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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Throwing the Old Testament Under the Science Bus [Pt 2]

Before Christians join Michael Gungor and a growing number of fellow believers 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 ourselves a few more questions about science:

5.  Are Scientists Infallible?

One only needs a quick glance at Wikipedia’s lengthy list of superseded scientific theories to recognize that they are not.


Since that is the case, what makes us so confident that modern science’s present assertions are the correct ones? Should we really be willing to throw in our lot with that frequently discredited bunch? If you are, as they say (with depressing frequency) where I work, I wish you “all the best in your future endeavors”.

6.  Are Scientists Incorruptible?

Duh. They’re men. What seems likely to you? Research costs money, lots of it, and scientists need to make a living like everyone else. In science, as in everything else, a living is made by producing an end product that someone will pay for. In a post-modern, post-Christian, post-moral world, absent independent wealth or the basis for scientific ethics that comes from the word of God, how confident are you that the sort of corruption that characterizes governments, banks, corporations, the IRS, the NSA (and yes, often even the institutionalized church), does not characterize a significant number of scientists in important disciplines? I’m not very confident at all.

This website is an illuminating glimpse into the dangers of paying people to seek out objective truth. It suggests that corporations “suppress research, intimidate scientists, manipulate study designs, ghostwrite scientific articles, and selectively publish results that suit their interests”. It goes on to allege that they “private interests downplay evidence, exaggerate uncertainty, vilify scientists, hide behind front groups, and feed the media slanted news stories”. It is far from the only source of concern about the corruption of modern science.

Whether scientists are paid to produce results that please the political left, the political right or big business is not the point. The point is many scientists are for sale.

Even when they are not, the scientific method can be influenced in subtler ways. Immanuel Can, again:
“Here’s where the process can go wrong: What if the person who is going to use the scientific method simply decides NOT to investigate certain kinds of phenomena, or to rule out beforehand certain hypotheses as if they were unworthy of being tested? And what happens when a person actually uses the scientific method, but doesn’t like the results he or she gets?
      In such cases, sometimes the investigator is honest and decides his original thesis has been undermined by the results; but at other times he or she is perhaps less honest or more obstinate, and classifies the failed results as anomalous, keeping only the positive results. Sometimes he or she may even redesign the investigation to slant it in favour of the results he or she was hoping to obtain, and proceed as if the previous results were irrelevant. Sometimes he or she may simply refuse to investigate some possible theses. And in all cases, he or she has the choice of whether or not to publish findings which do not support his or her suppositions. Add to this that certain kinds of results are preferred by the investigator’s peers, are more likely to be published or to elicit tenure or additional funding, and others are likely to undermine these things, and you have plenty of incentives and opportunities for human beings to mess with the scientific process.
      The scientific process, then, may be entirely good in itself, and yet still become skewed. Nothing in the method itself eliminates the factor of human misbehaviour. Science works — but only for material problems, and only if the investigator using it is honest and frank to a degree that is not guaranteed in human nature generally. So we must be careful whenever something is called a “scientific finding”, and make sure it really is. Until we know for sure, it’s foolish to revise our understanding of the word of God to match it.”
7.  Are You and I Properly Equipped to Evaluate What Scientists Tell Us?

The answer, clearly, is no, unless we are prepared to go back to school for a couple of decades or perhaps the rest of our lives. I’m not. Even if we had all that education, how many of us could exceed our teachers and pass judgement on their work?

The obvious corollary to that reality is this: we are ALL taking what we believe on faith, Christian Bible literalists and science accommodators alike. We place our faith in the truth of the word of God, as communicated to us by those thousands of different scribes, translators and language experts who have preserved, copied, translated and independently debated the meaning of the original Hebrew and Greek text over the centuries. Others choose to place their faith in the truth of what they are told by educators, the media and the “scientific consensus”.

But our underlying faith is not really in the skills and sincerity of those men: we must be convinced that if God has spoken, then he has chosen to preserve his word for us. If we are not confident that his word is accurately transmitted by our existing translations of Scripture, then there is little use debating which portions of it we will keep and which portions we will hurl under the bus.

Few of us can assess the original languages for ourselves or have access to the remaining manuscripts from which our English translations have come. Even fewer, though, have seen whatever physical evidence exists for evolutionary theory or could fully comprehend and critically evaluate the arguments made for it.

Make no mistake: There is no true “faith vs. science” debate. The argument is about faith in one thing vs. faith in another.

The question is: who do you trust?

8.  How Big Is Your God?

By definition, a miracle is a unique intervention resulting in an outcome not producible by scientific laws and contrary to all expectation. If miracles have indeed been done by God, we should reasonably expect that there is no explanation in modern science for them, and no scientific laws to account for how they happened. Otherwise, how would they be miraculous?

Even ancient people knew this. And the fact that they called certain events “miracles” shows that they did. If you’d said to them, “You know that the Red Sea standing up is really contrary to normal natural processes and laws?” they would have responded, “Of course, dummy … that’s why we Israelites call it a miracle — if it happened all the time, we wouldn’t think it meant anything”.

I’m not being frivolous here. But really, what sense does it make to have a God who can orchestrate a virgin birth and raise Jesus from the dead, but can’t part the Red Sea or send a global flood? Or, for that matter, a God that couldn’t start the human race from two people in a garden? Or preserve a reluctant prophet in the belly of a large fish?

Which miracles DO you believe, and more importantly, why do you believe those miracles? Is it only because you are unaware of the specific occasions where modern science has explicitly challenged the few remaining small-scale miracles you will admit to? Because I guarantee you, it has already challenged them, and will continue to do so.

Are you finding yourself reluctant to believe in any miracles at all? Because if you are, I would suggest that there’s very little reason to use the name Christian.

In Conclusion

I’m not saying all scientists at all times are liars, phonies, manipulators or frauds. Most are not. Where no big money, personal biases, peer pressure, political agendas or other incentives are in play, and where a scientist is speaking within his or her own area of specialization, scientists are at least as trustworthy as any average human being in any other field of expertise.

I trust them to figure out how to patch me up when I spring a leak. I trust them to build a better mousetrap (one of these days). I trust them to calculate the proper angle of re-entry for a returning space shuttle, and I trust them to do a whole host of other things that the rest of us cannot do, and to do those things well. My life would be dirtier, poorer and a whole lot shorter without them, and I wouldn’t be able to queue up this blog post either.

But I do not trust scientists to interpret my Bible for me.

Scientists are just men and women like the rest of us, and when they offer up some new theory that simply doesn’t fit the clear teaching of the Bible, there are very good reasons not to simply blindly hop on board. That’s not wacky Bible literalism, it’s just common sense gained from observation of human nature. 

Christians, professing Christians, or would-be believers genuflecting at the altar of modern scientific opinion: Before you throw the Old Testament under the bus, give significant thought to what you are doing.

Because when science changes its tune for the umpteenth time, you may not be able to get your credibility back.

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