Five Things Science Can’t Explain

Written by Darren Hewer

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

If you’re interested in starting a faith adventure today, here are some suggested next steps:

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

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Well now hold it Billy, you wrote, “Wielding the Bible as an accurate historical document from cover to cover is such a non-fact.” You write off the historical accuracy of the Bible so I assumed that you had sufficient evidence of it’s inaccuracy. I just wanted to point out that over and over again the biblical records of events, people and places have been proved accurate despite those who wish to dispute it’s claims. It’s accuracy has been such that some scholars–no matter what their religious convictions–view it as a key piece of their investigation in the ancient world. Sir William Ramsay actually set out to prove the inaccuracy of the writings of Luke specifically but over time came to say, ‘Further study . . . showed that the book could bear the most minute scrutiny as an authority for the facts of the Aegean world, and that it was written with such judgment, skill, art and perception of truth as to be a model of historical statement’ (The Bearing of Recent Discovery, p. 85 as quoted on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Mitchell_Ramsay)

    Not only have the authors of the biblical documents been accurate in their re-telling of historical events but they have also been precise in their fore-telling of future events for which is our history. The writings of Daniel so accurately depict the rise and fall of Empires in the Middle East that many have surmised that someone added those words in the 2nd or 1st Century BC. But there are way too many historical evidences of Daniel’s writing these during the Babylonian and Medo-Persian Empires to give any credibility to those speculations. One of the most amazing specific prophecy in the Bible is Isaiah naming the Persian king who would return the Jews back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple in 520 BC. He spoke this prophecy 150 years before Cyrus was born and 80 years before the Jews were even taken into captivity in Babylon.

    Now I am not saying that every person, place, event described in the Bible has been conclusively established as historical fact but there is staggering amount of conclusively proved elements that one needs to be cautious when disputing any of the claims contained within its pages. You see, the Bible has a unique feature that you failed to address: yes, there is a great diversity in the authorship of all of the documents within the Bible. Over 40 different identifiable authors, from diverse backgrounds, written over the stretch of some 1500 years, in three different languages. But the Bible makes a claim about itself that gives it great credibility: “All scripture is ‘God-breathed’…” In other words, while it is true that many different people were involved in the writing of the words of the Bible and in it compilation, there was One who was inspiring and guiding those authors so that the words they wrote was the revelation of God Himself. Now I know anybody can claim such grand authorship but how can it be proved. Well, I point to the accuracy of the prophecy, the precision in historical record, the amazing consistency of the message of the Bible despite it’s diverse authorship, the clear evidence of it’s miraculous preservation in word and form over the many years and the clarity with which it speaks of the human condition and God’s solution for it as compelling reasons to take seriously that claim of divine inspiration.

    If you want evidence of the existence of God I challenge you to look closely at not only the message of the Bible, but also test the uniqueness of that claim of divine authorship and I am sure you–like many others before you–will be gripped by the voice of God speaking to you for those beautiful pages.

  • Billy JeanPierre says:

    Ahh Jamie, ‘I thought I was done but you pulled me back in!’ _Coppola “The Godfather”
    Since you’re using quotes from ‘pop-fiction’ to make an impact, I thought I would as well.

    “You question the historical accuracy of the Bible. I am curious which parts you have proof did not happen“

    This quote just made me laugh for a whole 5 minutes. With this one statement you just rewrote the laws of the universe, of logic, of science, of research, of debate, of truth.
    You might as well as proclaimed, “From this day forth, let us not start with the defeatist attitude that everything is false and untrue until proof is given, but instead begin with the more optimistic view that everything as TRUE until proven FALSE”. You just changed my world view and thousands of years of human discourse.

    Well, no one has ever conclusively proven false that there isn’t this little civilization near the north pole populated by small statured residents working in a sweatshop 24/7 ruled with an iron fist by this bearded fat man who only works once a year. Children of the world you stand vindicated! SANTA IS REAL!

    No one has also ever proven false that there wasn’t this little boy named Jack who found three magic beans which he planted and grew to the sky, once he climbed led him to a land of giants.
    Fairy creatures, sci/fi characters, and every figment of the mind you are now proclaimed real until such time your existence is successfully challenged with acceptable proof that you are not real!

