Is Science the Source of Truth?
“We believe science!” You’ve seen or heard this proudly proclaimed as a campaign slogan, a social media post, or even a bumper sticker or yard sign. There is much to be commended about science: it is the product of rigorous observation, repetition, corroboration, and review. It delivers reliable information about our world. Even in response to the coronavirus pandemic, we are immensely indebted to the scientific community for rapidly developing therapeutics and now, vaccines. Science, then, is an extremely valuable tool.
Still, science is woefully misunderstood and mistreated. Science has been given the undue burden of serving as an epistemological foundation (the basis and starting point for truth). Although science pursues and discovers truth, science is not, in and of itself, truth. When we burden science with the responsibility of being truth, we abuse and misuse what science tells us. In reality, it is God Himself who is the epistemological foundation. He is truth, and He is the revealer of truth.
In short, science is the pursuit of truth; God is the source of truth.
Science is the Pursuit
When my wife graduated with her Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine, she and I packed up and moved so she could start practicing medicine. She began giving away, or in some cases throwing away, old textbooks. I couldn’t believe it – why would you throw away a perfectly good reference tool? It was only published four years ago! My wife laughed: “There have been so many corrections since that book was published, it’s not even worth anything anymore.”
Now, that’s not just some capitalist scheme to sell more books. That is the fundamental nature of science. It is always changing. My wife has a textbook that is 15 years old, and it is actually less than worthless; it is a minefield of potential falsehoods that she must consult with great discretion. In fact, halfway through her program, my wife was already being told to unlearn what she had learned just two years prior because they now knew that they were wrong. And the corrections she learned in her final year? Future veterinary students will be unlearning those, too, in no time. This is not to discredit science but to highlight its function: Science is the never-ending pursuit of truth.
When we understand this basic distinction – that science is merely the pursuit of truth – then we are free to use science as the tool it is designed to be: a means to glorify God and a tool to serve God’s creation. We receive data, evaluate it on its merit, and humbly accept it, aware of its short-comings. There is much that is indeed known through the triumphs of science, and it isn’t as though there were a complete turnover of facts every four years. Science is trustworthy. But we must not convert science into an iron standard. The scientific consensus at any given moment never arrives at knowledge. After all, data must be interpreted, and there are always disagreements on interpretation – bare observation does not produce a conclusion. Even if they did, observations are sometimes shrouded in human error. What we think we know today may be disproven tomorrow. Like an asymptote on a graph that never approaches its end, science is never finally knowledge, but ever closer toward it.
God is the Source
If science is the pursuit of truth, God is truth’s source. Whereas science takes note of the observable universe, God creates it. Everything that can be known is revealed by God. Let me explain. Theologians often categorize truth into two broad categories: general and special revelation. General revelation is what God has revealed (get this) generally through creation – the things which every person may observe (i.e. the subject of science). Special revelation is what God has revealed specifically through His Word (the Bible, the Prophets, and Jesus Himself). So then, science has discovered that the universe had a beginning; God tells us that “in the beginning God created” (Gen. 1:1). Science has discovered X and Y chromosomes; God tells us that “He created them male and female” (Gen. 1:27). All of the truths that we know are rooted in revelation (general or special) and sourced from God.
All truth is revealed truth, and it is not revealed by scientists. It is revealed by God and discovered by scientists, philosophers, historians, theologians, musicians, etc. Everything that can be known – everything – is sourced in God. Understand this point carefully: God is truth, and all truth flows from Him. It is not enough to say that God tells the truth or reveals the truth (though He indeed does those things). God Himself is truth. God, unlike, science, is unchanging. He is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). That makes Him a strong epistemological foundation.
If you’re still reading, maybe your head is spinning. Does it really matter whether science is truth or merely pursues it? Yes, it does. It matters a lot. You see, all knowledge is faith. It is either faith in one’s senses and collective human reason, or it is faith in a benevolent God. René Descartes famously pondered whether or not he existed. He arrived at this conclusion: Cogito, ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”). He brilliantly proved his own existence on the grounds of his reason. Only one problem: that’s all he could know. If our epistemological foundation is rooted in our existence, extending outward from ourselves on the basis of our senses, then we can never know if our senses are reliable.
How do you know that you’re reading this article rather than slumped over somewhere imagining it in the palace of your own mind? Either (a) because you trust your senses or (b) because you trust that there is a good God who gave you reliable senses. The only difference between a Christian and a relativist is the object of our faith: the relativist places faith in the human collective, the Christian places faith in the Godhead. Therefore, the Christian worldview has a basis for objective, unchanging truth. The no-God worldview can only stand upon slippery subjectivism. Sure, there are many great thinkers who believe in objectivity and don’t believe in God, but while their stance on objective truth is consistent with reality, it is inconsistent with their worldview. So, if science is the “at-bottom” foundation for truth, it is an exercise of faith in personal senses and collective reason, which ironically can only lead to relativism. If, however, the “at-bottom” foundation is God, then it is an exercise of faith in an unchanging, consistent, benevolent Creator.
Finally, because science is always changing, never settled nor static (even our fundamental understanding of reality from Isaac Newton until the 20th century was blown to bits by the discoveries of Albert Einstein), it cannot serve as the source of truth. If science were the source of truth, then truth would be constantly changing – true only for a moment before contradicted by a newer, different truth. And if the nature of truth were so dynamic, it could not be considered truth at all. In other words, when science functions as an epistemological foundation, it constantly undermines and contradicts itself into obscurity. But when it is understood as a tool to pursue truth, it is a powerful force for good! On the other hand, when God functions as an epistemological foundation, truth is unchanging, stable, and sound (because God is those things). We can use science as a tool in pursuit of truth, trusting in God as our foundation, and seeking to serve both God and creation.
Science is the pursuit of what God already knows. God is the source of what science discovers. When we maintain that distinction, our foundation for truth is firm, and our use of science is responsible and measured. I often tell my wife that her study of biology and medicine is essentially theology. She is learning and discovering the creative handiwork of God! This is the function of science – to continuously uncover the revealed work of our Creator as a means to glorify Him and as a tool to serve creation. This is why I’m not bothered when there is a seeming contradiction between the collective testimony of science and the testimony of God. My wife’s textbooks get thrown away in a few years after a slew of changes. Mine is the same as it was 2,000 years ago, still intact, waiting for science to catch up. What a firm (epistemological) foundation!
Tyler Wilson is pursuing his Master of Theology degree as a full-time student at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, Texas, USA. Prior to becoming a full-time student, Tyler ministered to university students for four years while serving as College Pastor at a church in Oklahoma. Tyler loves teaching the Bible and helping others to have their worldview shaped by and grounded in the Word of God. Furthermore, he is passionate about the grace of God and the beauty of the gospel. Tyler is married to Michelle, who works as a Veterinarian at a clinic in Dallas. Together, they enjoy doing missions around the world and reaching people for Christ.