|Section 1: What is Science?|
History From the Beginning
Science and a
As we have indicated, science is a form of human experience. In the process of growing up we all learn a lot about the world around us just by unplanned trial and error, more or less by chance. When a child throws a baseball or catches a ball, he gains an intuitive feeling for certain laws of physics. These are what are called Newton's Three Laws of Motion. They state how forces applied to an object change its state of motion, that is, the speed and direction of its motion. If a child falls from a tree and sprains an arm, he or she learns something about the Law of Gravity. This type of experience enables us to learn useful facts about the world and the things in it, facts which we find we can use with some confidence to guide our conduct in the future. Thus personal experience gives us reason to believe that the world is orderly, logical and consistent. On the basis of a sufficiently large body of observations it should be possible, then, to formulate laws which describe the orderly and consistent behavior of the natural world. Science is the planned, systematic search for this kind of knowledge. It is in a sense the intelligent, systematic application of the method of trial and error in search of answers to intelligent questions about the natural world.
As long as the godly line of Seth and his believing relatives continued to walk with God in faith and repentance, they no doubt continued to believe that they were living in a world that was created by a rational and wise God and thus was consistent and rational, in a sense, lawful. Thus they believed that the world would yield up its secrets if they studied it in a systematic way. And they believed that the world would not change arbitrarily, erratically from day to day. The world, they believed, was worthy of scientific study.
Gradually, however, and perhaps rather quickly, the different groups of people in Adam's race fell away from their original faith in the Creator God, that faith which had been revealed to them from the beginning of the world. The ungodly line of Cain, of course, had walked in disobedience to God since near the beginning. Nevertheless, they likewise remembered for a long time that they lived in a created, lawful world. As faith in the true and living God declined, however, men began to create their own deities and myths about the beginning of the world. Their new religions tended to view the world as having no beginning or end. They rejected the idea of a personal God who was utterly different from and separate from His creation. Their new deities tended to be all mixed up with, or part of, or all of the stuff making up the world and its creatures. Their religious beliefs thus degenerated into pantheism, the various forms of belief that everything is God and God is everything. Today in the modern world the most common religious belief is animism, the pantheistic notion that the natural objects in the world are indwelt and controlled by demonic spirits.
If the things in the natural, material world are indeed inhabited and controlled by powerful personal spirit beings, there is no way that the natural world can be counted upon to be orderly, consistent and lawful. Indeed, the spirits were generally considered to be at enmity with humans and so would cause the objects they inhabited to frustrate human goals. Therefore, if a scientific experiment were performed one day under controlled conditions, one could not be sure that the same experiment would produce the same results on the next day. Consequently, there was no assurance that systematic human investigations of the natural world could produce reliable knowledge. Without such assurance there was little motivation for the development and application of the scientific method to the study of the natural world.
This pantheistic religious world view, then, is believed to be the principal reason that the method of modern empirical science never developed in the ancient Eastern civilizations. Through the ages clever, intelligent people in every civilization made important scientific discoveries from time to time. And those discoveries were incorporated into the technology of the day. But the pantheistic world view of the prevailing religions discouraged systematic scientific research.
The obvious constancy of the stars almost overcame this religiously based mindset of the ancients. Thus astronomers in ancient Babylon and Egypt were able to make astronomical predictions based upon past observations. But this understanding of a lawful, predictable natural order in the stars was not extended to the study of things on the earth. There the animistic spirits were deemed to be in control. The ancient Greeks came closer than any others to the method of modern science. Aristotle's systematic study of biology produced a large body of knowledge. Nevertheless, the Greeks' scientific endeavors never germinated to create modern science. Among the Greeks some experimentalists in physical science made important fundamental discoveries. Archimedes' work with levers, planes and screws, and his discovery of the law of fluid displacement are outstanding examples. But that was the high water mark of the science of the Greeks. They simply could not completely break away from the mental straitjacket imposed on their thinking by their pantheistic world view.