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Monday, August 21, 2017

Do Christians Hate Science?

If you pop around on the Internet for very long, you’ll find that one of the most common screeds against us is that Christians hate science.

I don’t think it’s true, of course, but it does seem a rather general perception among our detractors. They think we see in science a direct threat to our beliefs; and since science undeniably does many good things for us, secularists of various kinds have a duty to deprive us of our illusions in this regard. We will thank them later: or if we do not, it will only be because we couldn’t be helped.

This blithe characterization of the tension between Christianity and science seems to be backed by a rather simple dichotomous perception that science is very clearly the road to truth, and faith / religion / spirituality, or whatever the dismissive choose to call it is a road to superstition, prejudice, misery and the theocratic state. Christians are thought to be plugging for some such option, and thus our perspectives do not need to be taken seriously in any way for science to progress.

I suppose it hasn’t helped that in the last century or so Christians — for the most part — have tended to withdraw from the academy, the lab, and the secular research organization since the atmosphere of hostility and contempt there has tended to be pretty strong. On one side are the proponents of the scientific method, thought to be the high road to all truth; on the other is anyone who would express even a guarded hesitancy about restricting all knowledge to that discipline. There seems very little middle ground.

But this is a plea for just such a middle ground. I’m not going to say that belief contrary to science is a good thing for anyone; but I’m also not going to say that science gives us everything worth knowing, or even that every pronouncement that comes out under the banner of science is actually truthful. Some reasoned skepticism on all sides is a salutary thing, I will suggest. If all truth is God’s truth, then genuine science is no threat to Christianity, and Christianity is no threat to science.

So I am going to suggest a place for both. Against the irrational fear of science, I am going to suggest that science has real work to do in informing us about the material facts of the world God has given us. And against irrational antipathy to faith, I’m going to argue that knowledge beyond the physical realm — metaphysical knowledge — is the key to moving beyond the merely physical to our basic humanity and to our nature as spiritual beings living out a spiritual story in a dual but largely physical realm.

Of course, in our present space I can do no more than to set a direction. I cannot work out all the details of this d├ętente. But I hope this brief treatment will provide readers with a sense of what I see as the way forward in the relationship between science and the spiritual.

The Scientific Method

Firstly, we need to know what the scientific method is. Briefly put, it is that means of inquiry that you were taught early in your science education, in which one uses the chain of hypothesis / experiment / observation / conclusion and re-hypothesizing to advance one’s knowledge of the material world. Since it focuses on the material world, and since it is such a rational method, it opens up all sorts of wonderful insights and simultaneously helps rule out distractions like superstition, received prejudices and irrelevant experiences from one’s view of material reality.

Now, let it be said that scientific method is a very good thing. But it is a very good thing with a limited scope and range. It is deliberately limited to the sorts of data that can be perceived with the physical senses … to vision, taste, touch, smell, hearing, weight, measurement, physical manipulation, and so forth. It neither promises to go farther, nor is able to yield equivalently impressive results whenever it tries to step outside of such parameters. In fact, the minute it does, it stops being the scientific method at all.

Other Methods

And there are other methods, of course. Mathematics is a non-scientific (i.e. non-empirical) method, yet one upon which the whole scientific enterprise rests. Rational knowledge comes into play: for how else is one going to know what conclusions are warranted and not? Personal knowledge is also essential, for every experimenter is also a human being; and unless that human being actually knows and processes something from the scientific method, and unless understanding is shared to other persons, no knowledge is gained thereby. Not only that, but every hypothesis is an idea generated from the mind of a particular person. (Here we are reminded to ask ourselves if we would have a theory of gravitation had Joe Lunchbucket watched the apple fall from the tree instead of Newton.)

Then there are philosophical types of knowledge that inform the scientific method; classifications and categories that are not somehow inherent in nature but rather are imposed as a kind of philosophical or disciplinary grammar generated by conceptual comparison. There is also theorizing — speculative knowledge — which is necessary from the very start of any scientific enterprise, since nothing is certain prior to experiment. Without the willingness to speculate and estimate possibilities prior to possession of full evidence, no scientist would ever perform a single experiment.

But equally importantly, scientific method is informed by metaphysical kinds of knowledge; in particular, by various kinds of faith assumption. Foremost among these is the assumption that we live in a rational universe created by a Lawgiver God, one that can be trusted to run by its own regularities, so that an experiment performed at one time can have implications for another. And that is precisely what the inventor of the scientific method, Sir Francis Bacon, thought. Bacon was not simply a dedicated scientist but a brilliant theologian and a passionate writer of tributes to God and to his Son. Bacon expected good things from a good God; and his confidence that the scientific method would work was born of his Christian faith.

