God of the gaps

For all their bluster about how they “*&%#ing love science,” the worldview of the skeptic is, in reality, profoundly unscientific. From Dinesh D’Souza’s, Life After Death:

[While] the skeptic typically fancies himself a champion of science, his whole line of argument is just as unscientific as that of the creationist [who posits the God of the gaps]. For the skeptic, a gap is a kind of nuisance, a small lacuna of scientific ignorance that is conceded to exist as a kind of misfortune, and is expected to soon be cleared up. True scientists, by contrast, love and cherish gaps. They seek out gaps and work assiduously within these crevasses because they hope that, far from being a small missing piece of the puzzle, the gap is actually an indication that the whole underlying framework is wrong, that there is a deeper framework waiting to be uncovered, and that the gap is the opening that might lead to this revolutionary new understanding.

Gaps are the mother lode of scientific discovery. Most of the great scientific advances of the past began with gaps and ended with new presuppositions that put our whole comprehension of the word in a new light.

Next time you find yourself engaged in discussion with an atheist, ask him how he regards gaps in scientific understanding. If it’s anything like this, you know you’re dealing with someone who is intellectually boxed in.

The multiverse is not science

RTB’s Jeff Zweerink explains why we should exercise caution when considering whether the multiverse is science. While there is a legitimate place for the multiverse in scientific discussion, we must always keep in mind that at the fundamental level the multiverse is not science. Zweerink quotes eminent theoretical cosmologist, George F. R. Ellis, who reminds us that the multiverse is really just “scientifically based philosophical speculation.” In other words, it’s just a science-flavored idea.

The path to delusion

In this excellent interview, eminent physicist George F. R. Ellis discusses the ill-advised direction in which some scientists are going:

Horgan: Physicist Sean Carroll has argued that falsifiability is overrated as a criterion for judging whether theories should be taken seriously. Do you agree?

Ellis: This is a major step backwards to before the evidence-based scientific revolution initiated by Galileo and Newton. The basic idea is that our speculative theories, extrapolating into the unknown and into untestable areas from well-tested areas of physics, are so good they have to be true. History proves that is the path to delusion: just because you have a good theory does not prove it is true. The other defence is that there is no other game in town. But there may not be any such game.

Scientists should strongly resist such an attack on the very foundations of its own success. Luckily it is a very small subset of scientists who are making this proposal.

It is indeed a very small subset, but it is also a very vocal and visible subset–many of these scientists are in the popular media as representatives of science. Ellis also takes them to task for formally rejecting philosophy while unwittingly engaging in a weak form of it.

The great irony here is that many of the atheists who are self-styled champions of evidence and reason are abandoning both when they claim that the multiverse hypothesis, or any other fundamentally untestable idea put forth by scientists, is very likely true, because it’s elegant or the math is convincing or it’s beautifully consistent with what we believe, and so on. I have to check myself here, too, because I find some of these untestable ideas compelling for the same reasons. But, in terms of the irony, as Ellis points out, it was Galileo and Newton—both Christians—who revolutionized science by making it primarily an experimental, evidence-based endeavor, and now this is being dismissed by those who also ostensibly dismiss faith; they have abandoned evidence and reason in favor of what may only be a beautiful delusion.

I strongly encourage you to read the entire interview with Ellis (who is himself a Christian, incidentally) for an engaging discussion of what’s going awry on the modern scientific landscape.

Confessions of scientists

I get the sense that a lot of the general public sees scientists somewhat as caricatures, with cold, Spock-like intellects, genius IQs, and, unfortunately, an almost super-human ability to understand the natural world. Atheists, in particular, have a tendency to regard scientists as members of an infallible priestly class. But we are not. We are merely human, which means we are fallible and susceptible to the same limitations in our thinking and behavior as anyone else. As we’ve discussed here at SixDay, there is a structure built into science that helps overcome those limitations (see here and here), which is why the hard sciences, since the time of Copernicus, have had an impressive track record of helping to lift humankind out of ignorance.

Now, without tooting my own horn, I will admit that scientists are exceptional in a few ways. First, most of us love science, enough to devote our lives to it, and so we’re motivated to do it well. Second, we have an above-average ability to do science. That said, we are all-too-human in every way, as this confessional from a Ph.D. scientist (in biology) shows:

There are some things I need to confess. This isn’t easy to say, but after working as a real scientist with a Ph.D. for 6 years, I feel it’s finally time to come clean: Sometimes I don’t feel like a real scientist. Besides the fact that I do science every day, I don’t conform to the image—my image—of what a scientist is and how we should think and behave. Here’s what I mean …

He goes on to list several traits that show how he doesn’t conform to his image of a scientist. This list isn’t a confessional to the general public, but rather to his scientific peers, who pretty much all have their own images of how a scientist should think and behave. I think the big secret is that most of us sympathize with this biologist, and people not employed in the sciences can benefit from hearing about it.

What follows is a selection of his confessed points with my own perspective added:

I don’t sit at home reading journals on the weekend.

I don’t, either, unless I’m preparing to submit a journal paper. Not very many scientists enjoy reading journals. I know one well-respected scientist who admits that he can only read journals in front of the TV.

I have skipped talks at scientific conferences for social purposes.

I went to a conference in Honolulu a few years ago, and I think I attended a grand total of three talks, including the one on which I was a co-author. A lot of science conferences are held in attractive locations in order to draw more attendance, but sometimes I think they should hold these things in the middle of nowhere.

I remember about 1% of the organic chemistry I learned in college. Multivariable calculus? Even less.

I remember most of what I studied in college, because I either use it or teach it. That said, I have forgotten a significant chunk of what I learned in my grad courses, because a lot of it I simply don’t use. This is not unusual. I have heard some professors admit that if the more seasoned professors in any department had to take the qualifying exam, they probably wouldn’t pass.

I have felt certain that the 22-year-old intern knows more about certain subjects than I do.

Of course s/he does. Nobody can know everything about everything. Only a prideful fool doesn’t acknowledge it.

I have gone home at 5 p.m.

One of my professors told a story in class about a colleague of his, who was a student of a famous Nobel laureate. The Nobel laureate fit the caricature of a scientist in that he spent an inordinate amount of time working (yes, this is exactly the sort of person who wins a Nobel prize). One Sunday morning, the colleague got a call from his Nobel laureate advisor, who said, “I’m so sorry you’re not feeling well.” Not understanding his meaning, the student told his advisor he was feeling fine. “Oh,” said the Nobel laureate advisor sarcastically, “I just assumed the only reason you wouldn’t be in the office is that you were ill.”

Anyway, yes, I, too, have gone home at 5 pm.

I have asked questions at seminars not because I wanted to know the answers but because I wanted to demonstrate that I was paying attention.

