Five Things Science Can’t Explain

Written by Darren Hewer

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Watch now: How to fill the void and find purpose.

Science has contributed innumerable benefits to human life on planet Earth. We should be deeply grateful for the hard work of scientists who dedicate their lives to loyal study of this discipline and the advantages scientific advances grant us.

Due to its success, there is often a tendency to think that science can explain everything. However there are actually many things that science cannot prove. Here are five categories of truth that cannot be proven using the scientific method:

1) Existential Truth: Science cannot prove that you aren’t merely a brain in a jar being manipulated to think this is all actually happening. (Think of something like in “The Matrix”.) It also cannot prove that the world wasn’t created 5 minutes ago with the appearance of age (and with fake memories in your head, and half-digested food in your stomach, etc). However it’s still rational to believe that our memories are true and that the world is real.

2) Moral Truth: Science cannot prove that rape is evil. While it is possible to demonstrate, for example, that there are negative physical or psychological effects of rape, there is no scientific test that can prove it is evil. Science can describe how the natural world is, but moral truth carries an “oughtness” (how things should be) about it that goes beyond what merely is.

3) Logical Truth: Consider the statement “Science is the only way to really know truth.” How could you prove that statement by science? It is actually self-refuting because there is no scientific test you could use to prove that it is true! Science cannot prove logic to be true because it assumes and requires logic in order for it to work.

4) Historical Truth: Science cannot prove that Barack Obama won the 2008 United States presidential election. There is no scientific test we could perform to prove it. We could have an investigation if we wanted to confirm that he did actually win, but the method for proving historical truths is different from testing scientific truths since historical truths are by nature non-repeatable.

5) Experiential Truth: Science cannot prove that your spouse loves you. When asked why so-and-so loves you, you may cite precedent (times when their behavior demonstrates their love for you) but this is a particular type of historical truth. There is no scientific test that can confirm a lifetime of experience of knowing a person.

None of this is meant to criticize science! There’s nothing wrong with the scientific method for testing the kinds of things it was meant to test. However, it would be a mistake to expect it to be able to test everything. There are more intellectual tools available to us than just science, and as the old saying goes, when all you’ve got is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail!

For the kinds of truth listed above, science is not deficient in any way; it’s just not the right way to find those particular kinds of truth. To try to do so would be like trying to ascertain whether a banana is tasty by sticking it in your ear and listening to it; it’s simply the wrong method!

There is one other kind of truth that cannot be proven or disproven by science. That’s because it is comprised of all of the other kinds of truth mentioned above mixed together: Religious truth. It does have a certain amount of overlap with science, when religion makes explicit claims about scientific fact, and when science makes explicit claims about religion. But the overlap tends to be rather small; in any case, true science and true religion, because they both aim to describe reality, can never be in conflict. (Read “Science & Religion: Conflict or Coherence?” for more on this topic.)

Why then does science often seem so straightforward and uncontroversial, whereas religion can be so difficult and contentious?

It may have something to do with a fact hinted at earlier: Religious truth is multifaceted. It is comprised of science, logic, philosophy, history, ethics, and experience, all mixed together. It is, in a sense, a different kind of knowing, not ignorant the other kinds of truths, but requiring that they be studied together carefully.

Rigidly applying the same methodology used for studying mundane things would be deficient when considering divine things. This shouldn’t be too surprising, considering that if God truly does exist, God is in a different category from every created thing that we can grasp and study under a microscope: God, unlike every created thing, is in the “uncreated things” category. Science, and each of the other kinds of truths, will have something to say about God. But none of these individually can tell us everything. All are necessary, but no single approach by itself is sufficient.

If that is the case, where should a person start a serious investigation into religion amidst all the complexity? Where should a person begin?

In his suspenseful novel Five Sacred Crossings author and religious scholar Craig Hazen presents through his narrative five “sacred crossings,” or compelling reasons to consider Christianity first. This is merely an exceedingly short summary of what Hazen explains (and argues for) in much more detail in his book:

1) It is testable. Christianity does not make merely esoteric claims; it makes claims about logic, science, history, philosophy, and ultimately reality itself.

2) It paints a picture of the world that matches reality. It does not force a person to deny that our world is real. Rather it cohesively explains why things are the way they are.

