I want to briefly examine why there seems to be such a conflict between science and perceptions of God. In reality there should be no conflict but we need to understand why there should be no conflict in order to appreciate what science is and is not and how that relates to our notions of God.
Let’s start by thinking of science as a sort of box for a moment. That box is not a simple box as we think of such things but we can think of it that way anyway. The reason that is handy is because a key property of a box is that it can hold things. Not all boxes can hold all things. A box may fail to hold something because the box is too small to hold the thing in question. The box may be large enough to hold the thing in question in terms of its overall capacity, but some dimension of the thing to be held may exceed the capability of the box. For example, a small box may be 4 inches by 4 inches by 4 inches in its dimensions. It volume capacity is then 64 cubic inches (4x4x4). We may have a small object that is only 45 cubic inches in size. Obviously, 64 cubic inches is quite a bit larger than 45 cubic inches so the small object should fit in the box. But if the object is 3 inches by 3 inches by 5 inches (and rigid in structure) it will not fit into the box because the 5 inch part won’t let it fit no matter which way you turn it.
In all fairness, science is not a box with rigid sides in the sense we just discussed. Its “sides” (and there may be many) may be quite flexible and its capacity will probably expand over time. But it is still a thing of limited capacity. It will only hold so much.
A box will have properties other than capacity that matter. The construction materials may limit the usefulness of the box. It just may not be made to hold some things it could hold if capacity were the only concern. For example, a box made of some light, porous wood is really not a place to store water, even if the box can hold a lot more volume than the amount of water you want to store. In this sense, the box may have a fairly specific purpose that will preclude its usefulness for most other purposes. You just may need other boxes to hold other things. The construction materials out of which one chooses to make a box will have something to do with its intended use.
So both the capacity and the typical use of the box matter in terms of whether you choose to use it in a certain situation. That is where the science part of this discussion comes in. As we encounter science these days, it is really a bunch of boxes. In high school, you probably had to take (endure?) biology and chemistry, maybe even some other science courses. In a sense each of these was a box for a certain kind of knowledge. Understanding exothermic reactions (gets hot) is something that is primarily to be found in a “chemistry box.” It might matter in some places in biology but is not really a biology subject. Cellular mitosis should be in the “biology box.” It has certain chemical components, but it matters more in biology. And so forth.
It’s not unfair to say that we could somehow put all the various “science boxes” together in some way and make a cumulative “Science Box.” Our Science Box would combine the “chemistry box” and the “biology box” and all the other kinds of science boxes you can think of. It’s the big, overall Science Box that concerns us here. Whatever can be found in any of the smaller science boxes can be found in the big Science Box we are interested in. In fact, we can say the big Science Box is the lump sum of all the small science boxes. The big Science Box doesn’t have anything in it that cannot be found in at least one of the small science boxes. If we see it that way, we won’t have to worry about how any particular one of the small science boxes works.
So boxes of science have certain contents. That’s important because scientists as a group decide what goes into any particular science box. If something does not go into a particular box it is because the scientists who use that box say so. It’s only reasonable that any particular scientist works almost exclusively in one particular box. They often think their main box is the most important of all boxes. However, again, we want to consider the biggest Science Box of all.
Even the biggest Science Box of all has limitations on its capacity and on its contents. When we put two small science boxes together we make a bigger box of course because the new box has to have everything in it that was in both of the other boxes before. For example, if we chose to make a larger box out of a “chemistry box” and a “biology box” it would have to hold everything that was in the chemistry box and everything that was in the biology box. The way science works this would be possible but maybe a bit awkward. The reason is the boxes don’t just contain the various things we know about chemistry or biology. They would also contain how we know that. How we know things has to do with rules for knowing. The rules that work best for knowing biology things are not identical to the rules for knowing chemistry things. But there are certain bigger “rules for knowing” that will work well for both biology and chemistry. The so-called “scientific method” is big enough to do that. It is general enough that we can apply it to chemistry things and to biology things and to all other science things.
