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Christianity and Science.

(But having nothing to do with Christian Science…)

Brief Introduction

So, I’ve been trying, and unsuccessfully at that, to stay out of the Evolution vs. ID vs. Christianity vs. your children debate that’s been flaming around lately. As I mentioned earlier, I’m rather tired of the debate, and I have my suspicions that the whole thing is just an extension of the whole cultural turf war between certain parties who are more interested in being cool than in being, well, correct, or even honest.

However, fatigued or not, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about some of the core issues involved. So when that eminent Thomist, my friend Shane Wilkins, takes the time from his busy schedule of Belgian philosophy parties to address my critique, and put in his two cents on the subject, I feel obliged to respond.

In doing so, I should perhaps point out that I am making two fatal mistakes: I am making my own sortie into an ongoing land war in Asia, whilst simultaneously going up against a Sicilian when death is on the line. Please try to learn from my example, and don’t try this at home.

Onward, then! Forward, the Light Brigade! / Charge for the guns!

Shane, in his comment on Mike’s original post makes four points, which I will address briefly in reverse order.

Science and Education

4. evolution ought to be the only thing taught in schools, but the way that i want evolution to be taught is patently different than the way it is likely to be taught in fact in most science text books around the country, because most science text books operate terrible philosophy of science.

Well, perhaps not the only thing taught in schools–I’d like to see math, grammar, and the arts on the list as well. :) But I couldn’t agree with this more: at the general education level, science education within each field should focus on dominant scientific theories and the scientific issues which surround them.

The point about the philosophy of science is also right on the nail head. Scott Sampson, a paleontologist, has an excellent article addressing this whole issue. I have more to say, but I’ll save it for the next point.

Worldviews in Education

3. schools already always and ineliminably teach religion to some extent. (not many people in the media say this, but i think i have persuasive reasons to believe it).

I’d like to know how Shane defines “religion” more exactly, but by the context, and following the fourth sense of this definition, I’ll infer that he means something akin to a comprehensive and universal worldview, or if we want to be trendy, a metanarrative,

Which of course makes perfect sense–we have public schools in order to indoctrinate the youth with the societal values that make up a fine, upstanding citizen. Therefore, our students take part in the “America” story, as Shane identifies.

But I see an unasked question here: is Science a comprehensive worldview? My answer is, simply, “no.” As I understand it, Science has a dual nature:

  1. Science is a process, a tool, a procedure for gathering and reporting evidence in a formal, rigorous, and repeatable manner.

  2. Science is a body of statements about the empirically observable world that have been derived from all the data gathered by the aforementioned process.

Note that bit in the second point about “the empirically observable world.” By the nature of science, if you can’t observe it empirically, you can’t use the scientific process to gather evidence about it, and therefore you can’t make a scientific statement about it. Science is self-limiting, and this is a feature, not a bug.

However, there are on-going popular projects to found comprehensive worldviews on top of Science. In so doing, however, they have felt quite free to make nonscientific statements about unobservable phenomena and slip these in among real scientific statements. I have written elsewhere about this.

This entire argument about evolution truly begs the question: by “evolution”, are we talking about the set of statements made by Science, or the set of statements made by Empirical Materialists? The two sets are quite similar, the first being a subset of the second. But the implications of each set couldn’t be more divergent: one says that a certain process appears to have occurred; the other says, at its very heart, that everything is random, meaningless, and purposeless.

Therefore, if the point of education is indoctrination, and if our society holds the worldview of the Empirical Materialists in highest esteem, then we ought to teach the second Evolution and the second Science in our public schools.

But let’s not forget that public education has a second purpose: creating effective citizens who will be entirely capable of thriving in the workforce and contributing to the national society and culture at large. I would have to argue that the worldview of the Empirical Materialists will not be more effective toward this end. I would much rather have true Science and the scientific theory of Evolution taught in the schools.

And I think that if that were indeed the case, this whole argument would blow over, because there wouldn’t be much to argue about.

