Nathan Bond spoke first…
A woman was walking on the beach at Gordon’s Bay and picked up a beached crayfish and placed it back in the water.
“It’s no use”, said a bystander. “There are too many of them; it won’t make a difference.”
“It’ll make a difference to that crayfish”, replied the woman.
I am here tonight to tell you that it is much, much better to rely on science for your wellbeing that to be religious.
I realize that nothing that I will say here tonight will make the smallest difference whatsoever to what believers believe.
You see, the religion-science debate is a stillborn debate. There is no debate. Nobody can argue with “God.”
There is absolutely nothing about “God” that can possibly be subjected to scientific scrutiny. Except perhaps that psychiatry may have something to say about the mind that is fueled by a statement like “I believe in God”.
Yet, here I am and I am going to show you that it is much, much better to rely on science for your wellbeing that to be religious. And if only one of you here tonight, or one of the people who watch this DvD changes from “I Believe!” to “Do I believe?”, I’ll have earned my reward.
I want to make a difference in only one life. Hopefully it is yours.
I am going to show you that it is much, much better to rely on science for your wellbeing that to be religious. I shall do so by comparing the claims of religion and science in providing comfort, morality, meaning, awe and wonderment… and practical directions for ordinary everyday living.
I shall be quick, for I shall cover only morality and meaning and practicality here tonight. You can read the complete argument on my blog.
The recently deceased Arthur C Clarke famously said that the greatest tragedy in mankind’s entire history may be the hijacking of morality by religion.
Religion has given us stonings, witch-burnings, crusades, inquisitions, jihads, Conquistador infant murders, slavery, fatwas, Papal decrees not to return Jewish babies to their parents for saving their souls, suicide bombers, gay-bashers, abortion-clinic gunmen… There is no credible argument for religion as the custodian of ethics and morality.
I am amazed at the astounding arrogance of claiming charity kudos for a creed that is leveraging infant death for political expediency… asked, on May, 12, 1996 on “60 Minutes” about United Nations reports that half a million Iraqi children had died as a direct result of sanctions, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright replied, “Well, this is a price that we feel that we are willing to pay.”
While soup kitchens are run from church halls, President George W “Jesus-in-my-heart” Bush is reducing major parts of the Middle East to wasteland… because God told him to do it.
This is like stealing a million from a defenseless old woman and then giving a street urchin 10c towards a meal in demand for respect of one’s creed.
Mother Teresa leaves a legacy of abject poverty and unmanageable overpopulation in Kolkatta, by the dictates of an infallible Pope committed to the banning of birth control in the name of Christ, and is hailed a saint?
Religion just rolls on, crushing people with its “morality”: From Cain’s invitation to Abel, “Let’s go out in the fields”, through the atrocious Old Testament ethnic slaughters in God’s name, to crusades and jihads, to Srebrenica and 9/11 and Bali and Gujarat, to Turkey and Beslan and Hai al-Amaal, and from the Islamboeli in Ossetia and the Djemaah Islamijah in Pantai Jimbaran to breaking news on CNN, singular interpretation of the dictates of a god with the manners and the morals of a mollycoddled minor has seen multitudes maimed and massacred.
Science offers the only morality not of human making – natural selection, the survival of successful descendants. The very survival of humankind is a function of this morality.
We need to look at morality in biological terms, rather than in theological terms as biologist Edward Wilson already said more than 30 years ago.
In a recent book, “Primates and Philosophers,” the primatologist Frans de Waal shows that the roots of morality can be seen in the social behavior of monkeys and apes.
De Waal argues that all social animals have had to constrain or alter their behavior in various ways for group living to be worthwhile. These constraints, evident in monkeys and even more so in chimpanzees, are part of human inheritance, too, and in his view form the set of behaviors from which human morality has been shaped.
Some animals are surprisingly sensitive to the plight of others. Chimpanzees, who cannot swim, have drowned in zoo moats trying to save others. Given the chance to get food by pulling a chain that would also deliver an electric shock to a companion, rhesus monkeys will starve themselves for several days.
