Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Against Anti-Science

Abusive relationships. You don't have to spend much time on this planet to run into several. You know them when you see them, one moment they love one another the next they're trying to kill each other. They alternately use, abuse, love, hate, adore and despise one another. One (if not both) will usually swear that we just don't understand their relationship, really they love each other. Yet all anyone ever sees is how they damage one another though. Yes there are several bad relationships in this world but one stands out above the rest. It has been going on longer and been more abusive than any other you'd care to name. The relationship I'm referring to is the one between Science and Christianity.

Look, it sure started out great and the romance bloomed at first. Christianity gave Science a nurturing environment and Science was positively glowing. May seem hard to believe but back in the day, Christian worldviews that:
1) The world is real and not an illusion (as the eastern philosophy taught)
2) That God is separate and above nature (meaning you can dissect it without fear)
3) God is rational (and therefore His creation should be rational and behave rational too and can therefore be studied)
really helped Science come into its own. But of course that didn't last long... Before long Science started saying things that Christianity didn't like - for instance that the world was moving (around the Sun no less), and not fixed on pillars like the Bible said. Things soon turned abusive and despite a lot of counseling, things have never been real good since. In fact, they seem worse than ever. These days it's hard to tell who is abusing who since the fighting is constant and ugly.

Of course just like any other abusive relationship, there is at least one partner who swears that they still totally love each other. In this case the partner in question would have to be Christianity. Crack open a Christian book, magazine or website and before long Christianity will be telling you how much it loves Science. Science is great. Science is cool. We have no problem with Science. The things we fight about? That's not really part of Science. Science should just go back to agreeing with us and everything would be great again. Indeed if there is one thing that Christianity is adamant about, it's that it is not anti-Science. Sadly, that claim rings about as hollow as the platitudes of any other abusive spouse.

Truth is, Christianity (in general)
is anti-science, there is no denying it. Of course this accusation has been leveled before and quite frankly I don't think it's possible to count all the arguments and counter-arguments currently raging between Christians and Science. Christians say they are for Science, (many) scientists say that Christianity is against Science and would like us all back in the Dark Ages. I don't have the space, the time or the energy to even attempt to list the history, the different arguments or any of the many different viewpoints here. I already posted my intellectual and moral objections to Creation Science in a previous post. Instead I choose to save time by cutting right down to the bone. To me at least the whole question on whether Christianity is anti-Science can be settled with just one question - how does Christianity treat Science and those who practice it?

First off, Christians love to imply that scientists are stupid or liars or incompetent or all of the above. Sure they don't (usually) just come right out and say it but that really is the implication here. For scientists to be as wrong as many Christians claim to be about things like the age of the Earth, evolution and now global warming, one or all of those things
have to be true. For the Average Joe Christian to be able to so confidently claim Scientists wrong about everything they disagree on using just a dash of High School education and a lick of sense, Scientists would have to be the dumbest people on earth! Clearly all those long hours of study, the years of lab and field work was a total waste of time! Now I have only a limited tertiary education in the sciences but that was enough to give me the highest respect for people in academia, their levels of intelligence and the thoroughness of their work. To simply dismiss them with a wave of the hand and a derisive snort is downright vulgar! The only other explanation is that there is this massive global conspiracy - which basically means that all the Scientists of the world have collectively agreed to lie through their teeth in order to attempt to discredit Christianity. As far fetched as this may sound there are actually a lot of Christians who believe that. Again, I have to ask myself if they have even tried thinking about how impossible a conspiracy of such size and scope would be? Basically Scientists across (rival) nationalities and laboratories, working in countless fields and producing new work daily would have to be lying to the world in perfect harmony without anyone ever breaking ranks. Does that even sound possible to you? I actually know a few scientists who happen to be very devoted Christians and yet fully accept Scientific findings - I find it impossible to think of them as part of a global conspiracy of evil, hellbent on deceiving us all! Of course there is a milder version used by those who are intellectually honest enough to admit that Scientists are not a bunch of lying morons yet are not intellectually honest enough to admit that they may be wrong regarding their view of the Bible as Scientifically inerrant. These try to level the playing field by claiming that everyone has the same facts, they are just interpreting them different. See according to this view, Scientists aren't evil or stupid, they are just incompetent. In this case the idea is that scientists are using the wrong preconceived notions to start with, thereby ignoring all other possibilities, sheepishly staying in the fold of "Big Science". What we have here is a serious case of projection methinks... See there is not a real scientist in the world I think that doesn't dream of finding something fresh and new, some new way of looking at things that will render the old way obsolete. Conventions and assumptions are continuously challenged, debated and tested in Science. It is rather among the "Christian scientists" that preconceived starting assumptions are a problem. For instance when it comes to the age of the universe, science is free to look at light, measure distances and come up with any number - as long as they can back it up, because all other scientists in their field are going to spend a lot of energy trying to prove them wrong first in the brutal process known as peer review. Its people who know that they have to come to the conclusion somehow that the earth is 6000 years old on the other hand that are hindered by their starting assumptions. That is why you would get the time dilation model by a man as brilliant as Dr Russel Humphreys which allows the universe to be billions of years old while the earth is 6000 - clever, but pretty much the scientific equivalent of doing a triple backwards somersault with a twist instead of taking a step. I ask you, who is filtering their results through creative interpretation here?

