to be way too simplistic and not an adequate basic for the metaphysic.

  • AHH

    I think one of the most important things non-scientists need to understand about science is that the “ever-changing” accusation of people like Mohler is mostly false.

    One of the things that feeds this myth is that much of the “science” lay people are exposed to is in the area of medicine and diet where (often due to over-promotion of previous tentative results) there are more “oops, X doesn’t prevent cancer after all” moments than in other areas. But even there we have many “assured results” — if Dr. Mohler is waiting for science to say that smoking or obesity is healthy he is waiting in vain.

    He is similarly waiting in vain if he thinks that science will change to show that the Earth is flat, or 6000 years old, or that life is not related by common descent, or that adding CO2 to the atmosphere does not warm the Earth. Science is a human and imperfect endeavor, but as the communal effort feels its way forward it tends (not without occasional missteps and revision of peripheral details) to hone in on the truth, and many results eventually do get established beyond any reasonable doubt.

  • Joe Canner

    CGC #2:

    Re 2. Aside from the fact that intelligent design folks tend to exclude some or all aspects of evolutionary theory, underlying intelligent design theory is the notion that science can prove the existence and action of God. If this were the case, then faith would be unnecessary. Moreover, if science can prove the existence of God, then science should also be allowed to pursue proofs of the non-existence of God, which leads us to…

    3. Science does not take a position on evolution vs. theistic evolution. Individual scientists may do so personally, but this choice does not enter into the realm of science. Personally, I think this is a good thing.

    5. There are (at least) two problems with assuming that atheists are incapable of doing proper science: (1) there are a lot of theists who are also doing science, and (2) you would have to assume that there is a vast conspiracy within science to cover up its anti-religious bias.

  • Robert A

    Perhaps one of the great concerns that many of us theologians have is that science, in its many popular expressions, (seemingly) refuses to acknowledge that it is a limited discipline.

    Science is an extraordinarily helpful discipline and it continues, as we grow in our own knowledge of ourselves through its discoveries, to provide terrific insights for living. However it is limited in two ways: 1) it can only accurately speak to events/phenomenon that is observable, 2) it is only as good as the individuals who weild its tools.

    Thus when we look at the history of science we see a vast array of often confusing conclusions, erroneous beliefs, and a few slender moments of genius. In reality the conclusions of scientists from 100 years would hardly be accepted en masse by contemporary scientists. This shows us that science has an ever changing paradigm of knowledge and, ultimately, truth.

    One of the significant categories science has been happy to attempt to commandere is that of cosmology. (Its where the power of influence is) Yet in doing scientists fail to actually do science and become philsophers and theologians. There is simply no way to recreate or recapture those first events which led to this entire system we have. Thus their conclusions are anything but scientific; in reality they are emporers with no clothes.

    True science, just as true theology, requires humility. Humility to acknowledge they aren’t the sole authority on all empirical data. Though science is supremely helpful with understanding our empirical situation, we are ensconced in a situation with more than empirical existence going on. Too many scientists need to take a good course on the philosophy of science before they begin their discipline.

    I say all of this and add the cavaet: I grew up as a young earther but am no longer such. Though I don’t buy theistic evolution, or a significantly evolutionary scheme, I do hold to a very old creation and believe the intersection of science and theology holds the keys to understanding (better) what limited knowledge we can glean about the nature of our beginnings. To abandon either is foolishness.

  • Ever-changing and thus untrustworthy?

    Ever-changing? Yes. We keep learning. We build on previous learning. We realize something we believed was true actually wasn’t, given newly discovered information.

    Thus untrustworthy? Not at all. We just hold it with an open hand, acknowledging things may change. Given enough time, we come to realize what is becoming more and more settled and what isn’t.

    IF in a hundred years all we now ‘know’ regarding evolution came to be untrue, it wouldn’t change anything in regards to the existence of God. God is the creator. It appears, now, that he created via an amazing process wherein he empowered his creation itself to also create. Amazing! But should we, through learning more, come to a different conclusion, that does not remove God as creator.

  • RJS

    CGC (#1)

    There is much in your comment that could lead to a good discussion. With respect to your #2 – where did you get the “laughable” bit? I don’t think I said that at all.

    There is an important point here though, that connects with your #1. Every Christian I know, in the sciences and otherwise, believes in “intelligent design” with lower case -that is, that the universe, earth, and life was designed and came about for God’s purposes. Intelligent Design (with caps) goes further than this and basically suggests that the design is an empirically or scientifically demonstrable feature of the universe and of life. It is this scientific clause that causes us trouble, because to-date none of the suggestions of such demonstration really holds up to scrutiny.

