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In Defense of the Scientific Method

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

I read an interesting quote by Adam Savage, of Mythbusters fame. He said the following in a Popular Mechanics podcast:

Like I said, the newspapers talking about evolution versus creationism is very much an attack on science as a type of religion—believing that the scientific method is some type of religious belief. And it’s not! That kind of attack absolutely is damaging science exploration across the whole country. I do think that’s a significant problem. And until we can get our head out of the sand and realize that science isn’t about truth…

Adam makes a couple of good points in this quote. He says that the scientific method isn’t “some type of religious belief.” He’s right, too. The scientific method is a tool. However, religious belief does factor into the scientific method.  Religious belief is the bias that inherently determines how one interprets the results of the scientific method. These results can provide support for vastly different presumptions, whether they be of supernatural creation or evolutionary naturalism.

And evolutionary naturalism is a religion, a dogma as faith based as any religion. Consider this statement that the famous evolutionist Theodosius Dobzhansky, quoted in The American Biology Teacher journal: “Evolution is a light which illuminates all facts, a trajectory which all lines of thought must follow.”1 Or Michael Dini, the Texas Tech University professor who refused to give letters of recommendation to students who would not verbally confess the truthfulness of evolution. Which brings one to the second part of Adam’s quote.

Adam’s statement that, “science isn’t about truth,” is also correct. This doesn’t make science useless; far from it! The results of scientific endeavors have greatly benefited the quality of our lives. But scientists don’t know everything, and therefore science deals in theories, both weak and strong, but never in facts, and no matter how strong a theory is, it is always subject to change.

In summary, science and the scientific method cannot confirm the origin of life for evolutionary naturalist, and it cannot do this for creationists either. As a tool, what it can do is affirm what we already believe.

  1. “Nothing In Biology Makes Sense Except In the Light of Evolution”, The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 35, pp. 125-129 []

Because Science

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

A recent Federalist article was titled with the startling accusation:

Bill Nye Is A Huckster

The writer called out Nye for putting ideological beliefs over good science.

Bill Nye fashions himself a voice of rational thought and scientific inquiry. His shtick has gotten him into classrooms and on an endless loop of evangelizing TV appearances. Yet nearly every time he speaks these days, Nye diminishes genuine science by resorting to scaremonger-y nuggets of easily dismissible ideologically-motivated nonsense.1

Well, that’s from the Federalist, but I was quite surprised to see similar sentiments coming from well known skeptic, agnostic, and science journalist John Horgan. His article in Scientific American skewers the “lesser priests” of scientism2 dropping names like Neil de Grasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Lawrence Krauss, and Ray Kurzewiel in his indictment.

Last month, Neil de Grasse Tyson said “the likelihood may be very high” that we’re living in a simulation. Again, this isn’t science, it’s a stoner thought experiment pretending to be science.

So is the Singularity, the idea that we’re on the verge of digitizing our psyches and uploading them into computers, where we can live forever. Some powerful people are believers, including Google’s director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil. But the Singularity is an apocalyptic cult, with science substituted for God.

When high-status scientists promote flaky ideas like the Singularity and multiverse, they hurt science.

It’s my observation that much of what passes for humanistic materialism today is “flakey” science, hopeful stories without any real scientific evidence – only the a priori assumption that naturalism is the Truth.

I grew up admiring Bill Nye, the Science Guy – I loved his experiments and the hands-on nature of what he did. But somewhere along the way he became Bill Nye the Atheist Guy, and his humanistic “huckstering” does little to promote the advance of science. Instead, we get his ideology.3

One other observation. The main point of John Horgan’s article is that Skeptics with a capital “S” often pursue the “soft targets” of religious belief and quack science instead of attacking harder targets like war, modern medical practices, and astronomical theories like the multiverse. As a Christian, I think sometimes that we spend too many resources attacking the soft target of naturalistic humanism, and not enough attacking the hard targets found in the misapplication and misinterpretation  of biblical doctrine. I disagree with Hogan on many points, but we can both agree that our belief systems spend too much time preaching to our choirs and not enough time challenging them.