I suspect a lot of scientists do this. Personally, I stopped doing it after I got my Ph.D. As a grad student, I had to take seminars for credit, and was expected to participate, i.e. ask questions that showed I was paying attention. These days, I figure if I show up and am not fiddling with my phone or falling asleep, everyone knows I’m paying attention.

I have never fabricated data or intentionally misled, but I have endeavored to present data more compellingly rather than more accurately.

I’m not sure how much this happens, and I guess I’m naive enough to assume that most of the time my peers are presenting their data in a responsible manner. This is an ethical issue I’ve discussed at length with my Ph.D advisor, and I have since adopted his style: present all of our data in one set of tables and graphs and then present a “select” sample in another set that more compellingly makes our case. Anyone reading our papers can decide for themselves if we’ve made our case.

I have pretended to know what I’m talking about.

All I can say is that I’ve not gone out of my way to draw attention to the fact that I sometimes don’t know what I’m talking about.

I sometimes make superstitious choices but disguise them as tradition or unassailable preference.

I’ve never consciously done this, but I know others who do.

When a visiting scientist gives a colloquium, more often than not I don’t understand what he or she is saying. This even happens sometimes with research I really should be familiar with.

This only happens with visitors who speak on topics outside of my area of research. In such cases, I only feel like a dope when a scientist in my field proceeds to ask intelligent-sounding questions of the visitor, which happens more often than I’d like to admit.

I have called myself “doctor” because it sounds impressive.

To paraphrase Dr. Evil, I didn’t spend all those years in grad school to be called “Ms.”, thank you very much. There are times I’ve forgotten I’m a “doctor,” and other times when I’ve milked it for all its worth.

I dread applying for grants. I resent the fact that scientists need to bow and scrape for funding in the first place, but even more than that, I hate seeking the balance of cherry-picked data, baseless boasts, and exaggerations of real-world applications that funding sources seem to require.

I don’t know a single scientist who doesn’t dread applying for grants. The process is unpleasant at best, and the odds that you’ll get funded get worse every year. That said, I don’t resent the fact that scientists need to ask for funding. There is no reason scientists should expect to get other people’s money without making a compelling case for why they should get it. It’s frankly unsettling that any scientists believe they are entitled to funding.

I have performed research I didn’t think was important.

This can happen for at least three reasons: you’re part of a research group and have to participate in certain projects; you’re beholden by stipulations in a grant or something; or if you are pressured to publish a minimum number of papers every year. Thankfully, I’ve never had to do this. I may be doing work that in reality no one else thinks is important, but I never take on a project unless I, personally, think it will add to the sum of knowledge in my area.

In grad school, I once stopped writing in my lab notebook for a month. I told myself I could easily recreate the missing data from Post-it notes, paper scraps, and half-dry protein gels, but I never did.

I once thought I could piece together what I did on a project by just remembering what I did — after all, it was so obvious at the time — and, boy, did that not work out well. A month later, I couldn’t recall half of what I did, and ended up doing the whole thing over.

I do not believe every scientific consensus.

Neither do I. However, that this is being confessed rather than proudly declared is of great concern. Not because this particular person feels this way, but because probably a lot of scientists feel this way, and they shouldn’t. See Surak’s recent commentary on this.

I do not fully trust peer review.

Neither do I, and nor should anyone fully trust it. Our peers are just as fallible as we are. But if you are in a field that’s devoted to the pursuit of truth, mostly proceeds without a lot of politicization and money and emphasis on consensus, then it’s probably good enough.

When I ask scientists to tell me about their research, I nod and tell them it’s interesting even if I don’t understand it at all.

I wonder how much this happens, especially when I’m asked about my own research. Personally, I rarely feign interest. If I don’t understand anything they’re saying, I try to identify something I can at least ask an intelligent-sounding question about.

I was never interested in Star Wars.

Sacrilege! Actually, I know quite a few scientists who have no interest in Star Wars, Star Trek, or any other sci-fi, but they tend to be older. Most younger scientists I know are big fans of sci-fi.

I have openly lamented my ignorance of certain scientific subtopics, yet I have not remedied this.

We all do this. There just isn’t enough time to pursue every subtopic of interest.

I have worried more about accolades than about content.

This is perfectly natural, and there’s nothing necessarily hideously horrible about it, unless a person is primarily motivated by accolades.

During my graduate-board oral exam, I blanked on a question I would have found easy in high school.

One of my friends, who is not a scientist, sat in on my doctoral exam and really enjoys reminding me of the very simple question I blanked on that even he knew the answer to. It happens. The stress of the exam, the exhaustion from writing your dissertation, preparing your presentation, cramming the week before, the committee members all staring at you with the intent of showing you that they still know more than you do, it’s easy to miss a simple question. I know a well-respected scientist who was so irritated about missing some easy questions on his exam that he claimed to have plotted the murders of his committee members for about a week before he finally let it go. It also happened to Heisenberg, one of the founders of quantum mechanics, and his committee almost didn’t give him his Ph.D. because of it. I figure we’re all in good company.

I have feigned familiarity with scientific publications I haven’t read.

Who hasn’t? The open secret is that a lot of scientists just read the abstract or a summary of the work written in another paper. Part of the problem is the sheer volume of publications coming out these days. My advisor recalls a time when he could sit down and at least read the abstracts of every single paper in the Astrophysical Journal, if not entire papers. These days that would be impossible; there are just too many papers, even in a subtopic, to keep up.

I have told other people my convictions, with certainty, then later reversed those convictions.

Me, too, and it’s a good thing. If this never happens, it means your convictions have petrified into dogma.

I have killed 261 lab mice, including one by accident. In doing so, I have learned nothing that would save a human life.

So has your average barn cat. I don’t really see this as a problem. A lot of science consists of “no result,” which is still a result. That being said, one of the nice things about being an astrophysicist is that I don’t have to kill anything, I don’t have to break anything, and I don’t have to create anything hazardous in a laboratory.

I can’t read most scientific papers unless I devote my full attention, usually with a browser window open to look up terms on Wikipedia.

Most papers in my particular topic I can read more casually than this. Anything more broad in scope, however, does require my full attention and some kind of reference material. I am not too proud to admit that I’ve gone back to undergrad textbooks to figure something out I read in a paper. One thing that really helped with this, ego-wise, was listening to one of the world’s greatest scientists at a conference talk about how he struggled with a particular math concept on his way to solving Einstein’s field equations, and that the only way he could figure it out was to study an undergrad textbook on the topic.

I allow the Internet to distract me.

This turns out to be a big problem for a lot of scientists. I have a colleague who keeps a sticky note on her computer monitor reminding her to stop surfing. When I find the Internet too distracting, I make a game out of not allowing myself to read my favorite websites until I accomplish a task, and then I limit the surfing to 10 minutes.

I have read multiple Michael Crichton novels.

Most of us have. Well, in my case, only one Crichton novel, but I have read my share of pulp fiction.

I have used big science words to sound important to colleagues.

Most of us have fallen into this habit.

