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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.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Science vs. Scientism: Scientism Refuses to Have Its Authority Challenged

In recent blog posts, I've been outlining the difference between science and scientism. As I noted at the start, scientism is like the evil twin of science in some B-grade Hollywood movie, it looks like science, but it ultimately leads to a different outcome.

Up to this point in watching our movie, the signs of the evil twin replacing the good scientist have been subtle. Many who aren't personally close to the goodly scientist don't notice a thing. But friends and family are beginning to have their doubts. Now the plot turns and suddenly the evil scientism does something completely contradictory to the good Doctor—he demands that his way must be obeyed. Only his ideas count. He has the brilliance and training and therefore no one should question his pronouncements! In our society today, we see certain leaders in the scientific community doing the exact same thing . We see it whenever someone mentions the theory of intelligent design.

Because scientism views faith as an enemy, those who follow scientism will seek to shut down any evidence that points towards the existence of God. The intelligent design debate is a primary example. Our understanding of the origin of the universe and the origin of the diversity of life on this planet are big questions. They have become flashpoints of argument and debate, precisely because they put the question of God's existence on the table. But if the question of God's existence is allowed as a viable option, it would mean that there are things that science cannot tell us. Worse, for those who see science as the only way to gain knowledge, it would prove that there are other sources of knowledge out there, sources that fall outside the domain of science itself.

To the person clinging to scientism, this is completely unacceptable. Therefore, such possibilities are dismissed as not even worthy of considering. Note that this dismissal is not because of the strength or weakness of the scientific content. It is simply because the answer to the question would show that science does not have the ultimate authority in all questions of life. But, here's where the evil twin of scientism has given himself away: in order to reject views that are counter to his understanding of the origin of life and the universe, he must also give up a key tenet of science. He must reject the concept of falsification.

Falsifiability and Intelligent Design1

The scientific method is grounded in the concept of falsification. Experiments are attempts to see if the scientist's hypothesis will break under certain circumstances. Basically, the scientist is trying to falsify his hypothesis, his description of how natural laws will behave given a set of conditions. This is exactly what Galileo did when he wanted to test the idea that gravity pulls on everything with the same acceleration. By dropping two cannonballs of different weight from the Leaning Tower of Pisa and demonstrating that they landed simultaneously, Galileo showed that his theory was correct. If the heavier ball were to have hit the ground first, Galileo's theory would have been falsified and therefore abandoned for some other explanation.

Because of this power to confirm or disprove theories about the way the natural world works, falsification is taken very seriously by the science community. In fact, some scientists hold that without the ability to falsify a theory, you are simply not doing science. 2 Indeed, this charge is very often leveled against those who resist the idea of Neo-Darwinian evolution3, but instead hold that life displays in its existence and construction an underlying intelligence. Wishing to dismiss any idea that a source other than a natural one could produce life, our villain will simply dismiss any claims or evidence for intelligent design with a wave of his hand. "It's not falsifiable" he charges and quickly dismisses any evidence the theory provides.4 But again, he's made a crucial mistake! In using such criteria, our evil twin has undercut his own view that evolution is science.

Intelligent design and Neo-Darwinian evolution are two sides of the same coin, the coin of origins. To choose one side means the other doesn't show itself. But both sides must exist for the coin to exist! Those who hold to scientism would tell you that you must choose your scientific theory on the development of life from a coin that has only one side—there is no other side that's a legitimate choice. If the concept of falsification excludes intelligent design from being considered science, then by extension, it must also exclude it opposite, the theory of evolution. This criterion applies to both equally, which means they are either both considered such or neither are. Scientism would have you believe in one-sided coins, but thoughtful people should never fall for such ridiculousness.

References

1. A version of this portion of the article originally was post to the blog last. year. You can access it here.
2. Karl Popper was the leading proponent of using falsification to distinguishing which theories are scientific and which are not. He believed the concept that Hume had stated where one cannot universally prove a claim, but he saw that one can easily disprove a claim if it fails only one time. Therefore, to falsify a claim is the heart of science. See http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/popper/#SciKnoHisPre for more.
3. Neo-Darwinian evolution may be defined as a belief that all life has arisen from a single source through unguided mutations coupled with natural selection. See Chapter 10 for more details on this.
4. Tammy Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District. No. 04cv2688 United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. December 2005. p22.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Science owes a debt to theology

Although we hear a lot today about faith and science being enemies, the scientific enterprise as we know it today wouldn't exist without Christianity and how it saw the world. This may seem surprising to you, but when you think about it, you can see how it makes perfect sense. Prior to the modern era, the primary view of how we can know things was based on the thinking of Aristotle, who believed that we can only start with things we know and simply reason to an outcome. This "First Principles" idea infiltrated much of science since Aristotle, until the 13th century, when a couple of Franciscan monks began to challenge the idea.1 What ultimately fuelled their investigation was the idea that the Christian God was a rational being, and therefore we could uncover His ways if we investigated his creation in a rational manner.

