Replay: When philosophy dominates science

Traffic’s up after the informal announcement of the publication of our Astronomy and Astrophysics curriculum, so in the coming weeks we’re going to replay some of our more important posts from the archives for our new readers. 

** Written by “Surak” **

Dr. Robb Wilson, who blogs at The Scholar Redeemer, commented on my article “Separating philosophy from science,” and made the following important points:

“good science is NOT aphilosophical”

“a blanket statement that philosophy corrupts science is misleading … there is a philosophy at the root of methodological naturalism as well.”

In light of his excellent comment, I would like to take another shot at what I intended to say.

Ancient Greek philosophy was indeed the solid and necessary foundation on which the first scientific efforts took place, and it was the Judeo-Christian worldview that made modern science possible. I fully accept that whenever and wherever the dominant philosophy/religion of the day acted as a rational foundation on which something higher and broader could be constructed, science flourished. But sometimes the dominant worldview has included beliefs that act like confining walls and a low ceiling on science. The most obvious example is the ancient belief that the Earth was the center of the universe, which helped delay modern science by about 1,800 years.

The point I wanted to make in my original article is that there is today a philosophy that dominates most Western centers of learning, and elements of that philosophy threaten to delay desperately-needed scientific advances in fields such as biology, medicine, psychology, and social behavior. My fears seem to be confirmed by an article published in the February 7, 2011 online edition of the New York Times, titled “Social Scientist Sees Bias Within” by John Tierney. The article quotes Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, regarding what he describes as a liberal bias in his field:

“This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity,” Dr. Haidt concluded, noting polls showing that 40 percent of Americans are conservative and 20 percent are liberal. In his speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.

While Tierney and Haidt appear to see the problem largely in political terms as part of a liberal vs. conservative struggle, the root of the problem for this branch of science is really philosophical because the “sacred values” cited by Dr. Haidt are those of humanism.  Our original article on ‘transcranial magnetic stimulation’ was an attempt to demonstrate that a similar philosophical problem exists in biology.

There is also evidence that humanist dominance is causing severe problems in the field of anthropology, for example, the controversial decision last year by the American Anthropological Association to remove the word “science” from an official statement of its long-range plan. The problem extends to general psychology, as well. In their 2005 book, Destructive Trends in Mental Health: The Well-Intentioned Path to Harm, Rogers H. Wright and Nicholas A. Cummings identify some distressing developments in behavioral science. In the preface they include the following statements:

Why, after decades of fighting to establish the rightful role of professionalism in psychology, do we now question the validity and integrity of some of the prevalent practices in our profession? The answer is simple: psychology and mental health have veered away from scientific integrity and open inquiry, as well as from compassionate practice in which the welfare of the patient is paramount.

These taboo topics typically unleash a silencing array of unwarranted charges ranging from political incorrectness, insensitivity, and lack of compassion to (in the extreme) bigotry. We are troubled that disciplines such as psychology, psychiatry, and social work, which pride themselves on diversity, scientific inquiry, intellectual openness, and compassion for those who need help, have created an atmosphere in which honest, albeit controversial, points of view are squelched.

We decry the extremism on the right, but we do not address it in this volume because that is not the problem within organized mental health today. Psychology, psychiatry, and social work have been captured by an ultraliberal agenda, much of which we agree with as citizens. However, we are alarmed with the damaging effect it is having on our science, our practice, and our credibility.

It [American Psychological Association] is no longer perceived as an authority that presents scientific evidence and professional facts. The APA has chosen ideology over science, and thus diminished its influence on the decision makers in our society.

Within the profession of psychology there is currently debate over treatment techniques and interventions that have not been scientifically validated.

It is obvious that we need a greater diversity of ideas and a counterbalance to the prevailing ideologies within mental health circles today. … We must broaden the debated by reducing the ridicule and intimidation of ideas contrary to the thinking of the establishment in the field of psychology.

Once again, the ultra-liberalism identified by the authors is best understood as the political manifestation of a relatively new philosophical orthodoxy, and the indisputable truth is that humanism is the philosophy that dominates many if not most universities and colleges in America today. I believe a strong case can be made that some humanists are guilty of many of the same transgressions against science that Christians have long been accused of, including

  • Attempting to establish a new orthodoxy verging on dogma
  • Stifling of descent
  • Condemning and purging those with non-humanist views
  • Corrupting science for political, social and economic goals

If psychology and the social ‘sciences’ continue to be dominated by a philosophy hostile to the free exploration and exchange of ideas, how will they ever develop desperately needed casual understanding about the human condition? A delay in the behavioral sciences similar to the delay in the physical sciences that occurred between Aristarchus and Copernicus would be more than a scientific tragedy; it would be a disaster for humankind. Our hope has to be that the study of human behavior will somehow break through the confining walls of humanism, undergo a cathartic paradigm shift, and become true science.

Where is the scientific evidence for “white privilege”?

A “White Privilege Conference” was held on March 25 to 29 at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in Madison, Wisconsin. This conference has been held for 15 years, it is funded in part by tax dollars, and it is geared toward educating the state’s teachers on how to help destroy white peoples’ undeserved privilege, overcome the oppression of minorities, and work toward a more equitable world. At least some news reporters were denied access, but one found a way in and reported the following.

