Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain
If the skeptic demands Christians pull back the curtain and expose God, as Dorothy exposed the Wizard of Oz, then he will never be satisfied. And Christians need not “wring their hands” trying to fully accommodate them. After all, what would the skeptic say if he were required to replicate the big-bang, resurrect Charles Darwin for direct dialogue about his book, or show the world a living, breathing hominid before evolution could be believed? Okay, that is technically a tu quoque fallacy [“thou too”: a retort by one charged with a crime accusing an opponent who has brought the charges of a similar crime] and an emotional response. Yet it does provide some measure of perspective for the skeptic—leveling the playing field to some degree. That response is intended to challenge the skeptic to consider that his demand for empirical science to prove the existence of God is not a legitimate demand. Rather, the discussion of proving the existence of God should have other criteria. Nevertheless, the skeptic is convinced of his position and believes science is the arbiter of truth—a.k.a. scientism. Therefore, as Christians, unafraid of challenges to the veracity of God’s word, we can confidently discuss these objections with some measure of science in hope to lead the followers of scientism into a fuller understanding of the true and living God.
Scientism’s Creed and a World Run Amok
Scientific “conclusions” are rather rare. Often, the closest a true scientist will get to a “conclusion” is to posit a “theory.” When I was in the Navy learning electronics, I was taught Electronic Theory. Even though those theories have proven very consistent and they successfully propel technology to greater accomplishments, it is still considered “theory.” Scientists laud such a fluid methodology as superior to the a priori dogma of religion. Jerry Coyne, in his book Faith Vs. Fact, explains that “In the world of science, scrutiny is relentless, scary. But it’s a ‘quality control’ mechanism to expunge the dross. It’s not personal” (pg. 27). Furthermore, he states
Science comprises an exquisitely refined set of tools designed to find out what is real and to prevent confirmation bias. Science prizes doubt and iconoclasm, rejects absolute authority, and relies on testing one’s ideas with experiments and observations of nature. Its sine qua non [essential element] is evidence—evidence that can be inspected and adjudicated by any trained and rational observer. And it depends largely on falsification. Nearly every scientific truth comes with an implicit rider: ‘Evidence X would show this to be wrong.’
That is what I am calling Scientism’s “creed.” Scientism, according Douglas Axe in Undeniable: How Biology Confirms our Intuition That Life is Designed, is “the belief that science is the only reliable source of truth” (pg. 17).
I hope you see the irony in Scientism’s creed. On one hand, science has a built-in “quality control” feature meant to prevent any claim from ever becoming dogma. Yet, it relies on empirical evidence—a euphemism for “certainty.” If something is tested and “proven” in the lab, why does that not settle the case? In other words, the lab results—the “science”— which is meant to give answers, should never really be considered settled. There is always another question to ask, a better experiment to conduct. The skeptic demands that the Christian use a self-defeating, irrational system, designed to never settle a matter, to settle the matter of God’s existence.
Is it no wonder then that science has corroborated so well with postmodernism? Has science merely been swept away in the torrent of the philosophy that says “one can only know with certainty that we cannot really be certain of anything?” Or perhaps science birthed postmodernism. The Renaissance’s humanism begat a prevailing optimism for mankind called “modernism” that spanned into the Victorian era. It was thought that man’s rationalism, science, could and would indeed answer all questions of life and usher in a Utopia apart from God—enter Darwinism and Evolutionary theory. Maybe the subsequent, consecutive world wars deflated those expectations and gave rise to paralyzing doubt about everything. Whether science begat postmodernism, postmodernism influenced science, or if they were twins growing up together is insignificant; the resulting philosophically Dystopian world of the 21st Century shows there has been a sad humbling where optimism has largely given way to chaos. The passionate expectancy that science would be society’s imminent savior was doused. The aftermath is a philosophical desert. Yet the “New Atheism” of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Jerry Coyne, et. al. appears to have been a revival of modernism, a pitiful attempt of CPR upon the corpse. Yet, accepting no other savior, our present world maintains its faith that science is the only path to truth which will set us free. Thus, the arguments against the existence of God persist.
