Dreams of Science

Next time you're in a bookstore, browse through the science section for some startling new titles: Theories of Everything, The God Particle, The Mind of God. The theme of these books is that physics may soon find a super-theory explaining everything in the universe. Physics, it seems, is replacing theology as the "queen" of the sciences-with physicists playing the role of theologians. Consider one of these books, Dreams of a Final Theory, by Nobel-Prize winner Steven Weinberg. The supertheory Weinberg dreams of would unify the four fundamental physical forces: the electromagnetic force, weak nuclear force, strong nuclear force, and gravity. No wonder this theory is often labeled the "holy grail" of physics, the "theory of everything." But the idea that a theory of physics could also be a theory of everything assumes that everything is physical-that everything can be explained by fundamental forces and particles. The term for this is reductionism, and it is a powerful creed among many scientists today. Reductionists argue that human consciousness is nothing but chemical reactions in the brain; that life is nothing but the outworking of physical forces in the DNA molecule; that the universe itself is nothing but a collection of particles, traceable ultimately to the initial conditions of the big bang. This is the dominant view in the scientific establishment today. And there's not much tolerance for alternative views. In Dreams of a Final Theory, Weinberg casts religion into the outer darkness of "wishful thinking." In essence, he tells religious believers to grow up, be rational. If we stick to science, Weinberg insists, what we see is a universe that is impersonal and without purpose. This may be a "bleak" and "chilling" view of the world, he writes, but it's the only one sanctioned by science. But these are overblown claims. Science doesn't require anyone to be a reductionist. Saying that a living organism is nothing but a collection of molecules is like saying that a house is nothing but a collection of bricks, or that a Dickens novel is nothing but a collection of words. Absurd. And it's just as absurd to say that everything in the universe is ultimately a collection of elementary particles. When people like Weinberg push reductionism, what they are really doing is equating science with their own personal philosophy. And in the process they're denying the right of anyone else even to enter the ring. As Phillip Johnson comments in the Wall Street Journal, "The scientific community claims the sole right to decide for the nation that God is a product of the human imagination rather than the ultimate reality behind the cosmos." Science has been hijacked by reductionists who want the power to define for all of us what qualifies as ultimate truth. They want to give us the "theory of everything." The only way Christians can undercut this strategy is to insist, again and again, on the distinction between science and philosophy. In our children's textbooks, in television nature programs, what goes under the rubric of "science" is not always a neutral search for knowledge. Often it is an expression of reductionist philosophy. Where physics is taking over the role of theology.


Chuck Colson


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