What Is Science?

It is important to know terms, their uses and the differences between them. In this post we will take a look at Operational (Observational) Science and Historical (Origins) Science. 

An article by Roger Patterson featured on Answers in Genesis is shown below. Click the link for further exploration.

What You Will Learn

Many people do not realize that science was actually developed in Christian Europe by men who assumed that God created an orderly universe. If the universe is a product of random chance or a group of gods that interfere in the universe, there is really no reason to expect order in nature. Many of the founders of the principle scientific fields, such as Bacon, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton, were believers in a recently created earth. The idea that science cannot accept a creationist perspective is a denial of scientific history.

To help us understand that science has practical limits, it is useful to divide science into two different areas: operational science and historical (origins) science. Operational science deals with testing and verifying ideas in the present and leads to the production of useful products like computers, cars, and satellites. Historical (origins) science involves interpreting evidence from the past and includes the models of evolution and special creation. Recognizing that everyone has presuppositions that shape the way they interpret the evidence is an important step in realizing that historical science is not equal to operational science. Because no one was there to witness the past (except God), we must interpret it based on a set of starting assumptions. Creationists and evolutionists have the same evidence; they just interpret it within a different framework. Evolution denies the role of God in the universe, and creation accepts His eyewitness account—the Bible—as the foundation for arriving at a correct understanding of the universe.

What We Really Know

In its original form science simply meant “knowledge.” When someone says today that they work in the field of science, a different picture often comes to mind. Science, in the view of an outspoken part of the scientific community, is the systematic method of gaining knowledge about the universe by allowing only naturalistic or materialistic explanations and causes. The quote on page 19 reflects this attitude. Science in this sense automatically rules out God and the possibility that He created the universe because supernatural claims, it is asserted, cannot be tested and repeated. If an idea is not testable, repeatable, observable, and falsifiable, it is not considered scientific. The denial of supernatural events limits the depth of understanding that science can have and the types of questions science can ask. We may define naturalism and materialism as:

Naturalism: a belief denying that an event or object has a supernatural significance; specifically, the doctrine that scientific laws are adequate to account for all phenomena.

Materialism: a belief claiming that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all organisms, processes, and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or interactions of matter.

The problem with the above definition of science is that, even though naturalistic science claims to be neutral and unbiased, it starts with a bias. The quote from Dr. Todd on page 19 demonstrates that bias: only matter and energy exist and all explanations and causes must be directly related to the laws that matter and energy follow. Even if the amazingly intricate structure of flagella in bacteria appears so complex that it must have a designer, naturalistic science cannot accept that idea because this idea falls outside the realm of naturalism/materialism. Many scientists have claimed that allowing supernatural explanations into our understanding of the universe would cause us to stop looking for answers and just declare, “God wanted to do it that way.” This is, of course, false.

The ability to study the world around us is only reasonable because there is a Lawgiver who established the laws of nature. Most people do not realize that modern science was founded by men who believed that nature can be studied because it follows the laws given to it by the Lawgiver. Johannes Kepler, one of the founders of astronomy, said that science was “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.” Many founders of scientific disciplines, such as Bacon, Newton, Kepler, Galileo, Pascal, Boyle, Dalton, Linnaeus, Mendel, Maxwell, and Kelvin were Bible-believing Christians. As a matter of fact, the most discerning historians and philosophers of science have recognized that the very existence of modern science had its origins in a culture at least nominally committed to a biblical worldview. (See www.answersingenesis.org/go/bios.)

What, then, should Christians think of science? Science has been hijacked by those with a materialistic worldview and exalted as the ultimate means of obtaining knowledge about the world. Proverbs tells us that the fear of God, not science, is the beginning of knowledge. In a biblical worldview, scientific observations are interpreted in light of the truth that is found in the Bible. If conclusions contradict the truth revealed in Scripture, the conclusions are rejected. The same thing happens in naturalistic science. Any conclusion that does not have a naturalistic explanation is rejected.

The words creation and evolution can be used in many different ways. Evolution will be used in this book to describe the naturalistic process that is alleged to have turned molecules into man over billions of years. As creation is used through out this book, it is intended to describe the supernatural acts of God who created the universe and everything in it in six, approximately 24-hour days, about 6,000 years ago. This perspective is often referred to as young-earth creationism. The true history of the universe is revealed to us from God’s eyewitness perspective in the Bible. This history can be summarized as the 7 C’s of history: Creation of the universe, Corruption of the universe as a result of man’s sin, the judgment of mankind in the Catastrophe of Noah’s Flood, Confusion of languages at Babel, Christ coming to earth to live a righteous life and then to pay for our sins on the Cross, and the future Consummation when God creates the New Heaven and New Earth. This history serves as a foundation for interpreting evidence in the biblical creationist’s worldview.