Asking a question about the function of the world

Is the world discoverable? Before we can begin any scientific enterprise, we must first know if it is ever possible to find the answer to certain questions we are asking. This is no trivial point. If you were to have all the latest brain scanning and most sensitive neurological equipment, you could tell a person is dreaming, but you could never tell what that dream is about. The question of content is outside of science altogether and must be reported by the dreamer. However, Christians such as Robert Grosseteste, Roger and Francis Bacon, and others knew they could begin to investigate the world scientifically, because God would create a world to work in a specific order.2 And since the Christian God isn't capricious, he wouldn't "change the rules" so to speak and change the laws of nature from one day to the next.

So today, when a scientist builds a hypothesis, he or she has already assumed that the world is really the way we experience it. But why is he or she justified in such an assumption? Remembering the hit movie The Matrix may help you get a clearer picture of my point. In The Matrix, most people believed they were living normal lives in a well-developed world when in reality they were simply being fed a computer simulation straight into their brains. The things they experienced weren't real, but a forgery. However, science assumes that we can talk about the real world and find out new things about it. Grosseteste and other Christians answered such objections by appealing to their theological framework: that God is the kind of God that wouldn't lie or change the rules on us. Science needs this grounding in theology to justify its assumption of consistency in experimental results.

Scientism dismisses theology as a fairytale

Of course, science's evil twin scientism would never acknowledge that Christian theism is the basis for the modern scientific enterprise. In fact, you many times hear scientism's claim that theistic beliefs are the enemy of science3; they hold back the true advancement and if we would only throw off the shackles of belief in God, we could somehow progress to a new era of scientific discovery.

Physicist Paul Davies, who is by no means Christian, reflected on why scientists should believe the laws of nature exist at all and why they're rational. He questioned his colleagues about them. Davies writes, "Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from 'that's not a scientific question' to 'nobody knows.' The favorite reply is, 'There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.' Davies goes on:

"All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn't be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed… The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. After all, the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality — the laws of physics — only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science."4(emphasis added)
As Christians, we believe that God orders the universe and makes it discoverable. It offers reasons why we can trust our senses as reporting reality, and trust the fact that there are certain laws undergirding specific interactions in the world. Scientists assume a framework that theology grounds. This is why historian Lynn T. White writes:
"The preaching of a monk in the fastnesses of the German forests may seem far removed from the modern laboratory; yet the monk was an intellectual ancestor of the scientist. As the triumphant chant, 'I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,' rang through the new churches of the northern frontier, another foundation stone of the modern world was laid, the concept of an orderly and intelligible universe."5
To read the previous articles in this series, click here and here.

For the next article, click here.

References

1. For a good overview of this point, see Schmidt, Alvin J. How Christianity Changed the World.
Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004 218-219.
2. Schmidt. Ibid.
3. See MacKenzie, Richard "Is Faith the Enemy of Science?" where MacKenzie argues that it is. Lawrence Krauss responded affirminigly to MacKenzie and commented, "I have asked Richard if his recent purpose is to destroy faith or teach science, and he has indicated that destroying faith at the moment is a higher priority. I accept that argument, however for me the latter purpose, teaching science, is higher priority."
4. Davies, Paul. "Taking Science on Faith" The New York Times. 24 November 2007.
5. White, Jr., Lynn T. "The Significance of Medieval Christianity". The Vitality of the Christian Tradition, 3d ed., edited by George F. Thomas New York: Harper & Bros, 1944. 97.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

God is making an impact in philosophy


In April of 1966, Time magazine ran one of its most talked about covers of all time. It didn't include a photograph or hint at lasciviousness. Instead, it was a plain black cover with a red border and three simple words emblazoned on the cover in the form of a question: "Is God Dead?"

Nearly 50 years later, we can confidently say that God is not dead. He's very much alive and not only in evangelical churches across North America, South America, Africa, and beyond, but also in certain halls of academia where most had assumed he was all but extinct. God is alive and well in philosophy departments.

Below is a great, short clip by Oxford University professor of philosophy Vince Vitale telling s just how much theists are impacting this hugely influential discipline today.

 

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Our Culture Was Predicted Over 80 Years Ago

Many people liken today's society to George Orwell's dystopian futurist book 1984. I can see the attraction, with Big Brother controlling people's actions by force and official departments of doublespeak editing history. It makes for an interesting picture.

