apologetics · Books for Grownups · Reading

“The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy” Review

Back in college one of my science classes listed The Soul of Science by Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton on its book list. Was it actually used in the course? I can’t remember. Nor can I really remember the class. But I bought it and there it sat, on my shelf year after year, house after apartment after apartment. I made one or two half-hearted attempts to read it – interested but apparently not that interested – until recently it caught my attention again, and I decided to finally “give it the ‘ol college try.”

I’m glad I did and, in a lot of ways, I’m glad I waited. In years past I think I would have looked at it primarily as an apologetics book and would have been disappointed when it didn’t quite materialize as the scathing criticism of modern science that I thought it would. Nor would I have had enough experience to appreciate its historical and philosophical approach to the topic of “science.”

The book does certainly have both apologetic intent and power. It’s main thrust, though, is to position science rightly in our scheme of human knowledge. To disabuse us of the tenacious belief in our modern, popular mind that “science” as a discipline rises above philosophy and presupposition and bias and superstition and religion to rest on the solid mountaintop of FACTS. Brute, empirical, observable facts; facts divorced from any larger belief system and standing on their own to display reality “as it really is.”

Largely, it seems that science (or at least the popular portrayal of science) still believes this, though philosophy – sorry Enlightenment – has long since been disabused of the notion. Pearcey and Thaxton trace the history of science and the thoughts behind it from Aristotle and Plato through quantum physics and the information revolution. Their readable and extensively researched flyover seeks to show how the larger worldview of the scientist has always driven and interpreted their results and discoveries and also how Christian belief largely fueled the Scientific revolution (only to be replaced with a shaky materialism as the ages progressed).

I highly recommend this book. It will not answer all your questions (it left me with a couple I’m still pondering) or lay waste to philosophical materialism (a task to which I’m not sure science is even suited) but it did lay a lot of groundwork for further growth and reading in this area.

One drawback I will mention, however: the modern scientific discussions are certainly dated (copyright 1994). As this is not the central point of the work, however, the damage done to the overall product is limited.

One thought on ““The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy” Review

  1. Ryan, I find interesting some of your take-aways after reading this book. The first comment you made that made me pause was your reflection about how you might have been “disappointed” that the book “was not a scathing criticism of modern science.” You go on to indicate that your thinking has evolved since college days.
    Another point you make is that “popular portrayal of science” is based objectively on just the facts.
    Being human, gifted with intellect and free-will, God as created us as a wonderfully diverse population. However as fallen creatures, we also have self interest driving any endeavor we engage in. Therefore it is impossible for any activity of mankind to be without bias, science included. Therefore, perhaps the strongest attribute to “modern science” is the original intent behind the scientific method. I will not outline the entire process, but instead illustrate what I emphasized with my students when teaching them how to go about science.
    The process of developing an hypothesis is essential to science. The scientist must base a hypothesis on observable, measurable facts. The hypothesis MUST be something that they believe is absolutely true. Then the next step in the scientific method is for the scientist to go about the process with equal zeal to prove their hypothesis is WRONG! That is, incorrect, false!
    The problem with many scientists today is that they work for organizations that want a specific outcome, thus demand that their scientists try to prove the hypothesis correct! It is very easy to collect data (facts) that support an hypothesis, but that does not prove an hypothesis. In fact, in most circumstances, one cannot “prove” an hypothesis, only get to the point that one’s research is exhaustive and it could not be disproven. Take, for example, modern atomic theory. Since the time of the Greek philosopher Democritus, people have been trying to define the shape and structure of the atom. There have been thousands of models, some absurd , many quite plausible. Based on the more plausible models we have developed atomic energy and a great deal of technology. But, and this is a BIG “but,” we cannot to this day define the structure of the atom. That is science, an evolving endeavor of mankind trying to explain what he experiences in this physical world.
    As a science teacher and a Christian, the advice I would like to share with my fellow Christians, is adopt the process of the scientific method on whatever observations you make. Gather these data and develop your own hypothesis that you believe to be true with all your heart and mind, then seriously try to disprove it. If your hypothesis is valid, you will never be able to disprove it. But you must truly try to disprove it! My favorite science quote comes from Aldous Huxley: “The tragedy of science is the slaying of a beautiful hypothesis by an ugly fact.”
    I enjoyed your review!

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