  1. I used the title, “Because Science,” because that’s the argument that most naturalistic humanist use when they are asked to explain a naturalistic ideological position that can’t be explained by actual science. []
  2. an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation, including philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities []
  3. Which apparently includes throwing dissenters in prison: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/apr/14/bill-nye-open-criminal-charges-jail-time-climate-c/ []

From Godlessness to Ghosts

This entry is part 6 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

Not quite on topic, but a good indicator of why humanistic naturalists tend to borrow the terminology and trappings of Christianity:

From the New York Times:

Ghosts, or at least belief in them, have been around for centuries but they have now found a particularly strong following in highly secular modern countries like Norway, places that are otherwise in the vanguard of what was once seen as Europe’s inexorable, science-led march away from superstition and religion. While churches here may be largely empty and belief in God, according to opinion polls, in steady decline, belief in, or at least fascination with, ghosts and spirits is surging… “God is out but spirits and ghosts are filling the vacuum,” said Roar Fotland, a Methodist preacher and assistant professor at the Norwegian School of Theology in Oslo. Instead of slowly eliminating religion, as Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx and other theorists predicted, modernity has only channeled religious feelings in unexpected ways, Mr. Fotland said. “Belief in God, or at least a Christian God, is decreasing but belief in spirits is increasing,” he added, describing this as part of a general resurgence of “premodern religion…” Arild Romarheim, a Lutheran priest and recently retired theology lecturer, described the conviction of well-educated atheists and agnostics that ghosts exist as “the paradox of modernity” — a revival of old beliefs to slake an innate human thirst for a spiritual life left unsatisfied by the decline of the church.1

  1. Hat tip to Albert Mohler’s “The Briefing” podcast []

Right Questions, Wrong Places

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series Humanistic Naturalism as a Religion

Jeffrey Kluger, Time Magazine, November 10, 2014 – Review of the move Interstellar

It’s huge, it’s cold, it’s soulless. It’s possessed of forces that would rip you to ribbons the second you dared to step off the tiny planetary beachhead it has permitted us. What’s more, it completely defies understanding, at least for anyone who’s not fluent in the language of singularities and space-time and wormholes and all the rest. But never mind, because we believe in it all—and oh, how we love it. Big cosmology has become our secular religion, a church even atheists can join. It addresses many of the same questions religion does: Why are we here? How did it all begin? What comes next? And even if you can barely understand the answers when you get them, well, you’ve heard of a thing called faith, right? Like religion, cosmology has its high priests: Einstein and Hawking—people who, like Muhammad and Jesus, don’t even need second names. It has lesser priests as well: Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson—the great communicators. It has its storytellers too, none more powerful than those in Hollywood.

Interstellar will unavoidably help us look at the cosmos more as cathedral than void—a place to contemplate the riddles of space and time, yes, but life, death and love too. That’s explicit in the movie.

 

Truth vs Everything Else

I saw the following ironic statement on io9:

Interestingly, all humans may be descended from a common female ancestor, the so-called Mitochondrial Eve. But that’s science, not Biblical conjecture. [Emphasis and italics added]

The quote’s author is forced to include may, because science doesn’t claim to give us truth. In fact, science starts with conjecture and often end in conjecture [an idea based on incomplete or inconclusive information]. The Bible, however, is a historical record. It’s either correct or incorrect, but it’s certainly not putting out a hypothesis. It claims to be Truth.

Why is Biblical truth important? As discussion of the article developed into an argument for or against the validity of the Bible, one of the commenters said the following:

The rapacious need of Christian fundamentalists that the Bible be word for word literally true is born of this tendency of the last couple of centuries of Western thought that the only truth that matters is the logocentric, the literal, physical, rational truth. Therefore, to be of value to humanity, the Bible must be literally, physically, rationally true. It is important to note that this error of thought and logic is only a couple of centuries old in religion. Anti-theists make the same error.