    #3 also connects to #1. I go against the majority viewpoint in science in the same way that all Christians go against the majority viewpoint. I belive in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord, … crucified, died, and buried; On the third day he rose again. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. I left out a few things – not because I don’t believe it, but for conciseness and to avoid having to list everything. In confessing this I am taking a stand of faith. It is because of this confession of faith that I hold to evolutionary creation (aka theistic evolution). Evolution is, I find, clearly true – and I confess that God created … Therefore he created through evolutionary means.

    On #5 – If there was a heavy divide between Christians in the sciences and skeptical atheists in the sciences on the conclusions of science it could reveal something deeply amiss in the scientific method. But this isn’t true. I know of no one trained in the sciences who doubts the generally framework except through prior commitment on biblical or theological grounds. This is why the study of science (not to mention other disciplines) causes such profound crises of faith for so many.

  • RJS

    CGC (#1)

    One more thing – this a question. You said in your #3 – “Isn’t religion trying to accomodate science to its religous beliefs?” I don’t quite understand this. As Christians don’t we try to fit everything into our view of the world as God’s purposeful creation? Isn’t this part of what it means to become a follower of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

    I can see the atheist or skeptic giving me a hard time for this, but I don’t understand why Christians give me a hard time for this. (And it is a view I have heard many times – not just in your comment.)

  • Bob

    I tell our young people that “science is a messy business.” That doesn’t mean it isn’t true; it just takes us a while to sort everything out.

  • dopderbeck

    The fact that “science” — better, “natural science” — is provisional simply reflects our limitations as human beings. All human knowledge is provisional. But this doesn’t mean that every human knowledge claim is equally subject to defeasance. We can have differing degrees of confidence in our provisional knowledge even while admitting that it’s all provisional. And there are good and reasonable criteria for assessing those degrees of confidence (empirical fit, coherence, parsimony, etc.).

    So, to say that our understanding of the boundaries of cosmology (e.g. string theory, dark matter) are likely to look very different 20 years from now is not to say that we’ll also come to think that the Earth is in fact flat, or that the universe is only 10,000 years old, or that there is no truth at all to current theories of biological evolution. I’d say it’s simply ignorant or dishonest — or at the very least, it denies the reality of creation — to say otherwise.

    I’m tempted to say the same is true of theology, though with theology we’re dealing with a different sort of subject. Nevertheless, there are many things about which the Church has not reached and may never reach strong conclusions; whereas there are things of “first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3) about which very strong conclusions (though even then not always total consensus) has been reached.

    At the very least, in both cases, natural science and theology, human beings are engaged in an ongoing process of trying to understand and articulate a reality that transcends human limitations.

  • Lucy

    I have a question, and I am asking it out of personal interest, but before asking I want to make two disclaimers:

    1. I know it’s a little off the main topic of the post, but Michael Behe’s name has come up in the comments,

    2. I am just as open to Theistic Evolution as to Intelligent Design as a theory to explain the origins of life,

    but, can you direct me to the experiments done or data collected that have been used to disprove Behe’s idea of irreducible complexity as an indication of intelligent design? I have gotten the vague idea that something has been done to satisfy evolutionists that irreducible complexity is not a credible argument, but I’ve never understood what it was that has discredited it.

  • CGC

    Hi RJS,
    I apologize if the contrarian in me comes off wrong. I tend to think you raise a lot of the right questions and issues but I sometimes like to play devil’s advocate or ask probing questions to get at some of the deeper issues.

    So some of my questions or responses is what I do hear coming from the scientific community. They are what comes from atheists who look at Christians trying to be academically respectable or intellectually credible and they shake their heads in disbelief. Unless Christians just like talking to other Christians, I think there are a lot of issues that don’t come up in our conversations that need to be more addressed.

    1. For example, Joe misunderstood what I was saying about atheists. I was not saying that atheists are doing science wrong. What I was responding to is we like to say we go with the majority view on science (when it suits us as Christians) but there are all kinds of areas it does not suit us and we go against the norm. We like to plunder the Eyptians in every academic enterprise we can thinking we are utilizing nuetral tools with correct presuppositions without realizing that things may not be as combatible or as nuetral as we think.

    2. I also was speaking off the cuff about what I hear concerning the ID folks. I think you made proper distinctions between small id and big ID but I often hear such over-generalizations like the ID people are so mistaken that one would think there are no scientific evidences at all for intelligent design in the universe. As you said RJS, most of us assume little id but what I hear most of the time is simply writing the ID people off like I hear of the flat-earthers or Ken Ham’s creation science people with no distinctions ever given at all. The irony is I hear the scientific community often do the exact same thing to Christians in general what Christians do to other Christian groups within the Christian community.

