In Godless Origin of Life, we considered the basic secular orthodoxy concerning the origin of life. Just as matter arose from nothing, Life is believed to have arisen from non-life. Exactly how has never been explained, nor has a convincing theory developed.
Science ≠ Ideology
It would be tempting for a theist to simply argue that no materialist explanations for the origin of life have gained more than speculative traction, and therefore the proposition of a purely materialist explanation for life should be rejected. That is the approach, after all, that atheists typically take to claims of Christianity. For example, an atheist criticism would be that the proposition of there being a God and of Him creating life is not “proven,” and therefore should be rejected. That way of thinking falsely presupposes that truth is ascertainable only by science, however. It’s easy to slip from that proposition to the idea that science is its own ideology, and as such, competes with Christianity.
Science is not an ideology. It’s a methodology, primarily. The word is also sometimes used to refer to the body of knowledge acquired through that methodology. But it’s not an ideology. Truths acquired by the methodology of science are limited to facts about natural reality. Science has nothing to say about supernatural reality. Science properly understood does not and cannot stand in opposition to Christianity or any other ideology, such as atheism, which makes claims to supernatural truth. The sum of facts learned through science reveal that there are mechanistic natural processes at work all around us, all the time. But science does not support an ideology which holds that those mechanistic processes constitute all of reality.
Christianity Sponsors Science
Not only is science not an ideology in opposition to Christianity, but the Christian worldview makes science possible. Christianity provided the intellectual foundation for the scientific method. Christianity presupposes a world which is not itself divine, but which was designed by an intelligent, transcendent Creator. It is therefore understood to be rationally designed, just as people are, and is therefore subject to rational human investigation. It is the Christian (and Jewish) orientation to objective truth, ascertainable by rational inquiry, that underlies the scientific method of uncovering truth about natural materials and processes. The whole scientific enterprise is based on certain operating assumptions, derived from a Christian understanding of reality, which we accept as valid though they are not themselves provable scientifically, such as the laws of logic, the orderly structure of the physical world, the reliability of our cognitive faculties in knowing the world, the validity of inductive reasoning, and the objectivity of the moral values used in science. So, science is not a worldview in contrast to Christianity; rather, it is a methodology which is in a sense sponsored by Christianity.
Materialism of the Gaps
The fact that some facts about the world and the cosmos are not yet discovered by science does not mean that there is no natural explanation. But, neither does it mean that there is. There is no reason to suppose that whatever the answer is, it doesn’t involve God. To exercise our reason in that way requires that we assume at the outset, prior to looking at any evidence, that there is no God. Only in that way can we say that whatever the answer is, it doesn’t involve God. Only with that constraint imposed before beginning the inquiry, can we insist that material processes alone originated life.
It is important to emphasize that this idea of all things being explainable through material processes is a self-imposed limitation on our thinking. Science is the study of natural mechanisms. It is by definition unconcerned with questions of theology. It is unconcerned with questions of philosophy, except insofar as philosophical considerations guide the process of discovery of facts about the material world. Because science is by definition limited to understanding of natural processes, it does not add to understanding of supernatural reality. It cannot answer the question whether there is a God, or whether God is the initiator and sustainer of material things, or of the laws of physics which govern them. Science can show us how much of the creation works, but it can’t show us how the creation occurred; still less, why.
Science tells us what planetary and solar movements cause the sun to seem to rise in the morning. Science tells us how mosquitoes reproduce. Science tells us how trees grow. Science has also illuminated how natural processes explain things that were formerly misunderstood as not being natural processes at all, but rather phenomena explainable only by direct divine intervention. This explains some historical (and sometimes hysterical) tension between Christianity and the efforts of science. Christians have sometimes felt threatened by discoveries of science, and inserted God as the explanation for things as yet unexplained by science. For those people (by no means all Christian thinkers) it was as if science was explaining so much that they needed to scurry about and find something for God to do. This was rightly derided by atheist scientists as a “God of the gaps,” thus diminishing His relevance further, in the culture.
A more mature understanding requires no such tension between science and religion. In fact, science ought to be seen as daily revealing the wonders of God’s creation. That’s just how science was seen, for the most part, until modern times, when material reality, which is the subject matter of science, came to be seen as all of reality. If material things explain all of reality, and science is the study of material things, then science must be the study of all of reality. In this way, science, which is not an ideology but a method, is conflated with atheism, which is an ideology.
This switcheroo, atheism for science, sets up a false ideological competition in our minds: Science vs. Christianity. Christianity is not in competition with science, but it is certainly in competition with atheism.