Tuesday, October 25, 2011

How (Atheist) Scientists Lose Their Way

Are Christians anti-science?

This charge is often made in the secular media. In a recent Time (Oct.3, 2011) article—“How Science Can Lead the Way”—Harvard physicist Lisa Randall disparages American politicians who invoke religion. She singles out Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry for defending the teaching of creationism in public schools, while viewing evolution as a mere theory, as well as for praying for the end of a drought rather than critically evaluating climate science.

Randall accuses Perry of “replacing rational approaches with religion, in matters of public policy.” She pits “empirically based logic” against “the revelatory nature of faith”. According to Randall, the notion of supernatural influences on the world contradicts science.

In her recent book, Knocking on Heaven’s Door (2011), Randall argues that it is inconsistent for a scientist to be religious, since “scientific determinism” is not compatible with belief in a deity who can willfully intervene in the world. She believes that everything in the world—including human thoughts and actions—can ultimately be explained in terms of the laws of physics.

In response, we note that Christianity is not opposed to science as such. On the contrary, logic, empirical data, and scientific experimentation are all tools that Christians gladly apply. What Christianity does dispute, of course, is Randall’s materialist worldview, an ideology that goes far beyond any rational or scientific evidence.

Should science be interpreted and applied in terms of a Biblical worldview—where scientific theories are bounded by Biblical truths—or in terms of a materialist worldview—where miracles are banned? That is the real issue. Not Christianity versus science but, rather, Christianity versus materialism.

As to origins, the empirical data we actually observe is open to various interpretations. If God does not exist then the universe must have created itself. Grand-scale evolution must thus of necessity be the origin myth of materialism. On the other hand, if the all-powerful and all-knowing God of the Bible exists then why should we doubt what He has revealed to us in His Word? Moreover, one’s view on origins has little practical impact on the real-life science needed in applied fields such as medicine or technology.

Further, suppose that Randall were correct in her belief of a “scientific determinism” that reduces everything to a closed system of particles operating under the laws of physics. If true, that would rule out not only miracles but also any human free will or moral responsibility. All our actions would be then determined by physical laws rather than by rational or moral standards. Where, indeed, in Randall’s purely physical universe, is there even any place for abstract norms? And how is one to formulate worthy public policy in the absence of moral absolutes?

In sum, the worldview that is irrational, self-contradictory, and morally bankrupt is Randall’s materialism--not Perry’s Christianity. "Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).


Steve Drake said...

We hear it all the time. Especially those of us who are biblical creationists: you're anti-science, you deny the facts of radiometric dating, you deny and throw scurrilous accusations against the science of astrophysics and distant starlight, ad nauseum. This even from those within the community of Faith. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule, Dr. Byl, for this website, and your incisive articles.

John Vandervliet said...

Thanks for this entry, as it gives a good example of one of my concerns in my study of evolution and faith.

Dr. Randall represents a downgraded view of everything she mentions: a downgraded view of what faith is, of what man is; of what truth is; of what public policy should be conformed to, or should seek after; and, most telling, a downgraded view of what science is. All are less than what a Christian thinks of them. Yet, she thinks she is calling the Christian to a higher level.

At worst, the Christian does exactly what her downgraded version of man would do if he were nothing more than what she thinks him to be, a lower animal merely doing what he thinks is right according to the truism of his culture or genetically inherited trait. Man is said to have no soul, and yet it is a notion of the soul that he be more honest with the facts: it is not a genetic or deterministic trait. She wants man to be more honest to scientific finding, yet at the same time has a much, much lower idea of what that truth really is that man should attain to. In fact, she is calling him to a higher level of being a lower animal than he really is.

My study focuses on the use—or misuse--of words. I compare Eric Hoffer's idea of faith, that absolute faith corrupts as absolutely as absolute power, to the idea in 2 Peter 1 where faith seeks purity in the virtues. As long as one is growing in these, Peter says, a man will not be without fruit. The more a man of faith excels, though, the more corrupt he appears to Hoffer's view of faith, and to the dictionary definition of faith as belief without objective proof. True, non-Christian faith is without basis and corrupting in nature. But Christian faith is much different.

Curious, but not surprising, that the kind of faith that Christians have is public enemy number one to someone who supposedly cares for modern scientific purity: it completely misrepresents science's downgraded view of everything. Except science itself? Well, I wonder. If theory is the same as fact because theory underlies what is seen as fact, then is it really science at all? Or is it just convention? Is it the same kind of view of science that these so-called scientists rail against, one that stands on precommitted but unfounded ideas instead of facts? It looks more and more like that: what they criticize is the very thing they define it to be. They say faith is nothing more than a blind leap, and then they say it is no good. But that is not all faith is. After all, the astronauts who flew the space shuttles had faith in the science that allowed them to take off into space in the confidence that they would land safely again. That is faith, but it is not a blind leap. Yet that is belief and trust in man's work: how much more founded is belief and trust in God.

Christians have a higher view of everything, including truth and facts, and science. A Christian, in fact, can do science the way it should be done. The view represented by Lisa Randall cannot actually hope to attain to the level she is calling for, if man is merely a determined creature, if truth is nothing more than accumulated truisms, if fact is merely conventionalized theory. She wants to raise social conscience to a lower level than the person she finds so much fault with. She wants society to "step up" to her lower position.

I heartily agree with you that Christians are not those opposed to science and truth. Christians, at least, stand on a ground that can question the science of those who profess to stand on scientific truths, whereas these scientists have no solid basis to question the Christian's faith.

C.S. Lewis, dismissing scientists who touted human reason as an absolute while also viewing reason as nothing more than chance molecules following physical laws, retorted:
"They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based." [“Is Theology Poetry”,The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses].

Anonymous said...

Materialists are intellectually dishonest.

They profess to have no belief, yet there is not one single viable scientific theory for abiogenesis. The have complete faith in future science to explain it, one day.

What utter hypocrisy!

Andy Derksen said...

Great piece (as always), John. I note some key phrases from Randall:

- "Today's politicians seem more comfortable invoking God and religion";
- "it's important to keep an eye on how our political leaders view science";
- "And when he chooses to pray for the end of a drought rather than critically evaluate climate science, he is displaying the danger of replacing rational approaches with religion in matters of public policy";
- "Adherents who want to accept both religious influences on the world and scientific explanations for its workings are obliged to confront...";
- "a fundamental disregard for rational and scientific thinking";
- "That man-made climate change is not proved with 100% certainty does not justify its dismissal";
- "it's our responsibility to push reason as far as we can."

Her dilemma is simply this: if she "believes that everything in the world—including human thoughts and actions—can ultimately be explained in terms of the laws of physics" (John's summary), then it's logically absurd of her to speak of obligations and choices. Because the "choices" of Rick Perry and everyone else are determined by chemical and physical accidents.

Perry can no more choose to embrace scientific materialism than Randall can choose to embrace the Bible.

Furthermore, she has a huge misunderstanding of biblical faith (stress on "biblical" here) when she claims that "Logic tries to resolve paradoxes, whereas much of religious thought thrives on them."

Well, no. Logic has a ready explanation for its own existence: the Divine Mind, which is an ordered Mind.

Secondly, the law of noncontradiction is part of orthodox biblical interpretation, except that in that context is goes by the name "analogy of Scripture"--the principle that stipulates one may not interpret a given passage so as to contradict another passage.

Thirdly, the Bible enjoins and encourages the rational use of our God-given minds, including when dealing with paradoxes or apparent contradictions. When teaching or preaching, I engage the minds of my audience at every turn; I never ask them to just accept my say-so, or to handle Scripture itself illogically.

Andy Derksen