Sunday, October 25, 2009

Theology and the Scientific Method

It is sometimes stated that theological statements cannot be tested by the scientific method. This must be absurd. Any hypothesis may be judged according to whether or not its truth can be determined objectively. The major flaw in the scientific method, from the point of view of the theologian, is its insistence that the scientist has an explainable but minimal, even neglible, impact on his world. He or she devises and conducts an experiment to test a theory and hopes for confirmation from others to confirm observations, analyses and conclusions. He assumes that his observations were not influenced by his presence. Quantum mechanics has suggested that this is not entirely true and that reality is effectively determined as and when it is experientially observed.

The question of the existence of God has not been tested according to the scientific method precisely because the wrong experiments are tried. Is it possible to test the existence of a divine being? Might it be necessary to set aside the separation of the scientist from his experiment to perform an effective test? What if the scientist must be subjectively involved before a result can be obtained? This does not negate the condition that any conclusions must be subject to independent verification. It merely points toward the need to reconfigure the experiment. The method itself is not compromised.

In fact the theologian reminds the scientist that he/she is always involved subjectively in the pursuit of science and that his/her apparently negligible influence upon his/her experiments can be greatly multiplied in the application of his conclusions in the world outside the laboratory.

We live in a world in which monetary policy is not fully approved or even understood before it is implemented. Wars are waged without consultation and agreement. Expensive medicines are developed before cheaper alternatives are tried. Dangerous chemicals find their way into the ecosystem because ethical guidelines are not considered.

Assuredly, the social sciences are in a different category than the physical sciences. The proper use of the method requires that the scientist take into account his/her presence and modify his/her behaviour. Theology might then be restored to one of its honoured roles as monitor and cleanser of society's ills.

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