Science, scientism, faith and God’s word

by Barry Newton

Have you ever witnessed someone too close to maintain objectivity? While proximity may appear to obscure clarity, unexamined assumptions are often the real culprits behind familiarity.

It is not mere closeness that creates a nearly impervious blindness, but rather what lies deeper such as possessing an invested interest or considering oneself an authority. For this reason, a little distance from strongly held opinions may enable greater objectivity. Take for example how a philosophically inclined theologian might grasp a sharper understanding of science from the outside than those within its halls.

Science is a wonderful methodological tool.  Through repeatable experiments and verification, our knowledge increases about the nature and functioning of the world. From such science we reap the wonders of technology and gain profound insight into biological processes.

Science, however, has limitations. Science loses its strength when addressing questions of history, origins or the possibility of miracles. None of these are repeatable nor subject to experimental verification. They simply lie beyond the scope of science.

Scientism, on the other hand, is a philosophic worldview affirming that only matter and naturalistic causes exist. If some scientists were to assert that all causes are naturalistic and miracles are impossible, they would be speaking philosophically, not scientifically.

For such insiders, it can be very difficult to distinguish between science and scientism. On the other hand, many a theologian can easily recognize the difference.

However, these same theologians may encounter an equally difficult task in distinguishing how their understanding of faith differs from what God’s word describes. Once again, the real culprit involves unexamined assumptions, not mere proximity.

When preaching presupposes that belief encapsulates and epitomizes everything that can be said about faith, such a message is denominational, not biblical. The biblical evidence reveals that while all faith includes belief, not every instance of faith is limited to just believing.

Whether it be faith in God, Christ, money, chariots, or pagan gods, within scripture faith describes someone trusting in someone or something.  Such trust always involves believing in that entity. However, sometimes faith also demanded an appropriate action or even lack of action alongside of belief in order for trust to exist.

The complications associated with making false assumptions because of one’s proximity are not new. Among those who witnessed Jesus growing up, “many who heard him were astonished, saying, ‘Where did he get these ideas? … What are these miracles that are done through his hands? Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon? And aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And so they took offense at him” (Mark 6:2,3).

What can help us overcome the barrier of false presuppositions? Humility and a willingness to evaluate unspoken assumptions by engaging all of the evidence strike at the heart of the problem.

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Barry Newton

Married to his wonderful wife Sofia and a former missionary in Brazil, Barry enjoys trying to express old truths in fresh ways. They have two boys attending university.

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