The Importance of Story

2. the category of story or myth, etc. is very important in discussing science, following eyk.

Yep.

Christianity and Science

1. science and the philosophy of science is very important for christian faith, contra eyk.

Now this is where it all gets interesting, so I thank you, dear reader, for staying with me this long.

I’d like to know more specifically what Shane means by “very important”, but I will assume that he does not mean “foundational”, as this would mean re-writing the creeds and ruffling not a few saintly feathers.

So, for the sake of discussion, I’ll assume that by “very important for christian faith” we mean “a recommended component of a Christian’s complete tool set,” implying that by “science and philosophy of science” we mean the process and collected data of Science that I discussed above.

Therefore, if that is what Shane means by his point, then the only component of it that I can take issue with is “contra eyk”: I would agree entirely with my revision of Shane’s statement. ;)

I should make a hasty retreat and refortification: in my original post, I made the statement, “I am not an evolutionist.” Such a statement could easily be taken as anti-evolution and anti-Science. However, I meant it in the same way as I might say, “I am not a scientist.” I have never made the study of evolution or science my primary occupation or interest, nor, it is likely, will I ever.

Also, I should restate my estimation of the Theory of Evolution as a story, with some amplification:

  • The Theory of Evolution is a nice story and a useful object-to-think-with.
  • That is, it’s a useful tool for considering the scientific mystery of the origins of life–that is, the how of life, which is the sort of thing that science is eminently capable for explaining.
  • Insofar as it has been co-opted as a tool for constructing worldviews, the Theory of Evolution has demonstrated sub-par performance.
  • The most coherent comprehensive and universal statement that the Theory of Evolution has yet been able to make goes something like this: “all life and intelligence arises from the effects of random noise in the environment.”
  • This is akin to saying, “all life and intelligence arises from the effects of an unknown process that cannot be understood.”

All that to say, I love science, and I benefit from its fruits every day. I grew up reading science fiction, and I devour all the startling new breakthroughs in astrophysics and cosmology. As a technologist, I find that the scientific method adapts well to the rigorous analysis of complex and poorly-understood systems (like my computer).

As a creationist, (that is, one who holds the doctrine that “all things were made through him, and without him nothing was made that has been made”), I wholeheartedly support the scientific project of understanding the how of creation better. As a Christian, I’ll side with St. Anselm in affirming that faith seeks understanding.

I see no reason for the popular idea that science and Christianity must be at odds with each other. Both seek to understand truth, and both operate out of the human faculty and capacity for faith. But their respective scopes and domains of truth are complementary, and the human capacity for faith is more than ample for both projects to share this most valuable of resources.

That’s the short of it. There are many rabbit-trails that I have not gone down. Paraphrasing Shane, this is an enormous region to explore, and much about it that is poorly understood. Hopefully, I’ve been able to push the frontier forward a few inches.

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2 Responses to “Christianity and Science.”

  1. 1
    shane:

    eyk,

    this is a great response and I think you’re on the right trail. the only thing that i see to object is how to understand the category ’story’ in relation to science. i’m concerned to say that ’story’ seems to limit science to a sort of social construction. of course, science is a social construction, but i’m inclined to a realist position that thinks science ‘works’ as a story because it does (more or less, hopefully more as our knowledge grows) give us a handle on reality.

    that’s the only thing that i’m worried about. of course, science is in no way foundational for the christian faith, in the way the doctrine of the trinity is, but it might have important implications for the doctrine of creation and vice versa. i’ve been arguing about this with David Congdon and his uncle Mark for a while now over at his blog. if you are bored to tears and are trying to find something to do other than stick a nail in your eye, you can read the discussion at http://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=11393723&postID=112924501256960253 — beware there are a ton of comments.

    shane

  2. 2
    eykd:

    Mr. Ertle:

    I’ve removed your comments, as they were off-topic and excessively long. In the future, if you wish to mention your own material, please keep it related to the discussion, and provide a link instead of a full text. Thank you.

    –David Eyk

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