Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called "knowledge" which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. (I Tm 6:20 - 21, NIV)
The world today has a reverence for science that almost borders on worship. Scientific investigations have resulted in many benefits in our daily lives. Not only do we enjoy the labor-saving devices which applied science has provided, but most of us, in some measure, owe our health to scientific advances in medicine and related fields. Many of us, myself included, would probably not be alive today were it not for the medications and treatments that have been developed in the last 50 years. Most folks are aware of these facts and, as a result, have a great respect for science. But few really understand what science is, and fewer stop to consider that science has its limits.
The word science simply means knowledge. In the last century, for example, theology - the study of God - was termed, "the queen of sciences." Today the meaning of the word has been so changed that no one would consider theology to be one of the various disciplines of science. Webster's New World Dictionary gives the primary definition of science as "the state or fact of knowing." The word derives from the Latin word scientia which came from the word sciens "to know." The base of that word was "to cut" "to separate" and thus "to distinguish between."
Today we regard science as a particular sort of knowledge. In popular opinion it is the acquisition of knowledge about material things, the physical world, the astronomical bodies, chemistry, biology and the like. It has come to mean almost exclusively the study and knowledge of physical processes. In its three other definitions the dictionary defines science as knowledge relating to the natural and physical world.
Even in the more restricted definition of today, science is knowledge. It is in the process of obtaining that knowledge that science becomes science and acquires its special authority. We speak of the "laws" of science as though they were some immutable, inexorable, unfailing forces of nature. But science did not establish those laws. The law of gravity, for instance, operated long before anyone even thought of what gravity is. Science merely seeks to understand and define the processes we see in action all around us. It is in the methods used to gain such understanding that science attains its greatest stature. The scientific method is the tool by which man can obtain knowledge with confidence that the knowledge so obtained is valid.
The scientific method is based on the following techniques.
Observation - One sees an event or phenomenon and desires to know more about it.
Hypothesis - One forms a guess as to what might explain the event.It might be an "educated guess" or a more sophisticated explanation of the phenomenon.
Experimentation - One then tests the hypothesis by devising a multitude of experiments with controls to eliminate all but one variable at a time. This process of testing continues until the hypothesis is either confirmed or denied. Modification of the hypothesis is to be expected during this process.
Formation of a Theory - When testing has yielded a fairly definite understanding of the event it can be stated as a theory. Further testing will tend to confirm, modify, or deny the theory. The rigor with which one subjects the theory to testing is a matter of one's (subconscious?) desire to see the theory confirmed or denied. The skeptic does more testing than the gullible.
Statement of a Law - After long-term extensive testing, with completely consistent results, the theory can possibly be stated as a law. But even then, it must be understood, the "law" is still subject to further modification as new tests are devised. It is conceivable, for example, that as we learn more about the physical phenomenon we call gravity, that "law" could be modified.
The one essential requirement for the scientific method of investigation to be applicable is the reproducibility of the event in question. One must be able to repeat it or to continually observe it in order to experiment (and thus test a hypothesis) with it.
Herein lies the limit of science. It is, at once, its Achilles' heel and its greatest strength. Science derives great authority from the experimental method.
Yet that method in itself places strict limits upon what can rightly be termed science. For a subject to be considered science it must be open to experimentation. That with which one cannot experiment lies outside the realm of science. This does not mean that subjects not available for experimentation are beyond the reach of human knowledge. It is just that such knowledge cannot be termed science. There are other means available to mankind to investigate these subjects, such as the legal/historical method, or in extreme cases, the deductive method of reasoning. These methods are valid in and of themselves, but they do not yield the same level of certainty that the scientific method can achieve.
Any event which happened in the past, to which there were no human observers and of which there is no historic record cannot be subject to scientific investigation. Such is the event or events surrounding the beginning of the world.
It is unfortunate that many scientists themselves fail to understand this principle - or, at least do not put it into practice. Often we hear pronouncements by scientists, well qualified and highly respected in their fields, on subjects dealing with unique historic eyents. Scientists, of all people, should recognize these events are beyond the reach of science.
But scientists are people. They have the same foibles, the same prejudices, biases and personal agendas as do the rest of us. And too often they fall prey to the temptation to trade on their scientific expertise by making statements which reach far beyond their credentials as scientists. And too many of us are sufficiently naive to believe them when they say "science has proven that..."
Science can prove many things. But never can it prove something outside the realm of experimentation, usually meaning outside the present time. Science cannot go back into history. It cannot prove what happened at the Battle of Waterloo or the Fall of Rome. The best it can do is investigate the artifacts left in those sites and state that they are or are not consistent with the historic records we possess.
Science, then, can be said to be confined to the present. It is a "present tense" discipline. It has, as mentioned above, excelled in the present. But science is, and scientists should be, mute about events which may or may not have occurred in the far distant prehistoric past.
A prime example of the violation of that principle can be seen in an article by Art Caplan, Director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, appearing in the Philadelphia Inquirer's editorial page of February I I, 1996. He stated "The canard that evolution is a theory, not a fact, is one of the dopiest arguments ever presented with a straight face in the long history of attempts to bolster religious faith by putting down science." Here, a supposedly respected scientist (?) has done what he, in the same article, decried. "Blurring the line between religion and science is not harmless. Confusing schoolchildren about the difference between religion and science is not good for religion, science or the future well being of this country." To this I agree.
But Caplan himself fails to distinguish between scientific and metaphysics ("religion" in his words). Evolution, far from being a fact, is not even a theory. Nor yet, is it even a good working hypothesis. Why? Simply because it cannot be tested. It is no more and no less a philosophical concept than is creation. Both stand on level ground - neither can be considered science. Caplan rightly stated that some evolutionists say it proceeds slowly, others that it goes rapidly. Paleontologists such as Eldredge and Gould have said that evolution works in spurts - rapid bursts of change so rapid that it left no trace. They say this because they admit the absence of transitional forms in the fossil record. Others, more traditional, have held that it proceeded slowly - so slowly that no one can observe it.
So fast we cannot see it.
So slowly we cannot see it.
One thing is clear. We have not seen it.
To call something we cannot see science is a travesty of what science really is. True science is absolutely beneficial to mankind. In fact, it follows God's command to rule the earth, care for and tend it (Gn 1:28; 2:15). False science is that philosophy which assumes an evolutionary history of earth and, contrary to the known facts of true science, seeks to account for man's existence without a Creator.