I have used big science words to sound important to students.

A lot of scientists/professors do this, and I’m not sure why. Some jargon is unavoidable, and serious students have to learn it. However, we’re already in a position to be respected by students, and the focus should be on conveying ideas to them. Personally, it’s much more satisfying to see the light go on than to have students be impressed with me.

I sometimes avoid foods containing ingredients science has proved harmless, just because the label for an alternative has a drawing of a tree.

This made me laugh out loud. We’re all human. Marketing works. If it’s any consolation to my colleagues, it’s at least somewhat based on the science of human behavior.

I own large science textbooks I have scarcely used. I have kept them “for reference” even though I know I’ll never use them again. I intend to keep them “for reference” until I die.

So do I. I can’t bear to part with books, even ones I haven’t read and will probably never read.

I have abandoned experiments because they did not yield results right away.

We all have. Sometimes we go back to them, sometimes we don’t.

I want everyone to like me.

I’m not sure what to say about this one. Is he talking about personally or professionally? There are many scientists who, judging by their behavior, clearly couldn’t care less if anyone likes them personally. But I very much doubt anyone wants to be ostracized professionally.

I have known professors who celebrate milestone birthdays by organizing daylong seminars about their field of study. To me, no way of spending a birthday sounds less appealing.

I dunno. I like my field of study, and my colleagues, well enough that this does sound like a lot of fun.

Sometimes science feels like it’s made of the same politics, pettiness, and ridiculousness that underlie any other job.

It feels like it, because it is. There is nothing about science that removes human nature from the endeavor. That said, I have found the environment in academic science to be a bit less susceptible to this stuff—at least enough that I find my current job a lot more enjoyable than any other job I’ve ever had.

I decry the portrayal of scientists in films, then pay money to go see more films with scientists in them.

For me, at least half the fun is identifying all the ways the movie screws up the portrayal of scientists and science in general. And sometimes, the portrayal is a lot more fun than reality. Actually, most of the time. I remember being tickled by Jodie Foster’s character in the movie Contact. Her big discovery was portrayed very dramatically in the movie, but Carl Sagan, being a scientist, had written it much more realistically in the book—her pager beeped when an automated algorithm detected a possible signal, and she checked it out when she got back to the office.

I have worked as a teaching assistant for classes in which I did not understand the material.

Yeah, but that’s a great way to learn the material. I know a Nobel laureate who claims that whenever he wants to learn about a topic, he teaches a class on it.

I have taught facts and techniques to students that I only myself learned the day before.

Most professors have taught classes in which they are only one or two steps ahead of their students. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since, by the time we get to where we are, we have the ability to learn things quickly and disseminate them adequately.

I find science difficult.

If a scientist doesn’t find science difficult, he’s probably not trying hard enough. That said, if he finds it overwhelmingly difficult, he’s in the wrong field.

I am afraid that people will read this confession and angrily oust me from science, which I love.

Nah. Most people in science will read this and think, “Thank goodness someone else said it.”

I have felt like a fraud, not once, but with such regularity that I genuinely question whether anyone has noticed I don’t belong here. I am certain that one day I’ll arrive at work, and my boss will administer a basic organic chemistry test, which I’ll fail, and he’ll matter-of-factly say, “That’s what I thought.”

I felt like this through the first half of grad school, but after I finished my coursework and started producing some good results, I finally started feeling competent and like I belonged. I also realized a lot of other grad students and young scientists felt this way. I remember the shock I felt when one student, whom I regarded as particularly competent, said he felt like a fraud. A lot of us live by the motto “fake it ’til you make it.”

I know I have arrived where I am through privilege, good fortune, and circumstance. Anything I genuinely earned could not have been earned without those precursors.

Anyone born in the West, especially in the U.S. or Canada, at this particular point in history is extraordinarily fortunate. Privilege and circumstance? Not sure what he means by that. I was very focused about getting where I am today and worked pretty hard for it. Most people in the sciences did the same.

I can’t be the only scientist who feels like a fraud. But we don’t talk about it. No one volunteers to proclaim their inadequacies. In fact, scientists go to great lengths to disguise how little we know, how uncertain we feel, and how much we worry that everyone deserves to be here but us. The result is a laboratory full of colleagues who look so impossibly darn confident. They’re the real scientists, we tell ourselves. They can follow the entire seminar. They read journals for pleasure. Their mistakes only lead them in more interesting directions. They remember all of organic chemistry. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

I’ll venture to guess that a lot of people in just about any profession feel the same way. But maybe the reason this hits scientists particularly hard is the near-deification of scientists in this increasingly post-Christian age. It’s a lot to live up to. I think it was easier for scientists to be at peace with their fallibility in decades and centuries past, because many of them believed that what they were doing was fulfilling a sacrament in discovering and revealing God’s Truth. This sounds lofty, but it’s actually a pretty humbling idea.

Maybe the idea of science is easier to love than the minutiae of science. Or maybe the veneer of professionalism is important to protect the integrity and authority of scientists. Or maybe that’s a cop-out.

It’s not a cop-out. First, the idea of anything is always easier to love than the details. This is as true of institutions and professions as it is of people. But I don’t think there is a mere veneer of professionalism in science—there is true professionalism, and that’s vitally important. It’s as important to science as manners are to civilization. It’s just that it’s not perfect, but when it comes to human beings, nothing ever is.

Physicists must defend the integrity of science

** Written by “Surak” **

German climate scientist, Lennart Bengtsson, is speaking out about the overwhelming pressure he experienced after joining a group skeptical of climate change:

News that Lennart Bengtsson, the respected former director of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, had joined the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), sent shockwaves through the climate research community. GWPF is most notable for its skepticism about climate change and its efforts to undermine the position of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The tremors his decision sent through the scientific community shocked Bengtsson.

The scientist said colleagues placed so much pressure on him after joining GWPF that he withdrew from the group out of fear for his own health. Bengtsson added that his treatment had been reminiscent of the persecution of suspected Communists in the United States during the era of McCarthyism in the 1950s.

It is time for physicists around the world to wake up to what is happening to science. They cannot sit back and do nothing as their colleagues in climate science are being harassed, having their jobs threatened, and being denied the opportunity to publish their works for political reasons. Physicists have to feel and express outrage whenever politicians make nakedly self-serving pronouncements that the scientific debate on climate change is over. Physicists know better than anyone else that’s not how science works. How often during the centuries from Aristarchus to Copernicus to Lemaître have physicists witnessed the lone individual prevail in the search for truth over the mistakes and objections of the multitude?

The threat to science is not confined to the study of climate change. Consider the field of biology, which, since the time of Thomas Huxley, has been dominated by the flawed theory of Darwin. What true scientist could accept the near deification of another scientist or the effective canonization of his works? Physicists certainly venerate the pioneers of astronomy and physics, but they do so even as they attempt to fulfill their scientific responsibility to do everything they can to prove those great scientists wrong. Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton did much for humankind, but physicists don’t try to shield them from criticism. They fully accept and honestly proclaim that these great luminaries were often wrong. By contrast, try getting any biologist to publicly admit the truth that Darwin was seriously wrong about evolution. They don’t dare.

