Scientists do not arrive at “right” answers, they gain more & more confidence as ideas gain evidence. Importantly, scientists never know if they are 100% right, they can only know what is wrong. (look up falsification for more on this). A scientist who understands the philosophy of science would readily admit that all ideas in science are open to change as we cannot know if they are right.

Now, apply this to our interpretation of scripture. So many people believe they have the right interpretation, yet we ought learn from history that our interpretations have changed over time. If our interpretations have changed, what makes us believe we have it right now?

Again, I am not arguing for relativism, but for acknowledgement of our own limitations, we are not God, & many of us would do well to consider that a different look might illuminate truths in scripture we never imagined. However, just like in science, if the picture does not cohere, we have reason to believe our ideas are off. Like scientists look for cohesion in their ideas, a good tool of discernment for scripture interpretation is how coherent the resulting picture is.

This actually leads to another thought. The coherence of nature & scripture. As I believe Aquinas pointed out, the words of God & the creation of God cannot contradict, so when they do, we have likely interpreted one of them incorrectly. For many conservative Christians we default to thinking our interpretation of nature is wrong, I wonder if having a “default” is seeking God’s truth or our own?

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One thought on “Philosophy of science applied to religion

  1. A quick clarification to consider…

    Falsification does not allow us to know that something is wrong. It only allows us to conclude that the explanation does not agree with our model. But all models are built upon assumptions, some of which cannot be tested.

    For example, suppose someone says that a ball can fall upward. We apply sound scientific methodology by conducting repeated experimentation to show that a ball never falls upward, we point to past experimentation to beef up the evidence that it has never been observed before, and we appeal to scientific theory and law to explain why the natural world doesn’t operate in such a way that a ball can fall upward. Therefore, we’ve applied science and falsified the idea that a ball can fall upward.

    But, there is a problem. All of science depends on fundamental assumptions about nature that are necessary, but cannot be proven. For example, science must maintain that natural laws (such as the law of gravity) do not change from moment to moment and apply universally. There is no way to prove these claims, but science cannot operate without making these assumptions. But, from a logical standpoint we must admit that it is possible that the laws of nature could change from moment to moment, and that they do not apply universally. Because of this, our assumptions may be wrong, which means that any claim that we say has been falsified may in fact be true, and that it was our assumptions that were flawed.

    Now there are many good reasons for making our assumptions (such as we would have to scrap all scientific knowledge claims if we didn’t make such assumptions), so I’d rather err on that side. But let’s keep our wits and recognize that falsifications are not absolute — they are valid only within the paradigm in which they are posited. And paradigms hold to assumptions that cannot be proved.

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