In my regular discussions and debates with atheists online, I often come across the statement, “I trust in science, not God.” On the surface, it seems a reasonable statement to make (at least the first half of it, anyway). But I always like to ask the question, “On what basis are you prepared to place your faith in science? Have you dispassionately assessed its reliability?”
Because the truth is that, historically, science has proven to be very UNRELIABLE in determining truth, even within its own narrow field.
There is a common tendency among the general populace to regard all scientific declarations as absolute, irrefutable facts. Once a declaration is identified as having come from “science” or “scientists”, it is immediately elevated to the status of incontestable truth. Often scientists themselves perpetuate this attitude. For instance, in the Introduction to Jerry A. Coyne’s “Why Science and Religion are Incompatible”, Neil DeGrasse-Tyson wrote: “𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝒈𝒐𝒐𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒂𝒃𝒐𝒖𝒕 𝒔𝒄𝒊𝒆𝒏𝒄𝒆 𝒊𝒔 𝒕𝒉𝒂𝒕 𝒊𝒕’𝒔 𝒕𝒓𝒖𝒆, 𝒘𝒉𝒆𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒓 𝒚𝒐𝒖 𝒃𝒆𝒍𝒊𝒆𝒗𝒆 𝒊𝒕 𝒐𝒓 𝒏𝒐𝒕.”
This is simply not correct. Facts are true, whether or not you believe them. Science, on the other hand, has an impressive track record of getting the facts wrong and having to retract previously published declarations.
Here are some notable examples of scientific “facts”, once declared authoritatively to the world, but now known to be false:
• Smoking cigarettes was originally declared by scientists and medical professionals to be good for your lungs!
• Nutritional scientists are continually changing their dietary advice, often doing complete backflips regarding what is bad for us and what is good for us. In fact, the reversals of nutritional guidelines have occurred so frequently in recent decades that most of us mere mortals are now utterly confused.
• During the first half of the 20th century, scientists confidently proclaimed that the supposed “missing links” of human ancestry had been discovered. Every single one of these have now been discredited as either being a hoax (Java Man, Piltdown Man), or the remains of animals (Hesperopithecus [a pig], Australopithecus Ramadus [an ordinary monkey], “Lucy” [a modern day Orang Pendek]), or living concurrently with modern humans (Neanderthal Man).
• Part of Einstein’s equations introduced the cosmological constant – a force that counteracted gravity and stopped the universe from collapsing in upon itself. He declared that the universe existed in a “steady state”, neither expanding nor contracting. This was the prevailing view until the red-shift of light from galaxies, observed by Edwin Hubble and others in 1929, revealed that the universe is actually expanding, as galaxies are moving away from each other. Subsequent to this new discovery, Einstein described the cosmological constant as his biggest mistake, and removed it from his equations.
• Following the Hubble discovery, scientists made further observations that the universe is slowing down in its expansion; expanding more and more slowly, and they announced this to the world. This became an established scientific “fact” for several decades. In the late 1990s, however, this was proved incorrect by further remarkable observations from the Hubble Space Telescope and other ground telescopes. Observable Galaxies now appear to be accelerating away from each other! Scientists have now amended Einstein’s cosmological constant, and reinserted it into his equations.
• Throughout the 1970s to as late as the 1990s, the prevailing view of climatologists was that the world was heading into another ice age – that temperatures were going to become cooler, not hotter! For example, on April 16, 1970, at the Boston Institute of Environmental Sciences, climate scientists issued a press release stating that the world is heading towards a new ice age. This declaration was repeated in press releases on July 9, 1971 and December 3, 1972 (the latter by the Department of Geological Sciences, Brown University). Further declarations of the coming ice age were published on January 29, 1974 and June 24, 1974. Climatologist, Stephen Schneider, continued the warnings about a coming ice age, in his 1976 book, “The Cooling”. As late as 1990, some climatologists were still warning of severe global cooling. A press statement released by prominent climatologists in that year, published by Associated Press on September 6, was entitled, “International Team of Specialists Finds No End in Sight to 30-year Cooling Trend.”
These are just a few examples of the many hundreds of instances throughout history – even recent history – where science has gotten it wrong and has subsequently had to reverse its declarations. Scientific theories are not facts; they are attempts to understand and interpret the facts, and they don’t always get it right.
Am I saying that science has no value? Am I a science denier? Of course not! Scientific endeavour is extremely valuable in helping us better understand the natural world and in developing helpful technology. But it is a flawed discipline characterised by changeable theories and pursued by fallible people with limited knowledge. While we ought to value science, it does not deserve to be enthroned as the infallible, absolute proclaimer of truth, which is how the modern world has come to regard it. Only God deserves that place of honour.
Kevin Simington (B.Th. Dip. Min.) is a theologian, social commentator and Anglican minister. He is the author of 16 books, and his latest non-fiction book, “Reconnecting with God”, is available world-wide. Connect with Kevin on Facebook or his website, SmartFaith.net. You can also check out his highly acclaimed fiction books at kevinsimington.com.