And then there are the behavioral and social sciences—the benighted drudges of left-wing political ideology for so many generations. Take a few moments to investigate the latest pronouncements from the professional associations that represent the mainstream of psychology, anthropology, sociology and all the other behavioral disciplines; you will quickly understand the anti-science they truly represent. Psychologist, William James, was correct when he wrote about the study of human behavior over one hundred years ago, “This is no science … ,” but he was tragically wrong when he continued, “… it is only the hope of a science.”

There is no hope of science in these fields, because in them there is none of the overriding desire for or genuine commitment to truth that can defeat the human failings that physics took two millennia to overcome. That is why the social and behavioral studies have failed to accomplish the paradigm shift, the empirical conversion, and the discovery of natural laws which are the necessary steps to true science. Instead of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and the light of truth, these fields have give humankind nothing more than scientific abominations such as Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud.

Physicists must understand the terrible and dangerous imbalance in human knowledge their lack of leadership is allowing to occur. Physics and the other physical sciences have given humankind an incredible power over the forces of nature. We can harness nuclear energy, create a multitude of new chemicals, manipulate the building blocks of matter, reshape the surface of the Earth, and change the atmosphere. But, because we do not understand or have any power over the inner forces that cause human behavior, we are like little children handling loaded weapons.

It took 1800 years before Copernicus realized the truth of what Aristarchus said about the structure of our solar system and took the first step toward true science. We can’t wait another 1800 years to develop a true science of human behavior. We won’t last that long. All sciences have to be put back on the path to truth. That’s why physicists must find the courage and determination to act as the keepers of the scientific flame and light the way for the others.

Physicists must shine a scientific light on all of the pretenses, the dishonesty, and the abuses that pass for science in other disciplines. Physicists must turn their love of science into a rage against all efforts to bend science away from the search for truth. Physicists must react with intellectual fury against all attempts to subvert science into the service of greed (yes, I’m talking about you, Al Gore) and the lust for political power (yes, I’m talking about you, IPCC).

Physics is the father and mother of all science. Physicists must act like the loving but determined parents of a hoard of unruly children who, instead of working hard to become real scientists, spend their time playing at and pretending to be scientists in the fields of biology, climate change, and human behavior. Physicists must guide and instruct those who are willing to learn from the magnificent successes of the physical sciences. They must relentlessly call out, scold, and discipline those who aren’t. If physicists lack the foresight or are simply too wimpy to take charge and lead the way, science will fail. Only God can help humanity if that happens, because we won’t be able to help ourselves.

Replay: Politics, science, and a false dichotomy

Traffic’s up after the announcement of the publication of our Astronomy and Astrophysics curriculum, so we’re replaying some of our more important posts from the archives for our new readers.

** Written by “Surak” **

There was a political confrontation last Thursday [August 2011] in New Hampshire between conservative politician, Rick Perry, and a liberal woman protestor. The dispute concerned Perry’s views about evolution and creationism, and it demonstrated why we need to be concerned about the future of science in America. Governor Perry spoke to the woman’s young son in front of the usual swarm of reporters eager for a headline. Perry gave them one by telling the boy that evolution was a theory with gaps in it. In an obvious attempt to contrive an unflattering media incident to hurt the Texas governor’s campaign, the mother could be heard urging the child to ask Perry why he didn’t believe in science. Perry ignored the mother and told the boy that in Texas both evolution and creationism are taught, “… because I figured you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right.” I am appalled by what the mother did and troubled by the implications of Perry’s response.

The mother undoubtedly thinks of herself as a defender of ‘science,’ by which I guess she means the usual vague understanding of the currently popular but failed mid-20th century version of evolution. Whatever her beliefs, it was an abuse of science to pull a cheap political trick like this. And, it was a disturbing corruption of her child’s innocence by putting words in his mouth he couldn’t possibly have understood. She obviously thought she was protecting him and other children from false ideas, but her actions amount to nothing more than a crude form of indoctrination based on the prevailing conviction that any questioning of ‘evolution’ is an intellectual sin.

I do not endorse Rick Perry or his political viewpoints. Having said that, I do agree with two important things he said. First, evolution theory, even in its best, most current form, does have serious gaps. For instance, it cannot explain how life began, the incredible explosion of animal life in the Cambrian, the fossil record that shows the sudden appearance of a multitude of new organ, limbs and species with no apparent transition stages, or the very recent appearance and mysterious nature of human consciousness. One cannot defend science by becoming indignant when someone else points out the obvious.

More importantly, I hope Governor Perry was sincere about trusting students to get it right. Science education in America should be based on that trust in (and challenge for) young minds. The foundation of modern science, as well as the basis of genius, is the ability to ask good questions, usually in the form of ‘how’, ‘why’ and ‘what if.’ Einstein’s thought experiments are a famous example. Scientific questioning, if it is to continue to lead to amazing and useful new answers, should never be shackled by politics, religion, or philosophy. Children must be taught and encouraged to ask their own questions no matter how strange, silly, or politically incorrect they might seem to parents and teachers.

Years ago, my high school science classes consisted mostly of rote memorization of facts and stale reenactments of old experiments. We were forced to think about other people’s questions (including a lot of mind-numbing ‘who’, ‘when’, and ‘where’) rather than our own questions. The whole process was as divorced from real life concerns, important philosophical questions, and religious beliefs as possible, and therefore totally irrelevant and boring. It wasn’t until years later that I discovered the wonders and power of real science.

I have a deep commitment to the scientific method. But, that commitment is tempered by an understanding that science is a tool that has limitations which must be acknowledged. Science cannot continue its positive role in society by becoming some kind of false idol, something created by humans but worshiped as infallible. Scientists and science teachers need to model a necessary and healthy humility that includes the need to state up front that science can only deal with our material world and can have nothing legitimate to say about anything that might lie outside our universe, such as God or heaven. Then maybe we’d get fewer annoying distractions at political events, and politicians could focus more on what they really need to do.

But humility is not happening. Science is being promoted by some as the complete, unerring, and only way to arrive at the truth. So, instead of being a good example for others, we witness more than a few scientists make the grave mistake of denigrating other people’s deepest beliefs and alienating them from science. Look up the latest silly musings of the great scientist Stephen Hawking to see a sad and disturbing example of this. If humility fails on a large enough scale, science can’t help but slide in the direction of political correctness and eventually petrify as dogma.

