Joel Belz: Questioning ‘settled’ science

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, July 10th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. In his book Miracles, C.S. Lewis wrote: “In Science, we’ve been reading only the notes to a poem; in Christianity, we find the poem itself.” 

WORLD Founder Joel Belz now on minding where we put our faith.

JOEL BELZ, COMMENTATOR: The Universe, which scientists have always considered to be pretty big, may be a good bit bigger, according to some of those same scientists. 

In the interest of not embarrassing them by reporting statistics that they might have to adjust again in a few weeks, we’ll wait for the specific numbers.For now, probably all we need to know is that spiral galaxies, like our Milky Way, are the most common type of galaxies encountered in the known Universe. The largest known spiral galaxy, NGC 6872, which is 522,000 light-years across from the tips of its outstretched spiral arms, is about five times the size of the Milky Way. Bigger than anybody thought.

Maybe a bit easier to grasp was last week’s announcement by Elon Musk, an entrepreneur’s scientific entrepreneur if ever there was one, that he expects to see advances in his field of space travel that will enable special rockets carrying 1,000 people to go anywhere on earth within 20 minutes.

One more adjustment by scientists of the size of our Universe is unlikely to curtail space travel any time soon. The crash of a Musk spaceliner would have more sober results.

Not that the temples of scientism are on the verge of collapse—at least in the public perception. Increasingly over the last century or two, the gods of science have been the measure of all things. Theologians and ethicists, playwrights and lyricists, therapists and politicians, historians and pundits—like everyone else in society—all could have their say. But more and more, each would have to face up ultimately to the supposed precision of the scientist, who among them all seems to have a lock on reality, or at least on the tools for discovering reality.

Yet there is evidence that while all the rest of the world goes merrily along with implicit faith in the high priests of science, some of the high priests themselves are increasingly wracked with doubt. They are like ministers trying desperately to offer comfort and certainty to their parishioners, while enjoying little comfort and no certainty themselves.

The Wall Street Journal was not cheery about things. “A metaphorical gale is now roaring through the fields of scholarly thought about nature, and by extension, threatening the confident faith in progress that has informed Western thought for centuries.”

The Journal continued: “At bottom, these deservers see the breaking up of secular, rationalistic humanism, a philosophy that germinated during the Rennnaisance, reached full flower in the 18-century Enlightenment, and still permeates Western culture today. . . .“Through reason, man would discover the ‘laws of nature.’ If man could just know enough and apply that knowledge, things would get better and better.“

But now, doubts are eroding this secular faith. Nature, once viewed as inherently orderly, is coming to be viewed by many (although certainly not all) scientists as inherently disorderly. . . .”

All this takes a lot of Godly wisdom to comprehend. Our children won’t see much of this back peddling any time soon in their science textbooks. Still, alert Christians should be increasingly aware that huge changes are coming to a field of thought that, for as long as most of us can remember, has been godlike in its immunity to challenge. 

Christians who take the Bible seriously should be especially careful in the near future (just as we should have been careful for the last several generations, and have not been), to refrain from the temptation to keep adjusting our biblical understanding just because of the latest scientific fad.

An important closing note: That quote from The Wall Street Journal is accurate. But it was part of a front-page article first published there in mid-1994—25 years ago. You might like to read it again, just to get the context. 

For WORLD Radio, I’m Joel Belz.

(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File) Elon Musk 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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