See you can't have it both ways. You can't be pro-science but anti-scientist. Either you trust them or you don't. You can't trust forensic investigators to use small clues in order to find out exactly what happened in the past (at a murder or accident scene) and yet not trust the very same method to tell you what happened in the ancient past - honestly the "you weren't there" defense is beyond retarded. You can't trust nuclear physicists to know what they are doing when they use nuclear decay to build power plants while at the same time insisting that they don't know what they are talking about when they use nuclear decay to determine the age of the universe and the earth. For some reason the same people who trust biologist to keep us safe from newly formed bacterial lifeforms have no issue with calling those same biologists liars when it comes to evolution. If you trust DNA in court and in paternity tests, why would you reject it when applied to the ancestry and interrelatedness of species? You either reject all the work of a body of science or you trust the people who have dedicated their lives to that study. You can't just cherry pick the parts that you agree with.

The attitude of so much of Christianity against Scientists is enough to make the charge of being Anti-Science stick. But wait, there's more! There is also a clear disrespect for scientific advancement and study among so many Christians. Granted it can be rather subtle, at times it
even sounds sensible and pragmatic. People (and granted this is not just among Christians but you tend to see it mostly among Christians) ask innocent seeming question like: "Why study human origins?" "Why travel to Mars?" "Why land on the moon?" followed by the inevitable "What is it good for anyway?" In recent times, nothing else has highlighted this attitude like the Large Hadron Collider. It never ceases to amaze me how people can call Scientific endeavor in effect a pointless waste of time and money and yet claim not to be anti-science in their very next breath! How incredibly ungrateful! The only reason we are where we are today and no longer living in caves and huts, foraging for berries and hunting with sharp sticks is because there have been people throughout history who chose to try to make sense of the world and expand their knowledge by doing "pointless" experiments instead of doing "useful" work! If we limit all science to what will be useful to us right this instant we effectively cut all progress off at the knees - how is that not anti-science?! Did you know that the previous research project of CERN (builders of the Large Hadron Collider) gave us the internet as a side effect?? Thats right, the freaking internet! We wouldn't have it right now if scientists didn't fool around with their "pointless" experiments. The most despicable part of this anti-science agenda is when Christians try to vilify scientists by bringing up the worst argument apart from "Where you there?" - the starving children! Like clockwork, whenever there is an expensive project like the LHC or even a field of study deemed "unworthy" by Christians they piously ponder how many poor starving children could have been fed by the money used for that. First of all as I just pointed out, advancing our knowledge is hardly wasteful. Secondly its unbelievably hypocritical! It is thanks to "wasteful" scientific experimentation that we aren't ALL starving after every hard winter. In fact it is only because of "frivolous" scientific spending that the man on the street is even aware of the starving children of the world, not to mention in a position to do something about it! Why is it that the "starving children" always pop up in conversation when other people are spending money? Do these people ever cut their spending habits to feed the poor children? But I digress. My point is that to call any form of scientific advancement a waste of time and money is utterly anti-science and to try to make Scientists look like bad people by throwing in the "starving children" is just despicable.

