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Teaching Science: Distinctiveness

The Christian who labors in the field of science or science education does many things the same way that his secular counterpart does. To a great extent he uses and teaches the same facts and laws. His research equipment and instructional aids are much the same. Where, then, does the difference lie? Ironically, a major distinction is the fact that the Christian is more consistently committed to the key ingredient of the scientific method—observation—than is his unregenerate counterpart. The latter is often prone to rely more heavily on human speculations than on the data themselves, especially when they are inimical to his evolutionary-humanistic beliefs. The Christian is specially motivated to be scrupulously honest in both the recording and the interpretation of his data, for he does his work as unto the Lord rather than unto men. Other distinctives have to do with certain erroneous beliefs and practices to which the Christian does not fall victim. These will be enumerated in the section on the limitations of science (p.9) and the section on the points of conflict with the secular philosophy of teaching science (p.12).

Practical application in the classroom

A discussion of the empirical method in a Christian classroom would differ markedly from its presentation in a secular school. It might proceed in the following manner.

Despite its frequent abuses and many limitations, the fact remains that, apart from divine revelation, the empirical approach (i.e., methodology based on observation and experiment) is the most reliable means available to man for gaining basic information about nature. Actually there are few alternatives—intuition, guesswork, extrapolation from known data, and prediction based on theory—all of which are demonstrably deficient in their reliability.

The so-called "scientific method" is nothing more than a sophisticated technique for finding answers to questions. There is no single set of procedures or standardized list of steps that constitutes the scientific method. There are probably as many variants of the method as there are researchers. All, however, would (or should in principle, at least) agree that observation is the key ingredient of the method. If a phenomenon cannot be observed, it cannot be dealt with scientifically. As creationists—those who hold that the universe was spoken into existence in substantially its present form by the miraculous acts of God described in Genesis 1 and 2—we contend for faithful adherence to the actual observations in every area of science. We oppose the trend of licentious theorizing that has invaded too many disciplines, much of which runs directly counter to the observations. In genetics the empirical data indicate that each organism breeds true, reproducing after its kind (Genesis 1:11, 12, 21, 24, 25). Yet theorists imaginatively postulate "molecules-to-man" evolution. In astronomy, only degenerative processes are observed in stars and interstellar clouds. Nevertheless, it is speculated that such clouds are capable of organizing themselves into stars, a suggestion that flies squarely in the face of three and a half centuries of telescopic observations. Regrettably, evolutionary theory has been exalted to the point where men trust it more than their own eyes.

Observations are made using one or more of the senses. As with any human activity, there is an element of fallibility involved in this operation. Optical illusions and other misinterpretations of sensory information are a definite possibility and must be carefully guarded against. To this end investigation involves numerous observations with as many different instruments and by as many independent observers as possible. In spite of these precautions, spurious observations do occasionally find their way into the scientific literature. A classic example of this was the so-called "canals of Mars," attested by many astronomers in various parts of the world. It is now realized that the "canals" were an optical illusion. Does this invalidate observation as an acceptable tool of science? Not at all, for when the error was corrected, it was done by again using observations. Space probes photographing the Martian surface from close range provided the detail and clarity that had been unobtainable with earth-based telescopes. As can be readily seen, data vary widely in the error they contain.

The use of observation is not without biblical endorsement. Under Old Testament law the testimony of two or three witnesses was sufficient to condemn a defendant to death (Deuteronomy 17:6). This quite obviously placed a heavy premium on sense-derived information. In the New Testament the Lord invited Thomas to both see and feel the nail prints in His hands (John 20:27). As a result of what he observed, Thomas was instantly convinced that he was in the presence of the crucified Lord. The early Christians argued the truth of the Resurrection from empirical evidence: the experience of more than five hundred witnesses (I Corinthians 15:3-8). John commends the message of his First Epistle on empirical grounds: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; . . . declare we unto you" (I John 1:1, 3).

