Calvin College Chimes

Opinion: Response to ‘Let’s talk about the F-word’

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As a Calvin alum and graduate student in the natural sciences, I take issue with Mr. Veenstra’s characterization of science and the scientific method in his essay published last week attempting to rationalize a fundamentalist belief. This response is not intending to argue with Mr. Veenstra regarding his young earth creationist beliefs; rather, I think it is necessary to address some misconceptions about the scientific method.

The scientific method spoken of in the essay is not the scientific method I know. The scientific method, established a thousand years ago by Arab scholar Ibn al-Haytham, is built upon observation, testable hypotheses, repeatable experiments and objective analyses. Mr. Veenstra’s inference that the scientific method can be applied to one’s personal faith beliefs is a logical fallacy.

In his 2011 book “Where the Conflict Really Lies,” our own Alvin Plantinga writes that faith is a special gift from God, not part of our ordinary cognitive equipment. Acceptance of faith requires that we also accept the mystery inherent in faith: that it transcends reason, and that humankind cannot fully grasp it. Faith does not adhere to testable natural laws. One cannot manipulate variables under controlled conditions to understand faith and religious belief. It is esoteric and unknowable by humans.

Worthwhile science is built upon observation, experimentation and objective analysis. Sometimes, the outcome of an experiment may be different than what the scientist expected. The knowledge and hypothesis the scientist previously had has to be reevaluated and changed in light of the new scientific discoveries.

This is not to say that natural science and religious belief are incompatible; however, they cannot be evaluated identically. One cannot design repeatable experiments based on empirical evidence to test whether a personal, subjective belief holds true.

I would encourage anyone curious about these topics to seek conversation with one of Calvin’s excellent natural science faculty, read “Where the Conflict Really Lies” (available in the bookstore!) or take an entry-level science class as an elective. The scientific method provides a powerful toolkit for making exciting discoveries about the natural world, but it has limitations. Understanding those limitations can help make one a better scientist and believer.

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