    Sorry for my jokes, because your question was not a serious one. But just in case you were actually being serious;
    As far as I know, the bibles is a compilation of stories (‘books’, ‘texts’, ‘scrolls’) at different points in history groups of MEN has decided to ‘selectively’ choose from, compile, to form one book or ‘version’. Some of these stories may be truth, fiction, beliefs, opinions of the authors, cautionary tales, lessons to heed, timeless human values or values at the time they were written, etc. Which are which at this point are impossible to tell. It may be that all are true, it may be all are fiction; or it may be those who originally wrote them believed them to be true.
    Based however of what I know of our ancestors who lived 3 thousand plus years ago and what they believed for lack of proof and sophistication of thought, I am apt to believe that those fantastic stories of the bible cannot possibly be real. They called everything they didn’t understand ‘a god’ and saw everything beyond their comprehension as mystical. Can we seriously take at face value their accounts of anything – as written in the bible?

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Well Billy, I agree that mass consensus can give life to ideas, laws, norms, etc. But there are some things that do not depend on the will of the people to be real. Even when the will of the people is contrary to a given idea the truth and reality of that still is true. The intrinsic value of human life is an example. Even though all cultures have undermined that intrinsic value at some point or another by conflicting ideas of superiority or other priorities that have taken precedence over the value of human life, it has never detracted from the actual value of every person.

    God’s existence is also not dependent on people’s belief in Him. One of the lines from Stephen King’s “The Stand” that has always stuck with me was Mama Abigail’s response to Nick’s statement, “I don’t believe in God.” Mama Abigail just bursts out laughing, “God bless you Nick, but it don’t matter. He believes in you!” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cII0sq4LEpg) God does need your belief to exist or to accomplish His purposes. Neither does your disbelief subtract one bit from His great power and love for you.

    You question the historical accuracy of the Bible. I am curious which parts you have proof did not happen. While I know there are some events that some have questioned and are still disputed, many of those things which once were thought inaccurate have been affirmed by new discoveries. There was a time when some scholars thought that King David was a character of legend and never really existed. But in 1993, the discovery of the Tel Dan inscription confirmed the existence of the ‘House of David’ which gives evidence of a real King of Israel named David in the time period that the Bible describes. Based on the amazing track record of the Bible’s historical accuracy in regards to people, places, events, nations it is wise to be careful of stating too emphatically that any event described in the Bible is fictitious.

  • Billy JeanPierre says:

    Jamie, I enjoy the way you express yourself; very concise logical arguments and trains of thought. I am saddened that I must disagree with you on every point. ‘Critical mass’ does give life to (make real, make true) social ideas (God, Beauty, good, evil…). For example: A law is just an idea written in a book, sitting on a shelf somewhere in an overly ornate building. Law books with or without the words written in them are simply paper, bound with glue and thread. In both states they would weigh the same, feel the same, and possess no discernibly different characteristics. What makes the words real are those who abide by them AND when they are enforced. If a law at any point is not being enforced or obeyed (Speed limit) an argument can be made that it is not real. Should doctor Neville have obeyed the speed limits around town in ‘I am Legend’? (Film – Will smith)

    Second example: Imagine erecting a paper wall to corral a herd of wild stallions (which is sometimes done). The wall works as a solid barrier because the herd collectively believes it to be solid. Once one rams and goes through the wall, the wall ceases to be a solid barrier in their minds and they will all breach the wall. So my general point is, the ‘truth’ of non-physical objects or ideas lies in the mind of the individual.

    If you believe god exists, neither I nor anyone else can successfully dispute that or convince you otherwise. I can only show you where that wall is breached a million times a day. And of-course you will point out those parts still left standing.

    Additionally, you cannot use unproven facts as proof of something you’re trying to prove. Wielding the Bible as an accurate historical document from cover to cover is such a non-fact.

    Disclaimer: Jamie, also consider these may not be my actual spiritual beliefs or stands on laws. Just philosophical arguments. At least I don’t believe I’m a ‘godless psychopath’.

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