It’s good to celebrate science, whatever your religious belief

Lewis Carroll imagined a world in which everything happened differently than it does here. That isn’t so surprising. If there are other worlds, wouldn’t they be different than ours? I always smile when I read about human attempts to find extra-terrestrial life. What makes us assume we would even recognize extra-terrestrial life if we saw such? 

Scientists often disagree about what is alive and what isn’t. One often-cited characteristic of life is that living things can reproduce themselves. But so can computer viruses. What if another life form was nothing more than a series of electrical pulses? Would we recognize it as living? If computer viruses are alive, perhaps we should organize a group of people for the “ethical treatment of computer viruses” (PETCV).

Scientists believe life is universally carbon-based because we believe the laws of the universe are uniform throughout the universe. We also believe they have been the same throughout time. We even assume these laws will never change. Many of these laws are so precise they appear to be able to be expressed in the language of mathematics. Of course, these assumptions are impossible to prove, except that we haven’t found any exceptions yet.

These assumptions are little short of amazing. The presently accepted theory of the origins of the universe postulates a nearly infinite explosion. Can a violent, chaotic explosion give rise to an orderly universe? To propose that the very explosion was caused by laws that must have existed prior to the explosion to cause it, and then to not ask what the source of these laws is, is a leap of faith of the first order. 

Christianity did not invent reason, knowledge or the idea that the universe is a logical, rational place. Pythagoras, Thales and other early philosophers postulated a universe that was understandable according to natural law. Plato taught there was a natural law. Algebra was invented through ancient Islamic culture. However, these early ideas were ignored for centuries during the Dark Ages, but were recorded, kept alive and eventually rediscovered by early Christian thinkers. 

The book of Genesis tells us, “In the beginning God created Heaven and earth.” No other religious book besides the Judeo-Christian Old Testament addresses the origin of the universe, let alone details the events. Christianity resurrected the idea of an orderly universe because it believes that such a world has a rational cause: God. The Judeo-Christian ethic teaches that the world operates according to divine reason. Since we are created in God’s image, and God is a logical, orderly, reasonable God, we must also possess these attributes. Of course, like with science, this is also an assumption. Reason always begins with initial assumptions.

Until recently, when other cultures have adopted western scientific methods, the overwhelming majority of scientific discoveries have been made by people who had absorbed the Judeo-Christian ethic. This ethic is the idea that if man studies the way the world works hard enough, mankind will better understand the mind of God. Ninety percent of all scientific discoveries of the last several hundred years have been made in countries heavily influenced by the Judeo-Christian ethic. 

These universal laws, and our ability to predict and control them, have been a great gift to all of mankind. It isn’t necessary that you believe in God to have the advantage of gravity. Electricity works just fine for atheists. Much of modern medicine was developed by overtly religious individuals of the Judeo-Christian heritage but is a benefit to people of all faiths. If humans will avail themselves of education and use knowledge in a beneficial way, science can improve the lives of all mankind, in spite of man’s varying religious beliefs.

However, science would not hold the place it does in our lives without Judeo-Christian scholarship. Even if that faith were to prove erroneous, it has still been the source of knowledge and wisdom. So Merry Christmas, everyone, from science!

Gary McCallister, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), is a professor of biology at Colorado Mesa University.


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