Impact no. 293

Allen Roy (allen@InfoMagic.com)
Fri, 7 Nov 1997 05:39:53 -0700 (MST)

This ought to stir up some responses. :-)

Allen Roy

IMPACT No. 293 <http://www.icr.org/pubs/imp/imp-293.htm>

SCIENTIFIC NATURALISM AS SCIENCE

by Larry Vardiman *

Institute for Creation Research, PO Box 2667, El Cajon, CA 92021
Voice: (619) 448-0900 FAX: (619) 448-3469

"Vital Articles on Science/Creation" November 1997
Copyright 1997 All Rights Reserved

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The Current Attitude

The current attitude in the academic and scientific community is that
science and religion are completely incompatible. It is believed that
science is a system of knowledge based on experimentation, observation, and
logic. Religion, on the other hand, is viewed as a system of faith based on
myth, culture, and self-delusion. A researcher is allowed to have a personal
religion, but he should never permit it to affect his work or he will no
longer be considered a legitimate scientist.

In a recent court case involving the right of the ICR Graduate School to
teach science from a Biblical perspective, a physics professor from
California State University at Long Beach testified that if Isaac Newton
were on the school's faculty today, his position on creation would prevent
the school from being recognized by the State of California. This professor
objected to statements such as the following in Mathematica Principia
where Newton said:

This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could
only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and
powerful Being. This Being governs all things, not as the soul of
the world, but as Lord over all, and on account of His dominion He
is wont to be called Lord God, Universal Ruler.1

When questioned how this professor could make such a statement about one who
is recognized as possibly the greatest scientist who ever lived, he replied
that if Isaac Newton persisted in maintaining a creationist position as he
did in Mathematica Principia, knowing what we know today, he would not be
recognized as a credible scientist.2

The reason this antagonism has reached such extreme proportions is because
science has been redefined to include only naturalistic explanations. All
observed and hypothesized processes in the universe must be the result of
natural causes. No supernatural explanations are allowed. Phillip Johnson
has described this approach well in his recent book when he said:

Theistic or "guided" evolution has to be excluded as a possibility
because Darwinists identify science with a philosophical doctrine
know as naturalism. Naturalism assumes the entire realm of nature
to be a closed system of material causes and effects, which cannot
be influenced by anything from "outside." Naturalism does not
explicitly deny the mere existence of God, but it does deny that a
supernatural being could in any way influence natural events, such
as evolution, or communicate with natural creatures like
ourselves. Scientific naturalism makes the same point by starting
with the assumption that science, which studies only the natural,
is our only reliable path to knowledge.3

When science is defined in this manner and someone violates the rules of
investigation by incorporating a supernatural cause or referring to the
Bible, he is determined to be unscientific. The rhetoric can become
inflammatory when power structures in the government and societies are
involved. For example, over 20 scientific societies in the United States
have policies in their bylaws denying acceptance of journal articles from
creationists.

Most scientists tend to shy away from such controversies. They prefer not to
become involved in public arguments or major controversies. By their nature,
most scientists tend to be withdrawn and prefer to work in a quiet,
noncontroversial environment. They generally eschew political posturing and
public pronouncements. Although many scientists are religious or are
sympathetic to those who are religious, they are unwilling to reveal their
positions for fear of ridicule or reprisals. On the other hand, there are
some scientists who are very aggressive about promoting a naturalistic
worldview and even some who advocate sanctions against those who would
conduct science from a supernatural perspective.

Carl Sagan's Naturalistic Worldview

Carl Sagan was one of the most articulate spokesmen for a naturalistic
worldview. Before he died of cancer in 1997, he had written numerous books
about the Cosmos and man's place in it. He was active in many scientific
organizations and in at least one which was aggressively antagonistic toward
the mixing of the Bible and science. His willingness to express his views on
the origin of life openly in his writings and public speaking was unique, to
the point of alienating many of his more reserved colleagues who thought he
was no longer functioning as a scientist himself. However, his writing
talents were well received by the public and the literary community.

Carl Sagan believed that man was the result of natural processes operating
over billions of years in a vast ocean of space. He could become highly
sentimental over the immensity of time involved in man's evolution and the
incredible improbability that life had occurred by chance. He had one great
hope-to find life existing somewhere else in the universe. I believe his
rejection of God as Creator produced a void in his worldview which drove him
to this search for life elsewhere in the universe. He searched for almost 30
years for some evidence that we are not alone, but he died with his dream
unfulfilled. He made an intriguing statement about 25 years into this search
when he said: "We've been looking for life beyond the Earth for 25 years
now, and we haven't found it anywhere. There must be something unique about
the Earth."4 I don't believe he ever realized how incredibly true this
statement was.

I had the distinct privilege of meeting Carl Sagan personally at the
American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco in December, 1994. 1 had
been drawn to his session by a sincere respect for his writing and speaking
skills over the years, and I believe the Lord led me to speak with him at
that time because he didn't have long to live. He was to be the first
speaker following a 30-minute intermission. I introduced myself and
expressed my appreciation for his ability to articulate science in a way
that could be understood by the public. He knew of the Institute for
Creation Research for whom I work, but had not heard of me personally.