However, I don't think 1984 is the closest parallel we have to what's happening to Western society today. In 1932, some 16 years prior to Orwell's work, Aldous Huxley published Brave New World, an earlier dystopian caution about where modernity was headed. But instead of the government crushing dissent wherever it may be found, it is the populous that is really driving the push for conformity in Huxley's vision. By labeling those with traditional values as strange and "savages," by promoting the newest ideas and newest technologies as obvious advantages, and by allowing the population to always feel good about themselves (primarily through the drug Soma), it is the culture that drives conformity and discomfort avoidance at all costs.

Below is one telling passage from the book. Here, the natural-born "Savage" who has escaped his Reservation and is discussing the importance of pain with Mustapha Mond, one of the ten World Controllers. It eerily predicts many today's pushes for equality and moral "openness." While our soma isn't found in the form of drugs, I see us self-medicating more and more thought the acquisition of our toys. IPhone and entertainment channels are the rights we demand, with almost all government housing projects are littered with satellite dishes. "Choice" is seen as the highest ideal, with everyone exercising their right to delve into any practice they so desire "as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else." Chastity is considered nothing more than a punchline, with only the backward and old-fashioned holding it up as a virtue.
"You'd have a reason for chastity!" said the Savage, blushing a little as he spoke the words.

(Controller Mustapha Mond:) "But chastity means passion, chastity means neurasthenia. And passion and neurasthenia mean instability. And instability means the end of civilization. You can't have a lasting civilization without plenty of pleasant vices."

"But God's the reason for everything noble and fine and heroic. If you had a God …"

"My dear young friend," said Mustapha Mond, "civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism. These things are symptoms of political inefficiency. In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic. Conditions have got to be thoroughly unstable before the occasion can arise. Where there are wars, where there are divided allegiances, where there are temptations to be resisted, objects of love to be fought for or defended—there, obviously, nobility and heroism have some sense. But there aren't any wars nowadays. The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving any one too much. There's no such thing as a divided allegiance; you're so conditioned that you can't help doing what you ought to do. And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed free play, that there really aren't any temptations to resist. And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there's always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your mortality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears—that's what soma is."

"But the tears are necessary. Don't you remember what Othello said? ‘If after every tempest came such calms, may the winds blow till they have wakened death.' There's a story one of the old Indians used to tell us, about the Girl of M├ítaski. The young men who wanted to marry her had to do a morning's hoeing in her garden. It seemed easy; but there were flies and mosquitoes, magic ones. Most of the young men simply couldn't stand the biting and stinging. But the one that could—he got the girl."

"Charming! But in civilized countries," said the Controller, "you can have girls without hoeing for them; and there aren't any flies or mosquitoes to sting you. We got rid of them all centuries ago."

The Savage nodded, frowning. "You got rid of them. Yes, that's just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether 'tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them … But you don't do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It's too easy."
Huxley, Aldous (2010-07-01). Brave New World (Kindle Locations 3047-3062). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Scientism rejects philosophy as a form of knowledge

Yesterday, I began a series called "Science versus its Evil Twin: Scientism:." I had written that there are five major clues that distinguish the pursuit of science, and I examined the first in yesterday's post. Today, I'd like to look at the first part of Clue #2 – Scientism rejects other forms of knowledge.


In most cheesy b-movies, we see the storyline play out predictably. The villain has made some advancement in pushing his agenda and the world starts to play by his rules. Therefore, in order to maintain his grip of power, our villain seeks to silence anyone who may disagree with him. He will discredit, disgrace or imprison anyone who offers up a contrary view to his plan. He seeks to be the only authority on all matters that he wants to control. In our look at science versus scientism, we also see a wrestling for power. There are those using science as one way of understanding the world, and there are those who say since science tells us about the natural world, that means that only science can tell us about anything. Scientism discounts all other forms of knowledge as either imperfect or not really knowledge at all.

Science owes a debt to philosophy

As we mentioned above, science has at its core the idea of observing interactions and critically examining their causes. Anyone beginning to study the subject of science is taught the scientific method, one of the primary ways scientists accomplish their task. Usually the method is divided into basic steps: a person has a question about some function of the natural world, he constructs a hypothesis, then tests that hypothesis with experiments, and analyzes the outcome. Lastly, he determines whether the original hypothesis is true and reports the results. This is a fundamental notion of what makes up our lab sciences. However, assumed in those steps is a lot of philosophy! Several philosophical principles must exist before the scientific method can even get started! Let's take a look at the components more closely and see where these assumptions lie.