Making a distinction between two types of scientific study helps us to understand the limitations of naturalistic presuppositions in science:

Operational (Observational) Science: a systematic approach to understanding that uses observable, testable, repeatable, and falsifiable experimentation to understand how nature commonly behaves.

Operational science is the type of science that allows us to understand how DNA codes for proteins in cells. It is the type of science that has allowed us to cure and treat diseases, put a man on the moon, build satellites and telescopes, and make products that are useful to humans. Biblical creationists believe that God has created a universe that uses a set of natural laws that operate consistently in the universe. Understanding how those laws operate is the basis for scientific thinking.

Some events defy natural laws. Christians refer to these things as miracles, but naturalistic science must find a way to explain these occurrences naturally. This approach rejects miracles in the Bible because they cannot be explained using natural laws. Such scientists occasionally try to explain the miracles in the Bible as natural phenomena, but this ultimately undermines the authority of God and His Word.

What Is Historical (Origins) Science: interpreting evidence from past events based on a presupposed philosophical point of view.

The past is not directly observable, testable, repeatable, or falsifiable; so interpretations of past events present greater challenges than interpretations involving operational science. Neither creation nor evolution is directly observable, testable, repeatable, or falsifiable. Each is based on certain philosophical assumptions about how the earth began. Naturalistic evolution assumes that there was no God, and biblical creation assumes that there was a God who created everything in the universe. Starting from two opposite presuppositions and looking at the same evidence, the explanations of the history of the universe are very different. The argument is not over the evidence—the evidence is the same—it is over the way the evidence should be interpreted.

Evolutionists often claim that people misuse the word “theory” when discussing science and don’t make a distinction between a scientific theory and the common use of the word “theory.” You may say, “I have a theory about why Mr. Jones’ hair looks funny” but that theory has never been compared to a broad set of observations. This is not the sense of a theory in science.

In light of this, few would argue that there are different types of theories. So it would be good to refine this term further to avoid any baiting and switching of the word “theory”. Just as it was valuable to distinguish between operational and historical science, it would be good to do the same with operational and historical theories. A scientific operational theory is:

Operational Theory: an explanation of a set of facts based on a broad set of repeatable and testable observations that is generally accepted within a group of scientists.

That evolution has been elevated to the status of an operational theory (and “fact” in the opinion of some) is not due to the strength of the evidence, but in spite of it. Because evolutionary ideas are interpretations of past events, they are not as well-founded as testable scientific theories like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity or Newton’s Theory of Gravity. These theories offer predictable models and the ability to conduct experiments to determine their validity in different circumstances. Molecules-to-man evolution does not offer this opportunity because these events happened in the past. Therefore, evolution is not an operational theory. For these reasons evolution could be considered an historical theory, along with creation models and other origins theories.

Historical Theory: an explanation of past events based on the interpretation of evidence that is available in the present.

Evolution fits this definition of theory, but it relies on the assumption of naturalism. In the naturalistic scientific community, evolution has become a theory that is assumed to be an established fact and not an explanation. Evolution is the prevailing paradigm, and most scientists have stopped questioning the underlying assumptions that the theory is based upon. Creationists develop theories, too, in light of biblical truth, but they are not as widely accepted by scientists. All interpretations (theories) of the past are based on assumptions and cannot be equated with facts that are observable in the present. This holds true for creationist or evolutionist theories. (See article 1:3 on page 29 for more on this topic.)

Evolution also relies heavily on the assumption of uniformitarianism— a belief that the present is the key to the past. According to uniformitarians, the processes in the universe have been occurring at a relatively constant rate. One of these processes is the rate of rock formation and erosion. If rocks form or erode at a certain rate in the present, uniformitarians believe that they must have always formed or eroded at nearly the same rate. This assumption is accepted even though there are no observations of the rate of erosion from the distant past and there is no way to empirically test the erosion rate of the past. However, the Bible makes it very clear that some events of the past were radically different from those we commonly observe today. Noah’s Flood, for example, would have devastated the face of the earth and created a landscape of billions of dead things buried in layers of rock, which is exactly what we see.

Just as evolutionists weren’t there to see evolution happen over several billion years, neither were creationists there to see the events of the six days of creation. The difference is that creationists have the Creator’s eyewitness account of the events of creation, while evolutionists must create a story to explain origins without the supernatural. Just because many scientists believe the story does not make the story true. Believing the Bible and the information that has been revealed to us by our Creator gives us a foundation for thinking—including our thinking about science. Good operational science can provide us with answers to many questions about the world around us and how it operates, but it cannot answer the questions of where we came from and why we are here. Those questions are outside the scope of operational science. But we are not left without an answer. God has given us the answers to those questions in His Word, the Bible.

One response to “What Is Science?”

  1. My answer to What is Science would be a bit shorter and to the point. Science is a Method of investigating and understanding the world around us. It has no bias but asking questions and trying to find answers.


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