So sings the band They Might Be Giants on the opening song (you can listen to it here) of their children’s album, “Here Comes Science,” and it summarizes quite well what is often meant by those who use the statement Science Is Real. While climate change and vaccines may be the most politically charged topics related to this phrase, a rejection of anything supernatural is not often far behind.
Science is real, from the Big Bang to DNA. Science is real, from evolution to the Milky Way. I like the stories about angels, unicorns, and elves. Now I like those stories as much as anybody else, but when I’m seeking knowledge, either simple or abstract, the facts are with science. The facts are with science.
WHAT CAN WE AFFIRM?
As I mentioned in our first study, these doctrines of the Secular Creed go from most to least affirmable. For instance, we said that the affirmation of the statement black lives matter is very biblical; the problem only comes from what the organization, Black Lives Matter, has been using the slogan to achieve. And while we could similarly affirm Women’s Rights Are Human Rights and No Human Is Illegal, Science Is Real gives us a greater difficulty, so let us discuss why.
Much has been said about the so-called battle between science and religion, and even still, much more could be said. So without diving down into the depths of such a discussion, we should pointedly begin by saying that there is no real conflict between science and the Christian faith. How is this so?
Science, which comes from the Latin word for knowledge (scientia), is the human endeavor to understand the natural world through fixed principles and experimentation (i.e., the scientific method). The Bible is happily in favor of such a pursuit. For example, in Psalm 19, David remarked that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (v. 1), which means that the proper study of astronomy will not diminish belief in God but rather display His grandeur through the stars and galaxies that He has made. In theology, we call this God’s natural revelation. Indeed, since we are made in the image of the Creator and have been given the task of exercising dominion over the earth and the plants and animals upon it, we should commit ourselves to understanding the world that God has made for us. And science is simply how to go about discovering and understanding more of the LORD’s creation.
Yet notice what science does not do and, indeed, cannot do: it does not constitute reality. Science is unable to make anything real or unreal, nor does it establish the created order. God alone is the Creator, who made the world through Christ. In fact, Scripture declares to us that reality itself only exists through, by, and for Christ. In Colossians 1:15-16, Paul made this all-sweeping declaration: “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Thus, even the purpose behind all of reality has already been made known to us by divine revelation.
In fact, questions like “what is reality” and “what is our purpose” are beyond the realm of science because their answers rise above the physical and into the metaphysical. Simply put, metaphysics are realities that transcend material observation, and since the most basic component of the scientific endeavor is to make observations, metaphysics must be engaged through philosophy and theology rather than science. For example, scientific research and studies could certainly be used to help someone live a happy life or even to help explain why people feel happy, yet science is insufficient for the task of understanding what constitutes the very concept of happiness. And it is even less able to answer what priority happiness should have over other goods such as safety and freedom. Such questions are beyond the physical and, therefore, pass beyond the understanding of science as well.
Thus, a more accurate phrase than Science Is Real would be Science Helps Us to Understand Physical Reality, which is, admittedly, significantly less catchy.
WHAT MUST WE DENY?
We have already danced around what we must deny in this statement, so let’s get straight to the point. The view of science that is often associated with saying that science is real is called scientism, and we very much deny its premises. Tom Sorell provides one of the most notable definitions of scientism: “Scientism is a matter of putting too high a value on natural science in comparison with other branches of learning or culture.” He explains this further saying
Scientism is the belief that science, especially natural science, is . . . the most valuable part of human learning . . . because it is much the most [sic] authoritative, or serious, or beneficial. Other beliefs related to this one may also be regarded as scientistic, e.g., the belief that science is the only valuable part of human learning. . . What is crucial to scientism is not the identification of something as scientific or unscientific but the thought that the scientific is much more valuable than the non-scientific, or the thought that the non-scientific is of negligible value.
Scientism, thus, dismisses the idea of any real knowledge outside of scientific investigation. The song that I quoted at the beginning is a perfect example of scientism. The songwriters swiftly dismiss angels as belonging to the same category as unicorns and elves because they equate knowledge itself with science. They are presenting a worldview in which seeing is believing, one in which science is synonymous with knowable. This places scientism as the heir of other philosophical outlooks such as positivism, logical positivism, empiricism, and materialism, focusing purely upon the physical world and empirical observations. Thomas Burnett concisely explains why scientism fails to live up to actual science:
Scientism restricts human inquiry. It is one thing to celebrate science for its achievements and remarkable ability to explain a wide variety of phenomena in the natural world. But to claim there is nothing knowable outside the scope of science would be similar to a successful fisherman saying that whatever he can’t catch in his nets does not exist (15). Once you accept that science is the only source of human knowledge, you have adopted a philosophical position (scientism) that cannot be verified, or falsified, by science itself. It is, in a word, unscientific.
