(part 2 of 2)
Why is there inclination among scientists to promote science as the source of truth? It’s hard to know—motives are funny things, often multi-faceted, often not understood even by the one who is motivated. Sometimes trends are trends for no other reason than the sheep-like nature of humans. That is, we tend to go along with the herd. But there are two motives I suspect are at play in this case. The first motive is self-interest. If science is the source of truth, it is Arthur’s Merlin. As resident expert it provides critical input for every question, and it demands a bountiful flow of resources to supply its needs, as well as to underwrite its growth.
The second motive is the connection between scientific materialism and humanism, particularly the humanist inclination to define right behavior in humanist terms. “We are free!” If reality is determined by molecules and chemical interactions, there are no oughts in the universe—the individual is liberated to establish his or her own truth.
But if scientific materialism serves humanism as a guiding light, it becomes difficult to understand the passion of the scientist. How can we explain its habit of condescension toward dissidents? Why the red faces and podium poundings?
Consider for a moment the implications of a perspective that claims that every action is a necessary result of preceding actions. One implication of this view is that decisions are illusory. It may appear that we make decisions but, in a materialist reality, decisions are made for us by our histories.
More importantly, these illusory decisions are pointless. In an accidental universe, everything is pointless. So, why would anyone be passionate about pointlessness? Why would anyone be passionately opposed to other perspectives? Is being deluded about being purposeful worse than being enlightened and pointless? On what basis would you decide anything is better or worse?
The materialist propagandist will say, “It’s important that we live according to reality, that we live as free, mature humans.” Well, perhaps in a reality different from the one of the materialist, that could true. There is nothing in a materialist perspective that defines “free”, much less, explains why freedom should be valued, much less, explains how freedom could be possible. There is nothing in a materialist world that can be seen as “important”. There is nothing in a materialist perspective that defines “mature”, or why anyone should be interested in being mature. The materialist can only conclude that it doesn’t matter how one lives. Materialism cannot make suggestions about how one ought to live…or how one ought not to live…or whether one ought to live.
In the material universe there are no oughts. Where there are no oughts, passions are nonsensical. The only way to explain the passion is to return to the two self-serving motives. So when the scientific materialist pounds the podium and cries out, “We must ban these creationist simpletons from our schools!” the words I hear are, “My wife says we need a new car,” or, “I’m writing a new book and I need some public exposure.”
One quasi-scientific proposition in dire need of finding its place in a landfill is the idea that the universe teaches us that life is about the survival of the fittest. This idea supposedly implies that human behavior should be guided by all that enables the human race to survive.
Can this train of thought be taken seriously? While it is clear that all with awareness have survived, what is there in science that says survival is a better option than extinction? It may be true that science is better able to study living creatures than dead creatures, but that doesn’t make the living creatures superior. If you read enough science, it becomes clear that survival does not even imply superior survival attributes. Sometimes survival, scientifically speaking, is pure luck. No species “plans” for a meteor strike, or an ice age, or a continental split.
And what about all the inorganic material? Mountains are beautiful. Are they surviving? Do they care? They may not have an opinion, but might no opinion be smarter than than a dumb one? What’s so good about being smarter? It is obvious that living creatures possess survival mechanisms. There is nothing in science, however, that suggests that this is something the human race should pursue. Such a view is a value judgment assigned to an observation. This is a theme in the scientific field, though. Science can’t seem to recognize the limits of scientific study. It is constantly stealing ideological concepts, stirring them into scientific research, and then calling on society to conform to its concocted applications.
There is much to dislike about the many presumptions of the scientific community. But to dislike these presumptions is not the same thing as dismissing the findings of actual scientific research. There is a difference between scientific study and scientism, (ideological applications added to scientific study). It is critical that we continue to study the material universe. It is clear that humans are physical creatures. (Though not clear that they are strictly physical.) Everyone relies continuously on sensory assessment. We all make sure our feet are on the floor when we get out of bed in the morning. We all look both ways before crossing the street. We all sip the hot drink to avoid burning our tongues. No one doubts the need to heed the physical universe. A cavalier attitude toward it is an invitation for a severe correction. Eight thousand pedestrian deaths in the USA in 2016 illustrates the point. (Not to imply, necessarily, that it was the pedestrians who were cavalier.)
We must give serious consideration to the information provided by the scientific community. This input is far-ranging, concerned with such subjects as global warming, energy use impact, health care, infrastructure design, construction methods, electronic technologies, etc. It is also abundantly clear that these studies are provisional, that they can be filled with error, and that they are often dangerously, intentionally misleading. Scientists are oftentimes brilliant. But then, so are politicians, lawyers, military leaders, business tycoons, and celebrities. We must still consider the source at the hearing, whatever the message. Just as is the practice in scientific study, the information we receive must be tested and retested. We live and choose with the information we have, even as we continue to seek better information.
If we are careful, science can serve as an important tool that helps humans to live comfortably and as stewards. Science is not an enemy; there is nothing to be feared in what it reveals. Sometimes its revelations are frightening, indeed, but if there is a tiger in the front yard, it is best to be aware of it. But if we are careless, we will find ourselves at the butt-end of quasi-scientific propaganda. We must listen carefully for the scientific “conclusions” that are illogical or disconnected from the research.
Fundamentally, science is a system of faith. But I do not mean this as an insult. To be human is to live by faith; there are no other options available to us. Neither our individual perspectives nor our collective perspective is big enough to see all the big picture…or all of any small picture, for that matter. We must consider information given to us, cross-reference it with other available information, filter it all through personal experience, and then step in the direction that seems correct.
Western science made a fundamental break from pagan sciences. The break came about when Christians proposed that a reliable and trustworthy God would create a universe in keeping with his character. As such, even the seeming capricious acts of nature (volcanoes, hurricanes, floods, pestilences, etc.) could be understood by undertaking study that presumed consistent behavior in the created world. Twenty-first century perception that science and Christianity are at odds only suggests that today’s education is failing those on both sides of the “debate”. Science is a child of Christianity (and Christianity loves it very much).
Scientism? I had a college professor who was born in the Netherlands. He spoke English fairly well, but with a noticeable accent. Occasionally he would mangle an American idiom or proverb. Once he said, and I think it expresses well what I think of scientism: “That’s a horse barking up the wrong tree, my friends.”
The amount of scientific knowledge possessed by humans is, what, 1000 times what it was a hundred years ago? Who knows? Anyway, it’s a lot. But it is hubris, not science, that suggests the growing understanding of the universe has eliminated the necessity of God. (We can see clearly now how it all works—therefore God is superfluous.) The profound complexity and design we have found in the universe is not eliminating the need for God. To the contrary, it is increasingly demonstrating the improbability of any other explanation. If we look without bias at the information science is delivering, it may be that it will usher us into a kind of real knowledge.