Questions About Science and Certainty

Questions About Science and Certainty

Will science eventually give us all the answers?

Transcript Questions about Science and Certainty

KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, another question about science. He writes,

Dr. Craig, first of all I want to thank you and Jan for all that you do. I first watched you debate Antony Flew and became captivated by the idea of apologetics. Later I went through a really hard season, and as much as I wanted to question the reality of God I could not get past the arguments and evidence you had been teaching in your debates and podcasts. Thank you so very much for your work.

DR. CRAIG: I can't tell you how great that makes me feel; that these arguments and evidence served as a firewall for him when he went though a hard time. We don't know what it was – perhaps a time when an untutored person might have walked away from the faith.

KEVIN HARRIS: Because hard times have a tendency to blow away the more trivial or the weaker things or the clichés and platitudes that we hold on to.

DR. CRAIG: You've experienced this recently yourself with the death of your son.

KEVIN HARRIS: Yes, I have.

DR. CRAIG: I wondered how would the problem of evil and suffering affect Kevin having experienced it now so intensely and personally. It is no longer just an intellectual issue.

KEVIN HARRIS: That's right.

DR. CRAIG: Would it cause him to question his faith and doubt? But when I asked you this, you told me that it really didn't.

KEVIN HARRIS: No, and it is because of the bedrock of a big rock – the one that is moved away from the empty tomb. The resurrection of Jesus. I landed crashing through every platitude and cliché I've ever heard and landed right there. So this is very important. This is why we do what we do, Bill. He continues,

When debating my atheist co-worker, after presenting your arguments and refuting his arguments he will always say, “Well, we just don't know for sure.” What do I say when he says, “We will just have to wait until science figures it out.”

DR. CRAIG: I think that there is a couple of points to make here. One is to point out to him that his arguments are not all arguments to which science is even relevant. When you think about arguments like Leibniz's argument from contingency, this is a philosophical or metaphysical argument to which the data of science has no relevance. There is nothing there for science to figure out if you understand the argument. Similarly, the moral argument is an argument to which science is irrelevant. It is an argument about the foundations of ethics, and science is neutral with respect to ethics. It doesn't speak to the moral realm. The ontological argument for God's existence is, again, a metaphysical argument that has nothing to do with science. One of the strengths of the God hypothesis is that it explains a wide range of the data of human experience – scientific, philosophical, ethical, historical. They are not all just one type of argument. So this easy dismissal “We'll wait until science figures it out” just doesn't cut mustard with respect to some of these arguments because they are not arguments to which science is relevant.

With respect to the arguments to which science is relevant, particularly the kalam cosmological argument and the fine-tuning argument for a cosmic Creator and Designer, there I think what you should say is, “Why are you unwilling to follow the evidence of science where it leads?”[1] Because that is what the person is really doing. You are not punting to God to plug up a gap in scientific knowledge. You are not appealing to a God-of-the-gaps. You are saying that the best scientific evidence that we have today, however tentative and provisional it may be, points to the fact that the universe began to exist. That is the second premise of the kalam cosmological argument. Why are you reluctant to follow the evidence where it points? Why won't you follow the evidence that science gives you? The best evidence of contemporary science says the fine-tuning of the universe cannot be explained by physical necessity or by chance. So why are you reluctant to follow the evidence of science to where it leads? It is not the theist here who is failing to follow the scientific evidence where it points. It is the non-theist who, for some reason, is backing away from the evidence of contemporary science and refusing to follow the evidence where it leads. That, I would say, is just begging the question against theism. He sees probably where it is leading and therefore he pulls back. But that is unjustified, I think. You should follow the best evidence of science where it leads.

KEVIN HARRIS: When his friend says, “Well, we just don't know for sure.” That is just another way of saying, “We don't have certainty. I need 100% certainty and we don't have that so you don't have a case.”

DR. CRAIG: In that case I think there are two points to make. One is that you shouldn't be seeking for certainty. We are looking for what is probably the case. Certainty is a will-o-the-wisp – very few things we are certain about. It is not the criterion for knowledge. But secondly, science doesn't prove things for sure. Scientists themselves emphasize this over and over again that science doesn't prove things for sure. What science does is it provides models for explaining things, and you assess these models in terms of their explanatory power, their explanatory scope, their simplicity, their ad-hocness or not. Then you determine which are the best explanations for this data. That is what you should be looking for, not certainty.

KEVIN HARRIS: The questioner says,

Lastly, when do I know to no longer debate with him? It seems apparent to me that he isn't sincerely seeking but is more hurt by the church than anything. Do I stop objecting to his YouTube atheist question of the week? It seems that he doesn't care to know the truth, just what other atheists say. What do I say to him, and when do I stop humoring?

DR. CRAIG: I say as long as he is taking the initiative and bringing his question of the week, you keep giving good responses to it. I will tell you, I've seen this in the lives of other unbelievers. You have no idea of the inner-conflict that may be going on in this person's life behind the bravado that may eventually crack, and he may come to faith in God and in Christ. So as long as he is taking the initiative you keep sharing with him. If you do get to know him well and have his confidence then I think the listener can begin to raise these deeper questions. I sense some anger behind that question. Have you been hurt by people in the church? Have religious people in some way hurt you that has made you hostile? What is the source of this hostility that I am sensing in you, if you don't mind my asking? Probe gently. You may then begin to excavate deeper issues of a pastoral nature that may get at the real grounds for his resistance to the Gospel.[2]

[1] 5:07

[2] Total Running Time: 10:14 (Copyright © 2016 William Lane Craig)