    People can challenge these all they want but it seems there is something fundamentally wrong when Christians do these kind of things (and I am not saying you do any of these RJS).

    1. As Joe rightly said, the Id group tries to use science to prove God. I don’t think science can prove or disprove God either way. But the id people are not the only ones who do this. I think many Christians inadvertently try to do something like this in trying to reconcile faith with science. The problem is NOT trying to reconcile faith and science, the problem is often HOW we go about it!

    2. Nor is there any problem with Christians taking certain scientific truths and incorporating them into their worldview. The problem it seems to me is Christians go further and try to show how the Bible supports that interpretation or a certain scientific theory or point is therefore read into the Scriptures. It’s amazing how so many suppposed scientific viewpoints are read into the Bible these days whether that be creation-science; progressive science creation; evolution or whatever.

    3. It is here that what I say will get throughly lashed. It does not matter whether one is a theological conservative or liberal, it seems the pre-emminence of the scientific paradign is what now passes for acceptable biblical interpretation. Science does not only prove the Bible to be true for some, it interprets the Bible for what it means and says for us today.

    The scientific method fully reigns in our Bible colleges, seminaries, theology books, commentaries, etc. I don’t doubt that we get some deeper insights at times on Scripture, but overall, how are we so much better off with it? Is it producing better students of the Bible? Better
    Christians? Better churches?

    Most of us find inerrancy problematic but it one looks at what inerrantists are really trying to do, they are trying to use science to prove the Bible is true and come up with a kind of perfect methodology for studying the Bible. It seems like we all keep using the same tools as we question other people’s different conclusions without looking closer at the tools we are utilzing.

    Even critical-realism gets passed off today as an almost epistemological fact or way of intepreting reality. I am simply arguing its time for Christians to be more critical in the use of these resources.

  • dopderbeck

    CGC (#12) — I think you’re making excellent and important comments here. I even agree with you re: “critical realism” as it is sometimes understood. We need to recall that for folks like Sam Harris, “the assured results of science” include the notion that “morality” is nothing more than an epiphenomenon of sociobiology, that “science” has “disproven” the “soul,” and so-on. I mean, take a look at Sam Harris’ TED talk on science and morality — it should make any thoughtful person, Christian or not, want to barf. And I think you’re 110% right about the assumptions of a “scientific method” for Biblical interpretation.

    The trick is to insist on the priority of metaphysics, without lapsing into some kind of presuppositionalist fundamentalism, and to insist on the integrity of scripture and theology as fundamentally revelatory of reality, without lapsing into some kind of anti-realist rejection of empirical truth. Complicated, but do-able, I think, but it requires some degree of philosophical and theological sophistication.

  • D. Foster

    I wouldn’t say that I distrust science. Science is always making headway by gathering more information, but that information needs to be synthesized into a model, and the models offered in the past have changed dramatically, and so I’m always skeptical about the permanence of any particular scientific model of explanation and what we derive from this model about ourselves as human beings.

    Take Copernicus for example. He realized that the planets revolved around the Sun, which was huge headway in terms of science. But his model conceived of the Sun motionless at the center of the Universe, and he still believed that the planets turned upon celestial spheres. More data gave him a much better, yet still terribly deficient model of the Universe.

    Another example is the Big Bang. Scientists all pretty much believed that matter was eternal through the 1950s. Evidence for the Big Bang changed this dramatically. New model: no longer eternal matter, but a Universe with a finite age.

    Do you see what I mean? Scientific models give us ways to think about the ever-accumulating data. But the model doesn’t necessarily have to be correct to give us accurate predictions. Geocentrism gave almost flawless predictions for the movements of the celestial bodies, yet was totally wrong. It took further inquiry to show its deficiencies. And so while I’m hugely appreciative of science, and I integrate scientific knowledge into my epistemology, I’m wary of holding too tightly to any particular scientific model.


  • RJS

    Derek (#16)

    It might surprise you to hear a scientist say this – but I think that is roughly the right approach. We should be wary of holding to tightly to any model, especially around the edges. But as Ray points out – and as Giberson argues quite well in this chapter – there are different kinds of “wrong.” We all accept that the earth is not flat, that it is a non-spherical ball in space. On issues like evolutionary theory it takes some more expertise to see where the edges are or may be.

    Building on what CGC said – I think we are wrong when we see modern science of any sort in the OT text. The OT is an ancient near eastern text – and its theological message is expressed in the forms of the culture of the day. One way to express this is that God accommodated himself to finite human experience because that is how to communicate with humans.

