Deposing the Queen
By: Jim Virkler
Many science laypersons may not be enthralled with our recent discussions of science methodology such as methodological and metaphysical naturalism. For them, merely acknowledging the beauty and order of the natural world suffices. We hope one positive dimension of their experience consists in admiring the artistry of the Creator.
Deeper research highlights the interesting timeline of events from the onset of the Scientific Revolution to the present day. Many scientists strongly affirmed the actions of God when the revolution began. Soon the transition to a more naturalistic vision of the world took hold among scientists. We wonder with Robert C. Bishop, “If the scientific revolutionaries were theists who deployed MN in the service of discovering the nature of God’s creation, then what happened in the intervening centuries such that the sciences and their methodologies are now routinely disassociated from God?”
During the High Middle Ages, a phrase became popular among scholars: Theology is queen of the sciences. Philosophers have addressed the meaning of this statement for centuries. Before considering specific developments during the 19th century concerning the manner in which the sciences became “routinely disassociated from God,” we link two past posts referencing theology as “queen of the sciences:”
By 1830 many scientists had endorsed a deistic belief system. Most deists believe in a First Cause but their belief was not based on biblical revelation and their attitudes concerning the physical world were not founded on a creationist belief system. Deists believed in a mechanistic world and in their personal, self-generated knowledge. Their reason pushed faith into the realm of superstition and mythology, but many believed in ultimate goodness of the universe even though God did not interact actively with creation.
Faith became secondary even among many 19th century theologians. For some, God’s role as First Cause vanished by mid-century. Agnosticism and atheism were ways of life by the time of Charles Darwin’s publication On the Origin of Species. Thomas Huxley coined the term agnosticism, describing a permanent suspension of belief in God. The argument for design was waning. Metaphysical Naturalism had been birthed in the practicing science professions. God was unnecessary; natural processes seemed more credible than supernatural processes. Even Charles Darwin, however, could never account for the origin of life according to a naturalistic account.
After 1859, Darwin had complained that secondary causes were not often cited to explain the natural history of life on earth according to his revolutionary theory. As time went on, secondary causes assumed more importance in the thinking of bioscientists while belief in divine, miraculous action diminished. Even theologian George Frederick Wright, among others, pronounced that we should not resort to an unknown cause until the power of known causes has been exhausted. This pattern acquired the staunch support of scientists. Agnostics and atheists felt comfortable with this approach. They collectively believed their naturalistic science was most sensible since many felt science is silent on the question of God. Many theologians found themselves in agreement. The idea that only scientific methods deliver knowledge acquired traction.
Nineteenth century science acquired a methodology which excluded awareness of God. Some acknowledged scientific methodologies such as abductive reasoning (inference to the best explanation) clearly signal divine “input” as the best explanation in the absence of convincing contrary proof. Even more traditional inductive and deductive science methodologies were consigned to unacceptability by scientists because they signal supernatural action in terms of life origins.
Contemporary scientific views do not allow supernatural conclusions about the origin of primeval life, the sudden appearance of Cambrian Explosion life, and most remarkable, the very sudden onset of modern humanity in relatively recent tens of thousand of years—a mere instant ago on the 3.8 billion year timeline of life on earth.
Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory has captured our modern culture. In terms of documented history of the 19th century, we observe the displacement of God from the psyche of the science establishment, and to a lesser extent, from the general population. The displacement has been in place for 150 years. According to Nature, a science journal, over 90% of America’s most esteemed scientists either doubt or disbelieve in the existence of God. This statistic is variable depending on how the questions are posed. It is true that the science profession is not a bastion of theistic belief.
In many respects theology, the queen of the sciences, has been deposed even though science is a profession exposed to the beauty and wonder of God’s creation on a daily basis. The movement toward belief in metaphysical naturalism, especially since the life of Charles Darwin, is disappointing. We rejoice, however, that science professionals successfully discover the beauty of mundane secondary processes by which our lives operate.
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Jim Virkler, a retired New Jersey public school science educator, now devotes his time investigating the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. He and his wife, Eleanor, now reside in the mid-west near their children and grandchildren.