Science as Truth

Today, this history is forgotten, as are all the types of non-scientific knowledge that inevitably surround the scientific enterprise. Instead, many people view science as a lone discipline in pursuit of truth; and everything that is outside of that discipline as darkness and nonsense … or at least optional speculation. Science = Truth and Everything Else = Bunkum seems to be the axiom of many today. A sort of phony mystique is built up that says, “Science tells us testable truths, and faith is a form of creative fiction designed to avoid hard truths or to provide consolation to the weak-minded”. Forgotten in such rhetoric is the fact that science itself is only one method among many, and one dedicated to a particular range of limited purposes, not to the total revelation of universal truth.

What Is a Method?

The remarks made by David Bentley Hart, in his 2013 book, The Experience of God are particularly excellent in this regard. Concerning the scientific method, Hart cautions, “Above all, we should not let ourselves forget precisely what a method is and what it is not”. He continues:
“A method, at least in the sciences, is a systematic set of limitations and constraints voluntarily assumed by a researcher in order to concentrate his or her investigations upon a strictly defined aspect of or approach to a clearly delineated object. As such, it allows one to see further and more perspicuously in one particular instance an in one particular way, but only because one has first consented to confine oneself to a narrow portion of the visible spectrum, so to speak …”
A method, then, is an artificial strategy — a decision to limit oneself to looking only at certain kinds of evidence, and only on certain terms. It is not some kind of virtuous, open willingness to look at all the available evidence without preconception or prejudice, or regardless of its relevance to your particular area of interest. It’s a decision to shut down some questions in order to open up others. The tradeoff one gets for shutting out certain kinds of evidence is that one thereby may buy very sharp perceptiveness in regard to an area about which you happen to care intensely.

Scientific Myopia

A good analogy is that of a man using a microscope. When one has a microscope, one can look very intently down the barrel and see things the naked eye could never possibly see, for one’s vision is magnified and concentrated by the instrument so that perspicuity and revelations one could never otherwise have become possible.

However, at the very same moment in which the researcher puts his or her eye down to the oculus, he or she becomes completely unable to see any other object in the room where he or she is working. A whole host of people could shuffle into the room and so long as they did it quietly enough, could remain absolutely unobserved and unobservable until the researcher decided to take his or her eye away from the microscope. That same barrel that imparts such excellent vision to the object on the slide completely precludes vision of anything not on the slide.

Yet, of course, none of us is suggesting we would be wise to stop using microscopes. Instead, we need only to remember that the microscope cannot show us everything. And then we will be fine and use it wisely.

But it is easy, particularly when one is using a method that permits wide observation of many kinds of phenomena and yields excellent results in the areas it magnifies, to overestimate the power of that method and to begin to think it is telling us everything that could be worth knowing. Hart continues:
“When one forgets the distinction between method and truth, one become foolishly prone to respond to any question that cannot be answered from the vantage of one’s particular methodological perch by dismissing it as nonsensical, or by issuing a promissory note guaranteeing a solution to the problem at some juncture in the remote future, or by simply distorting the question into one that looks like the kind one really can answer after all.”

Scientific Evasions

If Hart is right, then, what we should expect to find is that people who are impressed with the scientific method should tend to be dismissive of questions about things they cannot pop into a test tube, heat with a Bunsen burner, measure with their Vernier calipers or quantify on one of their various numerical scales. And when pressed on a question about something outside of the powers of their methods to describe, we should expect that they will a) dismiss the whole question as stupid, b) claim that though they don’t have the answer yet, science will soon give it to them, or c) reduce the question from one of transcendent concern to one of merely material reorganization.

In fact, Hart’s characterization of these three kinds of evasions is precisely accurate. Those who are naively devoted to the scientific method to the exclusion of any other road to truth almost invariably resort to claiming either a) that God, morality, justice, the soul or the self are illusions, not real concerns, b) that science will one day unlock the truth about all of these, though admittedly it has not done so yet, and c) that God is an anthropologically or evolutionarily useful fiction, that morality and justice are provisional sociological arrangements, that the soul and self are products of chemicals and electricity in the brain, and so on.

Hart concludes:
“Whenever modern scientific method is corrupted in this fashion the results are especially unfortunate … what began as a principled refusal of metaphysical speculation, for the sake of specific empirical inquiries, has not been mistaken for a comprehensive knowledge of the metaphysical shape of reality; the art of humble questioning has been mistaken for sure possession of ultimate conclusions.”
The result is a form of willful blindness to whatever exceeds the power of the scientific method. It is as if the thought that their method might not do everything disturbs science-lovers so much that they begin to fear it requires them to abandon science altogether. This they simply will not do: they ask themselves, has not science given us much progress and many good inventions? Has not science the hope of our future? Is not science education the only real education, and scientific advancement the only real advance? How can anyone ask us to abandon it and return to the Dark Ages of superstition and folly? And they will not move.

