What We Know That Ain’t So

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It is the glory of a king, Solomon tells us, to search out a matter. The psalmist tells us that the works of the Lord are great, and that everyone who has pleasure in them searches them out (Ps. 111:2). Consequently, we see that science, rightly understood, is a glorious thing. This has particularly been understood and acknowledged in history by those with a full-orbed biblical worldview.

The problem arises with all the bad information that we think is science — junk pop science, or politicized science. Scientists who do not acknowledge a God with final, ultimate knowledge of every created thing have a problem. Put another way, those men who think they are the first ones to know anything, can in principle know nothing. By contrast, men who think God’s thoughts after Him can come to know as Solomon knew (1 Kings 4:29-34). A fact not already known by God can never be discovered by anyone. And those things in the world which He knows can in principle be known by those men who search it out.

But when scientists refuse to acknowledge an omniscient, Creator God, their pretensions to actual knowledge then become funnier and funnier. This is because we all instinctively know that someone around here must be the omniscient one. If we have denied that God can be that one, then someone else must take on the mantle. In our society, this priestcraft, this shamanism, is performed with a white lab coat. This is why the scientific establishment makes pronouncements, and this is why the people, hungry for a word of knowledge from behind the veil, hang on every word. This is why we can actually sell medicines using actors who confess they are not a doctor, but that they play one on TV. Just call it reflected glory.

I hesitate to use particular examples because science changes so often. But nevertheless take a very recent one — the medical establishment recently left everyone flummoxed when they announced that eating high fiber diets has, ahem, no value in preventing colon cancer. Devotees have been industriously eating Shredded Lawn Clippings for thirty years, and then they read that in the morning paper. Makes a guy think. Or ought to.

The difficulty is not with the research, with trying to search out a matter. Nor is there a problem with correcting a mistake once it is discovered. The problem is with the hubris in the meantime, the lack of humility. In a godless universe, we might admit under pressure that we don’t know everything, but we still think we know the most. And so this means that every bit of new information, or pseudo-information, requires us to act now. Anything less is irresponsible. There is no one greater in power, or wiser than our current wisdom, in whom we might trust.

This means that our flailing about is the best we have. Carcinogenic hamburger patties. Oil spills. Carbon dioxide. Global warming. Nuclear winter. You name it. We notice that A might cause B. We immediately demand federal legislation banning A, forgetting that A might also cause, who knows, C, D, E, F, G, and M, three quarters of which help make the sky blue and the grass green. If someone notices a hole in the ozone, we do not hear cries to study the hole for three hundred years to see if there might be a problem. We rush in, because we are without God and without hope in the world.

We have forgotten that God gave us His law. He has told us how to live. And nowhere in Deuteronomy does it say, “And whatever you do, don’t mess with those fluorocarbons.” In saying this, I am not taking a stand, one way or the other, on fluorocarbons. But the point is to put them, and their trouble-making potential, or lack of it, into perspective. We do not need to panic over the prospect of ending life as we know it because we have one of those old toilets with a big water tank on the back.

C. S. Lewis once commented on the debt that he owed to a friend who taught him that the present is a mere period in history. And like every period in history, it has its very own blind spots. This is one of ours. We think that our science can see what it cannot. But the limitation is not in our science, but rather in our theology. We of course read with astonishment that scientists used to think that the sun went around the earth. We are amazed that doctors used to bleed their patients. But we then assume, as a rigid point of dogma, that we are doing nothing comparable. We believe, without reflection, that no one in the future will be amazed and appalled at what we are doing. Today.

It would be a mistake, though, to think that those involved in all this are stupid. They know what they are about; they do what they do in order to gain power. In another insightful comment, Lewis rejected the idea that man is gaining mastery over nature. He is actually gaining mastery over other men, and using nature as his instrument.

A people without faith in God are of necessity a fearful, timid, enslaved people. And their science keeps them that way.

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