Advancements in science, technology, and medicine over the last century or so have benefitted virtually all people. Scientific progress has lengthened human life spans and improved quality of life. These great strides prompt a provocative question: Why does science work? That is, why is the scientific enterprise so effective in delivering critical, reliable information about the natural world that can inform and benefit humankind?
I have posed this question to many scientists I’ve met through the years. The answer I usually hear is something along this line: “It just does. Science is unique. It works.”
I think the reason that most scientists struggle to tell me exactly why science works is because the “why” of science has more to do with the philosophy of science than with the formal practice of science itself. The philosophy of science can be understood as a subfield of science and is “concerned with all the assumptions, foundations, methods, implications of science, and with the use and merit of science.”1 The philosophy of science therefore has a lot to say about the whys of science.
A Science-Conducive World
For science to “work,” the following factors must be valid and operative in the universe and in human beings:2
- The cosmos must be an objective (independent) reality
- The cosmos must exhibit laws of nature that reflect order, patterns, and regularity
- The cosmos’ laws of nature must be uniform throughout the universe
- The cosmos must be at least partly intelligible (comprehensible) to human beings
- The cosmos must be characterized by valid principles of mathematics and logic
- Human cognitive abilities (brain-mind) and sensory organs (eyes, ears, etc.) must be basically reliable (trustworthy)
- The human mind and physical reality must possess a basic congruence (compatibility, connectedness)
So science works (that is, it provides critical and reliable information about the natural world) because the cosmos and human beings possess these qualities and factors. If this universe did not have these necessary elements then science would not work in such a world.
Necessity, Chance, or Design?
But now another provocative question comes to mind: Why are human beings and the cosmos so richly endowed with all these necessary science-favorable assumptions and factors?
Eminent physicist and cosmologist Paul Davies has said that a science-conducive universe (a fine-tuned cosmos) wasn’t necessitated by the laws of physics and could have been different.3 Namely, the world could have been a disorderly chaos instead of an organized cosmos. Moreover, eminent mathematician Roger Penrose has said the statistical probability of arriving at a science-friendly universe (a fine-tuned cosmos) is wildly inconceivable, if not impossible (1 in 10123).4 Thus it appears that the best explanation for such a universe entails design over necessity and chance.
Given such prospects, some people reshuffle the deck of chance by proposing that an ensemble of universes may exist (a multiverse) and we somehow got the just-right one that is conducive to science. Yet there is no directly observable scientific evidence to support that a multiverse exists. However, proposing that a single God caused this designed universe is a much simpler explanation than postulating a near-infinite number of universes (Ockham’s razor).5
It becomes plausible, therefore, to posit that a divine mind behind the universe with the attributes descriptive of biblical theism could be the actual cause of our science-favorable cosmos. If so, science works because the Creator gave us the just-right world for it to flourish.
Reflections: Your Turn
Does a science-conducive world point to God or away from him? Why?
- “Philosophy of Science”, Stanford.edu, accessed September 9, 2019, https://web.stanford.edu/class/symsys130/Philosophy%20of%20science.pdf.
- For more on these critical assumptions of science, see “Aren’t Christianity and Science Enemies?” in Kenneth Richard Samples, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), chapter 14.
- Paul Davies, The Mind of God: The Scientific Basis for a Rational World(New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), 169.
- Roger Penrose, The Emperor’s New Mind (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1989), 339–45.
- Christian philosopher Richard Swinburne has affirmed this point. See Richard Swinburne, “Design Defended,” Think 2, no. 6 (Spring 2004): 13–18, doi:10.1017/S1477175600002748.