The Struggle to Think

The thought that nothing in the idea that there are things that exceed science requires us to abandon science, or the thought that a little modesty about their methodology might, after all, be a good thing for everyone never seems to occur to them. Anger and defiance rise up, supplanting all reason; for they feel themselves challenged at a very basic level. How can anything be outside of science, they ask, and why should we raise our eyes even for a minute from an instrument so advantageous to clear understanding? And opt for what?

The answer is simple: science is excellent, but not everything worth knowing — perhaps not even the most important things — can be seen down the barrel of a microscope. It would not be wise simply to dismiss the very widespread, almost universal intuition that science will not tell us all we need to know about reality, about happiness, about meaning, about morality, about emotions, about being a self, about having values and seeking goals, and ultimately about the whole purpose of life: for one thing that science lacks completely is a means of generating purpose.

And yet this is far more than an intuition: for if, as Christians claim, God has spoken decisively — not merely in intuitions but in actual, rational words and propositions, and if, moreover, He has spoken most eloquently through the true and physically-incarnated person of his Son, then to ignore those scientific facts and instead to treat the world as if it were merely some absurd material play enacted on a merely material stage, with only material facts to be discovered and totally outside the context of any deeper meaning or ultimate resolution would be a tragic act of eternally-dangerous blindness.

Good Science and Good Metaphysics

It may be very helpful to know that we are surrounded in this world by material entities, but even more important to know that those material entities were created by a transcendent God who imparted to us a spiritual nature and capability of responding to him, and arranged all for purposes he alone can reveal to us.

To have a science that takes no reckoning of such things is to be like a man with only one eye: he can see colours and shapes, but can no longer judge distances and depths the way he could if he had two eyes.

So as great as the scientific method may be, it always benefits from being informed by sound knowledge from the realms beyond its own limited methods. And Christians need have no fear of science, provided that it is understood to be a method for making true statements about physical reality as God has given it to us, not a method for the generation of surplus and unwarranted ideological pronouncements, or dismissals of all other ways of knowing the world.

19 comments :

  1. I think there is a big misconception concerning science that really needs to be dealt with before any discussions in this forum are really useful.

    Science has no particular magical properties or imparts anything special to any person. Science is nothing other than an activity of charting (cartography), cataloguing, warehousing, shelving, and categorizing of pre-existing facts that make up this universe. So, some items get stored on the energy shelf, some on the quantum mechanics shelf, others are stored in the thermodynamics drawer, etc.. Developing and discovering theorems or properties are simply rearranging and storing of knowledge in different boxes, drawers and on shelves.

    So, nothing is added to or taken away from this universe that wasn't there to start with. Physical science is nothing more than doing the above activity the same way that knowledge of the non-material is treated.

    There is also on the physical science shelf a place for the non-material. E.g. the bending of light when passing close by a star is attributed to the non-observable of distorted space time and its presumed, and non-material, manifestation by way of gravity. By this I mean that you can observe the effect of gravity but not gravity itself.

    Similarly, the effect of the non-observable will of God is observable through its manifestation in the actions of the physical and spiritual entity called a human being.

    By definition, when the actions are "moral and Good", then the will of God is manifest, if "Bad" it is not manifest (this applies also if you do not believe in God). Good and bad is defined through contents in the bible and from natural law. Thus, observable actions of the human agent and cataloguing of such facts is not a supernatural but a natural activity that integrates the presence and the influence of God in a natural way.

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    1. In general, I appreciate what you're saying, Q. I don't know how many people on this forum are subject to the illusion that science has magical properties of the kind you describe, but it's quite possible some are. And yes, God is certainly manifest in various ways in the human world, and sometimes observable by effects -- certainly enough for anyone to know there IS a God (Romans 1:20).

      A couple of caveats, if I may.

      One is this: there are very winsome arguments to suggest, totally apart from Theism, even, that science is not capable of describing all that actually exists. Not just "God" but things like "love" or "morality" or "selfhood" are not at all describable in scientific language without reducing them to something so trivial as to fail to describe the phenomenon at all. For example, is anyone content with the explanation that "love" refers to nothing more than a combination of neurochemicals, or even less plausibly, to an evolutionary social imperative? Doesn't everyone reading that feel very strongly that something more than a tallying up of physical effects is required to explain what we experience in association with "love"?

      Making this sort of argument is what got the atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel out of favour with his pals recently, after he wrote his book, "Mind and Cosmos," subtitled, "Why the Materialist, Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly
      False." So science is not simply another form of describing the same things.