An individual named Kim Radersma lead a breakout session entitled “Stories from the Front Lines of Education: Confessions of a White, High School English Teacher.” Ms. Radersma is currently working toward her Ph.D. in “critical whiteness studies” (presumably in the Sociology department) at Brock University in Ontario, Canada. During her session she told the participating teachers that white people are like “alcoholics” with their racism. They will never be cured of it but will always be racists at heart.

Describing herself, it is reported she said, “being a white person who does anti-racist work is like being an alcoholic … I will never be recovered by my alcoholism … I am so deeply imbedded with racist thoughts and notions and actions in my body that I have to choose everyday (sic) to do anti-racist work and think in an anti-racist way.”

As a person who is committed to the preservation of human rights and devoted to science, I am deeply disturbed by this. The above accusation appears to be that white people are inherently racist for the same reason they have white skin—racism is part of their DNA. This would make white people racially inferior to all the other ethnic groups around the world who do not suffer from “white privilege.”

This is a scientifically testable hypothesis. So, as an advocate of science, I have to ask Ms Radersma and the organizers of the conference, where is the evidence for this? This question must be answered, because, if this grave assessment of the nature of white people was made without scientific evidence, then it is nothing more than an expression of vile racism against white people. I fear that is the case and that the organizers of the conference knew this charge against white people could not be rationally defended, which is why the conference was closed to public scrutiny.

I challenge the future Dr. Radersma to defend her hypothesis in public. I challenge her to expose her accusations against the white men, women, and children of America to the illuminating and purifying light of scientific examination. If she is not willing to do this, the inevitably conclusion must be that she is a racist fraud and her belief is just one of those foul things that grow in the dark.

Self-correction in science

A common claim about the superiority of science over other ways of knowing is that science is self-correcting; science may take wrong turns from time to time, but it eventually finds its way back on the right road. As a supporter of science, I believe in the power of the scientific method; and generally speaking, it’s true that science self-corrects. However, it’s important to understand how human limitations—scientists are human, after all—sometimes undermine the process of self-correction.

Science will never give full understanding of anything. All that we can hope for are useful approximations of the objective reality we hope is out there. Under ideal circumstances, science is certainly self-correcting in the sense that it provides a process for arriving at consistently closer approximations. But, in too many instances the self-correcting potential of ideal science cannot overcome common human frailties. The most famous example from the field of astronomy will illustrate this.

Physics, like all of the sciences, started out as ‘natural philosophy,’ which functioned as an integrated branch of the whole philosophy/religion of the ancient Greeks. Science in its rudimentary form was thus shackled to the Greek worldview that placed humans forever at the center of the universe and effectively limited scientific thought to what would become Ptolemaic theory. This geocentric view of mankind’s place in the universe also prevailed because it conformed nicely to what the ancients observed with their limited senses, and because it had a powerful appeal to human emotions that subsequent theories could never have.

It is testimony to the power of the human mind and the potential of science that at least one individual was able to overcome all of this and figure out a closer approximation of the truth. An ancient Greek astronomer named Aristarchus proposed a heliocentric universe in the 3rd century B.C. Unfortunately his hypothesis was quickly squashed by contemporaries who condemned his idea as impious and foolish—in other words, it didn’t conform to the dominant philosophy/religion of the day. The Copernican revolution did finally take place, 1,800 years later, but those who have faith that science is the best way (or only way) to know things shouldn’t take much comfort from this example. Yes, the scientific method was eventually successful, but the self-correction was at best tragically slow.

This example has some scary implications, because the weak sister of modern science, the study of human behavior, is currently at a stage comparable to physics 2,000 years ago and shows no signs of correcting itself. With all of the social and behavioral problems facing an increasingly complex and technological world, it is possible that modern society cannot survive another 2,000 years without viable theories of individual and group behavior. So, it is important that all of us who depend on science to solve (or at least mitigate) the world’s problems understand how the three major things that prevented physics from correcting itself for about 2,000 years—the debilitating effects of ideology, the limiting nature of human perspective, and the immense power of emotions to mislead—are still at work today preventing the newer branches of science from correcting themselves.

To appreciate the ways in which science’s ability to self-correct can be thwarted, one has to be very clear about the basics of the scientific method. They can be outlined in rudimentary form in the following manner:

  • Preliminary observations of some natural phenomenon are made
  • A scientist brainstorms possible explanations of what is observed
  • A workable hypothesis is formed
  • An organized plan for additional observations and experiments is made and carried out
  • If additional evidence for the hypothesis is found, it advances to a level of confidence higher than that of a hypothesis but lower than that of a theory (we can call it a conjecture)
  • The newly elevated conjecture is then presented for the peer review process, in which some scientists will find evidence to support the conjecture and others will try to tear it apart
  • If the conjecture survives the peer review process and gains additional evidence and the support of a large number of scientists it will eventually become accepted as a viable theory

The two parts of this process that make self-correction possible are the brainstorming and peer review stages. Unfettered brainstorming makes it possible for scientists to consider all possibilities—that’s how we got Einstein and Georges Lemaître, the father of the big bang1. If religion or philosophy makes some ideas unthinkable, the brainstorming stage will be inhibited, and ‘unpopular’ possibilities will be missed. The humanist philosophy that dominates the behavior and social sciences departments today is making the self-correction in those fields impossible just as much as the philosophy of the ancient Greeks made physics impossible.

