Liturgy in the Laboratory | A Method to the Madness

A bolt of lightning cuts through the night sky, and a booming peal of thunder follows soon after. Your home on the coast of the Aegean Sea shakes vigorously, buffeted by strong winds and an onslaught of hail. You had assumed you were prepared for the storms that typically afflict your seaside cottage, but this weather is much worse than usual.

There is only one explanation: Zeus and Poseidon have once again entered their fits of rage.

What could the conflict be about this time? A love triangle involving a mortal maiden? A lack of reverent worship from the Greek people? Whatever the cause may be, the wrath of the gods once again torments your home, ruining your sleep and causing damage that hurts your fledgling fishing business.


Beliefs like those shown in the story above are representative of those held in Ancient Greece. The Greeks constructed a pantheon of gods to explain natural phenomena:

  • Zeus dominated thunder, lightning, and rain;
  • Poseidon was god of sea and earthquakes;
  • Hephaestus was god of volcanoes.

All weather, whether pleasant or inclement, stemmed from the wills of one or many of these capricious deities.

The Greek approach to knowledge was not limited to mythos; Ancient Greece was where natural philosophy, the precursor to modern science, was born. Around the 6th Century BCE, the Ionian school of philosophy emerged, where thinkers attempted to explain natural phenomena without appealing to divine explanations. These explanations were not scientific per se, but they paved the way for modern experimental science.

The scientific method is a way to determine
and understand facts about the universe
in a systematic and consistent way.

Scientists use these principles to prevent their natural inclinations and presuppositions from standing in the way of truth. The body of work in science is something that constantly changes; by nature, each new theory is designed to supersede a previous theory. Virtually every scientific theory is wrong about something, but the aim of subsequent theories is to land closer to the truth.

Question

Every scientific investigation begins with a question.

These questions challenge the assumptions we have made about the universe and provoke us to look at material reality in a new light.

Research

Every scientific discovery is a product of that which came before it. When a scientist begins an investigation, the first step is always to read the history of research on the topic. A “literature review” is a way to comb through years of study, comparing different approaches and conclusions (some of which will inevitably conflict).

Because researchers build off of the work of others,
science is an intricately collaborative
and self-correcting field of study.

Hypothesis

In research, a hypothesis is essentially an untested educated guess. When people throw around the word “theory” in casual conversation, they often mean to say hypothesis. A hypothesis sets an expectation of what should happen in the experiment. By establishing a hypothesis, a scientist is forced to think through the mechanisms that they expect to observe in their study, even though the data may prove their hypothesis incorrect.

Experiment

An experiment is a way to gather data about a proposed question. Without experimental results, a hypothesis does not carry much weight in the scientific community. In research, a scientist usually adjusts one variable to see how another responds. They delineate what variables they want to observe, and create a test plan to measure the variety of conditions needed to capture the whole picture. The scientist analyses the data and looks to see if any patterns emerge. If so, conclusions are drawn in light of the history of research on the topic, and the work is published.

Theory

A theory is not just an idea—it is a cohesive model
that attempts to explain all or most of
the available data in a clear, concise, package.

Theories often go through several modifications over time, and some theories are debunked when new data comes into the picture. Through this constant, iterative process, an entire world of scientists are able to rigorously evaluate others conclusions and make tiny drops in a bucket that further human understanding of the universe.


For the Christ-follower, science can be a wonderful avenue of worship.

In Psalm 19, David observes the intricacy of space, and it compels him to declare the worth and glory of the Creator. David rejoices in two ways in this liturgy: he spends the first half discussing the book of God’s works (nature) and then proceeds to enjoy the book of God’s words (scripture). Both books are crucial ways to engage with God, and neglect of one avenue of revelation often leads to a malnourished spiritual experience.

Whether through liturgy or the laboratory, both non-scientists and scientists can appreciate the method of discovery, which cultivates a spirit of awe and wonder for the beautiful cosmos we find ourselves in.

Further Study

Steps of the scientific method
History of science in classical antiquity
“Two books” analogy


Welcome to Liturgy in the Laboratory, where we seek to understand what science is, what science isn’t, and how to use it to grow in awe and wonder of the universe. Click here to read more about our new science and faith initiative.

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