Science of the Gaps

In true boomerang fashion, the naturalist is now guilty of the very allegation he attributes to the Christian.

My wife and I have twin boys who have a genetic condition that prevents their bodies from breaking down fat. This means that they are unable to metabolize body fat, which in turn means they cannot go long periods without eating. This is particularly a problem when they lose their appetite or have some type of bug. Such occasions require a trip to the local children’s hospital.

I’ve never once insisted that the doctor treat my boys from the King James Bible. That would be ludicrous. I’ve read the Bible cover to cover and I’ve not found a single chapter, let alone verse, dealing with their condition which is known as “medium chain acyl CoA dehydrogenase deficiency” – or MCAD – for short.

I’m extremely thankful for the breakthroughs in genetic research. However, there are vast and deeply important issues which science can teach my sons nothing about. As Erwin Schr√∂dinger, the famous quantum physicist said, “Science puts everything in a consistent order but is ghastly silent about everything that really matters to us: beauty, color, taste, pain or delight, origins, God & eternity.”

Recognizing the limits of science is not a lazy cop out. Newton did not discover the laws of gravity and then renounce his faith. Rather, his understanding of the universe aided his scientific process and resulted in a greater appreciation for his faith in God. That’s why in the preface of his historical work Principia Mathematica he states his goal to “persuade thinking men to believe in a deity.”

This is the exact opposite of what is often tossed around as the general Christian attitude towards science.¬† I don’t personally know of a single Christian who dismisses the power and potential of science for understanding the material world. The argument essentially states that when a Christian comes to something they don’t understand, instead of considering a scientific explanation they throw their hands up and say, “God did it.” While such an answer might satisfy a toddler, I don’t know of a single thinking adult who is so quickly pacified.

For scientists like Newton, and countless others, it was the evidence that led them to and enhanced their faith in God. It was not blind faith, but informed faith in the Creator God who stood, and still stands, as the best explanation for the complex cosmos which we call home.

On the other hand, those who embrace scientism or logical positivism are placed in a precarious position: They must now come to the well known immaterial phenomena such as morality, beauty, altruism and the like, and throw up their hands and say, “Nature did it!”

I’m being a little coy, because they are not conceding so easily. They are working like mad to prove a scientific basis for all things immaterial. I applaud their endeavors. However, their writings, such as Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Harris’ The Moral Landscape, and Hawking’s The Grand Design, are all fraught with philosophical assumptions and assertions.

So much for leaving the immaterial out of it.

Are we to ignore the range of more to less plausible and rational explanations, and defer the matter for some arbitrary future date when science is able to triumph? Couldn’t science also lead to a very different conclusion than offered by naturalism? This would seem to be at least a possibility, that is, unless one is predetermined to keep a divine foot from cracking open the door. In that case, demanding the absolute power of science to explain everything seems appropriate:

“Although you might say that science is sort of hedging its bets by saying wait for the future and we will come up with the right answer. Science will come up with its answer on this side of the grave whereas religion as a whole preserves its answers for the other side.”

– Peter Atkins (Former Professor of Chemistry at Oxford University, atheist, prolific author)

There is no quicker way for a scientist to bring discredit upon himself and upon his profession than roundly to declare – particularly when no declaration of any kind is called for – that science knows, or soon will know, the answers to all questions worth asking, and that questions which do not admit a scientific answer are in some way non-questions or ‘pseudo-questions’ that only simpletons ask and only the gullible profess to be able to answer.

– Sir Peter Medawar (Scientist, religious skeptic, Nobel Laureate; 1915-1987)



I would receomend John Lennox’s booklet God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design Is It Anyway? which reviews Stephen Hawking’s book The Grand Design. You can order it through Amazon here. Also, there is a very interesting conversation between Peter Atkins and John Lennox which can be seen here. Both the book and the video informed and inspired this brief post. I am indebted to John Lennox beyond measure.