3) It makes a non-compartmentalized life possible. The Christian faith does not require a person to live one way when thinking about “religious” things and a totally different way at all other times.

4) It presents salvation as a free gift. Every other religion in the world presents some sort of works-based way to re-connect with God. But at the heart of the Christian message is grace, not more demands to somehow work our way to God.

5) It has Jesus at the center. Jesus is the most compelling (and controversial) figure in history. Many other religions claim to respect him, but Christianity is founded upon his life, teaching, and identity. Why not begin by getting to know him?

One man who took on such a challenge was Dr Alister McGrath, who earned two doctorates at Oxford University, one in molecular biophysics, the other in theology. He described his spiritual and intellectual journey to the Christian faith in this way:

“At Oxford – to my surprise – I discovered Christianity. It was the intellectually most exhilarating and spiritually stimulating thing I could ever hope to describe – better than chemistry, a wonderful subject that I had thought to be the love of my life and my future career. I went on to gain a doctorate for research in molecular biophysics from Oxford, and found that immensely exciting and satisfying. But I knew I had found something better – like the pearl of great price that Jesus talks about in the Gospel, which is so beautiful and precious that it overshadows everything. It was intellectually satisfying, imaginatively engaging, and aesthetically exciting.” 1

How to find a clear purpose and meaning to life.

Further Reading:

A Scientist’s Search for Truth – Astrophysicist Hugh Ross describes his journey to faith.
The Uniqueness of Jesus – What made Jesus so special anyways?
What Does your Soul Crave? – Destiny? Intimacy? Meaning?
Contact us with Questions – Talk with someone confidentially via email.

1 Alister McGrath, The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath & Daniel Dennett in Dialogue (London, England: Fortress Press, 2008), 27.

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174 Responses to “Five Things Science Can’t Explain”

  • gary says:

    Hi Tom. I apologize about not seeing your reference to Isaiah 53. I will address it now:

    I agree that Isaiah 53 certainly sounds like Jesus. But if you were to walk into a library, grab a book, open it up to the middle of the book, and start reading about a “he” and a “him” would it be correct for you to just guess which “he” the author is speaking of, based on descriptions of the “he” and the actions of the “he” described on the pages, or, should you investigate first to see if the author tells you somewhere in the book who this “he” actually is? Isn’t it very possible that an author could give numerous details about someone that is in fact NOT the person you believe that the author is referring to?

    So let’s look at Isaiah 53. Is there anywhere in Isaiah 53 where the author of Isaiah tells us who the “suffering servant” is? Answer: no. So what should we do, just guess who the suffering servant is, or, should we go back into the previous chapter, and if necessary, the previous CHAPTERS, to see exactly about whom the author is speaking, specifically, who is the author calling the “suffering servant” and about whom the author is using the pronouns “he” and “him”.

    Cont’d in next comment…

  • gary says:

    I guess I haven’t been clear in making my point, Tom: I am not trying to prove to you that Jesus did not rise from the dead. I cannot prove that. I am also not trying to prove that you are wrong for believing that Jesus did rise from the dead. What I am trying to demonstrate is that there is not enough evidence to prove that the Christians claim that Jesus is God and therefore the one and only truth is really true. It is only your very sincere, deeply held opinion, and that is all. You can no more prove that Christianity is the one and only truth as can the Muslims that Islam is the one and only truth. Both belief systems are based on unexaminable, unprovable, supernatural claims. So I szy to both Christians and Muslims: Knock yourselves out. Believe your ancient, supernatural tales, but don’t try to tell the rest of us that you have the one and only truth; don’t threaten us with eternal punishment for not believing your supernatural claims; and don’t try to legislate your superstition based beliefs upon us.

    It is certainly possible that the reason I do not believe is because an evil ghost inside me has blinded me to the truth. But it is also possible that your belief that a good ghost inside of you gives you special insights into reality (that we non-believers in your invisible good ghost do not see)is simply a delusion, as you would describe the beliefs of Muslims, Hindus and others of their spirits, ghosts, and goblins: delusions which have no basis in fact.

