Science is the ultimate definer and guardian of truth, right? The irrefutable authority that determines what is true and what is not? Yes?
No. Not even close! Science’s rise to almost god-like status over the last century and a half is unwarranted for two reasons:
- Science is limited to a surprisingly narrow field of enquiry.
- Even within its own narrow field, science has a very poor track record when it comes to proclaiming authoritative truth.
In this article I will deal with the first of these issues.
THE LIMITATIONS OF SCIENCE
There are six major areas of life, about which science is completely unqualified and unable to offer any authoritative proclamations.
- LOGICAL AND MATHEMATICAL TRUTHS
Science presupposes these truths and, indeed, relies upon them, but they cannot be proved via scientific methodology.
Absolute beliefs about values and morals cannot be established scientifically. The rightness or wrongness of actions or attitudes cannot be determined by any kind of scientific methodology. Yet mankind remains adamant that morals and ethics do exist. There is such a thing as love and such a thing as hate. There is evil and there is goodness. There is selfishness and there is noble self-sacrifice. These values exist as real things in themselves; we know this, we sense this, intrinsically. We can universally identify these things when we see them. Yet science has nothing to say about them. It cannot measure them, define them or tell us where these ethical values come from. They exist within the soul of mankind and are beyond the reach of science’s forensic analysis.
- AESTHETIC JUDGMENTS
Science cannot determine whether something is beautiful or ugly, noble or ignoble. Although individual variance occurs across the population regarding our perception of beauty or otherwise, our basic acknowledgment of beauty and ugliness is intrinsic and universal. Our perception of it arises from something deep within us, something that many of us would argue is spiritual, and has nothing to do with weights and measurements, formulae and methodologies.
- SCIENCE ITSELF
Science is founded upon unprovable assumptions that cannot be tested by scientific methodology. These assumptions include:
– That the physical universe is all that exists.
– That everything that happens within the physical universe has a natural, physical cause and not a metaphysical, supernatural one.
– That the universal constants are universally constant!
In fact, there are dozens more ontological assumptions that permeate the various branches of science that cannot be proven scientifically. One example from the field of microbiology is the assumption that entities (such as proteins) are more fundamental than processes in understanding microbiological interactions. Yet this is an unprovable assumption (and one that is now being questioned by a few molecular biologists).
- METAPHYSICAL TRUTHS
Science cannot prove that mine is not the only mind. That the external world actually exists and is not something I am dreaming or part of a giant simulation into which I am plugged. That the past was not created ten minutes ago with a false appearance of age. Thus, science cannot determine whether something beyond nature (supernatural) or beyond the physical world (metaphysical) exists, because science, by its own definition, is limited to the study of the natural, physical world.
SO … Is it ‘unscientific’ to believe in God – a metaphysical being who exists beyond the natural, physical world? No. See above!
- THE PAST
Just as science cannot investigate the supernatural realm, it is also not able to observe events in the past. Science is stuck in the present. It can only observe and measure things that exist in the present. Forensic science can observe and measure artefacts from the past (such as rocks and fossils) and make assumptions about past events based on those artefacts, but those assumptions can never be proven in an absolute scientific sense, because those past events can no longer be observed, measured and repeated in the present. Radiometric dating of rocks is a good example. Science cannot authoritatively tell us how old rocks are. Rocks do not have a date stamp, and apart from rocks formed in recent lava flows, no scientist was alive to witness the formation of rocks in the past. All science can do is observe and measure rocks in the present. They can measure the current composition of rocks and the current decay rates of isotopes, but they have no way of knowing:
- decay rates in the distant past.
- the original composition of rocks and the ratios of parent isotopes to daughter isotopes in the past.
- processes that could have added additional elements to rocks in the past.
- processes that could have removed elements from rocks in the past.
The reason science cannot know these things is because scientists cannot travel back in time to the past. Thus, when scientists make authoritative declarations about the ages of rocks, they are making huge assumptions about processes in the past for which they have no absolute proof. Science faces the same limitations when it comes to fossils. All scientists can do is observe and study fossils in the present. They cannot make authoritative declarations about dates and causes of extinction, because those supposed events are no longer observable or measurable.
Ultimately, science cannot answer questions of ultimate origin, regarding the origin of the physical universe. Science is the study of the physical universe as it exists today, via repeatable observation and experimentation. This is the true scientific method, and scientific method of the present universe simply cannot make definitive declarations about the past.
Given all these significant limitations, it staggers me that science is treated with such veneration by modern society. In particular, I am perplexed by the uninformed view that science has somehow disproved God. Science has nothing to say about the existence of God, because a possible supernatural realm lies well beyond the scope of science’s remit. Furthermore, science’s often definitive proclamations about past events and timelines (which supposedly contradict the biblical narrative) rely on such a vast array of unprovable, tenuous assumptions that they can only be described as imaginative speculation, at best, rather than true science.
In my next post in this series, I will deal with the second major area of science’s limitations: it’s extremely poor track record of making wrong proclamations even within its own narrow field of study.
Kevin Simington (B.Th. Dip. Min.) is a theologian, apologist and social commentator. He is the author of 16 books, and his latest non-fiction book, “Reconnecting with God”, is availableworld-wide. Connect with Kevin on Facebook or his website, SmartFaith.net. You can also check out his highly acclaimed fiction books at kevinsimington.com.