Category Archives: Science
Question: Do you agree with the assessment that science (and scientific medicine) has become a mythology of its own? Why or why not? How do you reconcile between science and other mythologies?
Answer: It depends on how you define ‘myth’. If we define myth and mythology as a culture’s attempt to weave together an integrated understanding of life, then in an important sense, not only has modern science developed a mythology all it’s own, but all worldviews contain mythic elements. In mythology,we created stories to make sense of the greater reality around us, this doesn’t make automatically mean that these stories are false.
Modern science, especially since the Enlightenment, has bolstered itself on modernist ideals of neutrality and progress.This ideal regards the scientist as a neutral observer, detached from any emotional or cultural investment in his/her work. Likewise, modernist thought teaches that through empirical study we can develop an ever-increasing knowledge of the world and harness its potential. So we should both acknowledge the wonderful accomplishments made in the name of modern science and recognize its mythic elements.
Since so many believe science has the last word regarding the nature of reality, why do scientists so frequently make pronouncements that go beyond the realm of empirical inquiry? It’s one thing to say that science can only lead to truth about the material world. It’s another thing to say that the material is the only true world. Likewise, we must recognize that ‘science” is not a thing, a personal entity that does things. It is a field of study taken up by people. Thus, contrary to the common belief that science equal progress, we must recognize that people (equipped with their own personal agendas, interests, and values -whether they be good or bad)- are the ones behind the curtain.
So, for an example, at one end of the spectrum you have doctors who devote their lives to finding a cure for cancer, and at the other end you have the doctors who were employed by Hitler. These doctors would break the bones of test subjects repeatedly to see how many times it could be done before a bone could not heal.
All scientific interpretation is theory-laden, “mythological” (in the sense defined above), and ultimately holds a religious appeal to their adherents. This is as true for proponents of materialistic naturalism (such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett) as it is for the Christian (like C. S. Lewis and Saint Augustine).
Here’s an excellent presentation by Jay W. Richards on the topic of climate change.
Here are the four important questions Richards says that we must identify and distinguish:
- 1) Is the globe warming?
- 2) If the globe is warming, are humans the cause?
- 3) Is warming necessarily a bad thing?
- 4) Would any of the proposed solutions do anything to help?
Dinesh D’Souza gets it exactly right:
Some of Singer’s critics have called him a Nazi and compared his proposals to Hitler’s schemes for eliminating those perceived as unwanted and unfit. A careful reading of his work, however, shows that Singer is no Hitler. He doesn’t want state-sponsored killings. Rather, he wants the decision to kill to be made by private individuals like you and me. Instead of government-conducted genocide, Singer favors free-market homicide.
Why haven’t the atheists embraced Peter Singer? I suspect it is because they fear that his unpalatable views will discredit the cause of atheism. What they haven’t considered, however, is whether Singer, virtually alone among their numbers, is uncompromisingly working out the implications of living in a truly secular society, one completely purged of Christian and transcendental foundations. In Singer, we may be witnessing someone both horrifying and yet somehow refreshing: an intellectually honest atheist.
Read the whole thing here.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
At least some naturalists are aware and honest about their ideological commitments. Here are the words of Richard Lewontin:
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, IN SPITE OF its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, IN SPITE OF the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a A PRIORI adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.–(“Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review of Books, Jan. 4, 1997, pg. 31. Emphasis in original, though they were italicized, not caps)
For more see:
Ian Barbour in two of his works, When Science meets Religion, and Religion and Science, has outlined four models of interaction between science and religion. I bring up Barbour’s contribution to the discussion between worldview and science (and Christianity and science in specific) between today we have proponents of atheism such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins that loudly protest that religion and science are utterly irreconcilable. Barbour, by no means an evangelical Christian (or even a Christian at all, he seems to have more affinities to process philosophy), has practically exploded this notion of being that only position a “serious” scientist can hold. In fact, it’s not even the view of the majority of scientists since the rise of modern science.
In a manner that closely parallels Richard Niebuhr’s work, Christ and Culture, Barbour speak of fours models of interaction between science and religion, 1) the Conflict model, 2) the Independence model, 3) the Dialogue model, and 4) the Integration model.
In a nutshell, the first view (Conflict) seeing the relationship between religion and science as an antagonistic one. This would be the view taken by Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens (on the ‘Science’ side…if we can call it that), and religious fundamentalists who view science as “out to get” them on the other.