The peer review process makes it possible to challenge popular but false notions. In modern times this stage has become highly susceptible to the negative influences of politics and government funding. The controversy over global warming / climate change is a good example. Regardless of a person’s views on climate change, it should be deeply disturbing that one side of what should be a scientific debate has been corrupted by government funding into political advocacy. When any scientist becomes an advocate of policy, he is no longer a scientist, because science can only serve one master—the search for truth. It is even more disturbing that those on the other side of the scientific debate have been tagged with the vicious label of ‘deniers.’ Those who use this label in such a pejorative manner are trying to preemptively shut down the peer review process and mandate scientific orthodoxy.

It is dangerous, therefore, to assume that science has an inherent ability to overcome human failings to the point that we can depend on it to be self-correcting. That it can effectively reach that goal is demonstrated by the fairly rapid acceptance of big bang theory in the mid-20th century over the strong objections of those who were philosophically opposed to it.  But what has only recently become true of a branch of science that is over 450 years old, is not true of the newer sciences. Biology, psychology, and the social sciences are nowhere near the stage where self-correction is automatic.

Now, there is one assumption I’ve made in this discussion, that self-correction means we’re making better and better approximations of reality. But there is another issue: what if there isn’t always an objective truth that we can get closer to by self-correction? That’s an altogether different topic, but let me say that relativity and quantum mechanics do suggest that this might be true. This is a topic for another article.

[1] “Father” in more than one sense: Lemaître was also a priest.

Recommended reading:

  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn

Questions from Christian Students, Part 11

Sarah was recently invited, along with two other scientists, to take part in a panel discussion for a group of mostly Christian students. After the main discussion, students were invited to submit questions via text message; there was very little time to address them, so only a few were answered. The questions were quite good, so over the next few weeks, Surak and Sarah will answer most of them here. All of the questions are listed in the Intro to this series. See also: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8Part 9; Part 10

How does evolution relate to the belief of a creator? And please address the time frame. / Please address the timing of evolution and the Bible. / How do you reconcile biologists teaching evolution and coming from apes with the creation story in Genesis?

There is no conflict between Christianity and science inherent in scripture or the theory of evolution. There are at least 26 scientifically testable statements in Genesis 1 about the origins of the universe as well as the origins and diversity of life. All 26 statements are consistent with modern science without any dodgy interpretations of the Bible or contortions of the science to fit religious beliefs. And, all 26 statements are in the correct order according to modern science. See here for a detailed scientific explanation of this.

At the time of Darwin, there was a serious conflict between the Christian belief in a created universe and the scientific consensus of the time that the universe was eternal. That conflict was resolved in favor of the Christian view when big bang theory prevailed in the 1960s, because the basic premise of this theory (very simply stated) is that our universe had a beginning and came into being out of ‘nothing.’ Taking this one logical step further, the fundamental scientific concept of cause and effect requires something outside of and greater than (super-) our material world (-natural) capable of causing the universe to come into existence. In other words, based on the best evidence available, the supernatural must be part of the scientific discussion. Evolution cannot be isolated from consideration of the supernatural since everything biological is made of the stuff that makes up the universe.

In regard to evolution specifically, the Genesis account of creation lists several stages in the development of life on earth: vegetation, animal life in the oceans, flying creatures (winged insects), great sea creatures, life forms that crawl on land, every species of winged creature, land animals which became livestock (mammals), and finally man. There can be no doubt that this indicates a scriptural acceptance and understanding of a progression in the development of life. It is also important that this order of events conforms to the fossil evidence. So, there is no conflict about the fossil evidence between Judeo-Christian scripture and the theory of evolution.

There is a seemingly insurmountable disagreement between scripture and science in terms of the time it took for life to be created. The Bible says that all of creation took just six days. Science provides abundant and convincing evidence that this is absurd. As a result, the notion that the amazing diversity of life was accomplished in a few days is widely ridiculed in scientific circles as a silly and hopelessly unscientific myth of an ignorant ancient people. But, scientists, having lost one great argument with scripture, should have been somewhat humbled and exercised more care in their criticism of the Bible.

A continued lack of humility did in fact set Darwinists up for another scientific fall. There was something else the great minds of the mid-19th century were not aware of besides the big bang—relativity. In all the years since Einstein proposed his theories of relativity, only one man had the insight and ability to use Einstein’s first great achievement to gain a deeper understanding of scripture. Physicist and theologian, Gerald Schroeder, found, through a skillful and honest reading of Genesis coupled with a scientist’s understanding of Einstein’s relativity, that the six-day account of creation does not deserve the ridicule it has received for so many generations.

The first clue to this has always been available to anyone with an open mind. According to Genesis 1:2, for the first two days of Genesis “The earth was without form.” The Earth was not formed until the third day. Since there was no Earth for the first two days of the Genesis account, one has to wonder how time was being reckoned. The author of Genesis must have been marking time according to some other means than the time it takes the Earth to spin on its axis.

