What is Science?
Science is a process for discerning truths about the material world. The word is also used as a summary of things learned, as a result of that process. Doing science means using methodological rigor, so that results are not tainted by prejudice.
In doing science, it is critically important that its practitioners not allow their desired results to skew the nature of the evidence examined. It is likewise critically important that they not allow their interpretation of the evidence to be tainted by personal desire or prejudice. This is necessary to allow one to follow the evidence where it leads.
The Scope of Science
Science is the study of the natural universe, only. It purposely excludes any inquiry into supernatural reality, if there is such. Saying essentially the same thing in different words: science is the study of the physical, only.
Metaphysics are therefore outside the scope of science. Metaphysical inquiry is literally beyond science. The prefix “meta” is added to a word to refer to abstract first principles that may animate or explain the thing to which the prefix is added. “Metaphysics” therefore refers to the study of first principles beyond the physical.
If there is nothing beyond the physical, then there is no subject matter for metaphysical inquiry, and thus no metaphysics. Or, to be perhaps even more precise, “metaphysics” would be a word limited in definition to mean only operating principles for that which is physical. It would not refer to a supernatural ultimate reality.
If there is a supernatural reality that transcends the physical, then science does not deal with it, because that’s not what science is.
Number One Mistake in Science
Good science requires not tainting the process. That requires not allowing one’s predilections about metaphysics to skew the outcome. The scientific process is, after all, not about metaphysics, but the physical only.
Saying that science is only about the physical is not the same thing as saying that there is no metaphysical reality. Moreover, if there is a metaphysical ultimate reality that supervenes upon physical reality, then it may be explanatory of physical facts. It also may not be, of course, so we should be careful not to default to a “God of the gaps” explanation of material things just because of a gap in our understanding of them.
By the same principle, however, we should not revert to a “materialism of the gaps” explanation of material things, by which we assert that whatever is explanatory of the physical facts, it cannot be supernatural reality. To do so would undermine the goal of methodological rigor in our science.
Indeed, exclusion of even the possibility of the supernatural undermines the whole purpose of the process of science. Whatever else “science” is, it is not supposed to be the exclusion of evidence a priori. It is not supposed to be the advance bracketing of acceptable conclusions. That is the antithesis of the principle of following the evidence where it leads.
It is a mistake to limit what we are to consider “evidence.” It is a mistake to limit possible outcomes before even undertaking the process. When the fact under investigation is the fact of existence of all of material reality, this is especially obvious. That fact cannot explain itself.
The Science of Origins
Observation: Time and space exist, along with laws of physics governing them.
Hypothesis #1: Time, space, and the laws of physics were ultimately self-generating. This is the materialist hypothesis.
Hypothesis #2: Time, space, and the laws of physics had an outside cause. This is the theist hypothesis.
This is hypothesis #1. The idea is that matter precedes mind. There is no Mind above and beyond the physical world. Moreover, all this stuff in movement over time came from nothing. Nothing as in the absence of any existence. Not something far away or something mostly empty or something dark or something with low energy. Not a something at all.
It would serve the materialist prejudice that this hypothesis be true. It conveniently eliminates any need to consider religion other than as a recurring superstition. It eliminates any need to explain Mind as distinct from body; consciousness as distinct from computing; morality as distinct from evolutionary conditioning. It explains away the irreproducibility of natural biogenesis. It avoids the impossibility of a closed system explaining itself.
This is hypothesis #2 above. Why is there something rather than nothing? The fact of existence — of anything — is actually pretty astonishing, if you try to come at the fact of existing things afresh.
Some of those with a hide-bound allegiance to hypothesis #1 will say that whatever the answer is, it certainly can’t be God, because who created God? They insist on an infinite regress of causation. But that’s at odds with the current scientific theory of the Big Bang as an event of causation. And even if the universe had always been, it wouldn’t eliminate the need for a primary, continuous cause for physical things. If we suppose that there had to be a causative agent even for God, then how could there be an infinity of causes? Why isn’t the Aristotelian concept of pure actuality as a first, uncaused cause, necessary? How is an infinity of causes more rational than a single uncaused-cause; that first domino that tipped over not because it was pushed, but because it intended to tip over?
The notion that something else created God Himself requires that God be just another contingent being like you and me and the rocks and the trees. If we imagine a demiurge like Zeus, that may begin to make sense. But if we imagine a God as the Hebrews did and as the Greek philosophers in the time of Socrates did, then it’s clear that the absence of having been caused is the thing (or among the things) that makes Him God. God exists logically and of necessity, because of the existence of caused things.
If we look at some of the cool charts of how the Big Bang might have worked, we see rapid expansion within a very small amount of time, measured in tiny Planck time units, and then the rapid formation of particles, stars, and galaxies. More significant than that, however, is what appears on the charts opposite or “before” the expansion. It’s true Nothing—the absence of anything. There is not even time. If there were no God, then there would not even have been laws of physics in place, to govern the stuff which somehow blinked into existence spontaneously. There had to be a non-physical intelligence acting intentionally to generate existence from non-existence. A closed system cannot be explained solely by self-reference.
What many cultural influencers are telling us, over and over, is that there is a scary anti-science movement out there, threatening to impede human progress, on all sorts of questions. Anytime we hear that something is not merely scientifically wrong, but “anti-science,” that should raise our hackles, because those who advance the anti-science thesis are actually attacking the very foundation of science.
In the debate between theism and atheist materialism, the science on origins of material things figures prominently. Atheists contend that hypothesis #1 not only holds more explanatory power, but that anything else, including especially hypothesis #2, is not only wrong, but “anti-science.”
Given this observation, here’s another hypothesis: that atheists who argue this “anti-science” thesis simply don’t know what science is.