The Independence model holds to a fundamental ”separation of powers” between science and religion. Science has it’s domain, and religion it’s own (and separate) domain. There need never be a contradiction between the 2 fields because they cover different subject matter. This is the view that has established what has become known as the fact/value split (science is “hard” and speak s of facts, while religion is “soft” can imbues and imputes value). From a Christian perspective, these perspective, though popular, isn’t really an option. Why is that? Because a Christian commitment to the holistic Lordship of Christ demands that we recognize that He is Lord of both the spiritual reality, as well as the material world (the realm that is handled by the natural sciences). Whatever the Bible speaks regarding the physical world, it speaks with the same level of authority.
The Dialogue model recognizes that both religion (and in this case, specifically Christianity) and science speak about the same world, and may disagree with their respective assessments of the landscape. The dialogue model encourages believers and scientists to open up the lines of communication between the two.
Lastly, the Integration model proposes that both Christianity and trends in modern science need to be, for lack of a better term, blended. That is to say the goal should be, so it is said, to aim for a scientific theology, or a theological science. Unfortunately, nearly all projects that I’m familiar with that strive toward the goal of integration usually place modern scientific consensus in a privileged position. Process theology is a good example of this.
In conclusion, what this summary is presented here to say is this: Many contemporary science popularizers (such as Richard Dawkins) present the conflict model as the only model of interaction between science and theology. But, this isn’t good history. In fact, the majority of scientists have held either the independence, dialogue, or integration model. Though the integration model is the least common. To privilege the conflict model and use that to throw out any discussion of science and faith is to bias the discussion in advance towards your own side. It’s what we call “stacking the deck.”
In a resent post on Intelligent Design, I discussed the views of Stephen Jay Gould on Punctuated Equilibrium. It was brought to my attention that my representation of Gould’s views was “off base” at the least. After reading up further on Gould’s views (in an ID textbook, no less!) it was confirmed that I indeed misrepresented Gould. In the interest of glorifying the God of truth, I have pulled the comments on Gould completely from the original post.
Please pardon the delay between posts. Unfortunately, this entry will have to be shorter that originally planned, for several reasons. First, A couple of commenters have recently posed challenges and critiqued my previous ID posts. This has lead me to write responses (that can be found in the comments sections of the ID entries). Also unfortunate is the fact that these replies have been rather short and have not fully addressed the questions of the commenter, a fact I’m quite aware of. And that leads to the second, and more pressing reason for the delay in my blogging: I’m getting married in less than 36 hours. The kind of fuller replies that this topic demands aren’t possible on my time schedule (for those of you that are married, I’m sure you can recall what the last week before the ceremony was like). So, here I’ll simply mention two points. The first is on what’s called the “explanatory filter” and the second is regarding the issue of falsification.
First, the explanatory filter. One of the common objections to Intelligent Design theory is that there is no “design meter” by which we can observe a structure and detect design as opposed to natural processes (devoid of design). William Dembski has, in response, argued for what he calls the explanatory filter. The purpose of the filter is straightforward: the goal is to argue that the detection of design is indeed an empirical process. When observing a biological system, the organic machinery of the human cell for example, several questions are asked. The following chart is a helpful summary of the filter.
- how copyright and patent offices identify theft of intellectual property
- how insurance companies prevent themselves from getting ripped off
- how detectives employ circumstantial evidence to incriminate a guilty party
- how forensic scientists are able reliably to place individuals at the scene of a crime
- how skeptics debunk the claims of parapsychologists”
Designed or intended? Another gatekeeper objection to ID is that it proves too much. It proponent of ID are setting out to say that all things (especially biological systems) demonstrate some prior intentionality, then we can equally say that everything shows intentionality. This cell is here because it’s supposed to be here, etc. But an important distinction needs to be made here as well. “IDers” aren’t saying that everything is intended (though some may believe that), but rather than certain things are designed. That is to say, they draw a distinction between something being intended and something being designed. Here’s an example from William Dembski. Say I have a small stand-up mirror that I place on my desk. The face that I placed it on the desk means that it’s placement is intentional, I meant it to be put there. Now why I did so could be for a variety of reasons, I just needed to set it down; I had nowhere else to put it, etc. But, well the mirror’s placement is intended, it is not designed. On the other hand, had I placed the mirror on the table in just the right spot so as to deflect sunlight coming in to the room and blind the person behind me, that would be both intended (I meant to place it where I did), as well as designed.
