Recently a friend was diagnosed with cancer. She told her friends she would think positive thoughts and asked them to do the same. Later, she sent an email describing the biopsy, the treatment alternatives, and the likelihood that healing would be complete and her life back to normal in two months. The email ended with these words: “I love science.”
Having traveled the road of diagnosis and treatment for cancer with more than one friend, I take the information about her prospects with a grain of salt. Having seen science do its best to apply human understanding to medical treatment for cancer and many other assorted diseases, my respect for science us undiminished, but my confidence in the ability of human intelligence to conquer all diseases is flavored with considerable caution about its boundaries.
Disease of any sort in general and cancer in particular powerfully demonstrates a good reason not to put all your faith in science. Science is always by definition a temporary state of human knowledge, truth right up to the moment a flaw in its findings is discovered. Science takes us to the limits of human understanding. If we count on human understanding, we must always be prepared to find ourselves standing on a precipice at the edge of an unbridged crevice in human understanding.
My friend may love science, but science does not love her. Science is implacably neutral toward everything and everyone. If the physician who performed her biopsy failed to obtain a good sample of the tissue, if the pathologist who read the sample missed a crucial variant in color, texture, shape or etc., if the oncologist fails to account for one or several things, known or unknown at the time, or if any of a dozen other possible events go the wrong way, science will not lovingly cover the problem anyway and make her well anyway.
Science has no commitment to my friend. She is committing everything to science, but science is not committed to her. Whether she lives or dies, to science she is the solution to an equation. Humans know only a few of the variables in the equation. Their knowledge of variables and constants alike is limited by their ability to measure. The humans insert values they can measure into the parts of the equation that they think they know, blind to an uncounted number of factors they do not know and cannot measure. Whether treatment is a success or a failure for my friend, to science, it is simply the answer produced by the values inserted into the equation. Her doctor may care, but science doesn’t.
Before my friend went for her biopsy, I visited with her. We talked briefly, and I gave her a card on which I had written, “praying for you.” She smiled and assured me she would prefer I just think positive thoughts toward her. She is convinced that a positive attitude will fill any gaps in scientific knowledge. I know what the writer of Proverbs knew—“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5) We cannot trust human positive thinking any more than we can trust the limits of human understanding. We can only trust the Lord.
My friend believes in science so much that she entrusts everything to science. For her, life ends when her body ceases to function. If the solution to her equation during cancer treatment is physical death, she believes only the particles of her physical body will endure, consistent with the law of the preservation of matter and energy. She consistently has rejected the news that her Creator made her and all other human beings with an eternal dimension. She does not realize that Creator God “has put eternity into man’s heart” (Ecclesiastical 3:11). She chooses to ignore God’s voice in her life, a voice that loves her and cares for her as no doctor or scientific discovery ever can care for her. The voice of eternity is always speaking, but she covers it up with the positive thinking bounded by her own understanding. Where will she turn if her treatment equation turns out to be a solution for the end of her time/space body?
I am praying for my friend to open her eyes and put her trust in the God whose equations always include eternity. I pray fervently fir her to learn that it is better to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” than to “lean on your own understanding.” When science’s equations solve for 0, God’s equations still solve for eternity.