International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Can We Be Sure About Anything? Science, Faith and Postmodernism

edited by Denis R. Alexander

Introductory Essay by Mikael Stenmark

This book contains a number of essays on the challenge which postmodernism provides to both science and Christian faith. It was initiated by a day conference under the same title organized by Christians in Science and held in London in 2001.

The background is that suddenly, on the street, and backed up by the intellectuals of postmodernism, Christians and scientists find themselves in somewhat parallel positions in society. Many people now think that neither traffic in truth. They traffic in things that may be true for you, or a particular community, or from one perspective, but they do not tell you how things are, and so (if this assertion is true) do not have any binding authority. Postmodernism challenges the view that the truth is one and undivided, the same for all people everywhere at all times. It regards any truth as socially constructed, contingent, inseparable from the peculiar needs and preferences of certain people in a certain time and place.

The key questions addressed in the book are then “In a world in which relativistic views of knowledge are influential, is it really possible to know something?” and “In what way should scientists and Christians respond to relativism and postmodernism?” 

In the essay “A short introduction to postmodernism”, Dominic Smart helps us see that the key to unlocking postmodernity is surprisingly simple: there is no big story. The big story that postmodernists in particular have in mind is modernism, but they also challenge the stories (or ”metanarratives”) of science and Christian faith. The “truth” is just a way of getting some people to do what you want them to do and marginalizing the ones who do not do what you want them to do. What is really going on is that people want to be able to control other people by oppression. And, because we do not want that, we do not want big stories or metanarratives.

The book contains many other interesting essays: “The Christian roots of scientific reasoning (Roger Trigg), “A biblical basis for the scientific enterprise” (Ernest Lucas), “Christianity, science and the postmodern agenda” (John L. Taylor), “Maintaining scientific and Christian truths in a postmodern world” (D. A. Carson) “Has science anything to do with human values?” (Colin A. Russell), “The scientific community and the practice of science” (Denis R. Alexander), “Quantum physics: a challenge to scientific objectivity?” (Peter J. Bussey), “Truth in the geological sciences” (Robert S. White), “Hawking, Dawkins and The Matrix: science and religion in the media” (David Wilkinson), and “BSE, MMR and GM: who’s telling the truth?” (Derek Burke).

The authors are united in thinking that postmodernists are right in rejecting scientism (the idea that only science can provide us with genuine knowledge) but they – like the modernists – still think there are knowable objective truths which are the same for everyone and everywhere. That is to say, they are critical realists in the sense that they defend the idea that there is an independently existing world out there which it is possible for us to obtain knowledge about by using different routes (such as science and religion), even if they also believe that their scientific theories and religious beliefs about the world colour and shape their capacity to know the world.