The Discovery Institute sponsored the Dallas Conference on Science and Faith on January 22, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to hear from a wonderful host of speakers. In this post I’ll present some highlights from two of those speakers: John West and Eric Hedin.
John West is the Vice President of the Discovery Institute, and he started things off by quoting Louis Pasture, one of the most prominent scientists of the 19th century: “Our investigations of nature should be illuminated by the science that brings man closer to God.” This timeless quote underscores one of the themes for the conference, demonstrating the unity that existed and still exists between science and faith. Secular science has sought to undermine that faith by separating God from science, but that is a fundamental mistake.
Believe it or not, science can be abused. And false claims made in the name of science can be destructive. Sadly, we have seen that occur throughout history. Roe v. Wade was one example of how scientists successfully convinced some people that killing a baby in the womb is no worse than killing a worm or a fish… after all, they claim, humans are related to plants and animals, and there’s nothing fundamentally different about us. They claim humans are modified apes produced by accidental processes that didn’t have us in mind. Such false claims can have tragic consequences, and the lives of more than 63 million aborted babies in America since that landmark case are testimony to it.
West concluded that the future of our culture is at stake, and we need to equip ourselves to be discerning in science. Although modern science has attempted to undermine faith in God, the truth is that science supports faith, and always has.
The next speaker, physicist Eric Hedin, tells an all-to-common story about censorship. At one time, Christian faith was taught in schools and colleges. In fact, many colleges were founded on Christian faith. But in today’s political climate, neither free speech nor religious speech are tolerated.
Professor Hedin taught a course titled, The Boundaries of Science at Ball State University for six years, and he asked a poignant question: does examining the implications of science amount to teaching religion in the classroom?
This particular class was designed to examine the nature of the physical and living world and investigate the physical reality of the boundaries of science, and the description of the class clearly stated that students would attempt to discern if reality could “illuminate the central questions of the purpose of our existence and the meaning of life.” Students were not forced to take the course, but could choose freely.
The scary truth is, Hedin taught science in the classroom. He even used a concept from an introduction to astronomy textbook in which the author stated that astronomy can help us understand the meaning of our existence. This author, however, meant it from a secular point of view, and no one complained about pushing atheism down the throats of students.
But when Hedin posed the question, he was treated differently. He had the temerity to ask students, “What is the meaning of our existence?” And many responded positively, engaging in discussion. Hedin went on to ask if science can explain everything, or if there are limits to what science can explain.
In today’s culture, naturalism is taught as “established science” and cannot be questioned. But it’s not without conflict. For instance, says Hedin, if all space, time, matter and energy suddenly came into existence from nothing, then nothing within space and time could have been the cause of that beginning. Thus, the Big Bang has both scientific and philosophical implications, suggesting there may not be a natural explanation for the cause of the universe. Perhaps, then, the universe had a transcendent cause.
So, in order to discover where the boundary lies between the physical and metaphysical, it was necessary to study physical nature, and that’s what the class did. It was fair to ask, “Is it natural?” And he let students draw their own conclusions. But asking those questions lead to conflict. The renowned atheist, Jerry Coyne, learned about the class and openly attacked it. The media was hostile, twisting Hedin’s words, and the negative publicity led to the cancellation of the course. Sadly, this is how secular science operates in today’s world- not by advancing science, but through sheer censorship.
Although what happened to Hedin is unacceptable, I appreciate how he handled the persecution. He is a man well-grounded in Scripture, and he learned to “rejoice and be glad” (Matthew 5:10-12) because being persecuted for the name of Christ leads to eternal blessing. He learned to forgive and pray for those who attacked him, even though it was hard to do so, because he has a relationship with the King.
The rest of his lecture was focused on physics and how the universe operates. He spoke on the limits of randomness, the complexity of life, and the fine-tuning of the universe. Ultimately, if science cannot explain the origin of the universe or life, then we ought to look elsewhere for an explanation.
One particular example stood out. About 94 naturally occurring elements have formed since the beginning of time. Hedin explained, due to limitations imposed by the laws of nature, there cannot be an element with 200 protons, or an isotope of carbon with 53 neutrons. But if the universe is 13.8 billion years old, then there’s been plenty of time for the forces of nature to create such elements- if it were possible. But there are limits to natural processes. These very same limits preclude nature from overcoming the information barrier between life and non-life. Nature cannot initiate the step-by-step process necessary to form life, no matter how much time is provided.
The takeaway is, life is far too complex for natural processes to explain. Therefore, something else must be the cause. The secular world will never accept this line of reasoning and will fight against it, even though they have no explanation. Nonetheless, the design we observe in both life and the universe can more logically be attributed to an intelligent designer, and that designer can be identified through faith. The Bible tells us, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”