It is totally understandable why non-scientists failed to pick up on this clue. Einstein told humankind something hugely counterintuitive—that time passes at a comparatively different rate for every location in the universe. The commonly accepted age of the universe—10 to 20 billion years–is very likely true, but only from the perspective of Earth-bound beings looking back in time. The age of the universe and the passage of time from any other perspective would be very different—seemingly strange, but scientifically indisputable. The same is true of all evolutionary estimates of biological events; scientific observations that life emerged 3.8 billion years ago or that the dinosaurs were destroyed 65 million years ago are only valid from that same extremely limited perspective.

A combination of Einstein’s relativity, Edwin Hubble’s discovery that the universe is expanding, and the big bang theory provides scientists a different way of measuring time—a universal clock based on the frequency of the cosmic background radiation left over from the big bang. This is the only all-inclusive perspective available to us. When this ‘universal clock’ is applied to events since the big bang, something truly amazing is revealed—the six days of Genesis are literally true and completely compatible with modern science. See here for a rudimentary explanation of the science of the universal clock and its application to the six days of creation.

There are a number of clues which substantiate this claim. The earthly measure of time is not used in the Bible until after man is created. During the six days of creation, time is not tied directly to the events described. As Gerald Schroeder explains, events are listed and then the reader is informed that another day has passed. After the creation of Adam, time is directly linked for the first time to events on Earth. Another important clue is found in Psalms 90:4, “A thousand years in Your eyes are as a day that passes …” This is clearly an expression of the relativity of time by an ancient writer who had only scripture and revelation to go by.

The Bible’s use of universal time 3,000 years before humans discovered the relativity of time is far beyond remarkable. It is a scientifically inexplicable mystery equal to that of someone actually finding a genuine fossil of J. B. S. Haldane’s famous ‘Precambrian rabbit.’ Haldane used this amusing idea to make the point that one way to empirically falsify evolution theory would be to find a fossil so out of place (hence the rabbit in the Precambrian age) there could be no explanation for it within the bounds of Darwinism. This test can be applied to the Genesis account of creation; the ancient biblical use of universal time is so far out of place there is no scientific explanation for it. It could not have been a lucky or informed guess; it can only be the result of revelation.

Darwin himself said that a person could be a Christian and an evolutionist. Not only is there nothing in scripture or science that prevents a person from believing that evolution was the means by which God created the great diversity of life on Earth, there is evidence for it. Sean B. Carroll is a biologist and modern Darwinist at the forefront of a wonderful new field of study known as evolutionary developmental biology (or ‘evo-devo’ for short). In his fascinating book, Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom, Professor Carroll is compelled to use a word that seems completely at odds with the basic concept of evolution, and he uses it over a dozen times in the book.

The incongruous word he employs over and over again is ‘logic.’ You can find it on pages 8, 12, 26, 35, 54, 55, 56, 60, 60, 61, 106, 195, and 271. The word seems so inappropriate, because it is being used to describe something he and all other Darwinists believe is the result of a mindless, random process, even though logic is the product of a rational mind. Nevertheless, Professor Carroll can’t help using this ill-fitted word, because everything he observes in the operation of animal DNA is so elegantly intricate, efficient, and consistent—something like an unimaginably good computer program.

It is unfortunate that his mind and those of most of his fellow biologists are evidently so closed by the current scientific prejudice against the notion of God that it doesn’t occur to any of them what he is really saying in his hugely informative and enjoyable book: There is significant evidence of a great rational mind at work in the structure and workings of genes.

Questions from Christian Students, Part 10

Sarah was recently invited, along with two other scientists, to take part in a panel discussion for a group of mostly Christian students. After the main discussion, students were invited to submit questions via text message; there was very little time to address them, so only a few were answered. The questions were quite good, so over the next few weeks, Surak and Sarah will answer most of them here. All of the questions are listed in the Intro to this series. See also: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8; Part 9

Outside of the creation story, have you found other parts of the Bible that support what you have observed scientifically?

There are many passages in the Bible that speak about the ‘laws of the heavens,’ the way God created and ordered the universe through wisdom, and how God ‘stretches out the heavens.’ But one of the best examples of the scientific nature of the Bible is provided by physicist and theologian, Gerald Schroeder, who demonstrates how a 13th century biblical scholar was able to anticipate modern science by using a literal interpretation of the Bible. He quotes Nahmanides (1194 – 1270),

At the briefest instant following creation all the matter of the universe was concentrated in a very small place, no larger than a grain of mustard. The matter at this time was so thin, so intangible, that it did not have real substance. It did have, however, a potential to gain substance and form and to become tangible matter. From the initial concentration of this intangible substance in its minute location, the substance expanded, expanding the universe as it did so. As the expansion progressed, a change in the substance occurred. This initially thin noncorporeal substance took on the tangible aspects of matter as we know it. From this initial act of creation, from this ethereally thin pseudosubstance, everything that has existed, or will ever exist, was, is and will be formed.

As Schroeder points out on page 56 of The Science of God, “This seven-hundred year old insight could be a quote from a modern physics textbook.” Think about the fact that the best scientists in the world were not capable of this level of understanding of our universe until the 20th century.

Questions from Christian Students, Part 8

Sarah was recently invited, along with two other scientists, to take part in a panel discussion for a group of mostly Christian students. After the main discussion, students were invited to submit questions via text message; there was very little time to address them, so only a few were answered. The questions were quite good, so over the next few weeks, Surak and Sarah will answer most of them here. All of the questions are listed in the Intro to this series. See also: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6; Part 7

What is the most important piece of knowledge you have come to learn about evolution since becoming a believer?