De Waal’s definition of morality is down to earth. Morality, he writes, is “a sense of right and wrong that is born out of group wide systems of conflict management based on shared values.” The building blocks of morality are not nice or good behaviors but rather mental and social capacities for constructing societies “in which shared values constrain individual behavior through a system of approval and disapproval.” By this definition chimpanzees in his view do possess some of the behavioral capacities built in our moral systems.
Morality is as firmly grounded in neurobiology as anything else we do or are. Biologists ignored this possibility for many years, believing that because natural selection was cruel and pitiless it could only produce people with the same qualities. But this is a fallacy. Natural selection favors organisms that survive and reproduce, by whatever means. And it has provided people with a compass for life’s choices that takes the interests of the entire community into account, which is the essence of human morality.
But what, I hear exclaimed, about the “ethic of reciprocity”; the “Golden Rule”; the fundamental moral principle of the Bible – “treat others as you would be treated“?
Well, virtually all major cultures feature this tenet. Arguably, the oldest reference to this rule is found in The Tale of the Eloquent Peasant from The Tale of Sinuhe and Other Ancient Egyptian Poems dated around 1,600 years before the Christ famously spoke the words, and some 300 to 400 years before the earliest traditions of Israel.
Said the great religious apologist C.S. Lewis, “The first thing to get clear about Christian morality between man and man is that in this department Christ did not come to teach any brand new morality. The Golden Rule of the New Testament (do as you would be done by) is a summing up of what everyone, at bottom, had always known to be right.”
Confucius said it in 500BCE; Isocrates said it in 375BCE; the Hindu Mahabharata teaches it since 150BCE.
But what about the Ten Commandments?
Well, the Egyptian Book of the Dead dates from around 1,800 BCE, some 900 to 800 years before the so-called “J” source of the Pentateuch was composed in the southern kingdom, and some 900 years before the so-called “E” source was composed in the northern kingdom of Israel. And the Book of the Dead contains some rather interesting similarities regarding rules when compared to the Ten Commandments.
It is, in any event, only numbers 6, 8 and 9, that have found their way into our legal system. We owe much more to Hammurabi (c. 1780BCE) and the father of Western democracy and the author of the first constitution, Athenian Solon (d. 558BCE) for our democratic principles.
Are they good rules, the ten commandments? Of course! As is the notion of do as you would be done by. Are they given of God? Give me a break!
Do not kill – Do not steal – Do not perjure.
In a 2005 study, Gregory Paul tested the hypothesis that religion is associated with lower rates of lethal violence, suicide, non-monogamous sexual activity and abortion, by comparing data from 18 developed democracies. He found “in general, higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy, and abortion… None of the strongly secularised, pro-evolution democracies is experiencing high levels of measurable dysfunction.”
The broad trend is clear: The more secular, pro-evolution democracies have… come closest to achieving practical ‘cultures of life’.
Said Feuerbach, “Whenever morality is based on theology, whenever right is made dependent on divine authority, the most immoral, unjust, infamous things can be justified and established.”
I give you slavery and Apartheid. I rest my case.
But there’s more!
The dynamic of life is without meaning.
Says Dawkins: “… if the universe were just electrons and selfish genes, meaningless tragedies… are exactly what we should expect, along with equally meaningless good fortune. Such a universe would be neither evil nor good in intention. It would manifest no intentions of any kind. In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”
This is in stark contrast to religion’s arguments maintaining meaning by virtue of man’s unique place in the universe, capped by an extraordinary relationship with some divine machination.
Darwin put human life in its proper place by identifying humans as a mere motley of multiplex molecules. We are hairy carbon sacks of compost in the making, and salty water. Not in a zillion years can religion’s everlasting life reconcile with this reality.
If bunny rabbits and cats and dogs and goldfish are not going to live forever; if apes and chimps and the bonobo are not going to live forever, why, why, why would anyone think that when a human sperm and an egg merge a third party “soul” is somehow added to make it immortal?
Religion teaches the dangerous nonsense that death is not the end. The finite nature of human life, some seven hundred thousand hours of it, (should) focus humans on the precious nature of the random gift of life. We who are about to die are fortunate for we are the ones that have, against all odds, managed to live.
We should revel in the urgency of life’s brevity. Meaning, such as there is, is to be found in the celebration of this brevity. Period.
