Category Archives: Faith and Science

The Big Bounce

In my Faith and Science course, when we covered the scientific models for origins of the universe, we studied the “mainstream” model of the Big Bang. I remember making the comment that for many Christians who are scientists, the idea of a Big Bang at the beginning of the universe is completely consistent with the idea of God as Creator. “God spoke and BANG, it was”. I also commented that we are unable to determine what happened, if anything, prior to the Big Bang. In fact, the current version of the model only goes back to when the age of the Universe was about 10^-43 seconds old. Admittedly this is very close to the beginning, but it was not possible to know what happened before that or, at least, it was impossible to know what happened before the Big Bang.

Well,scientists at Penn State have begun to try to look beyond the birth of the universe.  Using quantum tools with general relativity, Abhay Ashtekar and two of his post-doctoral researchers have developed a model that looks before the Big Bang to see a shrinking universe with much the same physics as ours. “Using quantum modifications of Einstein’s cosmological equations, we have shown that in place of a classical Big Bang there is in fact a quantum Bounce,” says Asktekar.

Since I can’t claim to have the expertise to critique their science, I am curious to watch how this model is accepted in the scientific community.

For more, you can read the article in Scientific Daily:
Penn State Researchers Look Beyond The Birth Of The Universe

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Faith and Science: Historical Case Studies

Class Date: Friday, February 16, 2007

Dr. Boyd was in charge for another day. This time he covered topics from the history of science as an illustration of how science progresses. Using specific case studies from the history of scientific endeavor, we learn some important principles that undergird how we understand science as it is today.

Below are some of the topics that we touched on in this class:

  1. The UV Catastrophe: This serves as a good case study to see how scientific revolutions occur as well as a lesson about the dangers of extrapolation
  2. Causality: the difficulty of assessing the cause from the effect. Wearing skirts causes an increased likelihood of breast cancer
  3. Did Science arise in a Christian World? Did the Christian World help to create modern science? (see Eric Snow’s Paper)
  4. Positivism vs. Realism
  5. Galileo
  6. Michael Faraday
  7. Isaac Newton

Faith and Science: The Scientific Cycle

In today’s class, we were fortunate to have one of my colleagues from our division direct the class. This is the third time this class has been offered at Wayland. The first two times, this faculty member and I co-taught the class. I’ll be honest and tell you that being the sole teacher this semester has been an enormous challenge, much greater than the last two. It was extremely helpful to have someone in class bouncing ideas off of.

In the current scenario, I appear much more as the “expert” and less of the facilitator in the discussion. In an applied math course, that would be fine, but in this course, I am reluctant to accept that role. Today’s class was like the “good ole days”.

The two main topics we covered in class today were the scientific method and the way in which scientific knowledge develops. In discussing the scientific method, we went back over some of the original discussions of the class, centering on the issue of just “how” faith can affect or inform science.

The class proposed that faith can serve much like a feedback loop to weigh the conclusions of science against. Most of them were uncomfortable thinking of faith as a filter through which we choose to accept or deny the claims of science. Instead, it was determined that our faith and/or worldview helps us to evaluate the conclusions reached by science. In most cases, excepting bad experimental design, we don’t throw out the results (or data) but we can choose to re-evaluate the conclusions as long as they are rational and justifiable.

This is the true challenge in letting one’s faith affect scientific endeavor. The real difficulty is how you draw the line between allowing for, say, supernatural explanations (if at all) and allowing for paranormal explanations. In a classroom full of Christians with a strong conservative backgrounds, most, if not all, of us are comfortable in accepting the supernatural’s involvement in our world. However, far fewer of us would be willing to accept the paranormal.

Thus, in evaluating scientific conclusion we must answer the question of what provides the “best” explanation. Some answers to that question have been posed such as Occam’s Razor or the fact that the natural trumps the supernatural for all cases. We did not arrive at an answer that satisfied everyone.

We discussed the scientific method in greater detail. We followed that by a short discussion on the nature of scientific development/revolution as proposed by Thomas Kuhn in his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Next time, we will begin to cover some specific case studies of the interaction of faith and science throughout the history of science.

We will also discuss some of the claims made in Eric Snow’s paper: “Christianity: A Cause for Modern Science“. In this article, he gives a summary of a couple of papers in which the authors contend that either Christianity helped to create modern science through its worldview, or at the very least, aided in its development. They also contend that other cultures’ worldviews stifled the development of modern science, giving examples from China, India, Islam and others.

