Curriculum 101: Science

Curriculum101One of the biggest struggles homeschooling families battle is which curriculum is best for their children. We become overwhelmed by the amount of curriculum available, struggle to find the right fit for each of our children, proceed to doubt each choice made for at least the first several weeks, and continue to search for new ways of teaching well after we’ve already begun our year.

To this end, we thought we’d spend the month of September launching discussions on all things curriculum.

…..

Today, I asked my husband to share his thoughts on whether science and faith can co-exist:

CAN SCIENCE AND FAITH CO-EXIST?

I was asked to write about why science and religion are not in opposition and, consequently, why both can be taught side by side. However, this subject is so large that we can only begin to scratch the surface in the short space of a blog post. In fact, it might be simpler merely to ask why anyone finds the two in opposition and assess those concerns.

Alleged Criteria of Science – 

Many attempt to define what counts as science, but the fact is that there is no universal agreement as to what counts as a science. While there have been criteria offered by many as to what counts as “science”, many objects of science fail to meet such criteria. The following constitutes some criteria which has been offered for what counts as science:

  1. 1. Whatever is scientific must be empirical (i.e., observable)
  2. 2. Whatever is scientific must be testable.
  3. 3. Whatever is scientific must be falsifiable.
  4. 4. Whatever is scientific must be repeatable.
  5. 5. Whatever is scientific must be natural.
  6. 6. Scientific theories must be held tentatively.
  7. 7. Scientific theories should not be dogmatic.
  8. 8. Scientific theories must make verified predictions.
  9. 9. A scientific theory must be simple.
  10. 10. A scientific theory should have explanatory scope.
  11. 11. A scientific theory must be logically consistent.

Epistemology (theory of knowledge) – 

One misunderstanding which leads to the belief that science and religion conflict is the presumption of scientism, which is the belief that only science confers knowledge or that something must be scientific in order to be true. However, any valid theory of knowledge must satisfy its own conditions for truth. What this means is that if science is our only gateway to knowledge and truth, scientism itself must satisfy its own conditions for what counts as science. But notice that there is nothing which one can observe to verify scientism. If scientism cannot even meet the first criteria for what counts as science, then clearly scientism is false and knowledge is not limited to what science can provide.

Some may suggest that, while scientism itself is not observable, the objects of science are themselves empirical in nature, whereas, religious claims are not subject to observation. Unfortunately, that’s a false perception as well. Many claims of science are either pure speculation or are interpretations predicated on former philosophical commitments. The fact is, no one has observed the big bang, a black hole, the spontaneous generation of life, a vertical transitional path from the goo through the zoo to you, the formation of many geologic phenomena, or subatomic particles. All such entities are either theoretical in nature and/or must be inferred from other data or phenomena. Furthermore, such interpretations must be informed by the scientist’s prior philosophical commitments.

However, if something which can be merely inferred from data can count as “scientific”, then can’t science include religious interpretations of the data? To this, the skeptic will protest that supernatural inferences are not allowed (see criteria #5 above), which brings us to another apparent conflict between science and religion, i.e., science deals only with natural phenomena while religion deals with the supernatural, the latter being inaccessible by the scientist.

Naturalism – 

Many assume science must either presuppose philosophical naturalism (i.e., the proposition that only nature exists) or at the very least employ methodological naturalism (i.e., explain all phenomena via natural causes while disallowing any inferences to the supernatural). Philosophical naturalism, however, is not itself a scientific position. It is a metaphysical (i.e., philosophical) position imposed on scientific interpretations. While we may normally seek natural causes to the phenomena we encounter, there is nothing that logically precludes us from inferring supernatural answers when there are reasons to do so. So why do scientists assume naturalism? It’s usually because they either have a prior philosophical commitment to it or, as has already been mentioned, they believe they do not have access to supernatural causes, by which they mean such causes are not empirically verifiable. But as has already been observed, many natural phenomena are also inaccessible by observation, and yet the methodological naturalist seems to have no trouble inferring such entities. Such hypocrisy is driven by an anti-supernatural bias and is not rooted in science or reason.

Because naturalism is a metaphysical position, it is itself a pseudo-religious view insofar as it constitutes an ultimate view of reality. And while some natural objects might be open to our observation, philosophical naturalism itself is an ideology which is not itself open to such observation. Therefore, if we disallow religious or supernatural explanations because they are not open to observation, then we should also disallow naturalism and the many theoretical entities and phenomena which are also not open to observation (i.e., things like black holes, abiogenesis, the big bang, et al.).

Origins –

Perhaps the biggest conflict which people believe exists between science and religion is the conflicting views of biological origins. However, given that Darwinism fails to meet criteria of science (macro-evolution is not observable, not testable, not repeatable, not falsifiable, is not useful, is not held tentatively but propounded dogmatically, is not parsimonious, is contradicted by known phenomena, etc.), the conflicting views of origins is not really between science and religion but between two religio-philosophical views. In fact, there are many areas of science that, in principle, can never really conflict with religion because they are merely speculative in nature. One need not be concerned with such things as super-strings, multiverses, or other speculative ideas because such entities are not truly scientific, even if they find their birth in the imagination of those who wear lab coats.

Conclusion-

So can science and religious faith co-exist? We saw that scientism and empiricism are self-refuting and therefore false. We find that naturalism is not itself scientific, but a metaphysic that need not inform good science. And we find that alleged areas of conflict are not really between science and religion but between speculative philosophies and religion.

Therefore, Christian theists need not reject good science nor fear speculative philosophies issued by scientists. The Christian parent should teach his children good science while also teaching his children why speculative theories are philosophical in nature and do not constitute true “science” (i.e., knowledge).

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5 thoughts on “Curriculum 101: Science

  1. I’ve been reading about this in some depth in Australian academic, Peter Harrison’s new book, ‘The Territories of Science and Religion’ It’s bizarre how much misinformation about the relationship between Christianity and science is, to borrow John Locke’s words, “given assent without enquiry.” His analysis is close in it’s conclusions to what you’re outlining here. As far as origins goes, one of the strangest books I’ve read in the past year was ‘Theology after Darwin’ It is comprised of 12 or so essays from various “experts.” I haven’t written a review on it yet, because I’m still thinking through how much it seemed to me to be full of a sense of defeat; it came across as advocating an inevitable and necessary change in theologians discussing the issue, because “no one doubts it.” In short it read like a call to surrender theology to the guillotine of popular versions of tolerance.

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  2. Pingback: Curriculum 101 Review | A Homeschool Mom

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