Re: "Heretics in the Laboratory"--Newsweek (9/16/96)

Steven Schimmrich (s-schim@students.uiuc.edu)
Mon, 7 Oct 1996 12:05:09 -0500 (CDT)

Neil Haave (haavn@wildrose.net) wrote:

> Thanks very much for your reply. You are right. I think I did
> miss your original point. Likely because I responded too quickly.
> Hence, the reason for this slower response.
>
> For me your points are relevant in that I teach a couple of courses
> at Augustana which question the nature of science. I think your
> issues with Gould are about the nature and limitations of science.
> My understanding of science is that it is LIMITED to the study of
> the natural and physical world and may only deal with questions
> that are potentially testable or falsifiable.

I agree that science is limited to the study of the natural and
physical world since it's defined that way. I don't think science
can say anything about God's existence or nonexistence at all because
it does restrict itself to the natural realm and uses methodological
naturalism as a working method.

That said, some scientists will still claim that science somehow
"disproves" God since He's no longer needed if we have a completely
naturalistic explanation for the world and how it works (I personally
think they're naively optimistic in this regard). This attitude, which
seems to be held by Richard Dawkins, for example, is one I would repudiate.

> Your point about the Newsweek article was that Gould should not
> criticize Christians for allowing their beliefs to influence the
> way that they ask questions or interpret data. This because he
> (and Lewontin) have described themselves as Marxists and do not
> dispute the fact that this worldview influences their science.
> Reading the Newsweek article (16 Sept 96, p 82), however, I note
> that the issue is regarding creationist views, not Christian views.
> Creationists are a subset of Christianity. Gould does not take
> issue with Christians but with creationists. In his essay, "Moon,
> Man, and Otto", Gould writes regarding an old biology textbook:
>
> I agree entirely with the first two sentences: "There is
> nothing in science which is opposed to a belief in God and
> religion. Those who think so are mistaken about their science
> or their theology or both." (Gould 1983)

Let's be even clearer with our terms. I would argue that all Christians
are creationists since all Christians should believe that "In the beginning,
God created the Heavens and the Earth." I am a creationist. I am not,
however, by any stretch of the imagination a young-earth creationist.
Sometimes I get the feeling, reading Gould and others, that it's OK to
believe in God (if you're not too bright) but don't believe that God
actually did anything or interfered in any way with the physical universe
-- a point of view I'm very uncomfortable with as a Christian.

> So I don't think that Gould thinks that Christians are bad
> scientists. But he does think that creationists are bad
> scientists. The reason for this is that creationists invoke the
> supernatural (God) to explain biodiversity. Whether or not natural
> selection is the wrong explanation for diversity will not prove or
> disprove God's hand in creation. Science is simply not equipped to
> deal with this question. The question of God's role in creation is
> beyond the scope of science due to science's inherent limitations.
> Contrary to what non-scientists may think about the scientific
> endeavour, it cannot answer all questions about the universe. It can
> only deal with physical/natural phenomena. Hence, science cannot test God.

I would agree if you change creationists above to young-earth creationists.

I would also say, in reference to the last part of the above paragraph, that
it's not just non-scientists who have bad ideas about science. What about
Stephen Hawking's comments in "A Brief History of Time" (1988, p. 13) where
he says that the eventual goal of science was to provide a unified theory
that completely describes the universe we live in? Do those quantum
mechanical mathematical equations Hawking envisions encompass God as well?
Many science popularizers are believers in scientism -- a philosophical
belief about science -- and confuse this with science itself (a naturalistic
method of investigating the physical world).

> Another point is that you want to equate the bias of creationist beliefs with
> the bias of Marxist ideology. I think that the two are different. A
> philosopher friend of mine here at Augustana articulated it the
> best for me:
>
> The problem with creationism is that part of the perspective
> is to posit a cause that is inherently untestable. Marxists
> don't do that. Marxism may provide certain metaphors for
> interaction that privilege certain theories, but ultimately
> the theories still have to be tested. (Janz 1996)

Marxism does indeed differ in being completely naturalistic whereas young-
earth creationism does invoke the supernatural.

But, I think it's also true that many young-earth creationist claims are
testable (i.e. a global flood depositing all sedimentary rocks) and, on the
other hand, many people hold to Marxist beliefs without ever subjecting them
to objective testing.

> The question that creationists are asking (ie. how do we reconcile
> God with our scientific understanding of the universe) may be an
> appropriate one, but I do not think that it can be answered within
> the realm of science as I defined it above as it posits a
> supernatural explanation for biodiversity which cannot be tested. For that
> matter, it is not an issue for many christians. It seems to me to only
> become an issue if one assumes the inerrancy of scripture.

Agreed.

> Gould and creationists may be talking across different paradigms of
> inquiry. This is notpossible due to different definitions or
> understandings of the nature of the question being asked or the type of
> data admitted. Creationists want to admit the supernatural into their
> scientific explanations. The rest of the scientific community does not.
> This, it seems to me, is what is at issue when one group identifies the
> other as doing bad science.

I sort of agree. Once again, let me say that I'm a geologist and not
a young-earth creationism (I often argue against their claims for a
young earth, global flood, etc.). But, as a Christian, I'm also uncomfortable
with leaving God totally out of the picture when attempting to explain the
orgin of the universe and of life. I don't have an answer to the problem
but I disagree with those who hold that science MUST be naturalistic AND
then say that science can answer all these questions.

- Steve.

--
      Steven H. Schimmrich           KB9LCG            s-schim@uiuc.edu
      Department of Geology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
         245 Natural History Building, Urbana, IL 61801  (217) 244-1246
      http://www.uiuc.edu/ph/www/s-schim     Fides quaerens intellectum