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The elephant in the room: Does science answer everything?

You don’t have to go to the zoo to see animals – they’re everywhere. Cats, dogs, birds, even rats, but have you seen the elephant that seems to be popping up regularly these days?

It’s generally accepted today that science has the answer to everything, and if science can’t answer the question, then it can’t be real. We are led to believe that only scientific knowledge can be trusted and therefore science can explain all that is real and worth knowing about our world.

It’s a very attractive belief to many as it eliminates the need for a God. This kind of thinking has influenced all parts of society – politics, health, education and the media, and it’s generally accepted by many to be true (although many scientists are less convinced). One could go as far as to say that science has now become a belief system for many. But as we hear this viewpoint being promoted, have you noticed the elephant in the room?

Some basic problems come to light fairly quickly if you believe that science can answer everything. Here are two:

This is not science

Science is wonderful and very precious as it helps us to understand the world around us better. But science itself doesn’t claim to be able to answer or prove everything. A good definition of science is ‘the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment’.

In other words, science tries to explain and understand how things work, and it can do this because there’s a clear pattern to the world around us. But we must ask the question ‘what if there’s a reality outside what we can measure and see?’. For example, science can’t prove or disprove the existence of God – many scientists would agree that science can’t answer a question like that. Science can explain how something happens, but it can’t always explain why something happens.

An often-used illustration of this is a kettle boiling. Science can explain what is happening on so many different levels, chemically, thermodynamically, and we can even create mathematical models to describe what is happening. However, science can’t explain why the kettle is boiling – to find that out you’d need to speak to the person who switched it on (and find out that he’s just driven over next door’s cat and needs to settle his nerves by making himself a cup of tea).

We can’t live like this

If you follow the argument that science can explain everything, then it’s very difficult to find purpose or meaning in anything. Francis Crick, one of those who identified the structure of DNA, said:

‘You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will are, in fact, no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.’

Who of us can live thinking that we are just the after-effects of some energy and chemicals? Crick seems to be saying that we’re just on a predictable path that started with the chemicals and energy that started the cosmos, and who knows where they came from. We can’t live like that.

Love, relationships, morality and creativity brings meaning to life and it all points to a higher purpose. It points to somebody who created us and wants to speak to us.

There are so many experiences in our complex and rich lives that science struggles to explain – not because science is inferior, but because that’s not what science does.

Christianity makes sense of science – having a belief that there is a God who has ordered everything gives a person a rationale and motivation to understand our world through science. It gives a basis for us to wonder and enjoy life. But knowing the one who created it all makes life worth living.

Steffan Job

First published in Ask Magazine August 2019

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