Horrock's Pass, Wilmington 2016

"Science" doesn't mean much

Key Point 1.
A valid concern, but the wrong reaction.

Without doubt there are people who are hostile to belief in God. There are those who believe God's earth is for us to do with as we like, and essentially, so are people. God should be honoured. A society and a world that does not honour God, is heading for disaster. There are also many ignorant people who try and beat religious people over the head with ''evolution" as a tool which "disproves" religion. There are others who are bitterly opposed to Christianity, and not just ignorant in their attacks.
Proving that God created the earth in a certain way will not solve these problems. Scientific proof of God as Creator-in-a-certain-fashion will change nothing. People need a change in the heart. That comes from meeting God, not from a scientific proof. It especially does not come from the special pleading and bad science which Creation Science is known for.

Key Point 2.
"Scientist" does not mean much.
What is a scientist?
For that matter, what is science?
My experience is that these two words have been used in a very loose fashion in this debate. Being clear on what we mean, and understanding where others are coming from can make it much easier to critique material being presented to us.

Science is a way of looking at the world and increasing our understanding of how the world works. It is not the only way to look at the world, and it is not the only valid way of looking at the world. It is a very powerful way of understanding and manipulating the world, as computers, moon rockets and bridges will testify. But it is also very poor at understanding some aspects of reality such as love and spirit and motivation.

Science works by making an hypothesis about a phenomenon and then seeking to disprove the hypothesis. If,
after a long period,
of multiple tests or experiments,
by multiple experimenters,
the hypothesis is not disproved, and still explains the observed results,
the hypothesis may be accorded the status of a Scientific Theory, particularly when very many apparently correct smaller hypotheses support a broader hypothesis. The Theory of Evolution is based on very many smaller supporting hypotheses.

Science is very good, in fact spectacularly successful, at describing how something works. It is far less successful at explaining why, and very poor at supplying meaning and value; that is "what for."

For example; it is common to observe seriously ill people hang on barely alive until the arrived of a loved one at the bedside, and then quite quickly die. A scientific study can establish it this really does happen, or if its just wishful thinking, or sentimentality in the face of death. It can also explain what happens inside the body as it keeps hanging on in there, and then suddenly collapses. That's the ''how."

Medical scientists might hypothesise why this happens, but would generally be hard pressed to be very certain. There is too much variation between people's personal history etc. to ever be really sure. That's the why.

But what does this phenomenon mean? Is it good to stay alive in terrible pain so some person who hated you can feel better? Should we try and get their in time, or go to extraordinary efforts to keep someone alive until the last daughter arrives from interstate? Science can't tell us this.

There are some implications of this very brief description of science.
a. Science, and the Scientific Method, is essentially humble. It does not claim to know all, and remains open to disproof. It is not the arrogant anti-religious force some people paint it to be. Some scientists are arrogant, biased, even dishonest people. People, not science are arrogant, biased, even dishonest.

b. In popular English, when we say "theory," or "it's only a theory" we are usually talking in a way where science would use the word "hypothesis." If science calls something a "Theory," especially with the capital "T," it is not the case that it's only a theory. Science means something has been so thoroughly investigated by so many people that it is very likely to be a very accurate description of how it works. To say "Evolution is only a theory," is really to display ignorance of how science works.

c. When we get to the "how" of the development of life on Earth, evolution is a spectacularly powerful and successful theorem. In fact, I wonder if people who pooh-hoo evolution at this level have grasped just how well supported the hypotheses that make up the Theory are! When we come to "why" the success is varied. It is very obvious why some things are. For example, the way our fifth "finger", the thumb, is a great advantage over having five fingers, and could lead to a competitive advantage, is pretty obvious. But why should life have started at all? Science has much less to say there. As for meaning and value, science is clueless. Why do we believe humans are generally more valuable than insects, and cats more likeable than flies? Science cannot say. Although it can tell us very clearly the ecological dangers of undervaluing insects, or show how furry purry is likely to be more pleasure inducing than squishy buzzy in your eyes, it can't actually prove or create or understand meaning.

In the dispute over evolution there is much confusion. Some scientists think their science says more about "why and what for" than it really does. Many Christians are afraid science does this, and would be far better served by concentrating or what their faith is good at; i.e., ''why and what for," instead of a fear driven pseudo-science campaign. Meeting God is much better for feeling good, (and for meeting God,) than arguing over how it all happened! And I reckon there are some ''scientists" who would find it more productive to handle their religious fears, or their disgust at the arrogance of some christians, in ways other them claiming more for science than what it can say.

c. A scientist is someone who works according to the scientific method. That means they are skilled in the field, their work is subject to review by their peers, and verifiable and repeatable. Someone with a deep interest in evolutionary theory may be a theologian, a philosopher, a technician, an educator, a populariser etc, but they are not a scientist in that field unless that is where they actually work. An eminent scientist in one field can be as rank an amateur as you or I in areas pertaining to evolution. Creation Science has been guilty of claiming many no doubt worthy people as "scientists" when strictly speaking, they are not.

d. Religious people are quite wrong when they think that scientists can't be Christians unless they are so-called Creation Scientists. Many faithful and deeply committed christians are scientists who find no problems with the Theory of Evolution. A Personal View of the Evolution Issue(Link live at 23.4.2006) by Alan Harvey, is a common example on the internet. This scientist, also a Christian, is worth a read by those who have been taught the myth of the arrogant, non believing scientist. He says in part:
A sixth way in which "evolution" is sometimes used is to refer to a metaphysical position in which atheistic philosophy is grafted onto the science in the mistaken belief that finding a natural explanation for something puts God out of the picture. An example is Carl Sagan's line, "The Cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be." This is sometimes called "evolutionism," though a better term is simply "naturalism" or "metaphysical naturalism." Such philosophical extrapolations are completely unscientific, and it is shameful when some try to pass them off as results of science.....
..... Is "evolution" in opposition to the Bible? The automatic answer of many people, both Christian and non-Christian, would be "Yes." I believe, however, that it is only the unscientific meaning #6 above that is a problem, and that whether or not the scientific theory of evolution is a correct description of the development of life has no bearing on the Christian doctrine of creation or the truth of the Bible.

A Summary
So far we have looked at two key points. The first suggests Creation Scientists have some valid concerns (and we didn't list all of them; I wouldn't want Carl Sagan teaching science to my kids.) I've also tried to point out that science and scientist can have a broad range of meanings dependent upon the speaker. The next page will suggest the same about christian and christianity.


Posted 22-April 2006

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