Darwin was a great scientist and pioneer in the field of biology. In that regard he is similar to Copernicus in the field of physics. Physicists honor Copernicus, but they also recognize and readily admit his shortcomings. He helped accomplish the first great paradigm shift that set science on its present course of discovery. What a great thing to do! But he was wrong about some important things; the Sun is not the center of the universe, and planets do not travel in perfectly circular orbits. We forgive Copernicus for his mistakes, because he did his work before the basic tools and higher mathematics of astronomy were developed. How could he be expected to get everything right four hundred years ago?

Darwin worked under similar limitations decades before the revolutionary discoveries of the Burgess Shale fossils and genes. So, once again, how could the great pioneer in the field of biology have gotten everything right all the way back in the mid 1860s? That would not be a fair expectation on the part of either supporters or detractors of Darwin.

The main principles of Darwinism are common descent, random mutation, natural selection, and gradualism. Each of these components is a necessary part of current evolutionary theory, which is important because people often confuse evolution theory for just one of these parts—the common descent of all animal life. It is true that common descent has all but been ‘proven,’ about as well as any scientific belief can be proven, and there can be little remaining doubt about it. But, the massive evidence in favor of common descent neither establishes the truth of evolution theory as a whole nor undercuts Christian beliefs. The most that can be said is that Darwin’s championing of this principle counts as a great success of the same magnitude as Copernicus’ heliocentric theory.

But, Darwin, just like Copernicus, got some things wrong. The fossil evidence does not support gradualism. In the words of one of the most respected biologists of modern times, Niles Eldredge, curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City: “The fossil record we were told to find for the past 120 years does not exist.”

It was Darwin who told biologists what to expect in the fossil record, and this mistake was a significant failure on his part.

In fact, the fossil evidence contradicts Darwin so badly, it compelled Eldridge and his more famous partner, Stephen Jay Gould, to offer something they called ‘punctuated equilibrium’ as an alternative to strict Darwinism. There are other serious problems with Darwinism (the mathematics of random mutations doesn’t work and there is a fatal lack of empirical evidence for natural selection), but, for the sake of brevity, it is enough to say that without gradualism Darwinism is seriously undone. In other words, Darwin was wrong about at least one major thing.

In light of this, the most important thing any scientist can come to learn about evolution is that biologists are generally incapable of saying the following words: “Darwin was wrong.”

Physicists can say without hesitation that there were times when “Galileo was wrong, Newton was wrong, and Einstein was wrong.” In spite of their mistakes, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein are still considered giants in the field of physics. Why can’t biologists make the same and obviously true statement about Darwin? I believe it is because strict Darwinism has become anti-Christian gospel, and many biologists are betraying science by promoting and defending this dogma.

Would the discovery of intelligent life on another planet disprove the existence of God?

Why would God be limited to creating one group of beings with souls in just one part of a vast universe? While the Bible is addressed to and concerned about the conscious beings inhabiting the Earth, there is nothing in the Bible that says that life was created only on Earth. “In my Father’s house are many rooms” (John 14:2). See here and here for further discussion.

Questions from Christian Students, Part 6

Sarah was recently invited, along with two other scientists, to take part in a panel discussion for a group of mostly Christian students. After the main discussion, students were invited to submit questions via text message; there was very little time to address them, so only a few were answered. The questions were quite good, so over the next few weeks, Surak and Sarah will answer most of them here. All of the questions are listed in the Intro to this series. See also: Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4; Part 5

What’s the most common scientific argument you encounter against Christianity? How have you responded?

The most common scientific arguments against Christianity are the following:

1. The six days of creation are completely contrary to modern science.

This is false. See here for a thorough explanation of this.

2. Evolution explains everything and makes God ‘unnecessary.’

The first part of this statement is false; the second part is an extremely weak and silly argument. First, Darwinism in all of its forms has not provided answers for the most fundamental biological questions of all: how did life originate, what caused the tremendous explosion of life forms in the Cambrian explosion, why do different phyla of animal life share common genes, what is human consciousness, and where does human consciousness come from? Modern biologists who make grand pronouncements about God end up sounding like teenagers who discover where their mom and dad keep the car keys and the credit cards and then declare that their parents are no longer necessary. They are also like kids in their immature conviction that they know everything. They once confidently declared that they knew how life started: huge amounts of time in which nearly infinite random combinations of chemicals occurred solved the problem of the origins of life on Earth. Then the fossil evidence destroyed that argument by showing that life arose almost immediately after water formed on the Earth; there was no long period of time for random processes to work their magic (it really was a case of magical thinking all along).

Then the Darwinists said, well, never mind that we really don’t have an explanation for the origins of life; once life started, it developed and diversified without any supernatural help. According to evolutionary theory the various phyla of the animal kingdom all evolved separately according to the laws of random mutation and natural selection. That claim turned out not to be true either.

