Thursday, February 07, 2019

Iconoclastic science

1. Recently I read The Fool and the Heretic (Zondervan 2019). It's a dialogue between young-earth creationist Todd Wood and theistic evolutionist Darrel Falk. I haven't read the sections by Falk. I bought the book for Wood's contributions. I think the book would be better without the patronizing, handholding interludes by Rob Barrett. And that would free up more space for Wood. 

To judge by what he said in a post:

I was expecting Wood's side of the dialogue to be rather concessive. Instead, he was quite confrontational–which is refreshing.

2. I find Todd's hermeneutic rather roughhewn. However, he's right about the big picture issues. He stresses the ad hoc way theistic evolutionists treat Gen 1-9 as pious fiction or allegory–while they don't treat other narratives in Scripture the same way, even though other narratives in the Pentateuch or Gospels have the same supernaturalism. 

3. Theistic evolutionists complain that young-earth creationists drive people away from the faith by positing a false dichotomy. And there's certainly a danger of alienating people from the Christian faith if we make a particular interpretation of Scripture identical to what Scripture means–assuming that's just one possible, and possibly mistaken, interpretation.

At the same time, we can't be Christian unless we commit to certain interpretations. Moreover, the danger cuts both ways. Belief in evolution drives many people away from Christianity, even if young-earth creationism didn't exist. 

4. A common objection to young-earth creationists is that they only believe it because they believe the Bible. They don't begin with the scientific evidence but the Bible. They don't have any positive evidence for their alternative. They are just poking holes in the standard paradigm. 

Even if that rather jaundiced characterization were true, science benefits from having sharp, rigorous, relentless critics who spot weaknesses in the prevailing scientific orthodoxies. 

In addition, scientific progress is strategically driven by gifted mavericks. Sometimes their theories are blind alleys, but sometimes they make midcourse corrections or original, fundamental contributions to science as an ongoing research program. 

Compare Todd Wood to Dennis Venema. As a probing, intellectually dissatisfied scientist, Wood has the potential to make original, fundamental contributions to science that a company man like Venema lacks. Science requires balance between creative iconoclasm and stability. It's useful to work within a paradigm. Exhaust the paradigm. But it's sometimes necessary to question the paradigm. 

It's easy for scientists to become prematurely settled in their ways. They stop asking questions because they think they know the answers. Sometimes they discount evidence to the contrary as anomalous. But the mavericks keep extending the frontiers. Ironically, some scientists lack intellectual curiosity. They are satisfied with the received answers. 

Wood objects that commitment to evolution results in losing an amazingly fruitful and exciting avenue of scientific research that goes deeper than Darwin (36).

5. Some of what Wood writes might foster the impression that he isn't only a creationist because he believes the Bible, and not because he thinks there's any evidence for creationism. But based on cluster analysis, he thinks there are patterns in nature that evolution can't explain (154, 200). 

Likewise, he thinks the evolutionary explanation for the PAM matrix (i.e. protein similarities between disparate species) has it upside down (60-62). He wouldn't be motivated to consider the issue from a different angle unless he was motivated by creationism. Scientists who lack that motivation neglect to consider what might be a superior alternative explanation. 

6. It's also important to emphasize that this isn't just about raw natural evidence. The debate over methodological atheism demonstrates a key philosophical component. The mainstream scientific paradigms treat nature as a closed system, a machine. They interpolate and extrapolate, reconstruct the past, fill in the evidential gaps, based on that secular philosophical postuate. 

And it's true that nature is machine-like. But what if creation is dualistic rather than materialistic? What if there's interaction between mind and matter? What if there are discarnate agents who sometimes intervene, who sometimes contribute to the outcome? Incidentally, there's empirical evidence for that.

In that event, secular science isn't simply following the evidence wherever it leads, but disregarding inconvenient evidence and superimposing an artificial filter on what science is allowed to discover. So it's simplistic to frame the issue in terms of one side having the evidence while the other side has dogma. 

There's a certain tension in science because scientists like things to be predictable. They like to be in control. But what if there are uncontrollable variables due to factors like mental causation, discarnate agents, miracles, the efficacy of prayer, and paranormal phenomena (for which there's tremendous evidence). What if that's actually a part of reality? Then, like it or not, that imposes certain limitations the ability of science to achieve mastery over the material world. It will be frustrated in its godlike quest to know and manipulate the world around us.

And that's beneficial. Science is marvelous and dangerous. It has enormous potential for good and evil. We should be grateful for barriers that curb the power of science. 

7. Suppose Gen 1-9 was obviously true. Suppose there was abundant evidence for Gen 1-9 (or the Exodus, to take another example).  

That would make it easy to believe. And that wouldn't leave room for faith. Conversely, that would make it much tougher to be an atheist.

But what if God made a world that's ambiguous in some respects? Where Gen 1-9 isn't obviously true or obviously false? 

Now a critic might object that I'm guilty of special pleading. Yet that's not unique to Genesis. In Scripture, faith is hard. Faith is meant to be hard. That's a principle which antedates the "conflict" between science and Scripture by centuries or millennia. 

On the one hand there's overwhelming evidence for Christianity. On the other hand, there are perennial emotional, physical, and intellectual obstacles along the walk of faith. That's always been the case. It didn't begin with the advent of modern science.

Although there are many lines of evidence for Christianity, it's difficult to be a Christian. God could make it a lot easier. He doesn't. 

So the creation/evolution debate is just one more test of faith. That's nothing new. Generations of Jews and Christians before us had obstacles to overcome, and generations to come will face their own obstacles. The Christian pilgrimage is demanding. A winnowing process. Some pilgrims drop out before the finish line. 

1 comment:

  1. > But what if God made a world that's ambiguous in some respects?

    i.e. It could be one of God's wise and holy purposes with respect to some to "give them enough rope to hang themselves with".