Blog Archive

Followers

Come Reason's Apologetics Notes

Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

Powered by Blogger.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The Inherent Bias in Science


Last week, I wrote about an online conversation I had with an atheist who accused me of making a God of the gaps type argument for the origin of life, even though all the observational evidence across humanity's history demonstrates that life comes from life. He claimed that "Science may well provide an answer to the origin of life in the future," whereby he commits the very fallacy he accused me of committing. While not appealing to a God of the gaps, he is certainly appealing to "science of the gaps."

In our engagement, I asked for some justification for such an unwarranted claim. He leaned on this explanation:
Apocryphally, Edison learned 999 "wrong" ways to make a light bulb in in the process of finding 1 "right" way. (Was he ever really wrong?) Obviously, science has proposed wrong explanations many times as it approaches the truth. The more pertinent inquiry would be "Are there any cases where science has settled on an explanation only to be proven wrong by a theistic explanation?" Because the reverse admits of many, easy historical examples.
His reasoning is misleading in many ways. First, there's a significant difference between a single research project, such as Edison's testing of different material for light bulb filaments versus the assumption that science can answer every question of origins. That's a simple category error. By using Edison as an example, and then saying that the entire discipline of science is functioning in the same way, he has equivocated how an experiment works with how a consensus is built.

Not Counting Wrong Conclusions

In fact, accepting new scientific conclusions works in a much different way than Edison's trial-and-error approach. In his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn has demonstrated that science isn't the incremental set of discoveries most think it is. When one really studies the history of scientific discovery, one finds the personal beliefs and biases of scientists themselves color their investigations. Kuhn writes "An apparently arbitrary element, compounded of personal and historical accident, is always a formative ingredient of the beliefs espoused by a given scientific community at a given time." 1 He explains in his book how scientific research is "a strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education."2
Perhaps science does not develop by the accumulation of individual discoveries and inventions. Simultaneously, these same historians confront growing difficulties in distinguishing the "scientific" component of past observation and belief from what their predecessors had readily labeled "error" and "superstition." 3
Exactly, It's easy to claim science always advances forward if you don't count any of the conclusions that we now reject as science, but label them error or superstition.

Kuhn explains that in the enterprise of science, scientists are not readily willing to give up on their preconceptions and biases:
Normal science, the activity in which most scientists inevitably spend almost all their time, is predicated on the assumption that the scientific community knows what the world is like. Much of the success of the enterprise derives from the community's willingness to defend that assumption, if necessary at considerable cost.

Scientists Tend Toward Stasis

All of this means that many scientists will accept their current understanding of the scientific landscape and a kind of stasis will develop. Students learn their scientific assumptions from their professors, who teach what they also had learned to be true. Kuhn coined the term "paradigm" to describe this common set of assumptions. It isn't until there become so many problems or deviations from what was expected given the prevailing paradigm that a flurry of new research will ensue and may create a paradigm shift—a new idea replacing the old one:
Normal science, for example, often suppresses fundamental novelties because they are necessarily subversive of its basic commitments. Nevertheless, so long as those commitments retain an element of the arbitrary, the very nature of normal research ensures that novelty shall not be suppressed for very long.

… When the profession can no longer evade anomalies that subvert the existing tradition of scientific practice—then begin the extraordinary investigations that lead the profession at last to a new set of commitments, a new basis for the practice of science. 4
This is the common pattern in the history of science. It isn't a smooth slope upwards of increasing knowledge. It has fits and starts. It has many dead ends. Scientists get things wrong, such as the alchemists trying to turn lead into gold, but the atheists don't count them. They claim "that wasn't science, it was superstition." Still, the tree of modern chemistry grows from the roots of alchemy.

Don't Assume Science will Always Succeed

Remember, "science" makes no claims; scientists do. As I've said before, "scientists are not immune to bias, deceit, greed or the quest for fame and power any more than the rest of us. In fact, scientists ARE the rest of us!"5 I've illustrated that even when scientists reach a consensus, it doesn't mean their conclusions are correct.

Thus it is just as likely that science will not find the answer to the origin of life. It may be the search for turning material into life may be like the search for turning lead into gold. To hold to a science of the gaps theory offers no real advance in knowledge; it is simply shoes one's willingness to defend their paradigm and at considerable cost.

References

1. Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1970. Print.2.
2. Kuhn, 1970. 5.
3. Kuhn, 1970. 5.
4. Kuhn, 1970.5-6.
5. Esposito, Lenny. "Should We Place Our Trust in Science?" Come Reason's Apologetics Notes. Come Reason Ministries, 5 Aug. 2013. Web. 01 Sept. 2015. http://apologetics-notes.comereason.org/2013/08/should-we-place-our-trust-in-science.html.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Christian Morals Make Us More Free



What is true freedom? Does having fewer restrictions make one more free? That's the message advertisers would foist on our kids. From the No Rules skateboard apparel to yesterday's MTV Video Music Awards where Miley Cyrus was given "pretty free reign… no rules,"1 to Ashley Madison's come-on slogan of "Life is short… have an affair, " the message is unmistakable: freedom means shedding the moral restrictions of the past.