Sean B. Carroll is a current Darwinist biologist at the forefront of a new field of study known as evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo). In his book, Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom, he announces the startling discovery that animal life forms as different as mammals and insects share interchangeable genes, something that Darwinists always believed was impossible:

[T]he prevailing view of the architects and adherents of Modern Synthesis was that the process of random mutation and selection would so alter DNA and protein sequences that only closely related species would bear homologous genes. … Virtually everything I have described … has been discovered in the past twenty years. … The insights provided by these discoveries … [have] forced biologists to rethink completely their picture of how forms evolve. (p. 285, emphasis added)

In other words, Darwinists (“the architects and adherents of Modern Synthesis”) are “completely” wrong about how life developed on Earth. With a track record like this, biologists should be humble enough not to make grand pronouncements that God does not exist or is unnecessary.

3. The idea of a creator god doesn’t provide any final or satisfying answer, because the question remains ‘who or what made God?’

This is more of a philosophical question with scientific overtones and implications.

Whether atheists like it or not (and they don’t), big bang theory necessitates the inclusion of the supernatural in all philosophical and scientific discussions about the origins of the universe and life. Something outside and greater than (super-) the universe (nature) must have caused it to come into being. Taking this logic one step further, there must be something outside our universe that has, as an inherent quality, the power to exist. In other words, at the bottom of everything is something or ‘someone’ that was not made by something else. We can’t understand this power or the nature of the thing that holds it, but we are living proof that it ‘exists’ in some unfathomable manner.

Rather than argue about the unknowable, we should pose the most obvious question worth asking, “Is this entity that possesses the power to exist conscious or unconscious?” These two alternatives seem to exhaust the possibilities and be mutually exclusive. If you can think of another possibility, let me know.

If one prefers to believe that the creative power behind the universe is unconscious, then the fundamental entity would be some form of eternal material universe based on equally eternal natural laws. Since we are reasonably sure this universe is not eternal, we would be forced to fall back on notions such as the multiverse. Because of the limitations of science, these ideas will never be anything more than unprovable speculation forever consigned to the realms of philosophy, science fiction, or anti-Christian dogma.

I find these unconscious alternatives not only emotionally and intellectually unsatisfying, but truly terrifying. Atheists generally take this idea just one baby-step further by grandly pronouncing that all we have is this one life, and we should courageously accept the truth and live that life to the fullest. But, why bother? According to them, all of humankind will be exterminated and nothing anyone does, feels, or learns will have any lasting significance. As bad as that sounds, the reality of an eternal universe is actually far worse.

One of the most annoying things about atheists who make this argument about ‘who made God’ is their inability to take an idea all the way to its most logical conclusion. Consider for a moment the two most fundamental aspects of their eternal material universe:

  1. Another word for eternal is infinite (in time).
  2. In the unconscious eternal material universe, everything would happen according to the laws of probability.

Put these two things together and the result is total weirdness that offends reason.

We don’t know what the exact probability of you existing in an eternal material world is, but we do know it is some positive non-zero value, because you exist. So, what is the probability that you could exist twice? According to the mathematics of probability, you can calculate that by multiplying the probability you will exist by itself. Well, a positive number multiplied by a positive number is … a positive number. In other words, you could exist in two or more places at the same time, and you will definitely exist again given an infinite amount of time. But it gets more complicated than that because an infinite amount of anything plays havoc with our sense of reality.

If the universe is eternal, you have already lived an infinite number of lives. You have already lived each of these lives an infinite number of times. Each life was lived and then completely lost—no memories, no lasting achievements, no personal growth, no enduring love. There is only an endless and pointless repetition. Really! I can imagine no more terrifying prospect than this utter and endless lack of purpose.

Science is ultimately incapable of proving anything either way. So, I chose for non-scientific but rational reasons to hope that the creative power behind the universe is conscious. That is the only chance we have for meaning, purpose, and love.

Questions from Christian Students, Part 4

Sarah was recently invited, along with two other scientists, to take part in a panel discussion for a group of mostly Christian students. After the main discussion, students were invited to submit questions via text message; there was very little time to address them, so only a few were answered. The questions were quite good, so over the next few weeks, Surak and Sarah will answer most of them here. All of the questions are listed in the Intro to this series. See also: Part 1Part 2Part 3

You mentioned the big bang.  In your interpretation, does the big bang coincide with the moment of creation? / How does scientific proof of the big bang line up with the biblical teaching of creationism?

The scientific theory of the big bang is in every way consistent with the Genesis account of creation. These two very different ways of understanding the origin of the universe agree on all of the basics:

  • The universe had a beginning.
  • The universe was created out of nothing (nothing material).
  • What came before the big bang is scientifically unknowable.
  • There was no matter in the universe just after creation.
  • Something scientifically inexplicable happened just after the big bang. Physicists believe that something unusual (and so far unexplained) happened, and they call this one-time event ‘inflation.’ In scripture this one-time act of God is a miracle.
  • After this one-time event, light came into existence.
  • Darkness was created as something more than just the absence of light—in science this phenomenon is studied as dark matter and dark energy.
  • Our universe is constructed out of what scientists call fluids and the Bible calls ‘waters’ (ancient Hebrew vocabulary was very limited—about 3000 words—and didn’t have a different word for fluids).
  • The stars and galaxies were formed after light appeared.
  • The Earth was formed after stars first appeared.
  • Bodies of water and continents formed on Earth.
  • Life almost immediately came into existence after these bodies of water formed.
  • There was a progression in life forms.
  • When the atmosphere became oxygen-rich it became transparent, which made the Sun, Moon, and stars visible from the Earth’s surface for the first time.
  • Life first developed in water and eventually spread to dry land.
  • Winged insects appeared.
  • Dinosaurs lived (in the ancient Hebrew of Gen. 1:21 they are called e·thninm e·gdlim—the reptiles great).
  • Other winged creatures besides insects appear.
  • Mammals appear.
  • Hominids appear.
  • Conscious man appears.