He immediately began asking me a series of leading questions about how a
well trained scientist such as myself could have confidence in a book
written by a bunch of ignorant sheep herders thousands of years before any
real science had been discovered. He was so intent on pursuing our
conversation, that the session chairman had to come down from the podium and
interrupt our conversation to begin the next session. I was puzzled at the
time by his aggressiveness in questioning my reasons for confidence in the
Bible.

I later found out that he was to speak to the Commonwealth Club of San
Franciso later that evening where he introduced his new book, The Pale Blue
Dot. In this book and in an article he later wrote for Parade Magazine in
1995 entitled, "Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death," Carl Sagan was
probably more transparent than he had ever been about his search for God and
eternal life. I am certain that the nearness of death was forcing him to
reexamine some of the presuppositions on which he had based his life.

I exchanged a half dozen letters with Carl Sagan over the next year and a
half. We continued the conversation started there in San Francisco, and I
came to care for him as a friend. Probably the most poignant interchange was
over a statement he had made in his book, The Pale Blue Dot. After several
leading comments about the unreliability of the Bible, he said in this book:
"The evidence so far at least and from the laws of nature aside, does not
require a Designer. Maybe there is one hiding, maddeningly unwilling to be
revealed."5 I responded in one of my letters by saying: "Scientists have the
greatest opportunity of all to see the evidence of God's marvelous provision
for man in His creation. Yet, by and large, scientists today tend to be
almost totally blinded to the evidences. Because of the kinship I feel
toward you about the things of science, I request that you reconsider your
relationship to God. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you. He is not hiding from
you. Rather, He is waiting for you to see Him."6

The final letter I received from Carl Sagan before his death contained the
response: "Asking God to reveal himself to me presupposes his existence.
Plainly, this would be an inconsistent approach for someone who sees no
evidence for such a God."7 This response has haunted me ever since. Carl
Sagan's wife, Ann Druyan, asserted in the epilogue to his last book,
Billions and Billions, that: "Contrary to the fantasies of the
fundamentalists, there was no deathbed conversion, no last-minute refuge
taken in a comforting vision of a heaven or an afterlife."8 I still hold out
hope that he made peace with his Maker, and I will see him again someday.

It was evident from his writings as well as his membership in the National
Center for Science Education (a California group dedicated almost
exclusively to the advocacy of evolution and the removal of scientific
creationism from society) that Carl Sagan believed Scripture was unreliable
and should not be used as a basis for scientific investigation.
Unfortunately, the eloquence of his oratory and that of others like him has
brought disfavor upon the use of Scripture in any meaningful way in the
conduct of science. Funding of research, peer review, publication of
research results, and recognition of scientific accomplishments are strongly
affected by attitudes developed by people like Carl Sagan. It is not too
much to say that scientists in the twentieth century must fear for their
professional lives if they rely upon Scriptural support in any of their
work. Yet, research conducted from a Biblical perspective by those willing
to forego the usual support and recognition is making significant progress
and will eventually be recognized for the contribution it is making.

Conclusions

Recognizing the Bible as a reliable source of information for the conduct of
science is essential for an effective use of resources and for correct
results. Consider Carl Sagan's search for extra-terrestrial intelligence
(SETI). I believe from several lines of argument using the Bible that the
only extra-terrestrial intelligences in the universe are God and the
angels. If this is true, then the entire SETI program and a major portion
of our space program is a complete waste of money.

More importantly, the general acceptance of the theory that elementary
chemicals evolved into complex life forms over billions of years by
naturalistic processes has led to a wholesale rejection of the Creator God
and a generation that is expecting some superior life form suddenly to make
contact with the earth. Our current culture is inundated with books, movies,
and videos about people, empires, and monsters on other planets, galaxies,
and universes. The impact of this evolutionary myth is incalculable.
Undoubtedly the most costly aspect to this delusion will be counted in lost
souls at the final judgment.

It is time to reclaim science in the name of God. We need committed
Christians to train themselves as scientists and counteract this culture of
unbelief. Science based on a proper Biblical foundation can help reverse
this slide into apostasy and unbelief. If we don't take action soon, our
world will continue to devolve as described in Romans 1:22: "Professing
themselves to be wise, they became fools. . . ."

References

1. Newton, Isaac, 1686. Mathematical Principles of Natural
Philosophy. Motte's translation from the Latin in 1729, University
of California Press, Berkeley, California, 1934, 680 pp.
2. Lerner, Lawrence, 1990. Statements made in deposition during
preparation for trial of ICR Graduate School vs. Honig and the
State of California.
3. Johnson, Phillip E., 1991. Darwin on Trial. InterVarsity Press,
Downers Grove, IL, 220 pp.
4. Sagan, Carl, 1992. Statement in a television interview
celebrating the 25th anniversary of the SETI program.
5. Sagan, Carl, 1994. Pale Blue Dot. Random House, New York, 429
pp.
6. Vardiman, Larry, 1995. Personal communication to Carl Sagan.
7. Sagan, Carl, 1995. Personal communication to Larry Vardiman,
8. Sagan, Carl, 1997. Billions and Billions. Random House, New
York, 214 pp.

* Dr. Vardiman is Chairman of the Astro/Geophysics Department at
ICR.