The Limitations of Science (Faith and Science 3)

Are there similar limitations to our knowledge of the physical universe? I have to believe so. There are many areas of science in which knowledge has vastly increased in the last few decades. It is, therefore, reasonably certain scientifically that evolution occurs at the micro level (small changes that we can observe over a human lifetime). This would have been an extremely troubling admission for people of faith a century ago and is still troubling to many today. But microevolution is within the direct purview of scientific method and few people of faith question its existence today.

But can we extrapolate from microevolution to large changes taking place over millions of years (macroevolution)? There is significant scientific evidence that points in that direction and one does not have to be a God-hater to see that. For example, the order in the fossil record suggests some kind of evolutionary progression and radiometric dating indicates a considerable amount of time for this progression. I have no compelling scientific data to counter the basic thrust of that evidence and my more conservative scientific friends reluctantly agree that macro-evolution has significant evidentiary support, while creation, at the moment, is not supported with anything as compelling as the two evidences above.

But that does not mean that creation by divine fiat is disproved. After all, science by definition looks for patterns in repetitive events. But creation as promoted in the Bible involves single acts by an intelligent Creator. Science does not offer the tools to explain such singular events in the distant past. A single act of creation would inevitably leave some very challenging evidence to the scientist and could not be proven or disproven by standard scientific methods. So in the absence of direct observation and experimentation, can we be absolutely sure of the way things occurred in the distant past? Is it possible that we have yet to discover the flaws in our current analysis? I think humility is an appropriate approach for both science and faith. We must not only bow before the evidence we have but also before the evidence we have not yet been able to examine.

3 thoughts on “The Limitations of Science (Faith and Science 3)

  1. Zog Has-fallen

    Dr. Jon Paulien believes “the order in the fossil record suggests some kind of evolutionary progression”.

    Since I have never seen anything like a Google Earth map equivalent for the fossil record, my default position has to be that I’m more inclined to believe dissenting opinions. I favor, which cites the following:

    As is now well known, most fossil species appear instantaneously in the fossil record, persist for some millions of years virtually unchanged, only to disappear abruptly. Tom Kemp, “A Fresh Look at the Fossil Record,” New Scientist 108 (December 5, 1985): 67. Dr. Kemp was curator of the University Museum at Oxford University.

    I regard the failure to find a clear “vector of progress” in life’s history as the most puzzling fact of the fossil record… We have sought to impose a pattern that we hoped to find on a world that does not really display it. Stephen J. Gould, “The Ediacaran Experiment,” Natural History 93 (February 1984): 23. Dr. Gould, Professor of Geology at Harvard, was arguably the nation’s most prominent modern evolutionist until his death in 2002.

    One of the most difficult problems in evolutionary paleontology has been the almost abrupt appearance of the major animal groups—classes and phyla—in full-fledged form, in the Cambrian and Ordovician periods. This must reflect a sudden acquisition of skeletons by the various groups, in itself a problem. Alfred G. Fisher, “Fossil record,” in Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia 2002 (i3) [CD-ROM]. See also Stephen J. Gould, “The Return of the Hopeful Monster.” Natural History 86 (June/July 1977): 22-30.

    Phyletic gradualism [gradual evolution] was an a priori assertion from the start—it was never “seen” in the rocks. Stephen J. Gould and Niles Eldredge, Abstract to “Punctuated Equilibria: The Tempo and Mode of Evolution Reconsidered,” Paleobiology 3, no. 2 (Spring 1977): 115.

    Compiled by Henry M. Morris, Some Call It Science, pp. 13, 14, 43.

    1. Jon Paulien Post author

      I’d never make an assertion like that on my own as a non-scientist. I got that from several (independently) of the most conservative creation scientists who would never say that in public, but admitted privately. I think we should just be honest, acknowledge that the science leans the other way right now, don’t give up the faith, and keep learning.

  2. Robert Whiteman

    Apart from the Divine account of creation, man is doomed to the inability to see accurately in all his observations due to a finite perspective and very limited experience. I would also suggest that God’s finger prints are everywhere in creation, though many are unable to see them. However, even with this clear evidence, the denial of God is the underlying motive and power of Satan’s temptations that so many yield to. So focus on these arguments, however strong, is still the wrong approach in most cases.

    As I mentioned in reply to a preceding post, the Lord as applied the term “fool” to all who deny His divine power and truth as given to all men. This Word also tells us: “Speak not in the ears of a fool: for he will despise the wisdom of thy words”(Pr 23:9). So where does this leave the person of faith in regard to this question of origins? I believe Peter has a good answer to this question when He wrote: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:”(1 Pe 3:15).

    Of course, there needs to be wisdom to discern if the question is only to provoke argument in order to promote the foolish notions some have embraced that lead them to deny God’s existence and power, which we have been counseled to avoid. If the Gospel is our reason, it places the focus on the real need of all sinners doesn’t it? All the knowledge of science cannot save the sinner from his sin and it’s sure wages. This will lead those who respond honestly to the Holy Spirit’s convictions to find the remedy found in Christ alone. This is the highest knowledge anyone can know. Are we helping others to see this? Won’t this knowledge solve the “side issues”(such as origins) as well? How else will fallen man break the yoke of sin and overcome the blindness it brings with it? Until Satan no longer has control, the darkness of falsehood will prevail. If any have forgotten, “we wrestle not against flesh and blood…”(Eph 6:12). Origins is only one of many side issues devised to distract from the real need of all sinners.

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