It's part of people's nature to bristle against rules, especially those rules that would force one to curb his or her predilections. Children would rather eat candy than vegetables for dinner. Students would rather play video games than study. Most adults in society today look upon those desires as childish. They understand there are real consequences to taking the easy road. Ignoring the nutritional needs of one's body or educational opportunities that color one's future isn't a freeing experience; they have real and significant consequences.

Given the serious consequences of childish actions, people have come to realize that it is actually more freeing to live within these rules. The person who studied hard in school and has earned a degree has many more opportunities in front of him than one who didn't. The person who eats well has the freedom to perform better in sports. Freedom isn't about the next few hours or the next few days, but what happens over a lifetime.

Christian Morality is Freeing

While people generally agree on the obvious examples I offered above, this principle of freedom applies within the moral realm as well. Marvin Olasky recently interviewed University of Texas philosophy professor J. Budziszewski on the changes in attitude college students display today as opposed to years past. Budziszewski has been a keen observer of the difficulties Christian students face when entering college, and given our sex-saturated culture, the temptations for easy sexual hook-ups is everywhere. When asked about what the church can do about all the young people leaving their faith in college, Budziszewski answered:
We haven't a chance of getting people to live a Christian way of life if they think it is just a collection of joy-killing rules. What we should explain is that Christian morality is a prerequisite for happiness, and that it makes us more free, not less—free to do what is good rather than being jerked around by desires. People need to have the vision of the good that temptation is pulling them away from.2
This is a crucial message that the church hasn't communicated very well at all. We've turned sex into a series of "thou shalt not's" instead of emphasizing the holiness of sex. We've warned against the ways of the world in ominous tones instead of talking with kids about just how much freedom one gains when one works at developing the good in one's life. Gratification delayed does not mean gratification denied, it simply means you will have the freedom to experience the full joys of what God has intended for you without the nasty consequences. There will be more choices afforded to you and you will have more control over your life's path.

References

1. Boardman, Madeline. "VMAs Producer: Miley Cyrus Has 'free Rein,' No Rules for Sunday's Show." EW.com. Entertainment Weekly Inc, 27 Aug. 2015. Web. 31 Aug. 2015. http://www.ew.com/article/2015/08/27/vma-miley-cyrus-free-rein-no-rules.
2. Olasky, Marvin. "J. Budziszewski: Generation Disordered" WORLD. WORLD News Group, 21 Aug. 2015. Web. 31 Aug. 2015. http://www.worldmag.com/2015/08/generation_disordered/.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

One Quote for Naturalist Professors



Most naturalists prefer a more subtle approach. Instead of openly insulting Christianity, they patronize it, paying it the kind of compliments one pays to children and the simple-minded. Or they use "as-we-now-know" statements: "As we now know, there is no life after death." These are often introduced by "it-was-once-thought" statements: "It was once thought that moral laws were given to us by a God or gods, but as we now know, mankind gives moral laws to himself." Whenever a teacher makes an "as-we-now-know" statement, ask "Who do you mean by 'we,' and how do we 'know'?" If you aren't yet ready for public debate, ask the questions inwardly. If you do ask them aloud, be respectful. Your goal isn't to show that your teacher is wrong but merely that he isn't taking seriously the legitimate arguments on the other side.

To get this point across, ask your teacher to read the following words of Harvard paleontologist Richard Lewontin. Like every naturalist, Lewontin believes that the material world of nature is all there is, but he also confesses to something many of his fellow naturalists would rather deny. The confession is that they all believe in naturalism in spite of the evidence, not because of it. For example, even though the evidence strongly suggests that living things are the result of intelligent design, naturalists are desperate to prove they can't be.' Most of us would call the urge to ignore evidence "prejudice." Strangely, Lewontin calls it "taking the side of science"! See for yourself:
We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, ... in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.
This amazing confession is important because it shows that what naturalists call "science" isn't really science—at least not if science means following the evidence! Naturalists like to think of themselves as brave defenders of clear reasoning itself is the superstition. It isn't supported by reasoning but by blind hostility to the evidence of God. Pray that your professors will finally get tired of their games. As Blaise Pascal wrote long ago, "it is good to be tired and wearied by the vain search after the true good, that we may stretch out our arms to the Redeemer."
— J. Budziszewski
 J. Budziszewski. How to Stay Christian in College (Kindle Locations 417-419). Kindle Edition.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Why Archaeology is Important for the Christian (video)



The Bible is unique among sacred texts in that it is set against a historical backdrop. Do recent archaeological discoveries validate or discredit the Biblical accounts? In this introductory video to the series, Lenny explains the relationship between archaeology and biblical studies, as well as how archaeology bolsters the faith of the believer.