      But secondly, while the Catholic position is favourable to the idea of "Natural Law," a theory first created by Aristotle and then mediated to Catholicism by Aquinas and now MacIntyre, there are significant problems with it. Nature at best reads ambiguously in the moral realm: some things it does are "good," and some are clearly "bad," because it is a fallen entity. While it retains enough to teach us that God exists, it does not reflect His character in an easy-to-read form. This, then, means that interpreting it requires special knowledge the ordinary person and even the ordinary Christian simply does not have.

      As C.S. Lewis put it in his essay "Christian Reflections,": " I do not dispute that History is a story written by the finger of God. But have we the text?" We do not, and science is certainly inadequate to help us to read nature for moral messages. Thus, as you also suggest, we are only well-advised to stick to Scripture when characterizing the moral field. Yet Natural Law theory is problematic at best, and at worst, it's an opening for someone with an agenda to distort the truth by "reading" whatever suits him from nature.

      Thanks for the thoughts.

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    2. Hi IC. I think the following point must be established and gotten out of the way once and for all since there is often confusion about it (and I am not referring to you here, where it does not apply, but to a general audience). What I am referring to is the following. It has always been my contention that we must understand the world the way it was and still is, namely, as going through an awakening process in the material sciences and to spiritual realities.This will continue for a long time. Clearly, the awakening with regard to Christ in a person is contingent on many facts and circumstances and not instantaneous. God himself therefore introduced the notion of knowledge about him as deducible from the natural world (predating or simultaneous with knowledge introduced through the bible) or he would have to have put in place a different mechanism (perhaps in a more direct manner). Here is a link with regard to natural law in the bible (I know you are familiar with all that, but it's for the benefit of the general reader).

      http://www.openbible.info/topics/natural_law

      My point is that this type of social, psychological, behavioral, etc. type of knowledge can be dealt with just as validly and "scientifically" using the approach of modern science as for the material branches of science. Therefore, when the agnostic/atheist invokes the mantra of "science" in defense of their position but denies it to the theist, they do not really understand science itself.

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    3. I have to disagree there, Q. I think it's clear that material science is not a complete way of knowing God, not even potentially. It gives, at best, a hint at His existence and a glimpse of His character, as per Romans 1: but it does not present a full revelation of who He is: for that, we have Christ Himself as the lone adequate source (Heb. 1:1-3). He who does not come to the Father by the Son will not come to Him through science -- or, for that matter, through Natural Law.

      Natural Law has an additional problem, and it's a very serious one. It is quite impossible to produce moral precepts from empirical observations, as David Hume cogently argued. And you can see its impossibility in practice if you consider how that both sides of an opposite argument can equally use Natural Law to back their case.

      Just to take one example, the anti-gay argument is drawn from NL that homosexuality is abnormal because it does not result in procreation and it conduces to disease. But equally, the pro-gay lobby uses the justification, "I was born that way" to say that NL backs them. There is no clarity in NL itself to show which argument we are to believe. I would submit to you that that clarity only comes from Scripture.

      But I do get that from a Catholic perspective you have a sense of duty to defend NL as the preferred Catholic option, and so I understand your concern to emphasize it.

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    4. Well, IC, I still maintain a different interpretation. First, God, and therefore goodness, must be discernible from natural law and could not only have become available after Christ. That would not be logical and that's why natural law is also mentioned in the bible. What you are suggesting is what I consider as a misappropriation and misrepresentation of the natural law argument by the side whose interest resides in not wanting to follow such arguments.

      Here are some thoughts with regard to that.

      I have concluded by experience, reading, and observation that God has a peculiar tendency with regard to his creation (us). E.g., in The Lord's Prayer we have the very peculiar statement … and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil … . Now since when would/should a loving creator be in the business of trying to trip up his beloved creation? In my opinion, because he is in the business, as a loving father, to strengthen and shape his children's character. In other words, he is a parent and psychologist par excellence. For example, in one of the Old Testament stories he helps select soldiers for an important battle and tells the troop leader to take candidates exhausted and thirsty to a river to drink. He then tells him to observe them and to select only those for the battle who drink water from their cupped hands but not those who drink directly from the river. Undoubtedly a test concerning self-control, composure and character.

      Natural law applied correctly implies, by definition, that we are all imbued with tendencies to break law and that there is a constant struggle within each human being to stay on the straight and narrow. These tendencies, built into our (fallen) nature, include the multiple tendencies for all types of addictions, whether it be nicotine, alcohol, sex, laziness, crack/heroin, and so on. That's just who we are. God clearly is aware of this struggle and has presented it as a matter of constantly having to make a choice between 'fire and water' set before us, condemnation or health. In other words, we are indeed frequently 'led into temptation' to demonstrate to God and ourselves where we currently stand in life. God also implied that this process may never be complete in our life and will result in frequent falling that requires forgiveness and renewed starts. In other words, we are challenged to grow.