We won’t be able to avoid this fate if protecting science comes to mean putting young people like the woman’s son in an educational bubble to protect them from philosophy and religion under the guise of separation of church and state. Remember that science started as something called natural philosophy and was given its modern form by its devoutly Christian founders. You cannot separate these three things without damaging science. If our current generation of students is to become the next generation of effective scientists, they must be given the opportunity to understand how science relates to and differs from religion and philosophy objectively without the biases and fears that currently stifle our schools and rupture our communities.

So, Governor Perry is right about teaching creationism, because it is a powerful force in American history and culture that needs to be studied not just in social studies classes but also in science classes. Even young-Earth creationism, which I view as sadly non-scientific, should be squarely presented to high school students. Students need to understand what science is not in order to understand what it is. They will benefit from understanding young-Earth creationism, have fun debating it, and discover the truth for themselves if given the necessary tools, opportunity, and encouragement.

My challenge to the mother and all others on the left of the political spectrum is ‘what are you afraid of?’ If all the variations of creationism are so totally wrong, if the science you believe in is so strong, won’t it be obvious to the vast majority of students by the time they finish high school? Allow creationism, intelligent design, and the various forms of evolutionary theory to contend with one another in an honest competition of ideas, and then trust students to get it right. One can only object to this if his or her real goal is indoctrination.

This open approach to science education would include a spirited defense of Darwinism in the schools, because Darwin is a prime example of a great scientist asking important questions and coming up with an original and compelling answer. But evolutionary theory must be presented truthfully and fully, including not only its strengths, but also its many weaknesses. In the spirit of an open and effective science curriculum, would the liberal mother from New Hampshire be willing to have science teachers discuss the totally unexpected results of evolutionary development (Evo Devo)? Is this ‘defender of science’ even aware that the findings of biologists in this new field have turned evolutionary thought on its head in the last few years? (I refer the reader to Sean B. Carroll’s excellent book, Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom). Would she be willing to have students informed that the three great enduring mysteries of biology – the origins of life, the inexplicable explosion of animal life in the Cambrian, and the sudden development and mysterious nature of human consciousness – correspond to the three instance in Genesis that the word ‘creation’ is used to describe how things came about? (As an agnostic about religion, I’m not sure what this means, but it is really interesting.) Or, would she insist that young people be kept ignorant of all this in defense of some quasi-sacred belief she calls evolution?

To be fair, it is likely and terribly unfortunate that most people on the political right and the Christian side of the science/religion debate don’t trust young people either. As the religious and political conflict continues to intensify, which it seems to be doing, each side will probably do all it can to indoctrinate and control children. I fear that, as a result of this irresolvable conflict, science as the search for truth will eventually be fatally corrupted and seriously diminished as a force for good in people’s lives.

So, I want to say this to people on the left who declare their desire to protect science: you don’t protect science by sanitizing education and excluding other ways of thinking. You must look at yourselves in the mirror and realize that you are just as susceptible to political dogma and metaphysical prejudice as the people you oppose. Quit trying to use science to score political points and undercut Christian influence. In other words, if you have to fight, fight fair and leave science out of it.

To the people on the religious right who want to protect their faith: you can’t protect it by rejecting science or promoting false scientific views, because it will only make you look foolish and alienate your children in this age of science. Young-Earth creationism in particular is self-defeating because it leaves Christian youth vulnerable to the powerful (but false) scientific arguments of prominent atheists who are increasingly successful in turning young people away from faith. You believe, or at least many of you say you believe, that the Bible is true. You also understand that God gave us minds capable of comprehending his works. Won’t both paths, scripture and science, eventually lead to the same truth?

If you doubt this, consider the following quote from Gerald L. Schroeder’s bestselling book, The Science of God:

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 Dr. Schroeder points out (p. 56), “This … could be a quote from a modern physics textbook.” But in fact it comes from the 13th century biblical scholar, Nahmanides (1194-1270), who was able to anticipate modern science by 700 years using nothing more than a literal interpretation of the Bible. It’s true that the best scientists in the world were not capable of this level of understanding of our universe until after 1965, but science did finally catch up with scripture. Christians must have faith that scripture and science are two paths to the one and only truth, and God intended us to use both. (See Psalms 19:1 and Romans 1:20.)

This is why I am concerned about Governor Perry’s statement. His indirect response to the mother’s attack assumes that either science (in this case, evolution) or Christian scripture (in this case, creationism) is right, that they can’t both be right. Christians must not buy into the imagined conflict between science and faith — there is no inherent schism. I believe both the scientific view of our universe (effectively understood) and the Genesis account of creation (properly understood) are entirely compatible.

You don’t have to be a believer in scripture to accept the possibility there can be more than one path to the truth. It would be wonderful if we could all wish each other well on whichever path each of us chooses and help one another in the search for truth. If we can’t manage that level of good will, then we should at least accept, in the American spirit of freedom, that no one has a right to tell anyone else what to believe. I hope that all Americans will embrace science as the objective search for truth and keep it above the fray, that Christians will not see science as the enemy but will once again become fully involved in the scientific adventure, and that our brothers and sisters on the left will refrain, even if they must see religion as the enemy, from using science as a weapon. Otherwise we will all lose so much.

The scientific method and ‘real science’

The following is a comment left by a reader at Vox Popoli about a year ago, in response to another reader who was concerned about the current state of science. I had written the following response with the intention of posting it here, and then forgot about it. Surak is about to offer some commentary on a disturbing development in science that bears on this, so I figured now was a good time to dig it up and post it.

To answer your question as to what ever happened to the scientific method, here’s the shocking truth: Science does not operate according to the scientific method unless there’s a crisis. Never did.

Science, just like every other avenue of human endeavor (why should it be different, honestly?) operates under the thrall of a power structure. Always has.

The scientific method only applies when challenges come up against prevailing paradigms. Then, it is utilized, and don’t be a fool understand that every effort is made, always, to doom the challenger and to favor the prevailing paradigm.

The great merit of the scientific method is that under these rare conditions reason and proof hold sway. But please do not be so foolish as to assume that science is governed by the scientific method on a basis, because it is not.

Science is governed by egos. And nothing more.

It is true in a grand Kuhnian sense that crisis precedes advancement. It is also true that egos are a factor in science. But so what? Science is the triumph of the human mind over ego and a multitude of other human failings—limited perspective, misleading emotions, dominant philosophies that act as closed boxes, and the corrupting effects of the universal desire for fame, fortune, and/or political power. The scientific method is the means by which these frailties are remedied. Since these obstacles to advancements in knowledge will always be with us, there will always be a turbulent interplay between human nature and the pursuit of science.

The key element of the scientific method that keeps it from flying off in the direction of wild, unsubstantiated speculation is the peer-review process. If you want to know if the scientific method is alive and well in any branch of science, simply observe how rigorously the peer-review process is being used. I go through the peer-review process on several levels every time I submit a research paper for publication.