Clearly a substantial part of Christianity is very much anti-Science, despite their protestations to the contrary. This is a real tragic state of affairs and is damaging for us all. It really does make this an abusive relationship. In fact I think one of the biggest contributors to Atheists becoming Anti-theists is the apparent Christian Anti-Science Agenda. I think most atheists would have been far less vocal if they didn't have the very real (and realistic) fear that the Church would prefer to have us all back in the Dark Age - where the only science allowed is church approved science. Not to mention that most non-believers would probably have more time for the message the Christians have if they didn't see Christianity as so steadfastly opposed to observable reality and testable science! Instead of whining about how mean Doctors Dawkins and Myers are to us, why not take a moment to think about the message our attitude towards Science is sending? We are acting downright fearful! Scientists are not afraid, just look at the LHC - it could prove our standard model of particle physics wrong and that doesn't scare scientists, that excites them! They get that learning more will not destroy science, but rather that having a better understanding will make science even greater. We Christians on the other hand seem to be fighting the advancement of the light of Science because our God lives in the darkness of the unknown and once Science knows more, our God would have less room to hide. In fact from the way we act its as if we are afraid that once the darkness is lifted we will find He isn't there at all. So we fight tooth and nail and embrace increasingly outlandish ideas, just to make our faith work, just to keep enough darkness for God to hide in. Thing is, I don't think God lives in the dark. We have been claiming that He lives in the unknown for so long that we have forgotten that He never claimed to live there in the first place. The God of "scientific" Christianity seems like such a small god - he needs to be constantly defended, protected and taken care of. I believe God is SO much more than that. I believe that the God who lets Himself be know doesn't only mind us knowing His Universe, he encourages it! I believe that the God who so brilliantly uses chemistry, physics and biology to keep the universe running today is not threatened by the idea that He used those same tools to bring all things into existence. Flowers used to be a mystery to us, something only God could do but science could not explain. Now that Science can explain it, are flowers less beautiful? Does this mean there is one less dark corner for God to hide in or does this instead mean that we can now more fully appreciate His Works? In fact (shameless advertisement in 3,2,1), Ken Miller makes the case in his brilliant book Finding Darwin's God which I highly recommend to anyone even remotely interested in the subject . It is easy to read, easy to follow and makes a fantastic case for why Evolution does not rule out God that the universe we live in is exactly the type of universe one would expect to live in if we had a God who was interested in giving us free will to choose between good and evil. Sure, Science and Christianity may never be lovers again but I don't see why we can't still be friends. I think it is only right that we remove the unfair burden from Science of having to prove our faith true - it was never able to do that in the first place. Furthermore we as Christians should not fear the piercing searchlight of Science. Sure, it may force us to rethink some of our opinions, but is that such a bad thing? Genesis was given to ancient desert Nomads in order to teach them as much as they were able to grasp at that point. In the same way my parents did not begrudge me moving beyond Green Eggs & Ham, I don't think God is threatened by us moving into a more thorough understanding of the world than that given to us by the creation poem of Genesis.

This XKCD comic really shows that Science is not as dumb as some would like to think. The graph is data from the COBE mission, which looked at the background microwave glow of the universe and found that it fit perfectly with the idea that the universe used to be really hot everywhere. This strongly reinforced the Big Bang theory and was one of the most dramatic examples of an experiment agreeing with a theory in history - the data points fit perfectly, with error bars too small to draw on the graph. It's one of the most triumphant scientific results in history.


RandomSue said...

so, you feel strongly about this, Eugene?

Eugene said...

Whatever gave you that idea?

GumbyTheCat said...

I've run across every level of anti-science Christian you've described so well here! The root issue, of course, is the fundamentalists. However, I see signs of scientific enlightenment in Christianity. I think religion, especially Christianity, is in a state of transition, a transition that is being delayed as much as possible by the fundies. I think the key is for more people to realize that just because fundies appear to be the most strictly devout, that does not mean they are right. And that of course comes through proper education - real science continuing to be taught. It's easy for us here in the U.S. to be pessimistic, as we have such a problem with these "Liars For Jesus", but we have to be realistic and note that religion has traditionally lagged behind other institutions in science acceptance. The science fostering role of religion that you described ended a long time ago, after all.

The Christians of 100 years from now will still be a bit behind the times scientifically speaking, but I believe the vast majority will accept evolution as fact. Hopefully by then, medievalistic fundamentalism will be all but dead.

geoff said...

"Fundamental Religion" is the root cause of so much grief. I have the opinion that many religions have their origins from times when knowledge was still a new thing. Humans seem to have this un-ending interest and quest to find out how things work. "Once upon a time" religion gave the answers to many of these qusts, ie Why the sun came up. Why the seas and oceans were stormy or calm. etc. Scince has delivered answers to these and put various dieties out of work in many cases.
Fundamentalist religious practise gives me the impression of the leaders of these groups as people grabbing for power over others. By using a religion to support their quest to rule.

Becky said...

This subject is one that is very near and dear to my heart. It is so much easier to prove that there is science than god, but does that really mean that there isn't a god? There are scientists out there who believe that science and god do coexist. For example, I just stumbled across a website in which a scientist of 25 years, Leo Kim, saw both science and spirituality coexist while working in a cancer unit- watching people being healed and others dying. He is actually coming out with a new book explaining his theories- which I think sounds very interesting. The book is titled, “Healing the Rift,” and is scheduled to come out sometime in October- I for one can’t wait to read it.

Tania said...

Well said, dude! I particularly like your opinion about removing "the unfair burden from Science of having to prove our faith true". That is what faith is - believing in what we cannot see. In my opinion, science does not make God less true or powerful - exactly the opposite, since He is the One who came up with it all in the first place...