      Clearly, if you have allowed yourself to land in an addiction, and you are not motivated to fight the battle then it behooves you to remove social stigma and disapproval by getting your behavior legitimatized by any means possible. Unfortunately, nowadays, society has largely bought into that rationalization. Your example of addiction to sex (in this case homosexuality) is no exception. The argument that natural law is at fault in this case, as you suggest those with that practice may claim, is a typical misappropriation. To put it bluntly, where does natural law imply that it is OK to use human anatomy to make love to a sewage pipe, unless it is love of a perversion of natural law. Viewing the male, female anatomy God has also set before us fire and water. Once more a test of character. Denying that reality and making all kinds of flimsy excuses just won't do.

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    5. I wonder if you are not mixing up Natural Law which is a theoretical ethical system, with human nature, the facts of which are well described in the Scriptures. Your explanation seems to vacillate between those terms, and I think you may be under the impression I'm saying something about human nature, when I'm merely pointing out the faults in Natural Law theory.

      If you want to catch up on Natural Law theory quickly, you'll need to at least take a cursory read of Aristotle's "Nicomachean Ethics," and the at Alastair McIntyre's "After Virtue," which is the most recent neo-aristotelian text on the subject.

      I think you'll quickly see that Natural Law is not about human nature per se, but about the idea that ordinary human beings can allegedly "read" moral precepts by interpreting the natural world. And it is that latter position that I would suggest is untenable.

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    6. Thanks for pointing out the references. As you know, I do not have a background in philosophy other than the one acquired by experience over a lifetime. Nevertheless, I think that the bible does convey the fact that people of any nationality acting in a manner acceptable to God are welcomed by him. This implies a space-time problem in that they are from other parts of the world and from different time periods as well. This then implies that they had to deduce moral rules of behavior satisfactory to him from the natural world, which means "read" moral precepts. In that case, what remains necessary is to define the terms moral and natural world. Moral would have to conform to what is now formally provided in the bible (I was not aware until recently, e.g., that the Catholic Church considers the New Testament to be infallible teaching). Natural world, in my opinion, should mostly consist of human society (and possibly some sentient animals?) but not inanimate materials and features. Morality would also be deduced from form and function, as man and woman, e.g., from action and reaction (in the social and psychological sphere) and with the achievable insight that morality also should result in placing the other before oneself (unselfishness). These concepts and tools must be natively available to humanity (even though flawed) for it to be acceptable to God predating the bible.

      Another point I would make is that any theoretical system (ethical or not) by definition exists because of human nature and therefore is always linked with human nature and there should not be a conflict there. Naturally it can be linked in an ethical, unethical or indifferent manner but it has no life of its own.

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    7. You are quite right, Q, to point out that ethics is a human issue. For while God is good, as the essential Definer of good, he is not subject to morals -- they are subject to His character. It's we who need ethics, and we who are subject to moral requirements.

      The question, though, is whether these morals that we have come to us by way of our human wit or from the opposite direction, that is, as revealed by God.

      Your description above suggests you are inclined to the former and, of course, I would say it was the latter. I would submit that there is moral content evident in the natural world, but not sufficient moral content for us to deduce all the moral particulars revealed in revelation. The two are not interchangeable. And, as I have suggested above, I am convinced that the moral content of nature is so equivocal that it is dangerous for us to attempt -- or to let others attempt on our behalf -- to read either the complete character of God or a list of morals out of the natural world.

      Science isn't morality. It has never, so far in history, ever produced even one moral axiom. And given its concern is strictly with factual statements about the natural world, it never will. (I think that's quite a safe statement, unless someone can give me a strictly scientific moral axiom we to which we are rationally obligated -- and though this is my area of study and I have read the classics and listened to the modern pundits do their thing, I have never found one ethicist able to do this.)

      But so what? For science examines only what *is* the case in the natural world, not what *ought to be* in the moral or spiritual realm. And it never promised more.

      Example: Science can give us a head-count of how many people are starving in Somalia right now. It can even perhaps give us a list of all the causes of such an event. But science itself has no view of what we should do about it, or whether or not we'd be "good" people for doing it, or "bad" people if we did nothing. That's just not the sort of information science supplies -- or even purports to supply. Having *facts* does not oblige us to adopt any *values,* unless there is a God who says we should behave in certain ways in light of the facts we discover.

      In short, we won't get anywhere trying to read our morals out of science. Neither theology nor science itself promises we should be able to do that. And for that reason, our human morals do not "confirm" the Bible: the Bible confirms for us what morals we are to understand from the natural world.