Indeed, as much as flat-earthers and the like are mocked as science-deniers, I would argue that they are nothing more than the logical (although admittedly, extreme) continuation of the belief that only empirical observations can be trusted. Their skepticism has extended past the scientifically virtuous skepticism of religion and onto science itself. Like Thomas, many simply will not be convinced unless they see with their own eyes and touch with their hands. For them, believing in studies and experiments requires too much faith. Yet from a purely materialistic worldview, why should scientific research be trusted anymore than religious text? In the end, are we not trusting the written documentation of both? Now I am certainly not a flat-earther; I am only trying to shed some light into how scientism seems to be creating the very beliefs that it denies.
Today, however, postmodernism has added a new twist onto the danger of scientism. Postmodernism is skepticism on steroids, for it questions the reality of objective reality altogether, replacing objectivity with subjectivity and relativity. Indeed, a quintessential postmodern concept is the idea of your truth rather than the truth. Postmodernism naturally abounds in artistic circles with the view that a work of art has no objective meaning but is interpreted subjectively by each audience.
As you may have noticed, postmodernism would appear to be opposed to scientism. After all, scientism is claiming an absolute objectivity while postmodernism denies objectivity altogether. Yet, as is often the case, extremes tend to be closer to one another than they at first appear. Even with postmodernism quickly becoming the culture water in which we swim, scientism is not being abandoned, just reworked to fit the current framework. Self is now the name of the game (self-autonomy, self-identity, self-expression, etc.), and science, as the arbiter of truth and reality, is expected to fall in line and reinforce the current orthodoxy.
Let’s consider an example, an altar before which science has been made to kneel and then proclaim as truth. Society at large now claims that there are more than two genders. Genitals and chromosomal structures of XX for female and XY for male have, as silently as possible, been ignored in favor of self-identification as a superior scientific data. Science now affirms that men can become women and women can become men, that not all men are men and not all women are women, and because science has spoken, that is now our present reality. Gone are the days of masculine and feminine pronouns, for it is now common curtesy not to assume anyone’s pronoun selection. But where are the studies showing this to be the case? Where is the data? Where are the physical indications of other genders beyond male and female? Such questions are now irrelevant. Science here is no longer about objectively understanding the natural world; instead, it is becoming the cultural source of authority used to bless conclusions already formed.
I use the word bless purposefully, for this belongs to nothing short of secular religion in which science now fills the roles of both priest and prophet. Once Darwin dismissed the Creator from the scene, science stepped in to fill the authoritative void. “Thus says the Lord” has increasingly been replaced with “science says” or, as we have heard quite often during the pandemic, “trust the science.” Science effectively became the culture’s god, and even now that objective truth is dismissed outright, the blessing of science is still seen as necessary for affirming the new reality.
All of this ought to shock Christians. Again, science can only ever rightly be a tool for knowing more of the reality that God Himself has formed; it has no power to declare nor bless reality. We are, however, always in danger of succumbing to the belief in the all-sufficient authority of science along with the rest of the world, and I believe that biblical illiteracy is most often to blame. When our ears are unaccustomed to the voice of God, the voices of idols become sweeter and sweeter to hear. Yet the pull to trust the word of scientists more than the Word of God is not new. Indeed, it is only a rebranding of the original lie, which continues to reverberate through history sometimes in tangible displays like a tower or an image and at other times in the form of a concept or idea. Indeed, we have nothing to fear, for God’s Word is the superior authority. All truly scientific inquiries, in the end, affirm rather than contradict the Scriptures.
With this in mind, we must refuse to bend with the winds of culture, even when they have science’s seal of approval. To return to our previous example, there is nothing loving or godly about affirming that someone can change their gender. As much as the world may press us to accept such things as the new reality, we must refuse to live by lies. Scientific consensus, after all, is not the same as truth.
Yet we should also be a people who love and pursue scientific knowledge. As the hymn rightly says, “This is my Father’s world” so why would we not desire to know more about it? In the end, we should value science while keeping it in its place, for as we have seen to make science everything ultimately makes it into nothing. Nothing is god-like enough to stand in God’s place, and all idols that attempt to do so will be brought low like Babel. We will truly love science, therefore, only by placing it secondary to God and His revealed Word.
Science Is Real may sound godly, but behind it lie bankrupt ideologies such as scientism and postmodernism that we must whole-heartedly reject.