Once there is agreement on scientific observations, the weightier problem of their interpretation must be confronted. Here certain arbitrary decisions must be made. The researcher's judgment, and often his prejudices, will come into play in this phase of the work. In a very real sense, not only scientific theories but scientific laws as well are chosen rather than discovered. Thus there is a human element involved, and the generalizations that derive from an investigation often bear the personal imprint of the researcher himself. Since his conclusions may be challenged and eventually overthrown by other investigators at some future date, it is apparent that scientific conclusions are not absolute and final, but probabilistic and tentative. The probability that a result is essentially correct will increase with added confirmation. With enough support the probability will approach, but never fully arrive at, certainty. In principle, no tenet of science is completely immune to reappraisal and reformulation. While this constitutes a definite limitation from one standpoint, the ability of the scientific method to provide continuing correction and refinement is one of its most valuable features.

Thus there is nothing inherently anti-Christian in the methodology of science if it is properly executed. We can teach its merits in good conscience, provided that we temper our presentation of it with a careful enumeration of its limitations. The perceptive teacher will also point out to his students how evolutionary-humanistic bias can enter into the interpretation of scientific data, and he will be able to cite specific examples, often from firsthand experience.

Some of the more conspicuous limitations of science are listed below:

  1. Science is fallible. The discipline of science is human activity and is therefore subject to all the limitations of human nature (Isaiah 55:9; I Corinthians 1:18-21; 3:19-21a). The history of science is rife with blunders and blind alleys—the phlogiston theory, the caloric theory, the preformation theory, the pangene theory, the planetesimal hypothesis, the tidal hypothesis—the list could be extended almost indefinitely. These aberrations, often deliberately glossed over in many science courses, can be most instructive for the student.
  2. Science is changeable. One need only read the science textbooks of fifty or one hundred years ago to observe the changeability of science; not only the theories but even the "facts" themselves are subject to change. Today the atom is no longer indivisible, the number of human chromosomes has shrunk from 48 to 46, and the coelacanth is no longer extinct. It is clear that absolute truth cannot be as flexible as the content of science has been and continues to be. This consideration alone should be sufficient to disqualify science as an object of worship.
  3. Science cannot properly deal with ultimate origins. Since no human observer was present at the origin of the world, no scientific observations about its origins could be made. While the unregenerate scientist congratulates himself on his clever detective work in deciphering the remote past, the Christian researcher finds the evidence to fit far more satisfactorily into a creationist framework. Further, his faith in the revealed Word of God provides him with definitive statements concerning the Creation, while his evolutionary counterpart is forced to engage in fanciful guesswork.
  4. Science is totally unable to deal with the spiritual realm of existence. Since it is restricted to observations using one or more of the senses, science can deal with only the physical or material world. Thus the knowledge that science gives us is incomplete at best, and the missing information is ironically of the most important sort—that having to do with eternal verities.
  5. Science cannot prove a universal negative, or a blanket statement of denial. The statement "There are no sea monsters" is one example of a universal negative. In order to prove such a statement scientifically, we would have to look for sea monsters in all parts of all the oceans at the same time. This is impossible, because observers cannot be stationed in all of these places simultaneously. The unbeliever's statements "There are no miracles" and "There is no God" are in this same category. Though many of its false practitioners seem to think that science can establish such universal negatives, it can, by its very nature, do nothing of the kind.
  6. Science cannot make value judgments. There is nothing inherent in its methodology that allows it even to distinguish right from wrong. Through science we obtained atomic energy but no moral guidelines for its use. The science of heredity provides ideas for improving the human race genetically, but it offers no plan for deciding who should select which couples will have children. We have here, then, a further argument against scientism: anything as amoral as science obviously is, is clearly unworthy of worship.
  7. Science is frequently forced to deal with models rather than reality. For example, since the real atom is inaccessible to observation, scientists use a mathematical model to represent it. They know the model to be inaccurate, but it works reasonably well for certain applications. For other applications they use a different model, and again the results are only approximate. The interior parts of the sun and stars cannot be observed, so a geometric model is used to represent them. When tested experimentally, the model proves to be quite unsatisfactory; yet it is the most sophisticated approach to stellar interiors known to man. Other models in science are more successful. But the point for the Christian teacher of science to emphasize is that science regularly concerns itself with something other than reality; this fact comes as a genuine surprise to many students.
  8. Science has been unable to develop a satisfactory understanding of some of the most basic things with which it deals. What is matter? It is usually defined as "anything which occupies space and has mass." But this "definition," rather than stating what matter is, merely describes two of its properties. It is a description, not a definition. What is energy? Energy is usually defined as "the ability to do work." But again, this only tells us what it does, not what it is. We can calculate the amount of energy in a certain situation, and we can follow it through various transformations. But the true "essence" of energy is not known. What is gravity? It is a force that pulls objects toward the earth. How does it work? Again, we must plead ignorance. We can calculate the strength of the force on a given object, how fast the object will be falling at any given instant, and how long it will take to hit the ground. But to explain how the earth "reaches up" and pulls the object down is beyond the knowledge of present-day science. In fact, no more is understood today about exactly how gravity works than at the time Sir Isaac Newton set forth his law of gravitation three hundred years ago. The same is true of magnetism and electrostatic forces (attraction and repulsion of electrical charges). Their strength can be calculated, but the details of their operation are not yet understood. If science is this inadequate at describing the basic phenomena of nature, how absolute can its pronouncements be when they describe more complex phenomena?

