We see misunderstandings of the question of falsification by both atheists and religionists. What is falsification, and how does it relate to faith in God?
Let us begin this discussion by giving a simple definition of falsification. The Falsification Principle, initially proposed by Karl Popper, is a way of demarcating science from non-science. It suggests that for a theory to be considered scientific, it must be testable and falsifiable. For example, the hypothesis that “all swans are white,” can be falsified by observing a black swan.
It always disturbs me to read a religious writing that claims scientific proof that a faith healer accomplished a miracle cure. An excellent example of this was William Nolen’s studies reported in a book titled In Search of A Miracle released in 1975. Nolen investigated the claims of faith healers Kathryn Kulman and Norbu Chen. He showed that there were observable, natural explanations for what had been called “miracles.” Nolen believed he could test Kulman and Chen’s claims by investigating whether there were other explanations for their claimed miracles. There were, so they could not be scientifically proven to be true. What is falsification, and how does it relate to faith in God? You can have faith in someone, but you cannot call it science.
The scientific community is guilty of the same kind of error when it promotes an idea that cannot be tested and calls it science. It is fashionable in today’s world for scientists to propose the existence of an infinite number of parallel universes. They use this idea to explain how our universe could be fine-tuned for life. With a nearly infinite number of universes, we just happen to be in the one with all of the right stuff for life. Multiverse proposals say that quantum pops create universes and that an infinite number of pops would eventually produce every possible set of properties, including ours.
That is an interesting fantasy, but it is just that. There is no way to falsify that proposal, and so it is not scientific. Skeptics will be quick to point out that, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” is also not falsifiable, and that is true. But look at the logical outcome of these two choices. If God created the universe and placed humans in it, then there is a reason there is something instead of nothing, and there is a purpose for our existence. If the faith statement of the multiverse is true, the question of why we exist remains unanswered, and any purpose for the “pops” is pure fantasy.
Romans 1:20 tells us we can know there is a God through the things He has made. The Bible, as a whole, brings us understanding that we are part of a struggle between good and evil and that God is love and wants to have a relationship with us. We can’t offer scientific proof of that, so it is a statement of faith. But it is far more full of meaning and purpose than to speak of what we see in the cosmos as “quantum pops” of something without a cause or purpose. So the question we all have to entertain is, “What is falsification, and how does it relate to faith in God?” The proposed multiverse alternative to God is not falsifiable, and therefore it is faith and not science. In what do you place your faith?
We have said many times before that science and faith are friends, not enemies. The conflict comes when we have bad science or bad theology, and there has been a lot of both. It becomes increasingly necessary in today’s polarized world to avoid fake science and false religious doctrines.
From the beginning of the Church, there have been preachers and teachers who were spreading false doctrines. (2 Corinthians 11:13, 1 Timothy 1:3). Today some scientists present falsified scientific research. Elisabeth Bik, a microbiology researcher, has spent the past few years searching out fraudulent science. She searched 20,000 reports of medical research and found that 800 of them (4%) contained manipulated images.
One of the fraudulent papers Bik found was the work of a Pfizer cancer lab researcher. The images had been edited to show results that were not true. After Bik alerted Pfizer, they fired the researcher, and then investigated her previous research on cancer therapeutics. They found more bogus papers that they had to retract. Scientists often use the work of their peers as a basis for further research. If they are basing their work on false information, the whole system becomes polluted, and lives may be endangered.
Publishing scientific work in prestigious academic journals can lead to respect by other scientists as well as career enhancement and increased income. That creates a “publish or perish” mentality. The temptation to falsify the data becomes strong, and sometimes scientists yield to temptation. That’s a good reason why faith in God is necessary for scientists. Furthermore, the science journals don’t have the staff or funds to catch mistakes, and they are reluctant to retract what they have printed.
The American Scientific Affiliation website published an interesting article by Sara Sybesma Tolsma titled “Science in Church.” Dr. Tolsma is a professor of biology and started her article by saying, “My church is not afraid of science.” The Does God Exist? ministry has tried to nurture that attitude among our readers, so the article was of great interest to me.
What Dr. Tolsma has done is to have an elementary science center in the midweek Bible class. The kids do simple science experiments and then relate them to biblical stories and the concept of God’s design and creative wisdom in the world around us. Because she is a biologist, she had the kids do some experiments with microscopes. They used cotton swabs to wipe surfaces within the meeting place of the Church and then wipe the swab on agar plates which allow bacteria to grow. A week later, they examined the bacteria cultures under a microscope. The kids were shocked at the results. She also led the kids in hand washing experiments using plain water, soap and water, and hand sanitizer to compare the results under the microscope.
The experiments she used can help kids understand God’s hygienic rules for Israel. Helping them see the goodness of the natural world is essential. The kids learn that science is knowledge and the Bible encourages and supports seeking knowledge. These lessons equip them to handle the challenges they will face when people try to make faith an enemy of science. They are prepared to be not afraid of science. Singing “For the Beauty of the Earth,” “How Great Thou Art,” and other songs that praise God for His creative wisdom can build faith. The sessions concluded with a prayer thanking God for all of creation, even those things that you can only see with a microscope.
The conclusion of her article finds Dr. Tolsma saying, “We can reinforce the natural curiosity we see in the kids… and reignite that curiosity in adults so we can all more fully experience Christ, ‘the firstborn of all Creation’ the One in whom ‘all things in heaven and on Earth were made’…the amazing details of God’s natural world declare that the heavens, rocks, plants, animals, and even the microbes are telling the glory of God.”
