Thursday, July 18, 2013

What is Science?

There's a new atheist website up, and it's a good-looking one.  It's called "Christianity Disproven."  Now, it's a good thing to dispel commonly held myths, whether in the Christian world or the atheist world.  To be fair, many atheists have the right to be upset with the Christian church here in America, because it has fostered and encouraged amid its ranks serious maladies including anti-intellectualism, broad, sweeping appeals for a "child-like" and "blind" faith, (where 'child-like' means non-investigative, as opposed to the biblical idea of trust).  Christians in America have been homophobic, racist, and violent.  They have also been greedy, sexually immoral and physically lazy, too.  So, it seems fair that atheists would have some serious reserves about wanting to be Christian! 
Many atheists bring powerful, sophisticated arguments against belief in God, the reliability of Bible, the resurrection of Jesus and so on.  Some of the most powerful arguments deal with the conflict between the divine attributes of omnipotence and omniscience, for example.  Or, they might sound the trumpet with a tight argument against the goodness of God and how that is incompatible with the evil he apparently allows.  These are worthy discussions.  However, there are a number of atheists who use shibboleths, cliches, and one-liners in order to frustrate theistic belief.  An example is found on "Christianity Disproved" 

"This is AWESOME! I hope it helps people to understand where we really come from. We do not need "gods" any longer, we have science to answer our questions."

My response: Science is the interpretation of the natural world. Nothing more, nothing less. In order to do science, you have to presuppose cause and effect, the uniformity of nature, that your senses are reliable, that your mind (or brain, granting physicalism) coheres and corresponds to the external world outside of yourself.

So on what basis does someone believe all these things? 

"Scientism" is an extreme form of classic foundationalism which says that beliefs are justified if they are self-evident or evident to the senses.  On what basis would you say these things are self-evident? Is classic foundationalism self-evident? No. Is classic foundationalism evident to the senes? No. Scientism therefore, is self-referentially incoherent. 

That's the end of my comment on the site.  I'd like to add some further thoughts on what science is.  

Science is the orderly study systematic categorization of the truths in a given field. Philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn spoke of 'paradigms" that change and evolve through verification, falsification and renewal (we might think of the Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis).
When we use the term "science" alongside (or in opposition to!) other fields of research, study and knowledge ( Latin, scientia), we are thinking of our conclusions regarding the natural world and the way it works, using models and predictions to anchor further speculations as to how things go, the fields of which study are the "hard" sciences of biology, chemistry, and physics, with hydrology, geology und so weiter.

Many of these sciences (fields of study) are used to predict the future and speculate about the past.  In speculating about the past, and calling themselves "science," it is only right that we restore history, theology, metaphysics and the so-called "soft" sciences to the realm of science, making "science" a general, all-encompassing term.  

Philosopher of biology Stephen C. Meyer, (Ph.D Cambridge) notes in his book, Signature in the Cell that since the time of the Greeks, up to the scientific revolution (1300-1700), philosophers, theologians and those who researched the natural world ('scientists'), held to the worldview of idealism, which is to say that they believed mind preceded, originated and often-times sustained matter.  On this worldview, philosophy, theology and studies of the natural realm were rightly called "science" because they pursued fields of knowledge with the express purpose of delineating a systematic and taxonomic set of study in their particular fields.  Theology was the "queen of sciences" because it held the broader scope of all things under the rule and authority of the Almighty, an intelligent creator who orders an intelligent world, ripe for inquiry and study by his creatures (us).   

Enlightenment philosophers like Hume and Hobbes believed the opposite: matter gives rise to mind.  This is the worldview of materialism, that the universe has always existed, and that as time progresses, over eons and eons of flux and flow, simpler forms of life give rise to complex forms of life.  This is basically the Darwinian world-and-life view.  Given this worldview, we can see how belief in God is both unnecessary and quite possibly irrational.  

Today, when people say "Science tells us such-and-such," or, "Science has buried God," they are speaking from the worldview of naturalism.  Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga is known for challenging naturalism in his famous essay, "An Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism."  He asks how, given materialistic naturalism, we can trust our cognitive faculties?  Charles Darwin wondered the same thing when he asked in a now famous letter to William Graham Down, 

"But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?"

When people say "science will give us all the answers," they are both correct and incorrect at the same time.  They are correct in that all the fields study that produce knowledge will give us the answers we need in order to make sense of human experience (crystal balls and the like do not produce true knowledge).   On the other hand, "Science" with a capital "S," understood within a materialistic, naturalist universe, does not tell us anything about whether there is an immaterial world, and it cannot tell us "all the answers" re: the meaning and purpose of life, what is good or evil, whether history has a goal, purpose or end.

And yet, even evolutionary biologists do in fact tell us, from their own perspective, that the plain truth is that materialism is either false, or under serious jeopardy: Meyer on evolutionary biologist George Williams: 

"You can speak of galaxies and particles of dust in the same terms because they both have mass and charge and length and width.  [But] you can't do that with information and matter....  Information doesn't have mass or charge or length in millimeters.  Likewise matter doesn't have bytes....This dearth of shared descriptors makes matter and information two separate domains."  

If matter and information are two separate domains, and even evolutionary biologists support this view, how can we rationally hold to a materialist concept of the nature of the universe?  It stands to reason that the worldview of Idealism (mind produces and sustains matter) is the more rational view than materialism (matter gives rise to mind, and conscious thoughts are reducible to particles that have mass).  

Naturalist understandings of the natural sciences, i.e. the so-called "hard" sciences shows materialism to be false because of DNA and the informational code they produce when making genes.  Evolutionary biologist George Williams again:
""Evolutionary biologists have failed to realize that they work with two more or less incommensurable domains: that of information and that of matter....  The gene is a package of information, not an object.  The pattern of base pairs in a DNA molecule specifies the gene.  But the DNA molecule is the medium, it's not the message."  
We can see that using our plain reason and observation, that information and matter are two different things, and if they are different, then information must be immaterial.  They must be different, as information cannot be a "different kind of material."  That wouldn't make any sense.  

Information, as non-material, brings us to at least, a non-reductive naturalism that espouses immaterial entities like laws, consciousness, etc.  And we must ask ourselves, "Where does the information come from?"  Not from material sources. 

No, the rational view is that immaterialism is true, and this opens the door for the rational person to feel justified in believing in immaterial things like an intelligent agent or agents involved in the origin and sustainability of life.  Further it shows that belief in God is not irrational, that it is rational, and is not threatened in the least by the studies of the natural world.  To the contrary, as the Belgic Confession (article 2) says, the creation is "a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God." 

Again, "Science" is a simple term from the Latin which means "knowledge."  Will "knowledge" tell us everything we need to know? Does "knowledge" now have the ontological status of personhood? "Knowledge" speaks to us?  Isn't it we who are the ones in pursuit of knowledge?  Yes, our research will "tell" us things, but surely there is a better way to discuss metaphysical questions concerning Ultimate Reality other than resorting to shibboleths like "Science has ruled out belief in God" and other such statements. 

Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design.
Alvin Plantinga, "Naturalism Defeated."  pdf file located at
Christianity Disproved located here.

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