In short, what difference does it make if one says God started a process if our investigation of that process is completely separate from and independent of that doctrinal insistence – as the Catholic church has tenaciously advocated for a century? Perhaps if we on the irreligious side of these issues could drop our own dogmatic doctrinal insistence on the absolute absence of any Creator, we could rob fundamentalists of the ammunition they use against us.

There are two key points here: The nature and value of truth. First, by nature truth is literal and rational. The commenter posits the value of “mythocentric truth,” but it does not exist. If it were to be anything else [non-literal or non-rational] it would no longer be truth, merely myth. Secondly, lies can contain extrinsic value, but not intrinsic. The value of a lie is subjective. Its only value is in the response of the hearer. The value of truth is objective: Regardless of the response, it simply is. To be intrinsically valuable to humanity, the Bible must be true. The writer says that we shouldn’t care if there is a Creator or not, if he is not involved now, what does it matter? If the Bible is a lie, at least it fortifies believers from a cold and impersonal universe [extrinsic value]. Another commenter replied to this, saying, “The way I see it, if their [sic] is no creator, then everyone is equal and your choices are your own.” For this commenter, the truth matters. He understands that the existence of God is not subjective; it is either true or false, and knowing which is incredibly valuable to how one acts.

 

Have Your Evidence and Eat It Too

In my last post I mentioned that a  particular academian had stated that, “No intelligent designer would have done that.” Likewise, the late Stephen Jay Gould once said, “The proof of evolution lies in imperfection.”

Interestingly enough, an article posted today in Wired Science included this quote from Georgia Tech chemist Nicholas Hud:

RNA is so perfect today that it has to be the product of evolution.

So apparently, if it’s imperfect, that’s proof that no intelligent creator was involved. But if it’s perfect, that’s proof that… no intelligent creator was involved. Hmm.

 

Hints for the Lord Almighty

The following quote is attributed to King Alfonso X of Castile, sometimes called “Alfonso the Wise” and “Alfonso the Astronomer.”  It is said that he made these comments in the 13th century while being taught Ptolemaic astronomy:

If the Lord Almighty had consulted me before embarking upon Creation, I should  have recommended something simpler.

Likewise, Richard Dawkins said the following in an interview with The Oregonian:

The recurrent laryngeal nerve is a remarkable piece of unintelligent design. The nerve starts in the head, with the brain, and the end organ is the larynx, the voice box. But instead of going straight there it goes looping past the voice box. In the case of the giraffe, it goes down the full length of the giraffe’s neck, loops down one of the main arteries in the chest and then comes straight back up again to the voice box, having gone within a couple of inches of the voice box on its way down. No intelligent designer would ever have done that.

It seems to me that King Alfonso and Dr. Dawkins are saying the same thing, though Dawkins concludes his longer quote with an unhelpful logical fallacy.

The interesting point here is that Ptolemy was wrong and, consequently, so was Alfonso. It wasn’t poor Alfonso’s fault that period science had the sun in the wrong place, but instead of blaming Ptolemy, Alfonso critiqued God.

Dawkins is doing the same thing. Instead of blaming the shortcomings of modern science, he instead critiques God. As with Alfonso, the period scientific conclusion has ended up being at fault, not the creator. In fact, the shortcomings of evolutionary theory have become a “god of the gaps” in their own right. If the design isn’t understood, blame it on random processes. Of course they’ll be messy! But time and time again these “unintelligent designs” have been shown to be rather clever after all. It’s the process of discovery, not the Designer, that has stumbled through the centuries.

Bergman, J. 2010. Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve Is Not Evidence of Poor Design. Acts & Facts. 39 (8): 12-14

“Simple morality dictates that unless and until someone can prove the unborn  human is not alive, we must give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it is (alive). And, thus, it should be entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Adam Laats writes the following:

Building an anti-creationist argument on the foundation that creationism disables technical education, as does Tanenbaum and other prominent pro-science voices such as Bill Nye, is both a false claim and poor strategy.

This is common sense, and it makes me sad to see people like Bill Nye miss this completely and fall instead into baseless rhetoric.