I love science. It is an incredibly useful tool for helping us to learn about God’s creation. The Bible says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”
The same God who gave us the Law of Moses has established the laws of the universe. Knowing the laws of the universe helps us to see God’s glory. When we study a miraculous galaxy spinning like clockwork many lightyears away, or when we study a single atom directly in front of us, spinning like clockwork, we can see the glory of the clocksmith who formed them both and who “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” Science is a tool that allows us to see elements of God’s glory that we otherwise could not see. I think Christians oftentimes underestimate the usefulness of science.
Where Christians sometimes underestimate the usefulness of science, secularists overestimate it. Science is a wonderful tool. But that is all it is. It is a tool. And just as a hammer is a great tool for pounding nails, but a lousy tool for cutting wood, and a saw is a great tool for cutting wood, but a lousy tool for hammering a nail, science is a great tool for what it is designed for, but a lousy tool for what it is not designed to do. Science is a descriptive tool. It can describe nature. It is not, however, a prescriptive tool. It cannot tell us how we should behave.
Science is a useful tool to tell us that if we interact socially with others during a pandemic, we increase the likelihood of spreading the virus by between X and Y percent. And that is helpful to know. However, what science is not capable of telling us is if we ought to protest injustice in the midst of a pandemic, despite the fact that it might increase the spreading of a virus by between X and Y percent. Furthermore, it certainly cannot tell us which injustices are worth protesting and which are not. Is it worth protesting the death of an unarmed black man, if it will increase the likelihood of spreading the virus by between X and Y percent? Is it worth protesting the closure of family businesses, the breakup of families caused by economic collapse, or the increased number of deaths of despair, if it will increase the likelihood of spreading the virus by between X and Y percent? Is it worth protesting that the McRib is not available year-round if it will increase the likelihood of spreading the virus by between X and Y percent?
Beyond protests, science is incapable of telling us to what degree we should take risks in our everyday lives. Is it worth holding your dying grandmother’s hand as she passes away, if it risks increasing the spread of the virus by between X and Y percent? Is it worth celebrating the wedding of your daughter, if it could increase the spread of the virus between X and Y percent? Is it worth enjoying a live performance of music if it will increase the spread of the virus between X and Y percent? These are questions science cannot answer.
Science cannot tell us the value of hugging a dying loved one. Science cannot tell us the value of music. Science cannot tell us the joy of celebrating love.
Science cannot tell us what we ought to do. It cannot be used to make value judgements. That’s not its job. When we use a tool that is designed to describe in order to prescribe, we are using a saw to pound in a nail, or a hammer to cut wood. And regardless of how much you love your favorite saw, or how proud you are of your favorite hammer, when you use them for the wrong job, you are going to get disastrous results.
If people are asked to use a saw to pound nails, sooner or later, they are going to detest saws. And if people are told to use science to make value judgements, sooner or later they will detest science.
Science is a tool. Scientism is a religion.