The Right Science Tool for the Right Job
Don’t get me wrong. I am NOT playing into the distorted claims New Atheists make that if Christians had their way, no one would need pursue science, and the world would be satisfied with ignorance, death, and disease—e.g. Jerry Coyne’s book. I am advocating for a balanced and right use of science that can help Christians speak to skeptics.
Using scientific evidence for proving God’s existence reasonably gravitates to the matter of origins—creationism vs. evolution or old universe vs. young universe. Approaching the study of origins from a “purely scientific” perspective is a very tricky endeavor—for atheists as well—and is really “the wrong tool for the job;” that is, if one defines “purely scientific” as a laboratory experiment producing empirical results. The methodology for studying origins is not the unemotional, strictly objective, sterile laboratory, exclusively-based-on-empirical-data sort of science that people (and scientists) like to think it is. The scientific method is full of assumptions and rabbit trails. In the process of science, those assumptions have to be acknowledged and the trails have to be explored before one can determine if they lead to anything useful. Certainly the laboratory is part of the process. But that’s the point—it is a process. The laboratory, when used exclusively, is not the right tool for the origins job. Better yet, it is not the only tool for the job.
The “right tool for the job” in studying origins is Historical Science using abductive reasoning. Dr. Meyer addresses this in The Signature in the Cell. He explains that “abductive reasoning infers unseen facts, events, or causes in the past from clues or facts in the present” (pg. 153). The syllogism Meyer begins with is: If it rains, the streets will get wet. The streets are wet. Therefore, it rained. The logical fallacy is obvious because several alternative explanations can cause wet streets—a nearby sprinkler system, a city water truck, etc. Nevertheless, we use abductive reasoning all the time to reach accurate conclusions. A case-in-point can be taken from history: we can know Napoleon Bonaparte once lived without using a time machine to return to 18th century France and see him for ourselves. We have artifacts and other evidence to observe. The best explanation for the present artifacts, records, and the European political landscape is that Napoleon existed. A past event can be proven using present information.
Abductive reasoning is used in forensics. A detective pieces together information, or “clues,” left behind from a past event; though he was not a witness to the event. He incorporates a variety of techniques from multiple disciplines. That approach to the task does not make it unreliable science. Rather, it is a different kind of science than the so-called empirical, laboratory experiment. It is really the only possible kind of science that can be used in the study of origins.
Historical scientists, including those studying origins, are detectives. They begin making observations [not yet “evidence”] like a collection of puzzle pieces. Those pieces are then interpreted by the investigator to form a hypothesis…a hunch…a theory. The theory is pursued logically and new information either proves or disproves it. When gaps in the story arise, plausible leaps are made to keep the theory progressing. The more leaps there are, the less viable the theory becomes. Eventually, if more gaps (questions) arise than connections made (answers), the theory cannot be sustained and it must be abandoned. However, when the pieces do align, they give us a great deal of certainty. In opposition to postmodernism, our world does operate in certainties. Abductive reasoning gives us a large measure of stability. We know who we are as a culture, looking back on where we’ve come (history). We govern ourselves using abductive reasoning in our judicial systems, absolving the innocent and convicting the guilty.
The purpose of this blog entry was to lay a foundation and establish the trajectory for proving God using science. I find it helpful to first hash out some of the philosophical perspectives. Doing so communicates how I see the world and how I see other people seeing the world. Hopefully it sheds light for reader and author alike.
Another goal was to shrink the size of the foe. The “Goliath” of science can appear like an indomitable adversary to Christians who lack a background in science. By exposing some of the weaknesses of the skeptic’s demands, the Christian can be strengthened and thereby encouraged to give himself to further study and contemplation. I was encouraged to read some of my inclinations were also voiced by Douglas Axe. Whether one is an elite, walking the hallowed halls of Cambridge’s science departments or “your average Joe,” he can intelligently debate religion vs. science issues. In fact, the fundamental questions and answers remain the same, no matter what league you are in. Douglas Axe explains it this way, “We’ll see [in this book] that mastery of technical subjects isn’t at all needed in order for us to know the answer to the big question [to what or to whom do we owe our existence?]. Common science will be perfectly adequate” (pg. 10).
In the next blog, I’ll deal with the “Intelligent” part of Intelligent Design— making the connections between God, intelligence, information, and DNA.