Image courtesy Hans Splinter and licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Discovering God the Way Sherlock Holmes Would



I recently received a comment on my post on how the origin of life creates a significant problem for the naturalist. I was charged with making a "God of the gaps" argument. While a reading of the actual article displays no such breech in logic, it did begin an exchange with my critic that proves all too familiar: any logical argument that ends by inferring a supernatural actor as the best explanation of the facts at hand is easily dismissed as "God of the gaps" while any assumption that "science will one day figure it out" is supposedly rational.

This is an old canard that I've dealt with before (here and here), but I tried to take a different tact in this engagement. I wanted to place the burden on my objector, so I asked "Can you tell me the distinction between a valid inference for God and what you would classify as a God of the Gaps argument?" His reply is telling:
I'm not sure there is one. Abduction seems to be little more than a guess until a better explanation comes along. Science may well provide an answer to the origin of life in the future. (Which is something we may conclude through induction, a much stronger epistemology than abduction.)
There's so much wrong with this statement that it's hard to know where to being. First, let's unpack some terms. There are two ways we can draw conclusions based on reasoning, known as deductive reasoning and inferential reasoning. In deductive reasoning, the conclusion is inescapable from the facts presented. The oft-used example is given the facts that all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, one is forced to conclude that Socrates is mortal.

Understanding Inferences

While Sherlock Holmes is well known for what's Doyle's books called "the science of deuction," he actually didn't deduce things. He used inferential reasoning. An inferential argument takes what is generally understood to be the case and applies it to the greater whole. For example, people have observed that like electrical charges repel each other and opposite charges attract. Thus, when English physicist Joseph John Thomson saw that cathode rays would bend certain ways based on whether a positive or negative magnet was placed near it, he inferred that the cathode ray was made up of negatively charged particles. The electron was discovered.1

The argument that Thompson used is known as abduction, which simply means reasoning to the best explanation. We take the facts that we know and try to get at the truth. Usually, that means applying a rule we already understand, such as the laws of magnetism, and seeing if it does a good job of explaining the specific circumstance we see. Your doctor does this all the time, such as when he prescribes penicillin for your bacterial infection. Prescribing penicillin isn't "little more than a guess" but is based on what is most likely, though not necessarily the case.

Abductive Arguments Drive Science

Because deductive arguments are few and far between in the real world, most of science is built on inference to the best explanation. Ironically, my critic got induction and abduction kind of backwards; induction in this sense is actually the weaker of the two. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy clarifies the difference:
You may have observed many gray elephants and no non-gray ones, and infer from this that all elephants are gray, because that would provide the best explanation for why you have observed so many gray elephants and no non-gray ones. This would be an instance of an abductive inference. It suggests that the best way to distinguish between induction and abduction is this: both are ampliative, meaning that the conclusion goes beyond what is (logically) contained in the premises (which is why they are non-necessary inferences), but in abduction there is an implicit or explicit appeal to explanatory considerations, whereas in induction there is not; in induction, there is only an appeal to observed frequencies or statistics. 2

Closed to the Best Explanations

I explain all this to make sure you understand that the arguments like the one inferring God from the origin of life are not merely guesses or "God of the gaps" claims. They are just like those abduction arguments that are the cornerstone of scientific and medical research. Human beings have observed life throughout our history. Never once in all of that time observing life have we ever seen life come from non-life. In fact, Louis Pasteur's science shows life doesn't spontaneously arise from non-living material. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that all life comes from other living beings and therefore the first life came from a living being. That's abduction.

Notice that when asked for a distinction as to what would make a valid inference for God's existence, my critic replied "I'm not sure there is one." That answer is as telling as the rest of the conversation. He has rejected any argument that leads to the conclusion that God exists at the outset. That's his prerogative, but doing so is anti-logic, anti-science, and inconsistent.

References

1. Douven, Igor. "Abduction." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University, 09 Mar. 2011. Web. 28 Aug. 2015. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/abduction/#UbiAbd.
2. Douven, 2011.

Come Reason brandmark Convincing Christianity
An invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics

Mary Jo Sharp:

"Lenny Esposito's work at Come Reason Ministries is an invaluable addition to the realm of Christian apologetics. He is as knowledgeable as he is gracious. I highly recommend booking Lenny as a speaker for your next conference or workshop!"
Check out more X