Points of conflict with the secular philosophy of teaching science

The distinctively Christian teaching of science requires the rejection of certain approaches to its subject matter that derive from the modern climate of unbelief. Six specific areas are discussed below.

Scientism

Past and present scientific and technological achievements are often overrated in their philosophical significance. Some scientists cite these as evidence of man's rapid evolution toward total mastery of his environment. But any improvements in the quality of life attributable to such advances should be viewed as God's blessings channeled to man through science or technology, rather than man's bringing it to pass by his own cleverness. Whatever abilities man uses in his scientific endeavors are given by God; hence, God should receive the glory.

Secular science teachers frequently place an undue measure of confidence in what science is destined to accomplish in the future. The Millennium, unregenerate theoreticians inform us, will be ushered in not by the Lord Jesus Christ, but by science. The Bible makes it clear, however, that there are some things man will never be able to do. Genesis 8:22 places definite limits on how far we can go in modifying our weather. Matthew 26:11 (cf. Mark 14:7 and John 12:8) establishes the fact that poverty will never be eliminated, and Hebrews 9:27 precludes any medical triumph over death.

The belief that science potentially holds the answer to every human problem is one facet of the heterodox position called scientism ("science worship"). The scientist is depicted as a godlike being who is motivated solely by an unselfish desire to serve mankind. He is held to be the very quintessence of moral and intellectual excellence. Students are thus conditioned to reverence the scientist and his every pronouncement. This is most unfortunate, for the public statements of the typical unregenerate scientist are often arrogantly evolutionary and anti-God in their tenor. The Christian teacher of science has an urgent mission to counter this worship of science, for it is promoted by all the public media to which his students are exposed.

The Christian approach places man in the proper perspective. It depicts the scientist as a fallen creature in need of salvation. As such he is fallible—prone not only to experimental errors but also, and more significantly, to judgmental errors in the interpretation of his data. Since most scientists are evolutionary by choice, a strong evolutionary bias pervades the reports of most experimental investigations. This is carried over to the editorial policy of the standard scientific journals; so rigid is the editorial bias of such publications that it is virtually impossible to publish any findings that oppose evolution. The depraved nature of unregenerate man manifests itself with great clarity when he attempts to drive a wedge of conflict between the truth of nature and the Word of God.