  • Tom Tom says:

    Gary–
    Here is the exact portion of my previous post concerning some of the O.T. prophecies about Jesus:
    As for O.T. prophecies, I know that just one wouldn’t be any proof. Therefore, how about portions of Isaiah? It was written approximately 700 years before Jesus was born (and verified by the Dead Sea Scrolls to be accurate then as now). Read chapter 53. Among other things It prophecies: He was despised and forsaken by men (they spit on him, pulled out his beard, reviled him, etc.); He bore our grief and sorrows (sins) upon himself; He was pierced for our transgressions (nailed to the cross); He was scourged; He didn’t open his mouth (he refused to answer Pilate’s and Herod’s charges); His grave was assigned with wicked men (the two other malefactors who died with him); He was with a rich man in his death (He was buried in a rich man’s tomb). Other O.T. prophecies include where he would be born (Bethlehem), that he would be sold for 30 pieces of silver, that his body would not see decay (he rose from the dead rather than rotting), he was born of a virgin, he would ride into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, his side would be pierced, none of his bones would be broken (the leg bones of crucified people who didn’t die quickly enough were broken to speed up death; Jesus’ legs were not broken however.)

    You wrote: “No one can disprove that supernatural events occur because by definition, supernatural events defy the rules of evidence.” If that is your firm belief, then by the same token there can be no evidence that he DID rise from the dead because it was a “supernatural event that would defy the rules of evidence.” Therefore, all of your concerns about who wrote the gospels is simply a rabbit trail and a mute point.

    Let me speak frankly but in love Gary–
    What it comes down to is that you have the sin of unbelief. You have made up your mind that the events in the Bible are not true and will strain at every attempt to show otherwise. By your own criteria of what you would accept as evidence for even the names of the gospel writers, you will accept nothing less than 100% perfection and multiplied verification of evidence. In your worldview, there cannot be enough evidence because your heart is hardened. You will leave no room for doubt and therefore will leave no room for faith. That is unfortunate Gary, because it is by God’s grace through FAITH that a person is saved. “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6) You are not diligently seeking him, you are diligently denying him. Please know that I will pray for you.

  • Gary says:

    Tom,

    I looked back at your comment from yesterday. You mention 100+ prophecies about Jesus but you don’t mention any specifically. So I will pick one: the virgin birth.

    If you read the entire chapter in Isaiah that Christians use to claim the virgin birth prophecy, you will see that the prophecy was about an event in King Hezekiah’s time, not about some time in the distant future. Besides that, the original Hebrew word “alma” does not mean virgin, but young woman. There is a different Hebrew word for “virgin”. The anonymous author of the Gospel cherry picked one verse out of an entire chapter, used the Greek word in the Septuagint which CAN mean “virgin”, and created a prophecy about Jesus. The gospel author may have sincerely believed that this verse prophesied about Jesus, but he was sincerely, and blatantly, wrong.

    I challenge you to read the entire chapter in Isaiah to see this for yourself.

  • Gary says:

    Tom,

    I can no more prove that Jesus did NOT rise from the dead than I could prove that unicorns and leprechauns do NOT exist. It is impossible to disprove a supernatural claim. No one can disprove that supernatural events occur because by definition, supernatural events defy the rules of evidence.

  • Tom Tom says:

    Gary–
    Proving something isn’t so is just as important and significant as proving some is so. Science does that all the time. That may be silly to you, but the obvious is that if people were basing their entire spiritual beliefs on Mohammed having flown on a winged horse to Jerusalem and I could ABSOLUTELY prove he didn’t, that would destroy those beliefs. There would be no basis to believe it anymore. It’s easy to prove the Book of Mormon is false and that’s why Mormonism is the fastest dying religion in the world. The internet has allowed the facts to be distributed quickly world-wide. The entire Christian faith is built on Jesus having risen from the dead. So I challenge you again–if you’re so sure the gospels can’t be trusted and that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, step up and prove it.

    And I’m still awaiting your response to the OT prophecies of Jesus Christ . . . . Go back and read the post dated February 27, 2015 at 7:52 am

  • gary says:

    Tom,

    I will give you evidence that Jesus did NOT rise from the dead when you give me evidence that Mohammad did NOT fly on a winged horse to Jerusalem. Asking someone to prove a negative is silly and impossible.