Sam Harris, in his book The End of Faith, sketches this thrilling scenario where all 6 billion of us humans wake up one morning in a state of complete ignorance and confusion. We are unable to make sense of our books and computers. We have lost language and we do not even remember how to brush our teeth. Outside our shelters we find shiny objects on black disks but have no idea what motorised transport is.
What knowledge would we want to reclaim first?
And when in this process of reclaiming our humanity will it be important to know that Jesus was born of a virgin? Or Horus or Hercules? Or Caesar Augustus? Or Anakin Skywalker of Star Wars fame… to suggest but a few?
When in this process of reclaiming our humanity will it be important to know that Jesus was resurrected? Or Tammuz or Osiris? Or Isis… to suggest but a few?
Science is responsible for knowledge about our origins.
We know approximately when the universe began and why it is largely hydrogen.
We know why stars form and what happens in their interiors to convert hydrogen to the other elements to give birth to chemistry in a world of physics.
We know the fundamental principles of how a world of chemistry can become biology through the arising of self-replicating molecules.
We know how the principle of self-replication gives rise, through Darwinian selection, to all life, including humans.
It is science and science alone that has given us this knowledge.
It is science and science alone that has given us this knowledge in fascinating, over-whelming, mutually confirming detail.
On each and every one of these questions religion has held a view that has been conclusively proved wrong.
Science has eradicated smallpox.
Science can immunize against most previously deadly viruses.
Science can kill most previously deadly bacteria.
Religion has done nothing but talk of pestilence as the wages of sin.
Science can tell you the age of a particular fossil.
Science can tell you that the Turin Shroud is a medieval fake and that life after death is absolute bloody nonsense.
I have never heard a theologian say anything that was not either obvious to the extent of being corny (love your neighbour) or downright false (Jesus is coming soon and we’ll all live for ever).
If all the achievements of scientists were wiped out tomorrow, there would be no doctors but witch doctors, no transport faster than horses, no computers, no printed books, no agriculture beyond subsistence peasant farming.
If all the achievements of theologians were wiped out tomorrow, would anyone notice the smallest difference?
Religion has opposed Copernicus, Kepler, Bruno, Galileo, Descartes, Newton and Darwin. Religion has opposed cosmology, evolution, geography, astronomy, geology, anthropology, ethnology, meteorology, chemistry, physics, medicine, hygiene and the theory of illness, psychology, philology and political economy in one way or another at some time or the other. Nowadays religion rejects stem cell research and the biology of homosexuality. How many more chances does religion want?
Well, I guess it’s kinda cute – this belief thing; this naïveté. As long as God does not tell you to invade Iraq, as His Omnipotence apparently told George W Bush. As long as you don’t claim Jerusalem for the Jews in the face of the Palestinians, ‘cause the Bible tells John McCain so. As long as you don’t cry Allah Akbar before parking a Boeing in the World Trade Centre. As long as you aren’t convinced that consensual sex between men somehow irks some cosmic peeping tom as Bishop Akinola feels certain the Bible teaches.
What can one reasonably hope to learn from religion? Nothing, but that one should apply elsewhere. Founded in ancient oracles, loosely organised in the 1st century, entrenched in the 4th, adjusted in the 16th, refined in the 18th and propped in the 20th, theology is dead in the 21st. All that remains is the sorry sight of the believer pulling the dead body of Christ behind her after the way of a mother baboon…
Science does not have all the answers. But this fact does not mean that religion has any answers at all. In deference to Darwin, it has often and confidently been asserted that man’s origin, for instance, can never be known… but ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge. It is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.
There is an expanding universe between science and religion. I choose science. Not for answers, but for progressive explanation, in pursuit of the cornerstone of evolving insight…
Why even consider religion?
Stories are the building blocks of social construction. But when these stories assume a mantle of truth, they become dangerous delusions. Then the building blocks are used to build enslaving belief systems. “Science”, Karl Popper once remarked, “should start with myth and the criticism of myth.” There is too much patience with nonsense. Irrationality must end.
All the awe and wonderment claimed by religion is nothing but simple old fashioned garden variety vanilla flavoured delirium.
It is not by prayer and humility that one causes things to go as one wishes, but by acquiring a knowledge of natural laws. Energy and intellectual will-power is superior and preferable to ideological envy. A scientifically minded society bodes better for the future than a society based on superstition and quasi-knowledge, than a society rooted in false hope.
