Five Things Science Can’t Explain

Written by Darren Hewer

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.

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

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi MasterDebater, thanks for adding your perspective to the conversation here. Let me just first of all ask that you maintain a respectful discourse in this forum. You are certainly welcome to disagree with other points of view, but we ask that you refrain from maligning people’s intellect or character. It is not necessary to use such tactics to convince others of the strength of your position.

    I would disagree that science does not attempt to prove anything. The scientific method does have a gradient for ideas, processes, and characteristics of our universe. There are physical laws that science has been able to establish with a high degree of certainty. Gravity is not just a theory, but it has been proven to be a law at work within our known universe that can be consistently measured and predicted.

    As for the definition of ‘truth’ Merriam-Webster states “a (1) : the state of being the case : fact (2) : the body of real things, events, and facts : actuality (3) often capitalized : a transcendent fundamental or spiritual reality b : a judgment, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true c : the body of true statements and propositions” I believe that this article uses the term truth in a way that is consistent with these definitions.

    So tell me, are you suggesting that science is able to establish existential, moral, logical, historical, and experiential truth?

  • theMasterDebater says:

    Jesus imaginary magic zombie jew-god christ…there are so many nonsensical statements in this article! Clearly, you are NOT very well educated, Darren Hewer.

    1st, you keep saying “science cannot prove…” Uh, one of the first things you learn in science is that it DOES NOT even attempt to PROVE anything. The highest attainment in science is a THEORY based on sound factual evidence and repeatable experiment and observation. PROOFS only exist in mathematics & logic, NOT science!

    2nd, you keep saying “…truth”. Clearly, as most of our highly confused citizenry, you have a complete misunderstanding of the word. Truth is nothing more than an accurate and honest claim to fact. It is wholly dependent upon factuality. If something is not factual, then a claim made about it is not true. Truth has nothing to do with some mystical transcendent reality!

    At least you are smart enough to acknowledge the benefit that science has brought to mankind. However, I strongly suggest that you go and get your facts straight before posting your very convoluted opinions.

    This is why the internet may very well be more harmful than good for mankind at this point in history. Anybody can post any nonsense garbage for other naive individuals to be convinced by!

  • Tom Tom says:

    giovanni aligaen–
    Simply put, there are not going to be scientific explanations for such things as seas parting, burning bushes that aren’t consumed by the fire, or people being raised from the dead. These are outside of the realm of science and therefore are considered miracles of God.

    So how do we prove these things happened? We do that by finding that the Bible is an authoritative book. Archeology, history, and even science do corroborate the people, places, and events in the Bible to the extent that no biblical account has ever been DIS-proven. The hundreds of perfectly fulfilled pr0phecies in the Bible swear to its divinely inspired nature. The eye-witness accounts of Jesus–his birth, life, death, and resurrection–attest to the supernatural nature of the Bible. The step of faith to believe in the other miracles in the Bible is a simple one after that.

    If you have specific questions regarding the Bible, please feel free to ask.

  • how about this god stuff which is all confusing and won’t go away proof is it real or not, how about the bible, the burning bush, the red sea crossing.

  • Jamie Jamie says:

    Hi Thomas, I can see that you have spent a lot of time thinking through different world views. From all that you have studied about Jesus, what is your understanding of His message to us? Have you looked at the historical evidence of Jesus’ life? Have you explored the evidence for the accuracy of the eyewitness accounts recorded in the Bible? Do you think that if Jesus did appear to you in physical form that you would put your trust in Him? Why do you think there were those who did see Him, saw His miracles, witnessed His death, and then discovered that He had risen, but still did not put their trust in Him? What makes you think you would be any different than they?

  • The problem with me is if I die more pressure would be brought to me in hell because without even believing in science one bit makes me want to go on the ceiling and yell out Jesus Christ you come down here now to show us all who you really are

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