  • CGC

    To Derek, RJS, et al, unity is sweet :–)

    Derek sparked one more thought in his remark about epistemology. Someone who really challenged me several years ago was William (Bill) Abraham. His contention is we have got to quit turning the Christian faith into another epistemology and realize it’s first and foremost it’s about growing deeper in the resources of the church as a means of grace and not epistemology. If Abraham’s is right (and I know many who disagree with him) then it’s more about the heart than the mind. It’s more about discipleship than knowledge. It’s more about a sacramental reality of the world than simply a scientific worldview.

  • D. Foster

    RJS (#17),

    Evolution is tough for me. I feel it’s too vast for me to really dig into. I can understand the concepts alright–RNA, DNA, genotypes and phenotypes, natural selection, genetic drift, DNA mapping, junk vs. functional DNA, and on and on–I feel like I get what evolutionary theory is proposing. But I find that when I inquire into the evidence for any specific area, I find this mountain of scientific discipline that needs to be mastered in order to understand what the evidence is.

    So how does a layperson like me make a decision about an issue like this? That’s my greatest challenge.


  • D. Foster

    CGC (#18),

    I believe that the Bible is not attempting to give *scientific* epistemology, though I believe it is offering a different kind of epistemology: Wisdom. And that concept meant something way different to them than what we mean by it today. It would take a long time to unpack!


  • AHH

    Derek @19,

    To some extent, as with many other areas in life such as medicine, one must trust the experts in the field, including but not limited to Christian experts. Of course it muddies the waters that there are a lot of self-proclaimed Christian “experts” on evolution running around who oppose it with bogus arguments that have enough truth in them to fool the non-expert.

    My recommendation for a layperson-friendly introduction to the multiple lines of evidence for the basic fact of evolution (common descent) is Coming to Peace with Science by Darrel Falk (biology prof at Point Loma Nazarene). I think any reasonably intelligent reader should be able to follow his discussion, even without any background in biology.

  • Bev Mitchell

    #19 D. Foster

    If you  have some undergraduate chemistry/biochemistry under your belt, have a look at Nick Lane’s “Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution”. I see he has a new one out with three other authors entitled “Abiogenesis: How Life Began. The Origins and Search for Life.” Your inorganic chemistry will have to be quite good for this one though.

    For those with little university physics, chemistry or biology, have a look at Richard Dawkins’ “The Ancestor’s Tale”. Ignore the fact that Dawkins is a terrible theologian – he is outstanding when it comes to explaining evolutionary biology for a generally educated audience. He has also written “The Greatest Show on Earth” which is a quite simple presentation of evolutionary biology. I see it gets rave reviews from hundreds of readers. The three reviewers of “Ancestor’s Tale” also rate that book highly. I suspect it’s length is off-putting for many, but it is the better of the two,  if you want some real meat.

    These are all available in paper and digital formats. Enjoy.

  • Derek @19
    I got stuck at the same point, Derek. Eventually I found movement giving a good listen to professional, committed Christian scientists. Somehow these people hold to both God and their work. I wondered, ‘what do they know that I don’t know?’ The following, written by professional Christian scientists, were particularly helpful to me:

    1. The Language of God by Francis Collins.
    2. Origins, by Haarsma and Haarsma, both profs at Calvin (while not reformed in my view, their presentation was irenic and excellent)
    3. Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? by Denis Alexander

    And later, with a view to the theological implications
    4. The Lost World of Genesis One, and Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the OT, both by John Walton
    5. Evolutionary Creation, by Denis Lamoureux

    Blessings on you as you keep wrestling this through. May I share that my faith and worship have deepened and strengthened as I have come to understand God as the one who created a creation capable of creating itself. Amazing!

  • CGC @18 “…it’s more about the heart than the mind. It’s more about discipleship than knowledge…”

    It is about the God who intentionally created man for relationship; the God who loved us first; the triune, kenotic, perichoretic God who IS love. Amen, CGC.

  • D. Foster – I think David Sloan Wilson’s “Evolution For Everyone” covers the ground very well indeed.

  • dopderbeck

    Ray (#25) — really? Happen to be reading that right now. Wilson goes way, way beyond the empirical facts of biological evolution and truly offers a metaphysics of naturalism.

  • dopderbeck – First off, I think Wilson does an excellent job of putting forth “the empirical facts of biological evolution”… which is what Foster was asking about.

    Secondly, I found that Wilson was pretty clear about the boundary between ’empirical facts’ and ‘metaphysics’. You don’t have to agree with the latter, I suppose, but he does do a good job on the former.