When convincing evidence for the big bang was presented in the 1960s, newspaper headlines declared that the Bible had been vindicated1.

However, we must be careful not to overstate what science has done or is capable of doing. Science has not and cannot ‘prove’ that the big bang occurred. There is nothing in any branch of science that has been proven once and for all. Anyone searching for finality in understanding will be disappointed with science. Scientists have found evidence of the big bang that is so compelling that the theory is now accepted by most in the scientific community. But like every other theory in science it has gaps and unanswered questions.

Most important of all, science is the study of our material universe. It cannot directly address questions about what may or may not be outside the universe. The existence of God is therefore not scientifically provable or disprovable. What has been accomplished since the discovery of relativity, particle physics, and the big bang is the overthrow of the false argument that science and scripture are incompatible. That is enough.

—–

[1] Several newspapers reported on astronomical observations, presented at the Royal Astronomical Society’s February 1961 meeting, that appeared to rule out steady-state theory. The Evening Standard published an article with the headline “‘How it all began’ fits in with Bible story” (Peter Fairley, 10 February 1961), and the Evening News and Star featured an article headlined, “The Bible was right,” (Evening News Science Reporter, 10 February 1961).

Questions from Christian Students, Part 2

Sarah was recently invited, along with two other scientists, to take part in a panel discussion for a group of mostly Christian students. After the main discussion, students were invited to submit questions via text message; there was very little time to address them, so only a few were answered. The questions were quite good, so over the next few weeks, Surak and Sarah will answer most of them here. All of the questions are listed in the Intro to this series; Part 1 is here

Was Adam the first man created or was he chosen from an already existing population?

The answers to this two-part question are ‘yes’ and ‘yes.’

There is indisputable archeological evidence for the existence of what are popularly known as Cro-Magnon people (scientists prefer the label ‘European early modern humans’) dating back at least 43,000 years. Christians cannot ignore or deny the evidence for these biological ancestors of humankind without appearing hopelessly un- or even anti-scientific. If Christians take this unscientific route in defense of the Bible, they will lose the hearts and minds of more and more young people. Fortunately there is no need to do that.

There is a false conflict between scripture and science implied in the wording of the question. It occurs because people often read the Bible hastily and fail to notice important clues. Israeli physicist and theologian, Gerald Schroeder, points out something that is almost always missed even by serious students of scripture. Genesis informs us that man was first ‘made’ (Gen. 1:26). After that, man was ‘created’ (Gen. 1:27). The difference between the two words is crucial to understanding what the Bible is telling us (unless you think God would be clumsy or haphazard with words).

A thing is made by taking something else that already exists and fashioning it into a different form. That is what happened in the making of the biological life form we think of as the human species. Genesis lists the major categories of life forms as they emerged; vegetation, animal life in the oceans, flying creatures (winged insects), great sea creatures, life forms that crawl on land, every species of winged creature, land animals which became livestock (mammals), and finally man. There is absolutely no conflict here between scripture and the basic notion of evolution. As a result, as Darwin pointed out, a person can believe in evolution and be a devout Christian.

But, the Bible does not repeat the word ‘make’ in Gen 1:27, because something very different and non-biological happened after the human body was formed. Man was then ‘created’ in the image of God. Since God is not of this world, the human soul is not ‘made’ of anything material, it is not made of anything that already existed in this world, it was brought into this world out of ‘nothing.’ This was as much an act of creation as the beginning of the universe out of nothing (a singularity, in science-speak) with the big bang.

The New Testament agrees with this view of the origins of humankind. In Corinthians 1 we learn:

15:46   The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.

15:47   The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven.

15:48   As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.

15:49   And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.

On the scientific side of the hypothesis of a two-stage development of human beings, psychologist Julian Jaynes provided some important evidence of an amazing transformation in the human species that he believed took place relatively recently. In his remarkable book, The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Jaynes argued that for most of their existence, humans were not conscious and functioned not as we do but as very smart animals. This change from smart animals to fully human evidently occurred only a few thousand years ago.

According to Jaynes, the sudden and mysterious emergence of the Hebrews and Greeks—two people remarkably different from all the other peoples who existed before them—marks the point when full-blown consciousness first flourishes enough to come to the attention of history. That consciousness, expressed in the human pursuit of philosophy, mathematics, science, the arts, spirituality, and human rights, quickly spread across the world and became dominant in the human domain. It is reasonable to conclude that consciousness may be just the most obvious result of people being endowed with a soul. There can be no doubt that conscious people have done what God told descendants of Adam to do:

Genesis 1:28: God said to them, ‘Be fertile and become many. Fill the land and conquer it. Dominate the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every beast that walks the land.’