Jesus is dead. There never was a God. We are not going to live forever. And we’d better get used to the idea.
Science is a self correcting process subjected to continuous peer reviews of theories that are highly informative. Theories that allow scientists to make predictions and test outcomes to see whether the predictions held true. Theories that can be tested and rejected or accepted.
Religion have nothing but very specific non-negotiable absolutes.
In reaction to religious comment on the 2004 tsunami, Richard Dawkins wrote in The Guardian:
“Not only does science know why the tsunami happened, it can give precious hours of warning. If a small fraction of the tax breaks handed out to churches, mosques and synagogues had been diverted into an early warning system, tens of thousands of people, now dead, would have been moved to safety.
Let’s get up off our knees, stop cringing before bogeymen and virtual fathers, face reality, and help science to do something constructive about human suffering.”
Meaningful living, such as there is, is to be found in facts, not stories; in evidence, not opinion; in theory, not hypotheses; in reason, not belief; in science, not religion.
1. Adams, Douglas. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
2. Anderson, Lisa. August 7, 2005. Museum exhibits a creationist viewpoint, Chicago Tribune.
3. Becker, Ernst. 1973. The Denial of Death.
4. Die Burger, January 17, 2005. Kommentaar: Ontdekkings.
5. Dawkins, Richard. 2006. The God Delusion.
6. Dawkins, Richard. Spring 1998. The Emptiness of Theology. Free Inquiry, v18 n2 p6(1)
7. Dawkins, Richard. 1995. River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life.
8. Feuerbach, Ludwig. The Essence of Christianity (1841), from James A. Haught, ed. 2000 Years of Disbelief.
9. Monbiot, George. October 11, 2005. Better off without Him, The Guardian.
10. Paul, Gregory S. Cross-national Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies: A First Look, The Journal of Religion and Society, Volume 7, October 2005. See also the commentary of Matthew Provonsha in Skeptic, Vol 12 No 3.
11. Harris, Sam. 2004. The End of Faith.
12. Russell, Bertrand. 1978. Autobiography.
13. Wade, Nicholas. March 20, 2007. Scientist Finds the Beginnings of Morality in Primate Behavior. New York Times.
André Immelman spoke next…
When Nathan and I agreed to do this debate, it was I who proposed this topic, Science vs. Religion – Which has Preeminence?, because I’m deeply concerned that ‘science’ has somehow become one of the greatest hurdles to the Christian faith, all because there is a general sense that, well… ‘science has proved the Bible wrong’!
Although this is perhaps one of the most pervasive philosophical prejudices against the Christian faith, it really stems from the popular view that ‘science’ speaks with unassailable authority on all matters.
After all, “it works!” (well most of the time anyhow), and isn’t ‘success’ the measure of truth?
Now, I’m here tonight to debunk this view and to show you that, under critical examination, it’s a view that has no intellectual credentials whatsoever!
But before I proceed, please allow me to qualify a few matters:
Firstly, I am not here to defend… religion, because religion, as a corpus of beliefs, I believe is intellectually indefensible!
I don’t ‘do windows’ and I don’t ‘do religion’!
Secondly, I’m also not here to defend what passes for… ‘Christianity’!
As a Christian apologist, I unashamedly hold to view that Biblical theism is the only philosophy-of-life (or worldview) that is both intellectively and rationally defensible, and that no other worldview, including atheism, is able to hold up under the rigour of critical scrutiny!
And thirdly, I’m not here to assail… science but to expose something that goes around, posing as science, but which really is nothing more than ‘science in drag’!
This ‘Trojan horse’ has a name – in formal language, it’s called… scientism!
And as an ‘ism’, it betrays itself as just another worldview that stands apart from and in opposition to Biblical theism
And so, against this background, I’d like to reframe the interrogative before us this evening as this: “Scientism vs. Biblical Theism – Which Is True?”
Now we have a debate!
1. Scientism: ‘Science In Drag!’
It’s a well established and incontrovertible fact that science had its origins in the pages of the Bible, and that all the great men of science, men like Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, even Leonardo do Vinci, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday, Kelvin, Bacon, and a great many others just like them, were all of the conviction that it was their faith that excited them and the Bible that gave them the warrant to… ‘do science’!