      P.S. -- I've checked, and it seems that a form of inerrancy doctrine was indeed declared by the Second Vatican Council. That would suggest to me that perhaps even from a Catholic perspective it's thought to be better to follow Biblical rather than Natural Law thinking when considering moral matters; for it does not seem that Natural Law has ever been affirmed as inerrant.

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    8. With your last append you are providing me the opportunity to once more address one of my pet peeves concerning science. I would love to once and for all disassemble the notion that seems to be stuck in people's head (not yours, of course :-) that science deserves or has a role that potentially is equal to or surpasses the role that religion based ethics and morality play in our lifes. That is not the case. Science, as I mentioned previously, and am doing here again for the general readership, is simply a set of tools, similar as a carpenter, plumber or farmer might have. These are designed to collect, catalog, characterize, store, shelve, discover, analyze and disseminate, existing facts, build upon them with everyday practical, engineering and mathematical tools in order to help humanity meet its challenges, and determine what the place is that we are stuck in, that's all. Science can never take the place of religion, ethics and morality but its tool set is just as applicable to make statements and pursue lines of investigation in those fields and arrive at facts and conclusions. This latter part is important because there is the false notion that science only is useful in the material domain. Thus people can be uninformed that existing quantitative scientific studies of moral, ethical behavior have revealed the tremendous good of a Christian faith based system. Just do a quick mental calculation of benefits derived from Christian vs ISIS behavior in the contemporary scene. And such studies can be, and have been by many social scientists, formalized scientifically and quantitatively to a much greater degree using known scientific, mathematical, statistical methods.

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    9. Actually, I would be one of those people who would say that "the world by it's wisdom does not come to know God" (I Cor. 1:21).

      That's not to say that worldly wisdom, on its own terms, isn't "wise" to anything. In fact, science is our best route to understanding the material organization of the natural world, so using it is wise if that is one's present purpose. I don't want to denigrate science, for sure.

      But science apart from revelation is simply too cloudy a mirror on the spiritual realm to give us unequivocal understanding of anything more profound. I would suggest that to ask it to do more is to ask it to do more than science itself promises to do, or than the Bible indicates human ingenuity can ever do.

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    10. Since this came up again here is an additional clarification of how I think that science, exactly because of the methodology it is, is very useful in the non-material, spiritual and moral domains as well. E.g., take the Bible, Christ's teaching and exhortations concerning human relationship like love your enemy, do unto others as you want to be treated, don't cheat, honor your parents, etc., and then simply do a scientific study of two societies or groups where this is followed in one and not the other and quantitatively record and statistically analyze beneficial or detrimental societal consequences. This has of course been done many times and there are extensive and thorough studies that show the benefits of a moral societal milieu for the individual and societies. Clearly, as I pointed out, the scientific method can therefore be very effectively used to make definitive statements about the positive benefit of moral behavior and biblical Christian virtues in everyday living. This would also be true for comparisons of societies where behavior implementing positive aspects of natural law is prevalent vs non-prevalent. The problem is therefore, as always, that if results don't conform to what your requirements are, what is convenient and desirable for you, then these results are false and irrelevant.

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    11. The problem goes one step further back, Q.

      The kind of method you're describing can tell us whether or not people ARE doing X or Y, provided we know definitively what X and Y are. In this case, X and Y are moral values or "virtues." But we cannot know that X and Y ARE MORALLY GOOD from any scientific premises.

      Now, you and I might think X and Y are good, but an ISIL fighter or an atheistic hedonist is not going to have to believe that they are...for science has no way to show that they are good. So some kind of sociology might be helpful to making a case AFTER we know what true moral values should be; but they are of zero usefulness in PROVING what the right moral values are.

      And this is a problem with all "natural law" moral views. Different people believe the "natural laws" are saying different things. A Christian may think they're telling us to be nice to each other; a Social Darwinist is going to think they say "Devil take the hindmost." A Christian is going to say homosexuality is "unnatural," and a homosexual advocate is going to say it's the most "natural" thing he knows. Who's right, when we having nothing else, and "natural law" can be used to say either one?

      That's why only revelation from God can give us what we need to ground morality..."natural law" is ambiguous.