The first hoop I have to jump through is the judgment of the referee assigned by the journal in which I hope to have my paper published. The most important thing the referee does is check how well I have accomplished the observe –> hypothesize –> predict –> test –> theorize part of the process. If the judgment is that my work is scientifically sound, the paper is published. Then the whole body of my profession passes judgment on my work by deciding whether or not to cite my work. At the next level of the peer-review process, decisions are made about which scientists are deserving of funding, tenure, and promotions. At the final level, judgments are made about which work is deserving of awards. The end result of this in physics is a steady advance in knowledge where occasional detours from truth are corrected and dead ends are usually recognized and reversed.

I accept that there are some areas of science in which the scientific method does not currently function as it should. So-called “climate change science” is the most obvious example of science being corrupted by politics, money, and dogma. Surak will have something to say about this soon with regard to a disturbing development in this field. Meanwhile, there is a simple test one can apply in this regard: any time the name Al Gore or the terms “scientific consensus” and “the debate has been settled” are used in regard to any branch of science, it has undoubtedly strayed from the scientific method.

Biology certainly suffers from an ego problem to the extent that it is nearly impossible to get a mainstream biologist to utter the words, “Darwin was wrong about some important things.” He was wrong about some important things, and a paradigm shift is long overdue in the field of evolution. But, it must be acknowledged that a multitude of biologists are doing very good work that is firmly based on the scientific method.

The real test of any field’s application of the method is whether that field petrifies into dogma or if it routinely accepts change. I must speak in defense of my field of physics/astrophysics. It has a long history that includes the initial establishment of the scientific method as well as continuous successful applications of its process. After the Copernican revolution and the invention of precision clocks, experimental methods were sufficiently advanced that it didn’t take all that long to accumulate enough evidence to overthrow old ideas and adopt new paradigms. To name but a very few examples: Newton’s uniting the heavens and the earth under one set of laws, Maxwell’s unification of electricity and magnetism, Poincaré’s relativity of time and space, Planck’s quantum, Hubble’s confirmation of other galaxies and the expanding universe, Einstein’s new view of gravity, Lemaître’s big bang theory, Zwicky’s dark matter, and the supernova teams’ accelerating universe.

You say this is rare, but how often do you think this is supposed to happen? How often can it happen on such a large scale? The Hubble/Lemaître paradigm is an especially important example of the scientific method working as well as it possibly can. Most physicists did not like the idea of a universe with a beginning, but the scientific method is so firmly established in physics that the vast majority of them accepted it once there was sufficient evidence to overcome all reasonable objections. Those who clung to the notion of the eternal universe for reasons of ego and non-scientific concerns were discredited for straying from the scientific path.

The application of the scientific method does not have to be perfect to be functional. My own everyday experience in the field of astrophysics has been that the method sometimes proceeds as the classic observe -> hypothesize -> predict -> test -> theory. But quite often it is something very different: observe -> huh? -> observe -> what the … ?! -> hypothesize -> predict -> test -> getting close to a theory! -> test again -> wait, what? -> OH! -> hypothesize -> test, and so on. As long as it is evidence- and prediction-driven throughout the confusion, that’s good enough.

As for the system being set up to doom the challenger, how else would you have it? That’s the way it should be, as long as this resistance is not rooted in ideology (e.g. “climate change science”). It’s not unlike a court of law, where the presumption should be the innocence of the accused and the burden of proof lies with the accuser.

Egos, admittedly, often get in the way of true science, but on the other hand I doubt science could proceed without them. Scientists will always be fully human and infinitely closer in nature to Captain Kirk than to Mr. Spock. The vast majority of people I work with are truly driven by a desire for truth, but also the competitive hope for recognition and reward (which is why science has always been a traditionally masculine endeavor). And yes, they also have an understandable instinct to protect the fruits of their labor.

The point of all this, do not confuse the inevitable imperfect application of the scientific method for its absence.

Replay: Heroes sometimes fail: Why Stephen Hawking is wrong

Traffic’s up after the announcement of the publication of our Astronomy and Astrophysics curriculum, so we’re replaying some of our more important posts from the archives for our new readers.

** Written by “Surak” **

As a human being who often struggles with relatively trivial difficulties in life, I have long felt admiration for Stephen Hawking’s courage and determination to continue working in spite of a highly-debilitating disease. As a physics enthusiast, I have the greatest respect for his accomplishments. But now, as a result of an article published in The Guardian two weeks ago [May 2011], I also feel embarrassment for, and disappointment in, Hawking. The article reported his views on religion and metaphysics — they were unoriginal, ill-informed, biased, insensitive, and even arrogant.

The article was entitled, “Stephen Hawking: ‘There is no heaven; it’s a fairy story’.” I don’t believe Hawking is capable of such an inane statement, so I attribute this bit of silliness to the reporter’s desire for an attention grabbing headline. It’s just another example of why no one can trust reporters. Unfortunately the rest of the silliness that follows is undoubtedly Hawking’s.

For example, Hawking believes the human brain is like a computer that will stop working when its components fail. This is an old and discredited view of the human mind. The brain is not like any known computer. For one thing, computers process serially, while the brain has the wonderful ability to process things in parallel. Hawking simply has the metaphor backwards, as any computer engineer struggling to make computers more like the human brain can tell you.

This simplistic view of humans can also be faulted for his apparent ignorance of the related problems of consciousness and mind/body dualism. Consciousness is one of the great unsolved mysteries of the universe, and there are no conscious computers except in movies. Since Hawking doesn’t say anything new about consciousness, his statements about the human condition are pretentious.

The dualist/monist debate about whether or not the mind and brain are the same thing has been raging for about 2,500 years. The best philosophers in the world have failed to resolve the question, something of which Hawking seems unaware, since he takes the monist side and simply dismisses the dualist view without argument. When it comes to philosophical arguments, scientists — even great scientists — need to understand that they have no special privileges.

Hawking was also reported to have said, “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” From an uninspired and misleading analogy he leaps into metaphysics with an arrogant disregard for the limitations of science. Science is the study of our material universe, and as such it can have nothing to say about heaven or the afterlife. It is destructive of science for one its best to loudly proclaim scientifically unsupportable and irresponsible conclusions.

Hawking certainly has as much right as any other person to speculate on the great questions of human existence. But, honest inquiry and open communication do not appear to be his intent. Hawking does not acknowledge his lack of expertise in these matters nor does he invite the rest of us to discuss heaven or the after-life as his equals. Instead he engages in a condescending and mean-spirited condemnation of deeply-held religious beliefs. There is no empathy for those who fear the darkness of an existence devoid of genuine love, objective moral truths, and the hope of eternal purpose. His message seems to be ‘here is the way smart people think, and if you think differently, you’re a pathetic dimwit.’