And there’s a good reason for that:
As men of faith, they had been given a divine imperative to subdue the earth and exercise dominion over nature (Gen 1:28);
And because Biblical theism is the one worldview which challenges its adherents to exercise their capacity to reason and to question all things critically and intellectively, including its own authority, the Bible, science became an ideal way for them to satisfy their God-given curiosity for discovery and to invent things (1Thes 5:21);
Also, for them, science was a means by which they could seek God in the created order of things (Act 17:27), what I believe the leading physicist of our time, Stephen Hawking described as “[discovering] the mind of God”.
These men all had as their maxim, Deo Scientiarum Dominus – God is the author of knowledge (Col 2:2,3);
Now, every scientific endeavour rests upon at least these three fundamental principles:
One, that there are laws in place that govern the operation of nature (Jer 33:25);
Two, that the operation of nature is uniform (Job 25:2);
And three, that there is something for the scientist discover (Mat 7:7)!
However, and this is what I want to argue for tonight, is that it is only the Biblical worldview which resonates with these principles!
When Newton discovered the inverse square law of gravitation, he recognised the awesome creative genius of God in what he had discovered!
He didn’t see God in the bits that he couldn’t understand, but he saw God in the bits that he could understand, making nonsense of the whole ‘God of the gaps’ idea!
This view of harmony between science and the Bible is one that’s still firmly held today by a great many leading men of science, men like:
Dr Raymond Damadian, who was credited with the invention of the MRI scanner; and
Dr Francis Collins, noted for his landmark discoveries of disease genes and having served as head of the Human Genome Project,
to name just a few.
But, given the fact that true science had it origins in the Bible, then we have to ask ourselves: “what happened?”, because at some stage in the history of the world, something clearly caused science to drift away from its Biblical moorings!
Well, we get to understand this bifurcation of science, when we look at just how our view of science has shifted over the ages:
The authoritative Oxford English Dictionary gives a definition 2a for science which dates back to the year 1289 and that lasted for roughly 500 years until 1781 and is one which comports perfectly with the view given to us in the King James translation of the Bible:
OED: “knowledge acquired by study, acquaintance with or mastery of any department of learning”
KJV: “the acquisition of knowledge” (1Tim 6:20 KJV)
Until this time, there was complete harmony between science and the Bible, as this beautiful Tiffany window depicts!
But then around the 1860s, during the so-called Age of Enlightenment that saw the emergence of the autonomy of reason, that all changed quite dramatically:
It was then that a certain group of men, led by a certain Thomas Huxley, founded a secret organisation called… the X Club!
And from some of the proceedings of the X Club that were leaked to scholars of the history of science, it became clear that the X Club pursued three main objectives:
One: To wrestle science from the grasp of the Bible and to claim science in the name of atheism;
Two: To promote science as the gateway to all knowledge and as the sole arbiter of truth, in other words, to supplant the authority of the Bible with that of ‘science’;
And three: To disparage the Bible as nothing more than a collection of myths and in fact, to denigrate Christianity!
“We wanted not to pin our faith to that or any other speculation [i.e. other than the Bible], but to get hold of clear and definite conceptions. The Origin [of The Species by Charles Darwin] provided us with the working-hypothesis we sought. Moreover, it did us the immense service of freeing us forever from the dilemma [of the authority of the Bible] – refuse to accept the Creation hypothesis and what have you to propose that can be accepted by any cautious reasoner?” – Thomas Huxley, cited in W.C. Dampier, A History of Science (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1944), p. 299;
Once Thomas Huxley and his cronies through their secret organisation, the X Club, succeeded in ripping science from the pages of the Bible to make it their own, the Oxford English Dictionary introduced a new definition 5b just a few years later, in 1867, for science as “the field of study that is synonymous with ‘Natural and Physical Science'”!
No longer did science represent what the Bible intends, but instead, it became a field of study that stood apart from the Bible, what the American palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist, Stephen Jay Gould came to describe as ‘non overlapping magisteria’ or NOMA, with science occupying the ‘intellectual’ side of the divide, and Christianity the ‘theological’!