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    12. Actually, I see it quite differently I.C., and do not think there even is a step back. You are implying that just because morality may not be adhered to that those situations have their own right to be called moral. E.g., was (is?) it moral in some South Sea islands for savages to cannibalize their captured prisoners, or take their heads in the Amazon? You are placing that type of behavior on the same level as we understand morality in the West just because it exists and may be utilitarian to the involved savages. And you then reason that the modern advocate for immorality has the same privilege to define morality for themselves. I agree that that mechanism of defining your own morality can work for those who are doing it. But what I am arguing is that it is irrelevant who, sincerely or insincerely, misrepresents or misinterprets (by Christian standards) morality since the criterion for correct morality is ALWAYS that it is measurable by its positive outcome. The outcome depends on how it is implemented and by whether it achieves a positive end. And that is because there is only one purpose for divinely issued morality and that is to acchieve a measurable positive outcome for creation. You seem to be actually more concerned with what the meaning of positive is to different people rather than morality itself. I think that positivity cannot validly be questioned or be replaced with negativity without making an error where morality is concerned and that is precisely because results are measurable with regard to those two qualities. Clearly, their short and long term impact on the individual and society is fairly easily estimated using the scientific method, which can eliminate pretense and deception. Morality always is a taught subject and whether or not it is accepted as intended does not alter what it teaches. Whether the teaching is correct will be revealed by the measurable end result of where inadvertent or intentional distortion will take the individual and society in the long run. The idea of natural law simply is a different method of teaching by circumstance you encounter in nature due to your negative or positive interaction with nature. Morality as understood by this Christian is entirely understood to be useful only if it has the purpose to achieve a positive eternal outcome.

      Now let's put this to the test. Was it moral to drop the nuclear bombs on Japan? Also, New York state is now following Canada's example of legalizing assisted suicide. I you disagree you are vilified as uncaring, insensitive and selfish to not allow others to end their suffering. Who is immoral here? If you think that sex change and gender identity issues are simply drummed up issues by certain misguided individuals who got caught up in personal addictive behavior and perversion then you are vilified. Who is immoral here? … and so on.

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    13. Straw man, Q. I am no cultural relativist or situational ethicist, and have said nothing to imply that. In fact, I've been very public in my rejection of those views.

      "Positivity" is the vaguest and most controversial of terms. Half of the things in the universe can be said to be "positive," and half "negative." Moreover, "positive" always has to be "positive FOR" something, and until you prove to the satisfaction of a rational objector that your "positive" is actually positive for a universally-binding good, you've got nothing you can use there.

      The fundamental problem with "natural law" is that people see different implications from it; and absent any revelation from God, we would have no way to know who's right or "positive."

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    14. A straw man? You mean like in The Wizard of OZ ;-)? Well, I am not exactly sure where you think I am trying to introduce a distraction, all of my argument or part of it? My research shows discussion of morality to be a complex and sticky problem. However I am not alone with my reasoning. E.g., below (in quotes) is an excerpt from one of my sources (Catholic Encyclopedia) that points out that morality achieves its importance, and cannot be separated, from the reality of divine sanction if it is not followed. That, therefore, illustrates the measurable effects I am talking about.

      "A broad distinction must be made between such cases and that of those nations which having once accepted the Christian faith with its clear profession of the connection between moral obligation and a Divine law, have subsequently repudiated this belief in favor of a purely natural morality. There is no parity between "Fore-Christians" and "After-Christians". The evidence at our command seems to establish as certain that it is impossible for these latter to return to the inadequate grounds of obligation which may sometimes suffice for nations still in the immaturity of their knowledge; and that for them the rejection of the religious sanction is invariably followed … by… (Qman's wording correction) moral decay, leading rapidly to the corruptions of the most degraded periods of our history. We may see this wherever the great revolt from Christianity, which began in the eighteenth century, and which is so potent a factor today, has spread. It is naturally in France, where the revolt began, that the movement has attained its fullest development. There its effects are not disputed. The birth-rate has shrunk until the population, were it not for the immigration of Flemings and Italians, would be a diminishing quantity; Christian family life is disappearing; the number of divorces and of suicides multiplies annual while one of the most ominous of all symptoms is the alarming increase of juvenile crime. Continued below …

      (Qman's, comment here: on our recent trip to France visiting in-laws we were told that marriage is pretty much dead in France. People instead simply live with each other, something we actually observed from our new and large French extended family. Unfortunately, we also observed what seemed to us an above average incidence of emotional and mental health complaints and issues for that size of a group and we felt badly for the children entering into that type of setting.)

      … But these effects are not peculiar to France. The movement away from Christianity has spread to certain sections of the population in the United States, in England, in Germany, in Australia, countries providing in other respects a wide variety of circumstances. Wherever it is found, there in varying degrees the same results have followed, so that the unprejudiced observer can draw but one conclusion, namely: that for a nation which has attained maturity, morality is essentially dependent on the religious sanction, and that when this is rejected, morality will soon decay."

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    15. I'm sorry, Q...I'm not actually seeing what this has to do with the science-Christianity issue.

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  2. Hmm, IC, now it is my turn not to understand. As I wrote in regard to the above source material I provided, "That, therefore, illustrates the measurable effects I am talking about."

