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 [tex]M, C, A, D[/tex]. Thus the argument takes the form:
[tex]\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}[/tex]

The proof goes like this:
[tex] \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}[/tex]

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.

Faith and Science: Definitions

To begin class on Friday, I went over a few interesting entries that have been made on the class blogs. As part of this course, the students are required to maintain a personal blog over the topics of this course. Up to this point, they have each been asked to post entries on a series of questions, such as encountering conflicts between science and religion, their perspective on miracles, their firm or nor-so-firm opinion on the origin of the universe, etc. In the past (this course having been taught twice before), we have simply had the students fill out a questionnaire handout. The blogs allow the students to read one another’s entries and make comments. I have also been making comments and have found their participation, thus far, to be very encouraging. Fortunately, it is a fairly small class so I can manage to read each of their entries in detail.

Following this review of some of the interesting postings, we entered into our discussion on the definitions of the terms we will be using throughout the course. In order to be very precise in our debates we want to establish specifically what we mean by the terms Faith and Science, as well as some related terms such as Religion, Natural, Evolution, Creation, etc. In many cases, a debate can be made fruitless when two sides use the same term to mean completely different things. For example, we can propose a definition for Science that basically makes it the study, through observation and experimentation, of the natural world. That works just fine but you must specify what is meant by the natural world. One might define natural in such a way to exclude any influence from the supernatural. If so, one decides from the very beginning that any “scientist” that studies how God might be revealed in nature or how the natural world points to a supernatural origin cannot be doing science. We have yet to discuss those issues so we’ve made not conclusions about the validity of such theories as Intelligent Design or even Theistic Evolution. And yet, how we define science can exclude it from the very start if we are not careful.

I had the students prepare for class today by searching for various definitions of the above terms and they were asked to identify the important components of each definition that they feel are vital to a precise and foundational definition of the term. We focused primarily on Faith, Science and Natural. After collecting many varying components, writing them on the board, and discussing, the class was divide into two groups and asked to formulate their working definitions. Class ended in the middle of this activity and we will pick up there next time.

Faith and Science: Up to this point

So far in the Faith and Science course we have spent some time discussing the importance of our worldview, Flatland, and definitions of important terms. We concluded that even scientists who hope to achieve true objectivity are inevitably victims of their own biases. Are there are ways to overcome this bias? Certainly there are areas of scientific endeavor where the worldview affects ones understanding or interpretation of a particular result greater than others. In the end, worldview matters. Scientists should be aware of their bias and not necessarily try to hide it behind an attitude of objectivity. In particular, I can say that as a Christian I am motivated to understand God’s creation by my desire to learn more about the Creator. And yet, the truth of the topics covered in, say, my Intermediate Analysis course are true and independent of my personal beliefs. Our expectation of how the world “works” has its source in our own beliefs about the world around us. This can affect, and most likely does, the way we “do” science.

God has given the gift of a rational mind to humanity so that we can use it to arrive at the truth about this world. I’ll not recreate the entire discussion here but it was very intriguing.

Next, the class read a short little book written in the late nineteenth century, by Edwin A. Abbot (although originally under the pen-name of A.Square), called Flatland. It tells the story of the life a square who lives in a two dimensional world called Flatland. The first third of the book describes the the life of a figure in two dimensions. Imagine taking a penny and placing it on the table and then lowering your eyes to the level of the top of the table. You see that the circle that was the penny has become a straight line. From that perspective, all objects in the plane have become straight lines. It is very interesting world that Abbot creates. The rest of the book discusses the adventures of A.Square into the worlds of Lineland and Spaceland. He visits Lineland, a one dimensional world and tries, in vain, to explain the nature of his two dimensional world. Later, a sphere visits him from Spaceland, a three dimensional world like ours. A.Square cannot not understand what the third dimension is like until he visits the world and sees Flatland from above. When he returns to Flatland and tries to explain the nature of the third dimension, “upward, not northward”, he is outcast and thrown into prison for his heretical ideas.

We used it as an important lesson on how we communicate with individuals with an entirely different set of assumptions about the world around us. Very often, we not only don’t understand their language but their lack of similarity to our experiences make our ideas seem completely foreign and incomprehensible. We must make every effort to understand each others arguments accurately as we debate. And of course, we critique ideas and not persons. In fact, on the first day of class we laid down the parameters of our debates in our class and that principle was high up on the list.