Should Christians oppose the Next Generation Science Standard, "Science assumes natural events happen today as they happened in the past."?
I am a constitutional lawyer representing a non-profit that is opposing the adoption of Next Generation Science Standards. We have a question regarding one of the assumptions used in the standards. I found your power point program on the net that identifies assumptions but did not see this one listed. “Science assumes natural events happen today as they happened in the past.” (6K2) and Science assumes natural events happen today as they happened in the past.” (1-ESS!-1)” This is an odd assumption. Is it actually just an incorrect statement of the assumption of uniformitarianism? The assumption of uniformitarianism is that we can assume that what happens today happened in the past. But this states just the opposite, that we can assume that what previously happened explains what happens now. The problem is that we do not know what happened in the past. That is the whole point of the assumption of uniformitarianism. What do you think? Is the assumption actually used in science or is it a misstatement? I did not see this assumption listed on your power point.
Actually, this assumption is in fact mentioned in my power point, although in different words. In my power point, I state it this way (or something similar… I do not have the ppt in front of me). “Nature is ordered.” A more detailed statement is;”Nature follows invariant laws.” Another statement is “The laws of nature are unchanging over both time and space.”
This is definitely NOT an anti-Christian assumption. In fact, the idea that nature is unchanging comes directly from Christian theology. Because we believe in a single, unchanging God who is a God of order. Therefore, we can predict from Christian theology that the laws which govern the natural universe are the same everywhere and that, like God, they are unchanged over time. The universe is not capricious. Its laws are entirely predictable. What happens here will happen in the next galaxy over, happened in the deep past and will happen in the foreseeable future. [note that, by faith, I believe that Jesus will come back, that the earth will be judged by fire and that there will be a new heaven and a new earth (paraphrasing 2 Peter 2 and Revelation 21), This is why I use the phrase “in the foreseeable future” above because science clearly cannot predict the second coming of Jesus!]
Like I tell my students when I teach on the history and philosophy of science, the fundamental presupposition of science (that nature is ordered and is inherently predictable… in other words the assumption mentioned in the science standards) definitely does not prove that the supernatural does not exist. God certainly can (and I believe does) interfere in the laws of nature he created. In fact, the laws of nature can be used to define what would be miraculous. When Jesus changed water to wine, this is a miracle according to the fundamental persupposition of science. Perhaps we do not need science to know that this is a miracle, but science can tell us WHY it is a miracle. It would be extremely unwise for Christians to oppose this science standard, because it is completely consistent with Christian theology and it actually was invented directly FROM Christian theology.
I will admit that this assumption sounds a lot like what you are calling uniformitarianism, but, believe it or not, they are not the same thing. What I call the fundamental presupposition of science (the standard above) is an assumption of all science. It is the basis for examining the world using the scientific method. On the other hand, uniformitarianism is a theory of geology. It is NOT an assumption, but a theory/model/paradigm. It is not possible to prove the fundamental presupposition of science because it cannot be tested experimentally. Fundamentally, the presupposition is not a scientific statement because assumptions are not theories. It is more a philosophical statement.
On the other hand, uniformitarianism is a scientific theory which can be tested and possibly refuted by experiment. In fact, uniformitarianism has come into much question recently with the evidence for mass extinction events and the cambrian explosion. Catastrophism has had a bit of a rebirth in the last 30 years or so based on evidence for catastrophic events in the past such as the Chixlub asteroid.
I agree with your statement that we cannot know what happened in the deep past (I inserted the word deep, because we can know, for example, that Jesus rose from the dead or that the Babylonians ruled over Mesopotamia). However the fact that we humans cannot observe the past does not conflict with the fact that scientists can form theories which very reliably predict data which exists today but which suggests what happened in the past. For example, we can observe a galaxy which is one billion years away and observe events which happened in that galaxy one billion years ago. We can dig up dinosaur fossils, notice that nothing even remotely similar to dinosaurs exists today, look at Uranium/lead dating methodology, look at the fossil sequence, and reasonably conclude (but not prove!) that dinosaurs lived in the deep past.
To summarize, the statment in the science standards “Science assumes natural events happen today as they happened in the past.” is a philosophical rather than a scientific one. It is the basis of the scientific pursuit, and it was first proposed by Christian natural philosophers. It is not a point that Christians should oppose and it does not in any way presuppose that miracles do not happen (although some atheists who do not understand philosophy wrongly use it this way).
On the other hand, uniformitarianism is NOT an assumption. It is a good scientific theory in that it is capable of predicting many scientific observations quite well. It is both testable and refutable. This theory is only a theory and there is important evidence, well-known to scientists, that it cannot predict or explain. Most scientists, if they are honest and if they think carefully, will agree that uniformitarianism cannot explain all known facts about the geological history of the earth. Those who, like me, believe that the flood of Noah is an actual event should not be defensive about uniformitarianism because the flood is not inherently opposed to the theory of uniformitarianism and uniformitarianism, properly understood, does not disprove that a miraculous flood may have occurred several thousand years ago.
Please note that I believe in the miraculous creation of Adam and Eve ex-nihilo and I believe that there was a massive flood in the days of Noah which God used to judge the world at that time. Neither event can be explained by science for the very reason that they were supernatural interventions by God into the natural world. I see no reason for those who believe in God’s miraculous intervention to create life, to create humans or to flood the world to oppose either the theory of uniformitarianism or the science standard “Science assumes natural events happen today as they happened in the past.”
I have a question. Why are you opposing the science standards? Which standard to you find to be anti-Christian? I am curious about this. Perhaps it is one about evolution. I have not looked carefully at these standards, so I would love to hear from you which standards you find to be either unwise for the study of science or inherently anti-Christian.
Please do not hesitate for a moment to ask me follow-up questions. I would be happy to discuss this by phone as well if you like. I am passionate about these questions, both as a science professor and as a Christian apologist.