    Please list an OT prophecy that you believe refers to Jesus. If you have already listed it I apologize for not seeing it.

  • gary says:

    Dear Lauren,

    I have NEVER asserted that we have absolute proof that Matthew the apostle, John Mark, Luke the physician, and John, son of Zebedee, did NOT write the gospels. And I don’t know of any credible scholar who would say that. I believe that it is highly unlikely, but impossible? No. I would not say that it is impossible.

    We have no idea who wrote these books, therefore, to say that someone did not write them would be ridiculous. My point is that I don’t think that anyone can say that the apostles did NOT write the gospels, but neither can anyone say that the apostles DID write them.

    Without knowing who wrote the gospels, there is no way that we can be sure these four books were written by eyewitnesses. These books may well be entirely based on fourth, fifth or even twentieth hand information that had been floating around the Mediterranean world for the 30 years prior to the writing of the first gospel in 65-70 AD.

  • Tom Tom says:

    Gary–
    I notice that when you ask for something specific such as “please identify one OT prophesy that Jesus fulfilled”, you don’t bother to respond when it’s given you. Why is that? If it wasn’t important to you, why did you inquire?

  • Tom Tom says:

    Gary–
    And may I suggest you give even one firm piece of evidence that Jesus Christ did NOT rise from the dead.

  • Jamie Lauren says:

    Your challenge, Gary, is not an easy one because I don’t know the beliefs of all the scholars who have studied and written on the subject. I will do some work perusing through some references and see what I can come up with.

    While I am doing that see if you can come up with credible scholars who have established that the Gospels were not written by those who traditionally have been given credit. We will see who comes up with one first.

  • gary says:

    “Again, I would say that you will have a hard time finding any credible expert in ancient literature and history that will deny the authorship of the Gospels by Matthew – disciple of Jesus, Mark – disciple of Peter, the disciple of Jesus, Luke – companion of Paul the Apostle, and John – the disciple of Jesus.”

    What?? I challenge you, Lauren, to name any non-evangelical, non-orthodox Christian “expert” who believes the traditional authorship of the Gospels is a settled fact.

  • gary says:

    “. Ireneaus describes Papius as a ‘hearer of John’ so he may well have had first hand connection with John. John was the disciple of Jesus who lived the longest and he would have confirmed to his students the authorship of the other Gospels.”

    Do you see what you are doing here, Lauren? You are basing your belief in the apostolic authorship of the Gospels, upon which the Christian claim that the Gospels were written by eyewitness rises or falls, on your ASSUMPTION that Papias “may well have”…known this or know that…

    Seriously? That is you only evidence for believing that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses until Ireneaus says so in 180 AD?? An assumption??

  • gary says:

    Dear Lauren,

    Your latest statement epitomizes the many assumptions Christians make to hold onto their beliefs about the Bible.

    Just because early Christians in the late first and early second centuries believed that the four gospels were inspired is not proof that these gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I must repeat: NO ONE in the first 150 years of Christianity credits authorship of these four books to the traditional authors. No one. No mention of authorship to these books is made until Irenaeus in 180 AD.

    “There was enough evidence to convince them that it was written by Luke who had been a companion of Paul the Apostle.” Convince who?? Again, no one credits Luke the physician with writing the third gospel until Irenaeus in 180 AD.

    “Similarly, the other Gospels were equally accepted.”

    I never said that early Christians in the late first and early second centuries did not consider these four books inspired, what I said is that we have no evidence that any of these early Christians believed that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote these books. Some of the same early Christians also believed that other “gospels” were inspired, such as the Shepherd of Hermas. You are assuming that if Christians living more than 70-100 years after Jesus believed the four books were inspired, that that automatically meant that they believed these books were written by apostles or associates of apostles. You have offered no proof of this assertion.

  • Jamie Lauren says:

    Well Gary, what it shows is that soon after the writing of these documents the followers of Jesus had read these documents and looked at them as authoritative in the life of the Church. There was enough evidence to convince them that it was written by Luke who had been a companion of Paul the Apostle. Similarly, the other Gospels were equally accepted. I mentioned Papius. He was a student of Polycarp, who was the student of John the Apostle. Ireneaus describes Papius as a ‘hearer of John’ so he may well have had first hand connection with John. John was the disciple of Jesus who lived the longest and he would have confirmed to his students the authorship of the other Gospels.