In any case, it is telling that ancient and medieval Jewish scholars of the Old Testament decoded the clues in Genesis and had no problem with the existence of other biological human beings at the time of Adam and Eve. The great Jewish scholar and authority, Maimonides, called these beings “mere animal(s) in human shape and form” [The Guide for the Perplexed, Part I: Chapter VII]. If true, this would solve many mysteries, such as questions about who the children of Adam and Eve mated with. Once the two-stage development of Man described in Genesis 1 is understood, the original question posed above can be answered. Yes, Adam was the first man created, and yes, his biological life form was chosen from an already existing population.

Surviving the scientific age

** Written by “Surak” **

Humankind has one chance to survive the scientific age. The use of scientific knowledge must be restrained and guided in positive directions by the values of the same religion that gave birth to modern science, Christianity. It is not by accident that the great founders of modern science (from Copernicus to Lemaître) were Christians or at the very least the product of Christian values and beliefs (Darwin). Only by reuniting science and Christianity can humankind survive. I say this as a non-Christian and ask you to consider the differences between Christian and non-Christian societies in the age of science.

The Communist regimes in the USSR, Red China, and Cambodia demonstrated how militantly atheist societies would make use of any kind of power, including scientific knowledge. Their destruction of human life was unprecedented in the history of the human species. The argument that this will not be the case as soon as the right kind of secular belief system and enlightened leaders are found has no evidence to support it and, without further convincing evidence, it must be dismissed as nothing more than wishful thinking by the intellectual left. Power always corrupts.

We can learn a great deal about the interplay of religion and science from the Nazi experience. Nazis were scientific-minded materialists determined to create a new civic religion capable of instilling a fascist moral system in all the generations to come. To accomplish this they worked vigorously toward the gradual divorce of German religion from its Christian roots. Christian beliefs and values were already waning in Europe from the late 1800s and first decades of the 1900s, largely as the result of the assault on Christianity by secular humanists. The Nazis took the opportunity to fill the spiritual void in German society. There can be no doubt about what the Nazis would have done with their rockets, the atomic weapons they hoped to create, the results of their truly evil medical experiments, and their belief in social Darwinism. It is a nightmare too horrible to think about.

Compare the Communist and Nazi regimes to the American experience. The United States is the last bastion of Christianity in the developed world. It has possessed enough destructive power for the last 60 years to destroy our world many times over. So what has it done with this power? We can’t argue that American hands are clean — the million or more Vietnamese killed in the 1960s and 1970s are testimony that Americans are potentially as imperfect as anyone else. But it is telling that the American people finally put an end to the war they were tricked into fighting, and they accepted defeat rather than continue the slaughter. In other words, there was some meaningful degree of restraint on the use of destructive power by a people who were guided by their predominately Christian values.

There is more evidence that Christianity has been an effective restraint on and positive guide for humankind’s violent tendencies during the scientific age. Christian America possessed all the destructive power modern science provides from the time it took effective control of much of Europe, Japan, and Korea. It did not exploit and repress these nations as the Soviet Union did to Eastern Europe; instead, America helped these nations become free, prosperous, and independent.

The values and beliefs that restrained American behavior during the last half of the 20th Century were the same as those that motivated an earlier generation of Americans to march into battle and die by the hundreds of thousands to end the abomination of slavery. We can wish with all our hearts that war would never occur, but if it has to happen, there could be no more noble reason for it. The American Civil War is arguably the greatest moral event in the history of the human species. American has not been perfect, but it has been significantly different, and that difference is the result of its Christian foundation.

America has produced the most science, which has helped it possess the greatest destructive power ever, but so far it has abused that power to a degree far less than what human history would have led us to expect of any group of humans. Think about it, would you trust France with the same power? I hope not. But the United States is changing for the worse, and Leo Tolstoy can help us understand why.

In his book, The Kingdom of God Is within You, he explains how humanity has experienced three stages. The savage stage is a person’s self-love expressed in the mere striving for immediate gratification with little or no concern for others. The next highest stage is the social stage where self-love has been expanded to include all of those who are important to a person’s well-being and survival. Tolstoy argued that self-love can be expanded to many levels, including the family, the clan, the tribe, the village, the nationality, the party, and even the state. But it can never encompass all of humanity — an abstraction with which human understanding and emotions can never cope.

Only the final stage, the spiritual, can accomplish universal love and the end of violence. But, according to Tolstoy this can only be achieved in a roundabout manner. First, people must love God. Then, because God is perfect love, our love of God results in our love for all humanity since we recognize each other as sons and daughters of one Father. I do not know if this is true, but I hope it is. There is no other alternative for humankind’s survival. The only force on Earth that has effectively restrained the potentially destructive results of science is the same force that gave birth to science — a Christian belief in a rational world created by a loving God combined with Christian values based on love thy neighbor, turn the other cheek, and the sacredness of all human life.

America came closest to love of all humanity, but the level of love even in the United States is slipping back from the spiritual to the social and even the savage (look at the American inner cities). The cultural war between Christians and humanists, along with the trauma of 9/11, has caused the contraction of love back to the level of the nation or the party. In places in the United States, it has even become tribal in nature. I don’t know if Jesus was the Son of God. What I do know is that Christianity has been the greatest force for good the world has ever seen.