The Does God Exist? ministry encourages Christians to be not afraid of science. We have a set of materials produced by Jean Wiebe and Pat Parker titled “God Made It All Perfect.” The lessons and ideas are contained in two teacher’s guides. Jean’s materials are designed for grades 1-4 and Pat’s are intended for grades 4–7. There are over 100 pages in each of these 8 ½ x 11 books. We can send these to you free if you will cover the postage and packing, which would be $6.00 for the two or $3.00 for either one. If you are interested, send your check to “Does God Exist?,” PO Box 2704, South Bend, IN 46680-2704.
Fifty-nine percent of the American public says that science and religion are often in conflict according to Pew Research in a survey conducted in 2015. Are science and faith enemies?
The report said that “Some 73% of adults who seldom or never attend religious services say science and religion are often in conflict, while half of adults who attend religious services at least weekly say the same.” The interesting thing is that just half of adults who attend religious services at least weekly say science and religion are often in conflict. Apparently, the people who are not religious see a conflict between science and faith more than religious people do. Perhaps that is the reason they reject faith in God. They have been told that science rules out the possibility that God exists. That is not true.
The point of the DOES GOD EXIST? program is to show that science and faith are friends, not enemies. The problem is that both believers and unbelievers would rather throw stones than resolve issues. Both sides have become entrenched in their own doctrines and refuse to follow the facts wherever they lead. There are Christians who build museums and insist that the universe cannot possibly be more than 10,000 (or even 6,000) years old. Some scientists write best-selling books saying that the existence of God has been disproven by evolution. Both cannot be right. However, but both could be wrong.
People on both sides have their minds made up. Debates have been conducted more for scoring points than for seeking the truth. The supposed conflict between science and faith is often caused by either bad science or bad theology–or both.
Scientists who say the physical universe is “all there is or was or ever will be” have contributed to the problem because that is a statement of faith, not science. The conflict between science and faith has also been caused by theologians who tell us to “put on your Bible glasses” and ignore the plain facts of science.
The truth is that the Bible doesn’t tell us how old the universe is. The truth is also that 14 billion years is not long enough for all life on this planet to have evolved without any intelligent direction. The Bible tells us that God created the heavens and the earth. It does not tell us how. Science can tell us how God formed the elements in the stars, but it can’t tell us how all matter/energy and space/time came from nothing. Science also cannot tell us how lifeless chemicals became complex, living cells.
Centuries ago some theologians wrongly believed that planet Earth was the center of the universe, but they were only following what earlier scientists had believed. The theologians interpreted the Bible to say something that it didn’t say, and it was hard for them to give up their mistaken idea. It was also hard for the scientists to accept the fact that the Earth revolved around the Sun. It was scientists who were also Christian believers who first pushed the idea of a heliocentric system in spite of the disapproval of the established church leaders.
Three thousand years ago Moses recorded in Genesis 1:1 that the universe had a beginning. From the time of Aristotle, science insisted that the universe was eternal. Not until the early twentieth century did science begin to get a clue that there was a beginning. Then it was hard for scientists to give up their mistaken idea. The truth of a beginning was finally confirmed near the end of the twentieth century and reconfirmed in the twenty-first century.
One of the world’s most important prizes in academics is the Templeton Prize. Nominees for this prize of over a million dollars must have qualities “of creativity and innovation, rigor and impact… and above all a substantial record of achievement that highlights or exemplifies one of the various ways in which human beings express their yearning for spiritual progress.”
The 2017 winner is Dr. Alvin Carl Plantinga. Time magazine (April 5, 1980) described Plantinga as “America’s leading orthodox Protestant philosopher of God.” In 1982 he was appointed as the John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame where he taught until 2010. As a graduate student at Notre Dame during those years, I was personally affected by Dr. Plantinga’s work. I have followed his teachings as he returned to Calvin College in Grand Rapids where he and his family started their careers. Dr. Plantinga has degrees and honors from major universities all around the world including Harvard, Yale, University of Michigan, Oxford, and Glasgow, just to mention a few.
What qualifies Alvin Plantinga is not his degrees or honors, but his work. The question of how to comprehend the existence of evil in a world where God is omnipotent and omniscient has been the focus of Plantinga’s work. The relationship and compatibility of scientific and religious belief and evolutionary arguments against naturalism are two of the main themes that Plantinga presents and defends in his books. He also challenges the militant atheism and materialism that exists in the minds of many people today. He argues that the real conflict is not in the disciplines–not between science and religion–but rather between theism and naturalism. Plantinga’s reviews of atheists Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins concludes that their work is “poor philosophy masquerading as science.”
The message we have presented for many years is that science and faith are friends, not enemies. It’s important to hand that message down to the next generation.
When I was a junior in high school, I was fortunate enough to win the local science fair in Bloomington, Indiana. My exhibit was a survey done of southern Indiana freshwater rivers and streams. The purpose was to determine if the biospheres of these smaller bodies of water were a valid commercial source of food for human consumption. This was long before Indiana fish farms existed. My study involved pH, chemical factors, and populations of freshwater life such as turtles and frogs. It was pretty simple and far less complex than the work of Frank Sandy who did a study of new methods of solving complex cubic equations.
The National Science Fair that year (1954) was held at Purdue University and sponsored by Westinghouse. In the May 27, 2017, issue of Science News, there is an article about Aaron Yeiser who won second place in the 2017 version of the National Science Fair called the “Regeneron Science Talent Search.” Aaron says he was “encouraged to pursue his science career because of his grandfather” and because his father and grandparents work in computer science, technology, and chemical engineering.
We attempt to show the world that science and faith are friends and that the teachings of Christ are the best possible way for a person to live. We believe it is important to pass that message and ministry on to our children and grandchildren. If they see us committed to something spiritual, and they understand our love for God and His creation, they too will want to pursue that calling.