To use another rough illustration, if you entered you house and found shattered glass on the inside of your living room, you could say that glass on the floor was intended (that burglar intended to get into your house, but didn’t care about how the glass would appear on the floor). On the other hand, if you entered your house and saw the same glass on the floor, with the pieces arranged to spell out “I’m coming for you…” clearer this was more than just intended, it was designed. Glass pieces just don’t fall in that arrangement.
This bring us to some important questions that were asked by one commenter:
What method did the designer use? How can we detect this?
If important to remember, that as the above statements imply, these are separate questions. But, when we make this distinction, an important criticism of Design Theory (made especially famous by zoologist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins), the “God of the gaps” objection, is shown to be wrong-headed. This objection especially says that the fatal flaw in Design Theory is that it’s anti-science, anti-empirical research. Why is this? Because, according to Dawkins, whenever a Design proponent cannot explain something in naturalistic terms, they “cop-out” and say “God made it.” Dawkins’s objection is that this leaves questions like “How?” unanswered, and the scientist unfulfilled.
But, as stated above, these are separate (though of course, related) questions. The question “how can we detect design?” we could call (following Dembski) the detectability question, whereas the second, “what method did the designer use?” is what we could called the modality question. To use an illustration, we could carefully observation the structure of Mount Rushmore and could firm that it bears the unmistakable marks of design (the hair, facial features, etc. all matching perfectly to actual human beings, and not just any human beings, but national leaders and no one else, and not just that but only American presidents, etc.). The designer nature of the monument is detectable, we can answer that question. But, knowing something is designed doesn’t necessarily tell us how it can designed, the modality question. Perhaps Rushmore was fashion through water drills, perhaps with picks, maybe it was crafted by lasers, or even a hammer and chisel (and lots of time!). These are all viable possibilities for someone who is aware of all the possible ways of carving into stone.
Not all proponents of Intelligent Design are agreed on the answer to the modality question (though they are united on the detectability question). But this shouldn’t surprised us, because not all Darwinists are agreed on the modality question as well. In the ID camp, Michael Behe says that he has no problem with the mechanism of natural selection being the way the diversity of life was brought about. I’m not so sure if he’s committed to the natural selection modality, but he’s open to it. On the flip side, ardent Darwinists such as Francis Crick believe that evolution by small, gradual changes over long period of time either 1) cannot explain the large (to put it mildly) gaps in the fossil record, or 2) cannot account for the complexity of biological systems. Crick is a darwinist, yet he disagrees with the reigning Darwinian answer to the modality question (“gradualism”).
Crick answered the modality question by suggesting “directed panspermia.” This theory of the development of life states that the complexity of life here on planet earth is perhaps the product of seeding from foreign life forms. He agrees that ordered structure of life on earth is too great to be the product of undirected, unpurposed forces. Instead he posits the possibility that, ahem, Aliens seeded, i.e planted in some form or other, the “seeds” of life in this planet.
The problems with this proposal should be clear. Crick apparently misses the point, because his solution to the modality question only pushes the “How?” question one step back, but doesn’t make it go away. If, given his naturalistic framework, those who planted the seeds of life on this planet are also, infinite, material entities, how did life begin for them? (Please note that this is not the same as asking, “Who made God?” Because God is defined as an infinite, immaterial being that exists “outside” the realm of the material universe. Only finite things have causes, and the universe-as Big Bang cosmology teaches, is indeed finite).
So, in short, one not need to have the modality question solved (though it would be great) in order to answer the detectability question. To affirm that design is detectable, is not a “God of the gaps” cop-out. The gaps, if they are there (though I’m not addressing that topic at the moment) are related to the modality question, not the question of detectability.
Next I’ll look a little closer to what’s been called the explanatory filter to detecting design, and the issue of falsifiability.
Earlier today, I was called a liar because I claimed in my last post that there are secularists that are proponents of Intelligent Design (and, may I add, opponents of Darwinism), or Design Theory. Now, why didn’t this person simply ask me for a name of a secularist ID proponent instead of cursing and calling me a liar, I don’t know. But in short, here is my example, David Berlinski. (The wiki link I’ve tagged here obviously lists Berlinski as a “secular Jew,” but, by all means, do a google search for yourself). He also explains a bit of his background in his newest book, The Devil’s Delusion.
Here I am, continuing to use responses to comments on this blog as daily posts. Again, forgive me, things have been busy for me, and I don’t have time for double the writing load. I’ll break the responses into several entries, because a proper reply can’t really be packed into a paragraph or two. So, here we go:
One commenter wrote:
I have looked closely and can find no scientific content for ID, it simply seems to be a claim that “god did it” but with a cheap tuxedo on the “god” word.
