Is Science Really the Answer?

Written By: Brandon Cleaver


November 30, 2022

The 2022 movie Wakanda Forever opens with Shuri desperately praying to Bast, Wakanda’s Panther god. Her brother King T’Challa, played by the late Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman, is dying. As the elevator doors open, Shuri prays, “Time is running out. Please allow me to heal my brother of this illness, and I will never question your existence again.” Shuri was unable to save him. T’Challa’s sudden death of an undisclosed illness paralleled the real-life loss of Boseman, who died unexpectedly in 2020 under similar circumstances. Consequently, Shuri’s inability to save T’Challa served as the foundation for the film’s primary themes of grief and loss. Her prayer, seemingly unanswered, solidified her faith in science as the ultimate arbiter of truth over potential spiritual realities.

The fictional character Shuri is not alone in her utter dependence on science. In our contemporary society, many people believe science is the best way to understand our universe and the things within it. This view is called scientism. Essentially, it’s the idea that the hard sciences such as biology, chemistry, and astronomy are “the very paradigm of truth and rationality.”[1] Therefore, faith (or religion) is seen as futile and foolish. Scientism and the compatibility of science and religion were discussed in a recent Everyday Theology episode. However, today, let’s briefly examine some additional shortcomings of scientism.

One of the common tropes regarding science is the idea that science tells us things about the world. This notion, though, is false. Science says nothing. It is the scientist who examines the acquired data and, consequently, reports their findings (That is why different scientists often look at the same data and report different findings). Science is simply the systematic organization of knowledge of a particular subject regarding the universe. Therefore, science assumes the ability to reason on the part of the scientist.

But if scientism is true, what accounts for reason? Our ability to think and reason cannot be reduced to the merely material world of scientism and the worldview of atheism that often accompanies it (i.e., naturalism). C.S. Lewis considers the implications: “The Naturalists have been engaged in thinking about Nature. They have not attended to the fact that they were thinking. The moment one attends to this it is obvious that one’s own thinking cannot be merely a natural event, and therefore something other than Nature exists.”[2]

Science is concerned with the physical world. But science can only be trusted as far as scientists’ ability to reason goes. The thoughts, conscience, and reasonings of human beings are not material realities that fall under the umbrella of scientism. These are metaphysical realities that require an excavation of truth outside of scientism.

Scientism encounters another dilemma when faced with the prevalence of notable (and obscure) scientists who also follow Christ. Inherent to their personal beliefs is a spiritual realm, which explicitly contradicts scientism. Nevertheless, the presence of these scientists in this field shows not only the compatibility of faith and science but, more importantly, that science cannot be the only and most reliable authority on truth. For these scientists, that category belongs to God. Here are some notable early Christian scientists:

▶️ Francis Bacon (1561–1626) was a devout Anglican known as the “father of modern science.” He established the Scientific Method, the evaluative process of investigating and verifying natural phenomena.

▶️ Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) is best known for his pioneering work in astronomy and through the use of telescopes. He once famously stated, “God is known by nature in his works, and by doctrine in his revealed word.”

▶️ Robert Boyle (1627–1691) was an Anglican who developed Boyle’s law, which “ . . . expresses the inverse relationship that exists between the pressure and volume of a gas, and it was determined by measuring the volume occupied by a constant quantity of air when compressed by differing weights of mercury.”[3] Boyle also devoted a considerable amount of time to theological writings, including The Christian Virtuoso, one of his last books that discussed the relationship between science and faith.

▶️ James Clerk Maxwell (1831–1879) contributed insights that have significantly impacted the contemporary field of electromagnetism (i.e., radio, television, smartphones, and the Internet.) By age eight, he could recite all 176 verses of Psalm 119. Upon his death in 1879, “The minister who visited him in his last weeks reported that he spent his last days with a faith that was confident in ‘the gospel of the Saviour.’”[4]

Every human being adheres to a moral code. This code is defined and shaped by one’s worldview. Yet it is not enough to simply observe this reality. When trying to gauge the validity of a worldview, assessing how it makes sense of something as common as morality is a legitimate point of analysis.

As previously stated, scientism assumes only the material world and that it’s the best source of genuine knowledge of the universe and everything in it. Thus, as science is the root of scientism, it tells us what “is,” or rather, about our empirical reality. On the contrary, morality tells us the “oughts” of life, for example, how we ought to act, live, or treat one another. The former provides us with information; the latter bestows wisdom.

The theme of wisdom is found throughout the psalms and proverbs of the Bible. For example, Psalm 111:10 states, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.” Over and over, we find that wisdom is our guide and derives from a humble reverence and submission to God. This is significant for Christians because our moral code flows from God’s essence. Therefore, we have an objective source of morality that is trustworthy.

But in scientism, morality ultimately derives from inherently fickle humans. We constantly change with the whims of emotions and circumstances. Moral codes that start with our desires and thoughts are ultimately subjective and, therefore, untrustworthy. Each person is different, and if we are the harbingers of morality, morals will inevitably conflict with each other. Moreover, there would be no objective way to adjudicate between those moral codes that are in tension.

Science and scientism are silent on morality. We cannot derive an ought from an is. The acquisition of information does not necessarily bestow wisdom on how to act or what to do. Likewise, we need an objective moral standard to have an appropriate ethical paradigm which with to live or act toward each other. Such a standard can only be found in the all-holy, unchanging God of the Bible.

Shuri’s push toward fully embracing scientism came on the heels of grief and loss. But the impetus for embracing this worldview is different for everyone. Scientism is not only problematic for all the reasons discussed here and in the Everyday Theology episode, but most importantly, it is unnecessarily bleak. This world is all there is. But as disciples of Christ, we are also heralds of hope. Scripture reminds us,” Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1 Peter 1:3). Science is beautiful in that it helps provide us with information about God’s creation, but it is limited. Both the science and spiritual work together to provide us with the oughts’ and is’ of life that our hearts yearn for and need.

For more on this topic, check out this episode of Everyday Theology ⬇️