Through the X Club and subsequent efforts by men like Ernst Haeckel, Jacob Bronowski, Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan to mention just a few, the side of science came to be seen as the place of reason, of the intellect and the opposite side where the Christians stood on a Sunday morning, came to be seen as the place of ‘faith’, of myth and superstition!
But even this view didn’t last for very long, because those who were bent on using science to:
give credence to their own view of things;
and to serve as a platform from which they could launch their attack on the authority of the Bible,
they quickly came to discover that this ‘box’ that they had created was too small because it confined them to purely naturalistic causes and naturalistic explanations for everything, so that every time that:
they made use of abstract concepts such as ideas, theories, or hypotheses;
or when they called upon knowledge concepts such mathematics, or information or logic;
or when they had to answer existential or ethical questions,
they found themselves reaching outside of the ‘box’ and to the Bible for answers!
And of course, that didn’t suit them for very long before scientism staked its claim across the entire spectrum of knowledge – just listen to this:
“The goal of science is clear – it is nothing short of the complete interpretation of the universe… The scientific method is the sole gateway to the whole region of knowledge.” – Karl Pearson, mathematician.
“Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be obtained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.” – Bertrand Russell, Religion And Science (1935) Ch IX: Science Of Ethics
But can you see the philosophical self-contradiction in these two statements?
By what method of science did Mr Pearson arrive at that conclusion?
And what did science do to discover that it can know everything?
These are not are not scientific claims at all – it’s all scientism!
And scientism is all non-science, or rather, it’s nonsense!
Where this kind of view is particularly pronounced, is in the recent writings of men like Victor Stenger, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and our own George Claassen here in South Africa, all of whom evangelise aggressively to promote the philosophy of scientism in favour of Biblical theism!
And if ever you thought that these men are not actively working to convert people to atheism, then look at this: at a recent conference sponsored by Atheist Alliance International held in Northern Virginia in the USA, several luminaries at the conference openly called for “…science to destroy organized religion…” and for atheism as a movement (in other words, as a worldview), to “…unite against the enemy…”!
Can you see what’s happening here?
This is not some unbiased, impartial, neutral force ganging up against Biblical theism here!
This is a well coordinated, concerted effort to rid the world of Biblical theism!
Now it’s almost impossible to keep up with all of the many utterances by the high priest of atheism, Richard Dawkins, but just listen to his grand view of science:
“Religion is o longer a serious candidate in the field of explanation – it is completely superseded by science!”
“There is nothing that science cannot achieve or that science is not able to explain!” – Richard Dawkins, Zoologist and Charles Simonyi Chair for the Public Understanding of Science, University of Oxford;
The patent absurdity of a claim like this becomes all the more vivid when one considers that science is utterly clueless to explain something as simple as to why, given that all matter consist of 99.99% space, that when one picks up a pencil, why the other end comes with it!
One intellectually honest physicist admitted that this one leves him completely baffled!
And yet, Professor Dawkins insists that science is the ‘heavens gate’ to all knowledge!
As a worldview, scientism is all about individuals voicing opinions under the rubric of science (like Professor Dawkins did here)!
And their aim, as the American evolutionary biologist, Richard Lewotin admits here, is only… to deny God!
“We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.” – Richard Lewontin, Billions and billions of demons, The New York Review, p. 31, 9 January 1997.
And therein lies the refutation of scientism – it is arbitrary!
Because if Dawkins wants to play the arbitrary game, well, then we too are entitled to be arbitrary which gives us the right to advance our own view of things that refute his opinions!
You see, opinions are a dime-a-dozen! In fact, not even that! They’re worthless!
Scientism is nothing more than philosophical sophistry – is sounds like science, but it’s really ‘science in drag’!
The conflict then, is not between science and the Bible, but between two worldviews: scientism and Biblical theism!
And since scientism is arbitrary, it holds no intellectual credentials whatsoever!
2. Science Is Unable To Furnish Us With Truth!
Science (apart from scientism now) is unable to furnish us with truth for two reasons:
one, science rests upon a foundation of knowledge that is seriously flawed;
and two, science relies on a process that is self-referentially incoherent and self-refuting!