Thanks for your comment. First, it’s interesting to note how Richard Dawkin’s is setting the tone for replies to Design Theory. The “cheap tux” comment is straight from his God Delusion. But, that being said, I do appreciate your questions below. I can’t respond to everything you’ve asked, primarily because some of the questions you’ve asked overlap the comments of a friend of mine that’s been talking to me about this issue. Since I plan on responding to his comments in a later post, some of what you’re looking for will perhaps be found there. Thanks for your patience.
Please enlighten us and tell us what this “theory” is. What method did the designer use? How can we detect this? What experiments can we do to test the “theory”? What possible falsification could we find?
- – -
My (fuller) reply:
The “theory” behind Design Theory is this (these are my words, given my understanding of the vast ID literature): Contrary to popular Darwinian models, the vast diversity and complexity of biological systems (I’m not well versed in cosmological forms of Design Theory, though I would suppose that many of the issues overlap) cannot be properly accounted for my naturalistic means. By applying certain criteria, we are observably able to detect signs of design in these various systems.
And that’s the gist of it. But of course, the “definition” (if we’ll be so gracious to call it one) is very broad and needs further examination. Your questions above get to the heart of the unpacking that needs to be done. But before I do, please indulge me in a couple of distinctions that need to be made. These distinctions are important because they address what have come to be known as “gatekeeper” objection to Design Theory. These gatekeeper objections aren’t objections to the details of Intelligent Design argumentation, but rather is based on some other pre-scientific, or shall we say, philosophical, considerations.
Intelligent Design is not Creationism. This is an all-too-common “gatekeeper” objection to Design theory. But, this simply is not true. Most, if not all, objectors that use this gatekeeper argument seem to believe that any and all appeals to Design, to an ultimate personalism, are “creationism.” In fact, regardless of whether Christians agree with the claims of creationists arguments, Scientific Creationism has a particular definition and its essential characteristics are discernibly different from those of Intelligent Design.
The 2 defining characteristics of Scientific Creationism are 1) the believe in the existence of the Theistic God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, and 2) the creation account in Genesis is scientifically accurate. Now, as I said earlier, while individual Christians may agree with these two points, they are in no way essential to Design Theory.
In contrast to the defining characteristics listed above, Design Theory is built on the foundational assertions that 1) specified complexity is empirically detectable, 2) undirected natural causes are not sufficient to account for this type of complexity, and 3) intelligent causation is the best explanation for this specified complexity.
Intelligent Design proponents are not trying to explain how things here. Or, allow me to state that another way. Design proponents aren’t attempting to explain the creation of materials, only their complexity. Christian Design proponents may believe they know where the creation of materials came from (deriving this belief from Scripture), but their attempts in the realm of science of discussing biological systems doesn’t start with the assertion “Here’s how everything got here…” People may wish that Intelligent Design sought to establish the 2 points of creationism, but this isn’t the goal of ID (though, it is compatible with it). This is why not only Christians support ID, but also secularists, Jews, Muslims, and theists of all stripes.
But here’s an important point to note: Simply because theists support ID doesn’t make it any more inherently “religious” than because secularists tend to support evolution make it Darwinism inherently atheistic. You have secularists that are proponents on ID, and religious people that are proponents of Darwinism.
Next we’ll look at a couple more “gatekeeper” objections.
William Dembski, one of the leading lights of the Intelligent Design movement, clarifies:
Joe Carter, over at Evangelical Outpost, has provided a helpful 3 part series titled “10 Ways Darwinists Help Intelligent Design” (part1, part 2, and part 3). His explanations and examples are clear and get his point across. In a nutshell, here are the 10 points:
10 Ways Darwinists Help Intelligent Design
1) By remaining completely ignorant about ID while knocking down strawman versions of the theory.
2) By claiming that ID is stealth creationism.
3) By resorting to “science of the gaps” arguments.
4) By claiming that ID isn’t science since it’s not published peer-reviewed literature…and then refusing to allow publications of ID papers in peer-reviewed journals.
5) By making claims that natural selection/sexual selection is responsible for all behaviors and biological features.
6) By invoking design in non-design explanations.
7) By claiming that the criticism of ID has nothing to do with a prejudice against theism — and then having the most vocal critics of ID be anti-religious atheists.
8 ) By separating origins of life science from evolutionary explanations.
9) By resorting to ad hominems instead of arguments (e.g., claiming that advocates of ID are ignorant, liars, creationists, etc.).
10) By not being able to believe their own theory.