Why trust science in a post-truth age?

“Why Trust Science?” is a new book by Naomi Oreskes, Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University. I’ve posted some resources by her before on this forum. In This Interview, she discusses her book with Ann Reid, the director of the National Center for Science Education.

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She has a great TED talk on the scientific method.

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That was great, thank you for sharing, @Christy. I couldn’t help noticing how many parallels there were between what she Naomi describes as the ‘true’ scientific method and the way theology is supposed to be done within more Reformed circles.

For example:

  1. Inductive reasoning: Science begins with an observation about the universe or natural world. Reformed theology most often begins with observations about a particular text or texts or book.

  2. Modelling: Scientists construct computer models to make sense of their data. Reformed theology seeks to create models (doctrines) that make sense of the biblical data they have collected.

  3. Evidence: Scientists are sceptical of novelty. They place the burden of proof on the one with the new idea. New ideas which are evidenced are then weighed and scrutinised by the community before being accepted, rejected, modified or labelled intractable. Simply replace ‘scientist’ with ‘Reformed theologians’ and you get the picture.

  4. Collective wisdom and shared history: Scientists value the collective wisdom of the community. No theory rests on the authority of anyone scientists but on many voices throughout history. Likewise, Reformed theology seeks to understand the revelation of scripture in the streams of tradition, community and shared history. Like science, this means that sometimes it takes a while for new ideas to catch on.

I’m saying all this really not to convince my non-Reformed brothers and sisters of how virtuous Reformed theology is or anything as pretentious as that. Clearly, whilst we have similarities in terms of methods theology and science are very different animals. I know that. And I know that some might probably disagree with what I have written above. I’m cool with that too.

I am more writing this for my Reformed brothers and sisters who are so often hostile and mistrustful of the sciences. Yet perhaps here at least there is a whopping chunk of common ground where we can help to calm that hostility and breakdown the mistrust. Maybe the Reformed have more shared heritage with science than we have been lead to believe.

My take away for them is: If you trust the methods of Calvin, Keller, Carson, Berkhof, Bavink, and Ursinus, then you have more than enough reasons to trust the methods of scientists too.

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Personally, I find your comparison between Reformed theology and science rather iffy and forced. The heart of science is the theory, a framework of knowledge which serves as the best explanation for related natural phenomena. Theories absolutely must be tested in science. What testing is done in Reformed theology? Are the tests repeatable, and are all people allowed to weigh in with better experiments?

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Sure @beaglelady, it is probably a teeny bit forced :wink:. I’m certainly not saying the comparison is 1:1. Obviously, what is central to RT is not testable theories but scripture derived doctrines. And again doctrines cannot be ‘tested’ in an empirical sense, but instead have to be compared to the broader witness of Scripture, confessions, and the history of Christian thought. However there is still a weighing, and scrutinising of data going on - a ‘testing’ of sorts, albeit in a very different form.

Similarly, RT seeks to offer a “framework of knowledge which serves as the best explanation” for scriptural data. Whether it achieves that aim is debatable, but I still believe that is the aim. At the end of the day, Christianity offers a framework of knowledge, just a different kind of knowledge.

Again, there is no 1:1 comparison going on here. I know that science and theology are not the same. :slightly_smiling_face: But in terms of ways of knowing stuff I do think the circles on the ven diagram overlap more than many in the Reformed tradition have been led to believe. That scientists and Reformed theologians have similar concerns, despite their different realms of operation. That’s all I’m trying to say really.

Thanks for the gracious push back.

It achieves it Liam within the limits of its epistemology.

I think I speak for more or us around here than just myself, Martin, when I note that the majority of your short responses are too cryptic and short to mean anything to us.

One easy thing you could do that would immensely help readers understand your thoughts is to just insert the quote you are responding to in your own post. Your responses may be wise or needed, but most people will never know if they aren’t willing to search up into the prior (often very long) posts for the thing you are responding to. If you help us out with that context, then that would go miles toward making your cryptic responses potentially meaningful. It’s easy to do - just highlight the bit in somebody else’s post that caught your eye, and click the grey quote box that pops up, and voila! Your zinger response suddenly has needed context.

And don’t be afraid of using words. None of us are graduates from mind-reading school around here. We depend on good old fashioned words to have any clue what you’re talking about.

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My apologies @Mervin_Bitikofer

LM77: “…R[eform] T[heology] seeks to offer a “framework of knowledge which serves as the best explanation” for scriptural data. Whether it achieves that aim is debatable”

Klax: “It achieves it Liam within the limits of its epistemology.”

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Some of the distrust people have of scientists has more to do with not liking the conclusions science reaches. This is best illustrated by people saying they distrust scientists because they got Theory A wrong, and when you ask them how they know Theory A is wrong they will cite other scientific studies. So they trust scientists when they say Theory A is wrong, but not when scientists support an idea they don’t like.

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Maybe you could step me through an example or two.

I’m happy to try. :grimacing: Can you give me a bit more information about what you are looking for?

You could show me an example of this in Reformed Theology:

  1. Inductive reasoning: Science begins with an observation about the universe or natural world. Reformed theology most often begins with observations about a particular text or texts or book.
  2. Modelling: Scientists construct computer models to make sense of their data. Reformed theology seeks to create models (doctrines) that make sense of the biblical data they have collected.
  3. Evidence: Scientists are sceptical of novelty. They place the burden of proof on the one with the new idea. New ideas which are evidenced are then weighed and scrutinised by the community before being accepted, rejected, modified or labelled intractable. Simply replace ‘scientist’ with ‘Reformed theologians’ and you get the picture.
  4. Collective wisdom and shared history: Scientists value the collective wisdom of the community. No theory rests on the authority of anyone scientists but on many voices throughout history. Likewise, Reformed theology seeks to understand the revelation of scripture in the streams of tradition, community and shared history. Like science, this means that sometimes it takes a while for new ideas to catch on.

btw, don’t feel that you are obliged to provide an example.

No problem. Happy to have a crack. Will have a think about how to explain it and report back! :+1:

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