Thoughts on Science and Meaning: Living Fully or Living Folly?

Science is awesome!  Or, as Bill Nye is fond of saying, “Science rules”.[1]  However, the reason science is so awesome is because God’s creation is so awesome.  Science is the means of discovering the logic, complexity, and order within nature.  In fact, if nature were not so beautiful, science would be rather dull.  In other words, science is what it is because nature is what it is; and nature is what it is because God is who He is.

The practice of science ought to lead us to praise and wonder.  Indeed, prior to the self-professed Enlightenment, where man was viewed as the center of all things, science did just that.  Prior to this, “Humankind dwelled not in a cold, meaningless universe but in a cosmos, in which everything had meaning because it participated in the life of the Creator.”[2]  Dreher goes on to note, prior to the Enlightenment the “medieval model held all of Creation to be bound in a complex unity that encompassed all of time and space.”[3]  Now, in a society constructed on the nihilistic and narcissistic philosophies of the so-called light-bearers, man is imploding.  The Enlightenment stripped creation of its transcendent beauty and meaning, replacing it with a “beauty” and “meaning” that is self-ascribed – in the eyes of the beholder alone.  We are now told to find purpose in a purposeless world, to which I have to ask: For what purpose?  Why bother in a world that can’t be bothered with?  Why dream in a world in which there is no wake?  Why hope in a world that promises only death?  As the apostle Paul says, “If the dead do not rise, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!’” (1 Cor. 15:32b).

This mechanical view of the world is a stark contrast to the holistic view of the ancients.  Rather than the rigid either-or mentality of our own day regarding the sciences and the transcendent, the ancients thought more in terms of both-and:

As residents of the modern world, we first have to recognize how differently we have come to think and live when compared to ancient cultures.  In our Western, postindustrial context we interpret human experience primarily through the authority of the scientific mind, and we are assured that our ‘neutral’ and ‘objective’ observations will give us truth about the world we live in.  Our mechanistic, sterile view of the world with its critical lens orients us to our experience through psychological, social or scientific concepts.  When reason and observation rule in this way, anyone who speaks seriously of mystery, the transcendent or the spiritual seems increasingly out of touch with reality.

….  Ancient wisdom’s holistic and personal view of the world thus allowed for a unique understanding of the order and structure of the world.  Wisdom, rather than science, was the key to unlocking the living structure and order in creation; the key to a well-lived life was a well-developed sense of wisdom. [4]

This is not to say that science is unimportant, nor is it to diminish scientific advancements.  It is to say, however, that the modern notion of science has not kept in touch with the wisdom of old.  Contemporary scientists have forgotten their first love: philosophy.

For many, meaning is found in the sciences through which, it is hoped, the improvement of life is achieved.  To a large extent, this has been the case.  The daily comforts we take for granted in the Western world are largely due to advancements brought about by science.  But living more comfortably is not the same as living more fully.  To live fully is to live truly.  To live truly is to live in accordance with the transcendent meaning of life, a meaning derived by its Creator (Acts 17:24-31; Rom. 11:36; Rev. 4:11).  Detached from this reality, the scientific enterprise can only be seen as producing creaturely comforts, like the last meal of a death row inmate.

The celebrity naturalistic scientists of our day, such as Dawkins, Atkins, Krauss, Tyson, and Nye – the first three I refer to as the arrogant sons of science (or A.S.S.; sometimes you have to be blunt)[5] – all tell us it is unscientific to conclude there is a God based on the material world, because it is assumed that if you can’t see it, poke it, or taste it, it isn’t there.  This, however, is to view science as purely deductive to the exclusion of induction.  This staunch empiricism is an Enlightenment definition of science rooted in philosophical naturalism.  It is not the thinking of the ancients, those noble guardians of wisdom.   It is, instead, bound up in the thoughts of yesterday, wherein lies folly.  Yet, these naturalists stand on the shoulders of scientific giants who saw their faith in God as motivation for their scientific endeavors.  Today, however, we are told such notions have no place in the sciences.

What advancements in science demonstrate is that no one, not even the smart ones, can escape the essence of what it means to be man – the image-bearer of the Creator.  The drive to discover and create and improve is testimony to their innate knowledge of life’s true meaning.  This is an important point to grasp.  I’m not saying the atheist has no moral standards or ethical outlook.  Quite the contrary.  As man, it’s in their very nature, and from nature one acts.  Therefore, it is not uncommon for these naturalistic scientists to be driven by some desire to do good for humanity.  Bill Nye serves as a fitting example of this: “When I talk reverently about the nerd mindset [i.e. the scientific mindset], I’m extolling the virtues of a worldview that involves gathering as much information as possible and being constantly on the lookout for ways to use it for the greater good.”[6]  Nye’s “greater good” mentality, while noble in itself, does not properly arise from his naturalistic, evolutionary worldview.  In a world that sprung forth from nothing, there is no ultimate standard or authority by which we may derive notions of virtue and goodness.  He may be speaking truly, but he is not speaking soundly.

Further, the natural laws (or laws of nature) discovered and relied upon in science are in reality the laws of God – the word of God upholding His creation (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3).  Since God is a God of means, we expect to discover laws that we call natural, but they are anything but natural.  That is to say their source is not of themselves, but of Him who is above nature.  In this sense, they are supernatural: “The regularities that scientists describe are the regularities of God’s own commitments and actions….  Scientists describe the regularities in God’s word governing the world.  So-called natural law is really the law of God or word of God, imperfectly and approximately described by human investigators.”[7]  This gets to Kepler’s notion of scientists thinking God’s thoughts after Him.

So, we have two options before us when it comes to science.  We can either use science to make man more comfortable in a world deemed meaningless, which is our society’s current paradigm, or we can use science to enable man to live more fully in a world of God-given meaning.  As Christians, we have the important task of redeeming the sciences for God and His glory.  This dominion mandate goes all the way back to the garden of Eden with God’s instruction to Adam to cultivate and guard it (Gen. 2:15).[8]  Let us, therefore, seek to apply the wisdom of the ancients to the science of the moderns.


[1] From the intro of his “Bill Nye the Science Guy” series.

[2] Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (NY: Sentinel, 2018), 25. Emphasis is his.

[3] Ibid., 26.

[4] Craig Bartholomew and Ryan O’Dowd, Old Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction (IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 33-34.

[5] If you’ve seen their debates or talks, you know what I’m talking about.

[6] Bill Nye, Everything All at Once: How to Think Like a Science Guy, Solve Any Problem, and Make a Better World (NY: Rodale Books, 2017), 9.

[7] Vern Poythress, Redeeming Science: A God-Centered Approach (IL: Crossway, 2006), 15.

[8] Or “tend” and “keep”.

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