    Again, I would say that you will have a hard time finding any credible expert in ancient literature and history that will deny the authorship of the Gospels by Matthew – disciple of Jesus, Mark – disciple of Peter, the disciple of Jesus, Luke – companion of Paul the Apostle, and John – the disciple of Jesus.

  • gary says:

    Hi Lauren,

    As I said, previously, I agree that Christians in the early second century quoted from what we now call Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but what does that prove? Some of the early Christians also quoted from the Shepherd of Hermas and believed it to be the inspired Word of God!

    So even if early second century Christians were quoting the four gospels, that may prove that the Christians of the early second century believed that these books were inspired, but it does not mean that they knew who wrote them! Do you see what I mean?

    Maybe four guys we will call Bill, Bob, Randy, and Tom wrote the four anonymous gospels in 65-85 AD. Maybe Bill wrote the first book, full of supernatural tales sbout a real, but very human Jesus, and then Bob, Randy, and Tom wrote books based on much of Bill’s book. Somehow, the Church got possession of these books and believed that they MUST have been written by the apostles Matthew and John, and the associates of Peter and Paul, Mark and Luke. And from then on these four anonymous books are credited to apostles and associates of apostles who in reality…did NOT write them.

    So just because early Christians at the end of the first century and the beginning of the second century are quoting this books, for some odd reason NO ONE is saying who the authors of these four, unsigned books are until Ireneaus in 180 AD!

  • Jamie Lauren says:

    Actually Gary, all four of the Gospels were quoted in the Didache (a baptismal catechism that is based on the teaching of the Apostles) which is usually dated between 75-125 AD. Also Papius, Bishop of Hierapolis, quoted from the Gospels in his works that are dated 95-120 AD. 1Clement (the letter from the Bishop of Rome) also quotes from Acts and other New Testament documents (96 AD). The fact that these documents were used so widely attests to the acceptance of their accuracy among the Early Church.

    There is as strong evidence of Lukan authorship of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles as there is for any writings of the first century. You will be hard-pressed to find any credible scholar who questions that.

  • gary says:

    Tom, please identify one OT prophesy that Jesus fulfilled.

    Do law-breakers deserve to be punished. Yes. But no crime warrants eternal punishment in unspeakable agony. That isn’t punishment. That is sadistic torture.

    And what is mankinds’ crime: our ancestors ate some forbidden fruit from God’s garden.

  • gary says:

    “Scholar’s believe that the latest books of scripture were written in the early 90’s and if Jesus death happened around the year 30 (which scholars also believe) that my friend is a far cry from 150 years. At least that’s my math.”

    You misunderstood my point, friend.

    You will find writings by the early Christians, written in the early second early century which quote passages from the Gospels in question. I do not doubt that the four gospels were written in the first century. What I am asserting is that there is no reference to the authorship of these four, specific documents until Ireneaus in 180 AD.

    My point is: We have no evidence that anyone knew who the authors of these four books were until Ireneaus, the heresiologist (heresy fighter)bishop in Lyons, France, declared the authorship of these four books in 180 AD, as the same authors by which we refer to these books today. Upon what evidence did Ireneaus assert, one hundred and fifty years after Jesus’ death, that the apostles Matthew and John, and the associates of apostles, Mark and Luke, wrote these four books?

  • lookingup says:

    Scholar’s believe that the latest books of scripture were written in the early 90’s and if Jesus death happened around the year 30 (which scholars also believe) that my friend is a far cry from 150 years. At least that’s my math.

  • gary says:

    “Was it Luke who wrote the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts? I may not be able to prove it was he, but what difference does that make? Maybe it was Joe or Mike—what’s the difference? It doesn’t change the truth of the writings.”

    That is the whole point, Tom! If you don’t know who wrote it, how do you know that what “he” wrote is true?? If you found a letter in a bottle on the beach that is unsigned, would you believe everything written in the letter to be absolute fact…just because it is written down on a piece of paper?

    If we have no idea who wrote the Gospels, and not one single Christian refers to the authorship of the four specific gospels that we include in our Bible today for one hundred and fifty years after Jesus death, how do you know that the statements in these anonymous books are true??

