Saturday, October 08, 2011

The Story of Science

I've been hammering Science quite a lot lately. It's very easy to get into a defensive frame of mind, especially when the popular view presents a false dichotomy of Faith and Science. However, it does seem clear to me that the materialist's claim to be the sole possessor of true Science is tenuous and as much a matter of faith as any other religious/philosophical belief. It is the latter thesis that I have tried to put forward. I suspect that I may have overstated my case on a few occasions.
It is vitally important that we learn Science, for it is here that we do indeed learn about the physical world, after all it seems very reasonable that the world does indeed possess a material nature. We observe, and though we can doubt the veracity of what we observe, we can still make observations and describe those observations in a methodical and formal way so as to communicate, predict and utilise the matter and energy around us.
The recent discovery of faster-than-light neutrinos has certainly sparked some speculations in the Scientific community. According to Einstein's theory of relativity, an important foundation of modern science, nothing can travel faster than light, and so to observe something do just that makes a physicist sit up and take notice, because if what he has seen is true, he will have to revise his entire understanding of the universe. However, it may be a mistake or fault, or even ratification of a theory of parallel universes or wormholes in the fabric of spacetime. There is bound to be some explanation for this occurrence.
Thus buzzing around the Scientific journals now are all kinds of theories and explanations - all forms of mathematical narrative to try and give some rational explanation as to how Einstein's story of the universe is the right one, or to tell a new story with a fresh new narrative.
It is possible that some scientists will object to my use of scientific explanation of the structure of the universe as a story. I'm not entirely sure why, if I'm honest,because much of our communication with other human beings is some form of narrative designed to tell an important truth about some aspect of our lives, from communicating the frustration that the gas-man wouldn't come out to mend the boiler to the ecstatic vision of a new nebula discovered by the Hubble Space telescope.
For many Scientists, the idea of "story"has a fictional element to it. Dawkins rejects the Old Testament as a bundle of stories about what he perceives to be an unpleasant deity. Yet, he will nonetheless use narrative to tell the story of Evolution. Narrative is natural to human beings and so the story becomes a perfectly decent way of communicating even scientific truth. There used to be a set of continental cartoons about personified blood-cells and germs which definitely did the job of informing, in a rough and ready way, how the body worked.
Science still relies on some stories to fuel the scientific imagination. It doesn't mean that the stories are fiction; it doesn't mean that they are fact either. It does mean that there is something in the telling of the story that engages human curiosity about the world around us. It does communicate that the universe has indeed a meaning which is worth discovering, a mystery that it is worth engaging with and finding a deeper narrative with which to create some great joy in the mind of Man.
However, Science cannot dismiss Biblical texts as fairy-stories with the implication that they are wholly fictitious. First, the stories being told are very different but still have points of engagement, such as Noah's Flood. Second, the Biblical stories do have great historical credibility particularly in the New Testament many parts of which were written within a remarkably short space of time after the Life, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. Compare that with the biographies of important historical figures (such as Alexander the Great) which were written a few centuries after their subject died. There are several discrepancies between the narratives of Scripture and the archaeological evidence. This may be due to a difference in what the narrative is trying to communicate or it may be due to a difference in how historical evidence may be interpreted.
Of course, Science is practically redundant in historical investigation. One cannot re-stage the Battle of Waterloo under scientific conditions. Nor can Science prove that the explanations that might be had for the Plagues of Egypt, the Feeding of the Five Thousand or the stigmata of St Francis of Assisi are exactly true and factual. It can only speculate and possibly discuss likelihoods under present conditions. Nor can Science even talk about the probability or otherwise of the existence of God, for to talk about probabilities involves some background in which to calculate the probabilities. One cannot find the proportion of universes in which God exists from the total number of universes.
Yet, the stories that Science tells are indeed compelling and are worthy of much reflection. Religious folk can gain much knowledge of God by reflecting on what He has created, especially if they do it honestly by considering the implications of different theories such as the Big Bang or the Creationist theory of a young universe and any other theory that should present itself. Science is not capable of destroying religious faith and so the Religious community has nothing to fear from studying all these wonderful stories and narratives that Science gives us in order to understand the physical make up of what God has created. However, it is worth remembering, that if a Creator God does exist, then we are characters in his story as well as History.

1 comment:

JamesIII said...

I think that there is a great lesson here. Einstein's theory was the product of mathematics and observation but it was not possible to observe or detect anything that could exceed the speed of light during his lifetime. The math side of that equation has been scratching at our brains for a long time and many have anticipated "breaking the light barrier".

The lesson applies to both our science and our concept of the divine. The key to the lesson lies in the phrase, "Sufficient unto your understanding". Quantum physics would have left our ancestors scratching their heads... so would advanced apologetics. Our Creator is, after all, much wiser than we.