Blind chance as an ordering principle in nature

The secular teacher of science often feels constrained to attribute many clearly designed features of nature to blind chance. This is done, presumably, in the interest of maintaining a strictly "objective" approach to the subject matter. The Christian teacher of science is not afraid to use a teleological approach at any point. Teleology, the idea of purpose or design in nature, is an intuitively simple concept, and even at an early age we begin to "make sense" out of the world around us by trying to ascertain just what the Creator had in mind when He made various structures. But the public-school educational process leads children away from this kind of thinking. Students are told that it is unscholarly and unscientific and that the things we see in the world about us exist by happenstance rather than by creative design.

All structures in nature have a definite divine purpose for their existence (Colossians 1:16, 17; Revelation 4:11). In some cases the purpose is obvious. For example, the eye is for vision, the ear for hearing, and the heart for pumping blood. Much can be done in the way of giving glory to the Creator as these marvelously contrived mechanisms are discussed in the classroom ( Psalm 139:14-16). Other objects in nature whose purposes are less well-understood (quasars, for example) can be used to show how little we really know about the universe we live in. The futility of speculating about the origin of the universe when we do not even understand the present universe should be obvious. Our failure to understand some features of the physical world, however, in no wise discredits the principle of teleology. Whether or not we understand the specific purpose of a structure, we can still be assured that it exists for the Creator's pleasure and operates in accordance with some part of His overall plan.

Belief in brute facts

The Christian realizes that there are no "brute facts"—that is, facts that lack meaning until man gives them an interpretation. Every fact in the universe is already known to God. Whether any man attempts to interpret it or not, every fact of nature already exists and operates as a part of God's creation. This, of course, represents a major philosophical difference between the positions of the Christian and of the unregenerate scientist. The supreme arrogance of the latter should be apparent, for he claims that no fact of nature can have a meaning until some man assigns it one!

Evolutionism

We live in an evolution-crazed world. We are told that everything we see—stars, galaxies, planets, and living organisms, including man himself—has evolved spontaneously out of primordial self-existent matter, is still evolving, and will continue to evolve in the future. This in essence is the view called atheistic evolution. Such fanciful theorizing is both unscriptural and unscientific. The compromise position known as theistic evolution represents no improvement, however, for it likewise contradicts the Word of God. Furthermore, it is thoroughly inconsistent, for it represents a welding together of two diametrically opposed world views.

In Matthew 19:4 the Lord Jesus Christ taught the Pharisees that man and woman were divinely created as such from the very outset: "Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female?" (See also Genesis 2:7, 22.) In a parallel passage (Mark 10:6) we read, "But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female." In this regard it should be noted that Christ at no time disallowed the teachings of Moses. He in fact endorsed them in their entirety. "For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?" (John 5:46, 47). The writings of Moses and the teachings of Jesus are so closely tied together that it is impossible to accept the one and reject the other.

Moreover, the writings of Paul agree perfectly with the Old Testament concerning the creation of man and his original state. I Corinthians 15:45 speaks of "the first man Adam." I Timothy 2:13 states, "For Adam was first formed, then Eve." And in II Corinthians 11:3 we have a reference to the temptation and subsequent Fall of Man: "But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ." These verses demonstrate Paul's literal acceptance and endorsement of Genesis 2 and 3. The argument, used by some, that because Paul antedated Charles Darwin he was ignorant of evolution, misses the mark. The Greeks, beginning around the sixth century before Christ, had already promulgated the satanic doctrine of evolution. Thales, Anaximenes, Anaximander, Empedocles, and Democritus were all evolutionists who taught their many disciples that the world and its inhabitants developed spontaneously out of primordial chaos. Paul was by no means unschooled in the teachings of these Greek philosophers, yet the Holy Spirit, Who guided his pen, kept him free from this error as he wrote.