    To repeat then, my contention is that the scientific method can be applied usefully not only in the material domain but in the spiritual/religious field as well to test and prove hypothesis true or false and the source material I provided also supports that contention by providing facts that can statistically be tested. It is therefore wrong to assume otherwise as this blog seems to be doing and cede science to the materialist only. There are plenty of Christian scientists who do not hate science but think it very useful for reinforcing their belief system and for proving the atheist wrong. You may want to follow the discussions of religious and atheist biologists and evolutionists at the Cornell University web site. The creationist religious side in my opinion has the upper hand.

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  3. You write above, "my contention is that the scientific method can be applied usefully not only in the material domain but in the spiritual/religious field as well to test and prove hypothesis true or false and the source material I provided also supports that contention by providing facts that can statistically be tested."

    I'm afraid this just isn't so. For we can use data-collection techniques only if we know beforehand precisely what we're looking for. But by no method open to science can we identify what we're looking for: science has no instrument to help it to define what things like morality or revelation are. If we knew, and if science had, say, a "morality-meter," we could use science. But our data gathering will be misleading or useless if we do not have a fixed index.

    It would be like trying to read a thermometer that had no degree-calibration marks on it. Even if it could register something, we'd still have no way of knowing what that something was.

    You continue: "It is therefore wrong to assume otherwise as this blog seems to be doing and cede science to the materialist only. "

    No, but you rightly intuit that there is a strict bond between science and material causes-and-effects: science deals with these, but cannot deal with the non-material. Only once we have already identified and provided criteria for a particular non-material quality (like, say, "moral rightness,") can any data collection methods be used.

    So, for example, if we knew that God-appeasing was the same as the mere action of giving ice-cream to orphans, then we could measure how many people gave ice-cream to orphans, and when. But since people can give ice-cream to orphans for bad reasons, and since God is not one who looks on the outward appearance but on the heart, and because the works done by unregenerate man do not appease God, but rather the unmeasurable quality of genuine faith does (Eph. 2:8-9), we cannot use science to tell us who is saved and lost.

    That you cannot put things like morality, consciousness, God or spirit in a test-tube is manifest. There is no instrument to measure such things, and cannot be. For science rightly limits itself to the material and testable, and God is not mere material, nor is He one of our test-Subjects.

    That's not to say that science is a bad thing. It's to say that it's a lesser thing than the sum of human knowledge: in other words, that we can know things beyond mere science.

    You're wrong to imagine I'm ceding science to secularism. Rather, picture two concentric circles: label the inside one "science," an the outside one "human knowing." Science is still good, and is within the domain of human knowing; but it is not coextensive with human knowing, nor is it bigger than human knowing. Human knowing is bigger, because it includes things like aesthetics, logic, personal knowing, and revelation -- but science remains another part within all that, a subcategory of human knowing, not something separated from it. Science is valuable; but not everything a person can know is science.

    That's the view I'm really presenting. I trust that clears things up.

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    1. Got it, IC, except that you forgot to draw the most import circle of them all, namely the outermost one, the one that circumscribes everything for humanity including the circles you mention. And that is the circle of human capability. If God does not place things within that circle it won't do humans or him any good. I am not implying that everything placed within that circle is currently decoded and within our current reach of understanding but it potentially and eventually can be and obviously is meant to not be useless. The scientific method is totally independent of the nature of the material inside that perimeter circle, which may include yet to be discovered ways of making the method itself more efficient, and it applies to everything contained within that circle which includes of course all known spiritual, religious, social, material, etc., items and topics. The reasons why that is possible is that a) the nature of the method is totally neutral except for the case where the persons or groups applying it build in their own biases, and b) because it is fundamentally nothing more then a procedure for categorizing and counting items and phenomena to arrive at quantities that are then used in a comparative manner in support of hypothesis to either accept or reject them (with a chosen statistical significance). Since the method can be applied in a quantitative or semiquantitative way you can construct your own scales so that, e.g., a thermometer may not necessarily be needed to obtain an estimate of temperature. The same applies to social, spiritual, and religious information. It has to be that way or we could not objectively gauge the meaning and significance of what is in the circle, e.g., was handed on to us in the bible or from other sources. I thought you were aware that these comparative types of studies in these fields have been and are constantly being conducted in the social sciences comparing e.g., the effect of spirituality, religiosity or the lack thereof on society, communities, families and individuals.

      So, yes, scientific investigation has not been ceded to the materialist and as a matter of fact is defeating the same because it has been quantitatively shown that there are significant negative consequences for all strata of society if Christian principles and teaching are ignored and rejected. And consequently, I do not think that (informed) Christians hate science because it is basically on their side.

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