Hawking is blind to the wrong he is doing science. He reportedly told Diane Sawyer that “there is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, and science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win, because it works.” There are three parts to this statement, all of which are wrong:

  1. There are at least three relevant definitions of the word ‘authority.’ Hawking is using the word in the following sense:

    The power or right to control, judge, or prohibit the actions of others.This would be a generally accepted definition of religious authority. Hawking certainly has in mind the atheist myth that Christian leaders have over the centuries prohibited scientists in significant ways. The false allegation of Galileo’s persecution by the Catholic Church is a notable example1. The undeniable historic truth is that Christian faith and beliefs were the necessary foundation of modern science.Hawking should keep in mind two other important definitions of authority:An expert in a particular field.The ability to influence or control others.Hawking, as a renowned expert in physics, has significant influence over others — he is a scientific authority. When he uses this sort of authority to make pronouncements that go far beyond the scope of legitimate science, Hawking is the one abusing authority.
  2. I wholeheartedly agree with Hawking that science is largely based on observation and reason. So, what has Hawking observed to lead him to the conclusion there is no afterlife or heaven? Has he teleported to the far reaches of the universe? Has he managed to visit the other seven dimensions that string theory posits to exist? Has he somehow escaped the confines of our universe to see what is outside? Has he at least had a near-death experience? If his beliefs are not based on direct observation, then what exactly does Hawking’s reason tell him that has eluded so many other great thinkers before him?
  3. In what way does science work better than religion? Science gives knowledge of one kind, but it cannot give humankind a viable ethics to live by2or explain the meaning or purpose of life. The Bible does these important things for billions of people. Even for non-Christians, the dominant moral system in the world today has its roots in Christianity, which is the major reason the world has never been safer or more prosperous than it is now.Furthermore, the Bible is arguably superior to science as a source of truth about our universe. Is Hawking aware that the Bible states that the universe had a beginning3, that it was created out of nothing4, and that time in our universe is relative5? Scientists didn’t figure any of this out until the 20th century. Genesis 1 alone makes at least 26 scientifically testable statements about the creation of the universe and the origins of life. All 26 are consistent with current scientific understanding and in the correct order. The inconvenient truth for atheists is that the Bible somehow beat science to important truths by about 3,000 years.

    Science works in an important but very narrow sense — it assists humankind in understanding and controlling much of the natural world. But it also gives people tremendous destructive power. Without religion to give people direction in the choices they make about using that power, humankind could end up destroying itself.Finally, if you compare societies around the world in regard to which works best, science or religion, one fact of supreme importance will jump out at you. Generally speaking, non-religious peoples are not reproducing themselves while religious ones are. This single aspect of a society overrules all others; if a nation doesn’t reproduce itself, it is irrelevant how many other wonderful qualities it may have because they won’t be projected into the future. In the long run, atheist or secular humanist societies, no matter how scientific, don’t work because they lack the power to continue.

Hawking goes on to say that the concept of religion is in constant conflict with his life’s work — science, and understanding the most basic ways in which the universe works — and it’s almost impossible to reconcile the two. The first part of this statement is an old atheist lie: there is no inherent conflict between Christianity and science. Hawking either ignores or is ignorant of the historical fact that the Christian faith and beliefs made science possible in the first place. If you doubt this, take a look at when and where modern science developed and flourished, along with the religious beliefs of the great scientists who laid the foundations of science.

This is not to say that there hasn’t been conflict between science and religion, but it’s not the fault of Christianity. From at least the time of Darwin, secular humanists such as Thomas Huxley have misused science and misrepresented Christian beliefs in an effort to undermine the influence of Christian faith. The truth is that some scientists are in constant conflict with religion because of their atheist beliefs, and they betray science as a result.

The report reminds the public of Hawking’s position that it is “not necessary to invoke God … to get the universe going.” He has maintained this position since very early in his career, telling German news-magazine Der Speigel in 1988 that “what I have done is to show that it is possible for the way the universe began to be determined by the laws of science. In that case, it would not be necessary to appeal to God to decide how the universe began.”

He’s not saying that he knows the cause of the Big Bang. He is saying that he has constructed a mathematical model of a possible explanation. To say something is possible is meaningless and useless. It’s possible that somewhere in the universe, blue gooses lay gold coins with Hawking’s likeness on them. Like Hawking’s statement, it’s not scientific, because no one can prove it’s not true. The other weakness of his argument against the necessity of God is that it requires the laws of nature to be eternal. They would have had to ‘predate’ the universe in some manner that can never be scientifically proved, such as the emerging atheist myth of the multiverse.

Hawking continues, “This doesn’t prove that there is no God, only that God is not necessary.” Hawking is at least aware that science cannot be used to prove that God does not exist. Instead, he engages in the weasel argument that there is effectively no God since anything that is not necessary can be ignored or discarded. It’s like a child denying the necessity of parents. Child to parent: “I’m not saying you don’t exist, you just aren’t necessary. I can live without you, so just give me the keys to the house and the car along with your credit card, and go away and leave me alone.”

Scientists such as Hawking and Richard Dawkins start from a bias against God and then play in a child-like way with concepts to justify their prejudice. Just as a child cobbles together some rough approximation of an airplane out of Lego, Hawking imagines that he has constructed a viable worldview that doesn’t rest on the notion of God. But he has explained nothing and ignored almost everything of significance. He has his mathematical model of a godless universe; don’t bother him with the mysteries of what came before the Big Bang, the origins of life, the sudden Cambrian explosion of animal life, the nearly universal human need for spiritual beliefs, or the greatest mystery of all, the origin and meaning of human consciousness. He has his toy and wants to show it off.

Then Hawking says something that gives an important insight into the workings of the atheist mind. The report continues, “And it’s his work that keeps him going — even if there isn’t a heaven.” “I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first.” This statement illustrates the most telling and annoying aspect of atheism: atheists seem incapable of taking any of their beliefs and reasoning to necessary and obvious conclusions. They dismiss God and the afterlife, argue that the material world is all that exists, assert that man is the measure of all things, and conclude that people can free themselves of religious restrictions and do whatever they want. If you ask them to continue with this train of thought, they usually make some kind of vague statement about a life in the service of humankind and the possibility of a kind of immortality in the sense that society will remember a person’s good deeds ‘forever.’

The problem, of course, is that it is delusional nonsense. What any good scientist should know is that our material universe is very likely heading toward what is called heat death, a state in which energy no longer exists in a form that can support life. But even before this occurs, the human species will have become extinct anyway. What is the point of doing anything in this life when you will be annihilated in the blink of a cosmic eye followed in short order by the rest of humankind? If atheists really believed this, they would either commit suicide or become Buddhist monks. But the vast majority of them continue to act as if human existence has some kind of meaning greater than that of their material state. If Hawking is right about God and the afterlife, every trace of humanity will be destroyed, all of Hawking’s work will be lost, and every effort he makes will be futile.

What he is really means when he says he is in no hurry to die is that he values his existence and he wants to keep on existing. He feels he has purpose, but he does not wonder where that purpose could possibly come from. He’s not thinking his own position to its logical end, which is that without God his existence is pathetically finite and ultimately meaningless. He says there is no God, but acts as if there is.