From a scientific standpoint, evolution is at best an unsupportable and unworkable hypothesis, at worst a reprehensible lie that has misdirected the thrust of both theoretical and experimental science for over a century. Ironically, the hypothesis runs exactly counter to the actual observations. Organic evolution, if it were ever to occur, would require the violation of certain well-established principles of genetics and thermodynamics. Paleontology (the study of fossils) likewise militates strongly against evolution: the mediating links required by the hypothesis are systematically missing from the fossil record. Laboratory experiments designed to force plants or animals to change from one distinct kind to another have failed completely. Even if researchers were to succeed in changing one kind of organism into another under these highly artificial conditions, they would not have proved that the same thing could have happened without manipulation by an intellectual power.

Uniformitarianism

One of the major doctrines taught in conventional science courses today is uniformitarianism. According to this doctrine, "the present is the key to the past." Present processes, in other words, have been completely responsible for shaping the earth, the solar system, and the universe in the past. Along with a measure of truth in this concept is a large amount of error. The creationist geologist does not deny, for example, that many presently observed processes, such as erosion, have been going on in the past. The problem comes, however, when unregenerate scientists attempt to use this doctrine to rule out God's supernatural intervention in the past. Because there are no worldwide floods today, they say, there could never have been a worldwide flood at any time in the earth's history. Because no miraculous creative processes are observable in the world today, evolutionists refuse to believe that the world could have been formed by the miraculous creative acts described in Genesis 1.

Uniformitarianism is bankrupt as an explanation for the origin of the galaxies, the stars, the planets, and many of the geological features of the earth. Many evidences in the earth's crust speak of at least one major catastrophe in its past. The events described in Genesis 6 through 9 provide a satisfying explanation for such evidences.

The Bible warns against the error of uniformitarianism in II Peter 3:3-4—"Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." All things do not continue as they were, regardless of how loudly the scoffers of today might wish to protest. God has intervened in a supernatural way many times before, and He may do so again at any moment. Even our hope of the Lord's return is a rejection of the uniformitarian doctrine.

Environmentalism

The Christian teacher of science is genuinely concerned about the quality of his physical environment, but his motivation and the emphasis of his approach differ from those of his secular counterpart. The Christian recognizes that he is to be a responsible steward of the world God has entrusted to his care, for the earth, as well as everything in it, is the Lord's (Psalms 8:6; 24:1; 50:10-11; 89:11; Haggai 2:8). He is moreover mindful of the command in Genesis 1:28 to "subdue [the earth]." This injunction carries an implied mandate to learn about nature and to harness its forces in a way that will serve man's needs. Though man subsequently fell from his first estate, the command to subdue the earth has never been rescinded. Bulldozers, dams, oil wells, copper mines, fluorescent lights, steamships, and communications satellites are all fulfillments of this command, though in most cases those responsible have been unwitting participants in its outworking.

The Christian is in favor of reasonable environmental measures, but he opposes hasty and hysterical legislation that too often not only misses the mark but also imposes outrageously unreasonable burdens on industry and society in general. In addition, the Christian has a greater concern than the non-Christian for the problems of drug, alcohol, and tobacco pollution. He further perceives the importance of the spiritual environment for today's youth. The Christian teacher of science regards mind pollution—the indiscriminate infusion of false and ungodly ideas that muddy the thinking process and render the mind easier prey for additional heresies—as the most serious potential problem for his students.

The modern environmentalist movement has its roots in pantheism, materialism, and evolutionism. Since it is "Nature" that has produced us, this philosophy says, it is "Nature" ("the Environment") to which we should pay our respects. Since the physical earth is regarded as the only world in which we will ever live, we should make it as utopian as possible. Moreover, since factors in the environment allegedly produce evolutionary changes, theorists maintain that man can influence the course of evolution itself either positively or negatively by altering the environment. Thus the motivation behind the humanist's concern with the environment is poles apart from that behind the Christian's. Only when we realize that environmentalism is part of the humanist's religion can we begin to understand the zeal with which he pursues it.