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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Throwing the Old Testament Under the Science Bus [Pt 1]

I have a degree of respect for the intelligence of critics who dismiss Scripture in its entirety on the basis that it is unscientific or incredible, though I don’t agree with them (and, in many instances, their arguments would be more convincing if they would take the time to actually read what they are criticizing).

At least, if wrong, their position is intellectually coherent.

But I have huge problems mustering respect for the thinking of Christians who want it both ways: they want to be considered Christians — and in many cases, even to be considered orthodox — but at the same time to reconcile their understanding of the Bible to the latest assertions of scientists, psychologists or historians.

I teed off on Michael Gungor the other day. This particular post, I thought, was a bit … well … overconfident — perhaps even patronizing — though I hope I’m wrong about that. I had some things to say about the logic of his arguments and about the consequences of believing what he does about Old Testament stories like Noah’s ark.

He thinks Christians would be better off to relegate Noah’s ark, Adam and Eve and a bunch of large scale, Old Testament-type miraculous events to the category of myth and capitulate to the intellectual superiority of the scientific method — assuming, of course, that the credibility of The Faith is at stake.

But I believe trying to reconcile the word of God to science is a fool’s errand, and not for the reasons you may think.

So, before we join Michael and a growing number of professing Christians in throwing Noah, Adam, Eve, Jonah and a bunch of other Old Testament standards under the big ol’ scary Science Bus, I’m going to suggest we ask a few questions first:

1.  Are We Sure that Scripture Actually Contradicts Science?

Some of Michael Gungor’s examples are a tad suspect. He uses the phrase “four corners of the earth”, for instance, as proof that the writers of Scripture didn’t understand that the earth was (roughly) spherical. Yet the words translated “corners” simply mean “extremity”, “end” or “quadrant”. There is no reason to suppose the Bible’s writers were being unscientific and every reason to believe that they simply used metaphors, like we all do. Even scientists.

Furthermore, the figurative language employed by the early writers of Scripture frequently reveals insights unobservable from any ancient terrestrial perspective. Job says of God that he “hangs the earth on nothing”, an observation that would seem to be quite accurate. The Bible is capable of being more scientifically precise than the science of its day even if it often speaks figuratively.

2.  Are All Modern Science’s Fundamental Assumptions Correct?

Immanuel Can wrote a piece recently on the subject of assumptions. He says the following:
“Rightly understood, science is a method, not a set of prejudices. It is a rational, impartial investigative process.
      But this process only starts when a scientist observes some phenomenon and, for some reason, finds it personally interesting or curious. He or she can then use the method, which involves specific steps like making a hypothesis, designing an experiment, running trials, recording results, revising and retesting until conclusions are possible. All well and good.
      But what tells the scientist what phenomena are interesting in the first place? The method itself doesn’t; it only begins and comes online once that judgement has already been made. So how is it made? The answer is that some human being must decide that something IS interesting, and thus that it warrants scientific investigation.” 
Logic and the scientific method are wonderful, neutral processes, but they cannot in themselves produce truth. If you feed correct assumptions into them, they will spit out remarkable solutions. But if you feed garbage, speculation and conjecture into good methodology, your flawed assumptions will almost certainly generate compromised answers. 

3.  Are All Disciplines Within Science Distinct from One Another?

This may seem a silly question. Of course not they are not. But since Charles Darwin published his theory, few disciplines within science have remained uncontaminated by it. To whatever extent any branch of science proceeds from significant evolutionary and uniformitarian assumptions, it cannot, to the Christian, be considered beyond the possibility of serious error.

I remember reading years ago that certain geologists had evaluated the age of particular rock strata on the basis of the fossils they found therein while, separately, paleontologists had evaluated the age of fossils in the same rock strata on the basis of the assumed age of the rocks they were preserved in. The incestuous circularity of such scientific assumptions is quite astounding, but possibly more common than we know.

It seems highly unlikely that evidence of the age of the earth or the cosmos, the interpretation of the fossil record, modern psychology, astronomy or even genetic science, among others, are ever currently discussed from any presumptive basis other than, or outside the context of, evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory permeates all of them. If there are better ways to interpret things like the fossil record or evidence of the earth’s age, we would never know it or hear about it because they are not even considered.

4.  Has Science Provided a Final Answer?

When you talk about “science”, you are dealing with a moving target, despite the certainty with which people like Michael Gungor tend to speak of knowledge derived from it. In high school, we were told men evolved from apes. Sadly, our science teachers were not on the cutting edge of evolutionary theory: we missed out on the less well-known Aquatic Ape Hypothesis (AAH). I’m not kidding. Water apes. Cool. Later, of course, scientists concluded that both man and apes evolved from a common ancestor.

But the intellectual elasticity necessary to remain convinced of an endlessly morphing theory is impressive, and statements such as “... the fossil record has been stingy with answers”, “it seems logical”, “Is it possible? Scientists think so”, etc., that pepper this article make it clear that the search for missing links remains speculation piled upon speculation. Such language of equivocation is perfectly fine for an acknowledged work in process. It is unacceptably feeble for something to which all Christians are expected to subscribe, and by which the truth of the word of God, we are now told, is to be judged.

Suffice it to say that with respect to the theory of evolution among many other things, modern science changes its position with astonishing frequency. When you seek to accommodate your beliefs to the latest scientific consensus, be advised that when they move on to something else, you will look like an idiot.

Once you have seen enough new hypotheses about the mechanism of evolution, it becomes clear that scientists have, without justification, closed their minds to any other possibility as to the origin of man.

They have decided the “what” on faith. They are only trying to work out the “how”.

More questions about science to be considered tomorrow ...

1 comment :

  1. "Logic and the scientific method are wonderful, neutral processes, but they cannot in themselves produce truth. If you feed correct assumptions into them, they will spit out remarkable solutions. But if you feed garbage, speculation and conjecture into good methodology, your flawed assumptions will almost certainly generate compromised answers."


    This needs some tweaking :-). Actually, IC is quite correct about how scientific conclusions are arrived at with the implied understanding that the scientist will not claim that he/she has discovered the Truth but only that it was possible to assign a probability of correctness and incorrectness to the hypothesis being tested. Since most of the time businesses, enterprises, scientists, etc., cannot waste a lot of time engaging in prolonged, expensive, and perhaps difficult experimentation to aim for results with very high confidences (like 99.9%, e.g.)
    a business decision is always part of the experiment up front to design it so it is affordable and will yield the probability of correctness the business is willing to run with. In other words there is a calculated risk being accepted that the answer can also be wrong.

    Also, assumptions as such are not fed into the experiment but, after researching available previous test results (as opposed to speculation), current public knowledge, etc., an engineering estimate (rather than an assumption) is made of what significant variables should be included in the experiment to achieve the goal of the experiment. By excluding variables considered to be unlikely candidates up front, the experiment is hopefully kept as lean and short (inexpensive) as possible.

    Given the above approach, carried out competently, you will never feed garbage into an experiment and/or obtain compromised results. You will, with cold logic, simply obtain answers that meet your statistical correctness values or don't for the variables under test. In the former case you assume that you are close to a workable truth within the confidence bounds set by you for this experiment for the passing variables, or, in the latter case you discard the assumption that the variables that failed the test could be significant. So, actually, the scientific method is eminently suited to arriving at conclusions of probabilistic correctness. Opinion can enter here if one insists that only absolute truth (100%) is acceptable, in which case ALL avenues of inquiry are useless and mankind cannot accomplish anything, or if there is disagreement about the percent confidence that a person or business enterprise wants to move forward with.

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