Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What motivates science

Richard Dawkins infamously accuses intelligent-design theory of being a “cop-out” or “science-stopper.” Once you say Goddidit,” you stop asking questions.

But that’s utterly illogical. At best, that would apply to creation ex nihilo. The absolute origin of the physical universe. The absolute origin of life.

In most cases, knowing that God lies behind the process doesn’t tell you how God did it. So a Christian scientist will continue to ask the probing “how-to” questions.

But I wish to make an additional point. What motivates scientific discovery? And what’s the best incentive to conduct science?

One motivation is practical, humanitarian. To improve quality of life. That’s why we invent technology–for the most part.

Another motivation is more disinterested. Sheer curiosity about how things work. How things develop. Figuring things out–like detective work. 

But there can be a deeper motivation. A Christian scientist is motivated by the belief that when he studies nature, he’s not merely discovering more about the natural world; rather, he’s discovering the mind of God. He’s not merely finding out how nature works, but how God’s mind works. If nature is God’s handiwork, then a scientist is retroengineering God’s blueprint. God’s ingenuous solution to various engineering challenges.

And not only does the study of nature put the scientist in touch with another mind, but a superior mind. Like when we study an artistic masterpiece. A work of genius. Only this is incomparably greater. That inspired awe.

In a sense, a Christian scientist is more like an archeologist. He’s not merely analyzing the artifacts in their own respect, but learning from study of the artifacts what they reveal about the people who designed them. The artifacts constitute a window into the mind of the artisan.

By contrast, a secular scientist is trying to understand how dumb luck produced the universe. How dumb luck produced the conditions for life. How dumb luck gave rise to life on earth. How dumb luck accounts for the diversity of life on earth.

But surely that’s less inspiring than the Christian motivation. For the atheist, science is a matter of finding out how a process far inferior to the mind of the scientist managed to invent the world around him. For a Christian, science is a matter of finding out how a vastly superior mind invented the world around him. Indeed, the world, despite its daunting complexity, is child’s play for God. He’s coming down to our level.

In Christianity, greater intelligence produces lesser intelligence. In atheism, unintelligence produces intelligence. Which is more intrinsically interesting?

Imagine how excited a secular scientist would be if he discovered alien technology. He’d be excited because this would be the product of a superior civilization. You can learn from someone who’s smarter than you are. You can learn from someone who knows more than you do.

Seems to me that Christianity offers a far more inspiring incentive to conduct scientific research than atheism. 


  1. I'm unsure how philosophical naturalism and/or methodological naturalism advocates would respond to this post.

  2. For the most part Romans 1 motivates "science" so-called.

    The unbelieving scientist is feverishly working to rid himself of the knowledge of God within him by attempting to exchange the glory of the immortal God for images.

    The images take many forms to be sure, but at base it's all the same.

  3. TUAD: How? By saying, "Nuh uhh!"