Faith and Science: Symbolic Logic

Almost all of today’s class was spent using logical equivalences and rules for inference in their symbolic form to verify the validity of various arguments. One of my favorites was the following:

If the Mosaic account of cosmogony (the account of the creation in Genesis) is strictly correct, the sun was not created till the fourth day. And if the sun was not created till the fourth day, it could not have been the cause of the alternation of day and night for the first three days. But either the word “day” is used in Scripture in a different sense from that in which it is commonly accepted now or else the sun must have been the cause of the alternation of day and night for the first three days. Hence it follows that either the Mosaic account of the cosmogony is not strictly correct or else the word “day” is used in Scripture in a different sense from that in which it is commonly accepted now.

We label the various statements that make up this argument by M, C, A, D. Thus the argument takes the form:
\begin{array}{ll} 1.& M \Rightarrow \ \sim C \\ 2. &  \sim C \Rightarrow \ \sim A \\ 3. & D \vee A \\ \therefore & \sim M \wedge D \end{array}

The proof goes like this:
 \begin{array}{lll} 4. & M \Rightarrow \ \sim A & \mbox{from 1,2  by Hypothetical Syllogism}\\ 5. & A \vee D & \mbox{from 3 by Commutativity}\\ 6. & \sim \sim A \vee D & \mbox{from 5 by Double Negation} \\ 7. & \sim A \Rightarrow D & \mbox{from 6 by Material Implication}\\ 8. & M \Rightarrow D & \mbox{from 4,7 Hypothetical Syllogism} \\ 9. & \sim M \vee D & \mbox{from 8 Material Implication}\end{array}

Next time, a colleague from the Division of Mathematics and Sciences will take over for a couple classes, helping us to understand the scientific method cycle and the historical development of modern science.

Faith and Science: Structure to Logic

Today in class, the rest of the students finished presenting the short oral reports over the classical arguments for the existence of God. (see the previous post). Following this, we delved into the basics of Logic and Reason, covering the basic structures of logic: propositions, conjunctions, disjunctions, negations, conditional and equivalence connectives. Following a presentation of basic rules of logic, I got a little ways into the Rule of Inference, covering Modus Ponens, Modus Tollens, Hypothetical Syllogism, and Disjunctive Syllogism. There are a few more and then we will cover fallacies, divided into three main categories:

  • Fallacies of Relevance
  • Fallacies of Presumption
  • Fallacies of Ambiguity

A colleague of mine will join the class for a few days to help us cover an overview of the History of Science and how science develops. We’ll consider in detail the scientific method. After which we are ready to start with the heavy issues of Origins.

Faith and Science: Beginning Logic and Reason

Today in Faith and Science we went over a couple of interesting articles concerning how we might integrate Faith into our Science curriculum at Christian universities. One author proposes that scientific research can be directed by the understanding that God is the cause of natural law. The second author responds to the first author, maintaining that the creation must surely have some level of autonomy so that not all things are directly caused by God. They are worth your time if you are interested:

  1. Covenantal Science: Impossible or Required? by David Wilcox in Christian Scholar’s Review
  2. Jerusalem and the National Academy of Science: Is There a Christian Philosophy of Science? by Karl Giberson in Christian Scholar’s Review

We had only enough time to just get started talking about Logic and Reason. We will be covering the basic rules of logic, rules for inference, common fallacies, etc. To begin with had four pairs of students research and report on the classical arguments existence of God:

  1. Cosmological Argument
  2. Teleological Argument
  3. Ontological Argument
  4. Moral Argument

We only made it through the first and will finish the rest on Monday, followed by the full lecture on Logic and Reason. I’ll post a link to the PowerPoint after that class.

Faith and Science: Finishing Definitions

During Faith and Science on Monday, the students were allowed to continue collaborating in their groups (2 groups of 4) to decide on their final working definitions of faith and science. After 30 minutes or so, the groups went to the board and recorded their definitions for faith and for science. They then made the effort to assimilate their definitions. We all recognized that within different contexts, different meanings of the terms are appropriate. The definitions below reflect what we will use as our default definitions of these terms as we debate the interaction between the two. If we choose to refer to variations on these definitions, we will be required to explicitly say so. Otherwise, this is what we mean:

Faith is . . .
The belief in the supernatural or God intervening or being involved in the lives of humans and our world (in ways science has been able to explain AND those that cannot be fully explained by science).

Christian Faith is . . .
Absolute belief, trust and loyalty to God and His promises through Christ to salvation.

I should note that one group wanted a more general definition of faith while the other thought it more appropriate to use a definition that reflects the way THIS class will be using the term. Our perspective is primarily how the Christian faith interacts with science. We decided to use both definitions, added the term “Christian” to the second group’s defined term.

Science is . . .
a systematic method for pursuing and acquiring knowledge of aspects of our universe, formulated through human reason.

Beginning next class we will begin studying logic and reason, laying down the specific rules for logic, and analyzing arguments.