  • Chris says:

    Gary….God being invisible spirit obviously cannot be proven scientifically but that isnt what God is asking of you, to prove he exists, the bible doesnt even try to. its obvious he does. obviously too there is no person who has ever lived on this earth who could ever compare to jesus christ. all jesus asks you is to open your heart to him. if you were offered to meet the president of the united states, most likely you would be interested, so why not christ. give jesus a chance in your life. he wants to be your best friend not your worst enemy. acts 3 says God the father sent his son to bless us, not to cause a monumentable debate and créate anger. just open your heart to jesus. let him show you that he loves you!

  • Tom Tom says:

    Gary—
    There is a big difference in proving something to be absolutely true and proving it is false. While all of the doubts you’ve listed about the Gospels may not be answerable to your satisfaction, none of those things necessarily precludes them from being true. For example: Was it Luke who wrote the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts? I may not be able to prove it was he, but what difference does that make? Maybe it was Joe or Mike—what’s the difference? It doesn’t change the truth of the writings. Same goes for Mark, etc. What would be significant is if something is those writings can be proven false. Dozens of things in the book of Mormon are absolutely, unequivocally false, historically and archeologically. It is also filled with contradictions. The Koran has man contradictions. What’s more, both of these books were written by just one person, supposedly under the inspiration of an angel. The Bible was written by 40 different people and states they were led, not by an angel, but by God himself (2 Timothy 3:16). If it were written solely by men, it would have contradictions and provable falsehoods. Therefore, I’m not looking for proof of Mormonism or Islam. The books they are based on are proven untrue.

    When a person is born again, there is a radical change in their life. The Holy Spirit begins to change the person from the inside out, starting with the heart. You said you poured out your heart to the Lord at age 9—was there a change in your life? Did you start following Christ and growing in your faith? What about at age 15? What was the resulting evidence that you were born again? When a person is born again, they know it and others know it. While it’s what’s in the heart and not just in the head, Christianity is not just a blind faith. There are good, solid reasons to believe in the God of the Bible and Jesus Christ his gift of salvation to us. No one has to “check their head at the door.” Did you look at the Josh McDowell web page I gate you?

    You said your “faith is based on probabilities.” OK, that’s exactly what we’re talking here; the probabilities that what’s written in the New Testament is true. And let’s not forget about what’s written in the Old Testament that foretold what’s written about in the New Testament. There were hundreds of fulfilled prophecies; over 100 exactly coming to fruition in Jesus Christ himself. Here’s a probability for you: The odds of just 8 of the O.T. prophecies about Jesus coming true are 1 x 10 to the 57th power! (A mathematician figured this out, not me.) I’ll take those odds any day! I can easily have faith in that. Jesus Christ rising from the dead is a miracle—that makes it unexplainable in scientific terms. Jesus Christ dying for our sins so that we won’t be held accountable for them is a miracle too.

    Gary, don’t you believe that the wicked should be punished? Don’t you believe that someone who breaks the law should have justice served on them? The same book that tells us about God and Jesus tells us about sin and death—eternal separation from God. If you can’t prove the Bible to be wrong, why wouldn’t a person believe what it says about God in his holiness seeing that justice is and served? Again, don’t you believe people should be held accountable for their evil actions? Although I believe there have been very few if any, true, born again believers that have perpetrated the evils you describe, anyone can do something in the “name” of Christ. That doesn’t make them a Christian. What’s more, they will be held accountable to God as well. Is this why you are being so vehement in your denial of what you once professed to believe, because your conscience tells you there will be a day of reckoning?

  • Tom Tom says:

    You’ve made good points, however, in order for those points to be valid, you have to assume that the bible is the infallible, correct? How do we demonstrate that?

    TF–
    One way of validating that the Bible is infallible is to check it for obvious contradictions and to see if anything it states is contrary to history, archeology, or science. Another method is to examine the more than 300 specific prophecies in the Old Testament to see if any of them were inaccurate. Considering the Bible was written over a 1500 year period by 40 different authors from 3 different continents using 3 different languages, if there are no contradictions to historical, archeological, and scientific records, that gives pretty good credibility, wouldn’t you say?

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