Interestingly, Hawking has also made headlines in recent years over his views about the existence of aliens, and what interactions between our races would be like. “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans,” he said.

Here we detect the pessimism that will always be a result of atheism (as well as a lack of imagination based on what little he thinks he knows about the past). Without God and the hope for the redemption of humankind, he has no reason for optimism, no belief that things will work out better in the future than in the past. Christians believe this because they believe that good is stronger than evil, that by following God’s direction people can always triumph over evil, and that good therefore must be the future of humankind. That’s why, for instance, evangelical Christians, not atheists, put an end to the worldwide slave trade; that’s why Christians, not atheists, marched into horrendous Civil War battles singing, “He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,” and ended slavery in America.

In spite of all this, I still believe Stephen Hawking is a hero. He has persevered with a debilitating disease and done tremendous work in theoretical physics. But what do you do when a hero lets you down? There’s a line from the Gordon Lightfoot song, “If You Could Read My Mind,” that goes “The hero would be me. But heroes often fail …” That’s what I think about Stephen Hawking. When it comes to religion and metaphysics, he has failed, but he is still a hero in a way that does not diminish the meaning of the word.

I came to believe in God because of what I learned about the universe. I had the good fortune not to go to Oxford and be saturated with humanist bias against the “God hypothesis.” When I look at the structure of the universe and life on Earth, I see evidence of a great mind at work. I am sorry for Hawking that he can’t.

—–

[1] Dinesh D’Souza provides a succinct reopening of “the Galileo Case” in Chapter 10 of What’s So Great About Christianity.

[2] Not that atheists haven’t tried. See Vox Day’s review of The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris.

[3] Genesis 1:1.

[4] Genesis 1:1. See Gerald Schroeder’s explanation of the significance of the word “create” in The Science of God (pp 143-144).

[5] Psalms 90:4.

Zombie science

There’s a simple reason for the corruption of biology and the social sciences: these studies are not based on Christian beliefs and faith the way science originally was and must always be. Modern science developed in only one place—Christian Europe. If you look up the great pioneers of physics and astronomy, you will find that they were almost all devout Christians, from Copernicus to Galileo to Newton to Maxwell to Planck to Lemaître.

The one glaring exception was Einstein, but even he famously said, “I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.” Even though Einstein was not Christian, he was the product of the Christian European culture that gave birth to science, and he was a willing participant in a process based on Christian principles:

But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. (Albert Einstein, 1941)

The prime motivation of Einstein and so many other great figures in science was to uncover divine truth and know the mind of God. People who feel they are doing God’s work are far less likely to succumb to human frailties and engage in activities that corrupt the search for truth. That tradition remains strong in physics, the original science. That is why the field of astrophysics was able to resist the degenerative effects of an increasingly atheist society. When the devout Lemaître conceived of the primeval atom (aka big bang theory) and demonstrated that the Genesis account of a universe with a beginning was scientifically sound, the stubborn resistance of scientists with a hatred for the idea of God was quickly overcome by the evidence.

The other branches of science have not fared as well. Atheists stole science from Christians in the mid and late 19th century with the false social science of Marx and behavioral science of Freud as well as the misuse of Darwin’s theory of evolution and the gross misrepresentation of Christian scripture. Over the last century and a half, secular humanists have successfully alienated Christians from the scientific method the faithful created and taken over most of its areas of study. Physics still has a substantial minority of Christians (and people with a general belief in God), and much good work is still being done. The social and behavior studies, on the other hand, are the tools of secular humanism and the zombies of the scientific world—active but not alive. Biology was bitten long ago and is gradually succumbing to the humanist infection. There is an easy way to tell a zombie biologist from a true biological scientist; ask him to say the following words, “Darwin was seriously wrong about some important things.” If he can’t bring himself to say this, you are speaking with one of the walking dead. Climate change ‘scientists’ are just garden-variety corrupt hacks who have sold out for money, prestige, and political favors. Bundle up for the coming ice age or thank the polluters for preventing it.

The lesson here is that the further any area of study is from the Christian foundations of true science, the more corrupt it is. The United States has been the source of a great deal of the productive science done in the 20th and early 21st centuries. It is also the most Christian of all developed countries. If atheists succeed in turning the United States into anything similar to what the formerly Christian European nations now are, science will die and humankind will experience a dark age.

Twisted history

Alex Berezow and James Hannam systematically dismantle a post by atheist evolutionary biologist, Jerry Coyne, who manages to get nearly every one of his claims about science and religion wrong. Example:

Coyne:

If you think of science as rational and empirical investigation of the natural world, it originated not with Christianity but with the ancient Greeks, and was also promulgated for a while by Islam.

Berezow and Hannam:

This is only half-true. Science is a lot more than just reason and observation. You need experiments too. For example, the Greeks, following Aristotle, thought that heavy objects must fall faster than light ones. It takes two seconds to disprove that by an experiment that involves dropping a pebble and a rock. But for a thousand years, no one did. There didn’t seem to be much point in testing a theory they already thought to be true. That’s probably why the Greeks were so good at geometry, as Dr. Coyne notes, because progress in mathematics is largely based on reason alone.

I’ll further point out that Aristotle — hero of humanism and champion of reason — was wrong about just about everything in terms of science, and the acceptance of his model of an eternal geocentric universe in particular held back progress in science for nearly two thousand years. Until it was revolutionized by a bunch of Christians.

Read the whole rebuttal.

The authors have not addressed all of Coyne’s claims, as, they have pointed out, there is “an impressive amount of error and misunderstanding [in] a very small space.” He certainly manages to cram a lot of error into the following unaddressed point:

If religion promulgated the search for knowledge, it also gave rise to erroneous, revelation-based “scientific” conclusions that surely impeded progress. Those include creation ex nihilo, the Great Flood, a geocentric universe, and so on.

By all appearances, the universe was created ex nihilo. Physicists have struggled to explain the origin of the universe in a way that avoids an ex nihilo creation event, without success. As this Reasons to Believe article points out, the Bible mentions a worldwide flood, not a global flood. A Great Flood, as described in Genesis, that wiped out all of human and animal life in the Mesopotamian region — the entire known world at the time — is scientifically plausible. And, geocentric theory began with the ancient Greeks. I suppose you could say that since the Greeks were religious, religion is therefore responsible for geocentric theory, but that would be a gross oversimplification. And, anyway, as Coyne is lumping this in with other biblical conclusions, one can reasonably assume he’s pinning this one specifically on Christianity. But, as we all know, Aristotle was responsible for promulgating the idea, which was later elaborated upon by Ptolemy. Yet, the erroneous notion persists that Christians were to blame for this faulty cosmology. As with the Galileo and Bruno affairs, this is the result of atheist myth-making.

The more commentary I read from atheists, the more I’m convinced that these self-styled champions of fact and reason are anything but.