Within fundagelical circles, there’s a snarky condemnation of science and “sciencey” things. The thinking goes that because scientific knowledge is constantly changing, it’s somehow not as good as the everlasting promises of Christianity. In turn, this keeps people away from thinking about how science works, decreasing understanding about alternative learning methods to “the Bible says it,” and keeping people afraid of things that might cause doubt.
This actually misrepresents empiricism.
Empricism as a way of learning refines knowledge over time, like heating metallic ores to remove impurities. It isn’t a deficiency in the process, but one of its greatest assets. In short, the general process of empiricism actually improves on things rather than creates more problems. Even Christianity itself has benefited from such learning, such as realizing that slavery isn’t justifiable, and some churches even moving away from viewing homosexual relationships as unhealthy.
Of course, you won’t get that kind of an admission in many churches. Instead, the changes are chalked up to prayer, asking a deity for guidance (outside the Bible, no less), having some kind of special revelation, or pretending it was always that way. What this shows is that not only is empiricism misunderstood, it’s actively unrecognized whenever possible. All of this energy gets spent on not recognizing a process that is quite natural.
I say it’s natural, because people have been doing it for quite some time. If you think living in a house or dwelling is more preferable to living in a tree, if you cook your food before eating it, or if you bathe at least semi-regularly, congratulations, you’re using some form of empirical knowledge. Observation and experience teaches many people that these things are at least somewhat necessary for a remotely healthy life. Or, to make my point even more obvious, it’s why nobody holds church services outside in the middle of a hurricane.
It actually takes more work to ignore something than to admit it’s there.
This was a large source of my doubts as a Christian, at least until I could find a way to square my beliefs with what I was learning in school. Until I could do that, I was having one miniature crisis of faith after another. Somehow, I managed to persist in the face of all of it, reconciling a 6-day creation with actual cosmological principles. At the time, I had to really contort my Bible reading to fit all of it.
Too many people simply try to pretend that the knowledge isn’t there. Whatever contradicts a belief must be wrong. Churches have been doing that for a while, even back when astronomers literally looked up and saw the Sun was the center of the solar system. I can only imagine the frustration early astronomers must have had being threatened with death over looking at stars through some cleverly shaped glass. Yes, it sounds lame because it is lame.
And ignoring the truth simply isn’t practical in too many situations. Some people still believe the Earth is flat, others think that schools teach lies, and there are people who insist that an Ark could have floated at a height higher than Mount Everest without suffocating everyone and everything on board. I hope Ken Ham reads that last one.
The main reason I think empiricism gets a bad rap in church.
Methodical experimentation and observation can also be turned on faith itself. You can conduct experiments to test your beliefs about things. Doing so requires, at the least, strict controls for variables and the ability for others to independently replicate your results. That’s it. With the invention of the Internet, anyone can propose experiments and let communities conduct them.
Naturally, the second prayer and worship get debunked as mitigating misfortune, people might be less inclined to do those things. Rather than put their trust in things they’ve proven false, they might start to realize how useful empiricism has helped them and others over the years. More importantly, empiricism is a great thing because being wrong about something isn’t a big deal. In some instances, it’s even cause for celebration, because it means you’ve learned something.