Testing Hypotheses with Experiment

When scientists perform tests, one of the things they assume is a cause and effect relationship. If we are studying some effect, such as the attraction of magnets, we assume that there is a cause and effect relationship between the material of the magnets and their attraction. But we only make such an assumption because our past experience has shown that whenever material of this nature gets close to certain metals, a force is exerted between the two. How do we know that making such an assumption is warranted? Isn't one of the goals of science to eliminate assumptions and instead provide explanations for why functions happen? But then, aren't we starting with an assumption that cause and effect relationships are going to show us that? How do we know that the relationship we see isn't just a fluke of timing? Since it is only our experience that tells us about cause and effect, we are assuming our experience can tell us about the relation between the two, but we have no other reason to do so.

Realize, this line of doubt is not my own. Skeptic David Hume argued at great lengths to say that our experience may work for us, but that does not mean there is really a causal connection between two things, simply because one happens to come prior to the other.1 Basically, Hume asserts that science cannot test its own assumption about repeatability. Hume says trying to prove such things by experiment is really question-begging since you're using the very testing method that's in question! Therefore, in order to say that we know condition A produces effect B, we must rely on theories of what makes our knowledge justified. This again is the realm of philosophy. The scientist cannot scientifically prove that experience is a good indicator of what will happen in the future if the same conditions were to be produced; he relies on a philosophical framework to justify his assumptions.

Analyzing Outcomes

Once the scientist has performed experiments, he analyzes the outcome and draws conclusions as to whether it matches his hypothesis or not. But how can he be sure whether the results do indeed match his expectations? Philosophy comes into play here as well. In chapter 6 of this book, we took a moment and discussed the Three Standard Laws of Thought, also referred to as the Laws of Logic. We discovered that these laws were the main way that anyone compares and contrasts claims to see if they make sense or not. The Law of Identity states that a thing is equal to itself. So if the results of an experiment match the hypothesis, then the hypothesis can be considered valid in that instance.

We also learned from the Laws of Non-Contradiction and Excluded Middle that the result has to be either consistent with the hypotheses or inconsistent with the hypothesis.2 That means scientists use the Laws of Logic in analyzing their outcomes. Logic in all its forms is clearly identified as the only way a scientist can draw any conclusions that would continue to make sense.

Scientism dismisses philosophy as unnecessary

So, philosophy plays a crucial role in doing science well. It becomes the measuring stick on truth claims. But when our evil villain scientism enters the picture, he challenges this authority. While he uses philosophy, he sees anything other than what he defines as science as a threat and therefore dismisses it as unimportant or dead. Famous physicist Stephen Hawking, began his most recent work The Grand Design by doing just that. He writes:
"…philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge. The purpose of this book is to give the answers that are suggested by recent discoveries and theoretical advances."3
Of course, such claims as "philosophy is dead" and "Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge" are highly problematic. For one thing both claims are themselves not scientific; there is no test that fits the scientific model one may perform and come up with those statements. No, saying "philosophy is dead" is making a philosophical statement itself; it's doing philosophy! The claim becomes self-refuting and can be dismissed. This is why Hawking's claim has been so widely criticized by philosophers of science, even those who are atheists!4

To read the next article in this series, click here.

References

1."This proposition, that causes and effects are discoverable, not by reason but by experience…You say that the one proposition is an inference from the other. But you must confess that the inference is not intuitive, neither is it demonstrative. Of what nature is it, then? To say it is experimental, is begging the question. For all inferences from experience suppose, as their foundation, that the future will resemble the past, and that similar powers will be conjoined with similar sensible qualities. If there be any suspicion that the course of nature may change, and that the past may be no rule for the future. All experience becomes useless, and can give rise to no inference or conclusion. It is impossible, therefore, that any arguments from experience can prove this resemblance of the past to the future, since all these arguments are founded on the supposition of that resemblance." (Emphasis mine) Hume, David. ""Skeptical Doubts Concerning Human Understanding"." Paul Edwards and Aurther Pap, Eds. A Modern Introduction to Philosophy. New York: The Free Press, 1973. 131, 136.
2. I am assuming here that the hypothesis in question is well-formed and the results can be accurately determined. Many times experiments either do not factor I all the initial values or perhaps the hypothesis is so broadly stated that results can be inconclusive. Usually, those instances will be studied further or other scientists will try to refine the original experiment to find a more specific answer to the question at hand.
3. Hawking, Stephen and Leonard Mlodinow. The Grand Design. New York: Bantam Books. 2010. p5.
4. To see several critiques of this stance, see Christopher Norris' "Hawking contra Philosophy" in the March/April 2011 magazine Philosophy Now, Roger Penrose has taken the entire thesis proposed by the book and dismissed it by saying, " What is referred to as M-theory isn't even a theory. It's a collection of ideas, hopes, aspirations…" (http://afterall.net/clippings/491891).
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