|The Image of God and Science|
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The task of naming the animals is much more involved than it sounds. In Hebrew, a being’s name is supposed to reflect its nature. In order to give the animals their proper names, Adam needed first to study them to understand their natures. Understanding the natural world is a vital part of our mandate to govern it as God’s stewards, of course, and not surprisingly, there are other examples of observation of nature in Scripture.
A mandate for science
It is very common today for people to treat science and religion as if they were two completely separate, unconnected spheres. Science, it is argued, deals with the world of cold, hard facts; religion deals with “spiritual” things, morality, and areas of faith, not knowledge. Yet in fact, this is a false dichotomy. Science may focus on the physical world, but the entire enterprise is based on assumptions about the nature of the world and the nature of humanity that are anything but provable by scientific means. Any apparent conflict between science and religion comes from exactly how those assumptions are set up.
For a Christian, the critical assumptions that enable us to do science are simple. God is rational, and so the world He created is rational. Human beings are made in God’s image and thus we are also rational. As a result, even if we cannot understand everything God did exhaustively, we can to some extent “think God’s thoughts after Him” and discover the rational processes (“laws”) that govern the physical universe.
Contrast this with other cultures. In many Asian systems of thought, the world is a kind of illusion or dream in the mind of God. In Islam, Allah has direct control of everything that happens, and the idea of natural law was seen as potential apostasy because such laws would limit Allah’s freedom. In pagan and animistic cultures, the world is largely sentient and is about as predictable as human behavior. None of these provides a solid enough foundation for the development of science (in the sense of empirically backed explanations of why the physical world works as it does).
And then there’s secularism, and particularly scientism—the idea that the natural sciences provide the only reliable route to knowledge.
Yet under these circumstances, it is a leap of faith to believe that the universe is understandable or that our minds can in fact make sense of it.[i] And as Alvin Plantinga points out, the most that undirected evolution would do is to give us minds that are geared for survival, not necessarily for discovering truth. While we might think that true ideas enhance survivability, this is not necessarily so. People may behave in a way that helps them survive even if the reasoning that led to the behavior is false.
So even though a purely secular worldview based on naturalism might seem to be the best basis for doing science, on closer examination it isn’t. Scientism is a logically self-defeating position. It only seems plausible because it is living off the borrowed capital of the biblical worldview, that rational human beings can make sense of the rational universe—because both were made by a rational God.
The Biblical teachings about God, the physical world, and human nature thus provide the firmest foundation for science of any competing worldview. But even more, in the command to name the animals, God implicitly commands us to study and to come to understand the natural world as part of the work He has given us. This makes science an essential element of our stewardship of the world. It shows us something of God’s amazing understanding, wisdom and power, helps us understand Him and his ways better, and enables us to develop the resources He has given us in the world in the best ways we can to the glory of God.
For more insight to this topic, get the book, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach, by Vern Poythress, from our online store. Or read the article, “Science and Religion: Are They At Odds?” by Chuck Edwards.
[ii] See http://www.hisdefense.org/OnlineLectures/tabid/136/ItemId/523/Default.aspx for Plantinga’s audio lecture, “Evolutionary Arguments against Naturalism,” and his Warrant and Proper Function (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).