Let’s say for now that the scientific method is a general method that will work for all the various science boxes. Therefore, it will be a significant factor in the use of the comprehensive Science Box. We can say that it roughly governs the overall Science Box. Within each of the smaller boxes (biology, etc.), the scientific method helps the scientist users of the boxes to do what they do to get more stuff into the box. In other words, each box has certain “theories” and “methods” that its scientists use to guide their work. All the various theories and methods from all the little boxes have to fit into the big box. Sometimes we can combine them, but they must all meet the demands of the scientific method which is the main governor of the Science Box.
The various theories and methods are quite important in the context of the boxes from which they come. Chemistry theories and chemistry methods all have to meet the overall chemistry rules which must meet the rules of the scientific method. Over time, each of the theories is challenged by scientists. They work on expanding what their individual sciences can accomplish by way of better understanding and explaining certain kinds of things. That is what makes scientists happy. They want to see what else they can do with their theories and methods. Sometimes they will find a question they can’t answer. In that case they will typically assume the answer is hard to find because the methods are too limited. So they will work to make the methods more flexible to answer the new aspects of their important questions. When they have a breakthrough, they will open new questions for their theories because they can imagine things better. For example, somebody invented the microscope to be able to look at really small stuff better. They did that because they wanted to look at smaller stuff better. Once they had the technology to look at smaller stuff, they started asking more questions about even smaller stuff and so forth. So the theories and the methods work together. Theory improvement and improvement in methods sort of walk along together. That walk is the stuff of interest to scientists. It’s where they do what they do. Most of the time theory leads method but that is not always true.
So here is where the unhappiness comes in. The scientific method, which is the basic rule of science, requires something I have called method. The scientific method cannot have what it considers a credible theory without guidance about how to assess the theory. Anything that does not have a method of measurement, or at least guidance as to what is to be measured, can’t be in the box. That is not to say there are no questions scientists ask that are not amenable to being sort of “put on the shelf” until they can be measured. In fact, pertinent science questions may be broken into tiny parts that can be measured and then used to infer answers about the larger question. In fact, much of science is like that. For example we simply cannot observe life on earth a long time ago. We might be able to observe some things about stuff that is left over from that time, but we can’t directly observe it. So we find bones and discuss what the animal looked like to which the bone belonged. Regardless of what technology of observation method may evolve into, in the absence of the ability to travel backward through time we can never see those old animals and verify our answers. We can refine the descriptions over time as we get new methods and observations, but we will still never see the extinct creature.
Science improves and the box gets bigger, but the basic rule that governs all that requires at least a modicum of measurability. If something cannot be measured, it cannot get into the science box. It turns out that God has no interest in getting into the science box. Why would He? He created things like time and space, but He is not governed by them. Measurement, at least by overwhelming implication, requires things that can be measured on some dimensions. Those dimensions upon which observations are made that obey the rules of the scientific method are creations the Creator put in place. They help us make sense of the created universe because they govern certain of its aspects to prevent chaos. He is not Himself governed by time and space and such. He exists independently and outside of them. So there is no hope that we can actually observe Him in a way that is acceptable to the keepers of the Science Box. He simply is not observable in ways that science can accept.
There’s the squabble. The creator of the properties that make things scientifically observable just has no need to limit Himself to those same properties. So He cannot be observed and won’t fit into the overall Science Box. That does not mean that scientists cannot discuss Him or even formulate theoretical ideas about Him. It just means such a scientist cannot make Him conform to the rules implied by the scientific method. To detect Him we need to use a “spiritual method.”
Alas, some scientists take the position that only what fits into the Science Box exists. Many of them have no context for consideration of anything that won’t fit. In a sense they take the position there is nothing outside the box. The box contains everything. If the box contains everything, why do we need a box?
God doesn’t need a box to keep information in. It’s our box and we make the rules that disallow us from considering God. Honest scientists don’t do that. They admit there must be stuff that isn’t in the Science Box and then say such is not something their science deals with. There’s no real quarrel in that.
We’ll follow up on some of the implications of these things in at least one more blog.