Let’s be clear…. we’re all scientists. Yes, even the most hardened, dyed in the wool fanatical theist, the ardent supernaturalist and even the creationist. We all rely upon science every day.
I don’t just mean that we use the obvious technology that science provides such as computers, wristwatches and washing machines. I’m not even going to witter on about the less obvious benefits of science such as plastics and wallpaper paste. These are valid points but the argument, often put to anti-science proponents using the internet, is a little tired these days. I for one have grown tired of pointing out the obvious irony when conversing with creationists, astrologers and alternative therapists etc over electronic social media. Rather I want to talk about everyday assumptions that everyone makes – the beliefs we all must hold if we are to survive in the real world.
The uniformity of nature
Science is a process, not a belief system. It’s a way of exploring the natural observable world by testing explanations of observable events (hypotheses) to see if they can predict what will happen next. The process is remarkably effective (hence the many advances we all rely upon) but only because of science’s underlying assumption:
Nature is predictable and uniform because it operates according to fixed, natural laws.
So the Christian who sees that it’s raining puts on a coat because the predictability, the uniformity of nature means that they will get wet if they don’t. The faith healer sticks to the path at the clifftop because they understand the phenomenon of gravity – and they understand it not because of spiritual enlightenment but because of prior observation of the natural world. In short they keep themselves safe because they use the scientific method. They rely upon the uniformity of nature and the predictable ’cause and effect’ of observed events to make sense of the world and to stay safe. So far so good. We all ‘do science’ when it suits our purposes. I imagine that there’s nothing particularly controversial about that.
But consider the implications of these natural laws. We know that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. That’s the science of space travel. It’s also the science of swimming and of billiards. The natural law is constant (with a few exceptions in specific, equally predictable, non-Newtonian, non-Euclidian contexts that we don’t need to worry about here). What then of divine intervention? What of miracles?
If nature is predictable then there is no place for divine intervention. There is no point then in prayer – it cannot make a difference anyway. Scientists are more than capable of explaining natural events precisely because the natural world is predictable. They can predict the impact of gravity and the wetness of rain precisely because nature is uniform and predictable (and so can we).
When a light bulb expires the theist doesn’t waste time praying for light – they replace the bulb. When the religious fanatic is frightened and alone in the dark they don’t pray for dawn (that would violate natural laws) – they pray that they’ll make it UNTIL dawn. They understand the scientific concepts of heliocentric theory that makes an early dawn impossible, so they don’t pray for it. The thought never even occurs to ask their God for an impossible miracle. So much for the omnipotence of God. So much for the magic of metaphysics.
Until you stop replacing light bulbs and pray for light instead, you’re a scientist. And once you accept the uniformity of nature in one context you undermine the whole idea of divine intervention. From light bulbs to geology, from medicine to evolution the uniformity of nature is constant. And acceptance of that uniformity leaves no place for miracles or for prayer.
So what’s it to be? Will you pray for healing or accept the antibiotics? Will you call the mechanic or simply ask your omnipotent God to fix the cylinder head gasket? If the Dr., the mechanic, the builder or even the baker has any place in your life then you really can’t deny scientific method. Nature is uniform and prayer is necessarily meaningless as a result.