Let me show you…
Firstly, science takes:
reason from the rationalists;
sense experience from the empiricists;
and utility from the pragmatists;
and then proceeds to ‘churn’ it through a self-correcting mechanism (called the scientific method) in order to bring it gradually ever closer to the truth.
However, our past experience has conclusively shown that:
unaided reason (that is reason not guided by Biblical revelation), leads to a type of irrational scepticism, what we now know as ‘postmodernism’, something that was in fact a reaction to and a disenchantment with reason’s failure to discover truth;
moreover, sense experience has proved to be untrustworthy, because our senses tend to betray us;
and then finally, history has shown that the utility of the pragmatists just reduces to form of reasoning that’s arbitrary!
Let me show what I mean:
Firstly, consider unaided reason as a system of knowledge:
Because of problems with cognitive psychology, it turns out that our capacity for reason, or to put it another way, our ‘common sense’, is easily confused!
For example, every riddle is deliberately designed to mess with our minds, to confuse our ability to reason, to muddle our ‘common sense’!
Let me show you:
Here’s one of Zeno’s famous paradoxes: it one pits Achilles in a footrace against a tortoise…
Now, Achilles was a swift runner and the tortoise, well, he was just an ordinary tortoise.
And they set off to see who could cross the finish line first over a distance of say, 1 kilometre (or 1,000 metres) – the actual distance doesn’t matter.
And to be fair, Achilles gave the tortoise a short head start, with Achilles beginning at the starting point A, and the tortoise say at point B, a few metres ahead.
Now, our reason tells us that it would be just silly to bet anything on the tortoise winning! Of course!
And off they go, but watch this: by the time that Achilles gets to point B, where the tortoise had started from, the tortoise had already progressed to point C. Right?
And by the time that Achilles gets to point C, well, then the tortoise had already progressed to point D, and so on.
So you can see what’s happening here – Achilles never actually catches up with the tortoise and the tortoise can always only win the race!
Now if you’re confused by this one, well, then I’ve just proved my point! But don’t worry, it also had Aristotle and every other philosopher since him, horribly confused!
But it just goes to show you how easily our reason, or our ‘common sense’ can get muddled!
But this is not just me playing mind games here – listen to this: it was the brilliant British philosopher, historian, logician and mathematician who lived during the early part of the last century, Bertrand Russell (by the way, it was Russell’s essay, Why I Am Not A Christian that convinced Nathan here to abandon his Christian faith and to turn to atheism instead – I would argue that it’s just not possible for a true Christian to ever ‘lose’ her/her faith no more than anyone can ever be ‘unborn’), but it was Bertrand Russell who concluded in another essay, The Problems Of Philosophy, that “…common sense [or reason] leaves us completely in the dark as to the true intrinsic nature of physical objects [i.e. reality or truth]”.
Here’s a man who loathed Christianity, admitting that reason was unable to tell us anything about reality, or give us truth!
Then secondly, let’s consider sense experience as a system of knowledge:
Just as riddles are designed to confuse our ability to reason, so too are optical illusions and everything that David Copperfield does, designed to fool our senses! Look at this:
How many triangles do you see in this image?
Well, the smart answer is… none!
There are really only three circles, each with a little ‘slice’ removed!
And would you say that these two lines A and B are the same length?
Our senses tell us no, they’re not!
But when we remove the little arrowheads, we see that the two lines are in fact the same length!
Can you see how easily our senses can let us down?
Here’s Bertrand Russell once again in the same essay: “…the senses seem not to give us the truth…”.
And finally, consider pragmatism as a system of knowledge:
When we take into account that the maxim of the pragmatists is “truth is what works”, we quickly see that it reduces to an irrational form of reasoning, known as… subjectivism!
Because what works for me, may not work for you, so the question then is… does it actually work, or not?
Now, mind you, I am not dismissing the value of reason, or the virtue of our senses, or the utility of practical experience, but what I am saying is that:
reason, unaided by Biblical revelation is like a cruise missile without a guidance system; and
sense experience, unguided by Biblical revelation, is like winking at someone in the dark; and
practical experience, undirected by Biblical revelation, is pretty pointless if we all one day have to give an account of the true worth of our lives!
But it’s important to see that science rests its entire thesis on three systems of knowledge that are all seriously flawed!
But not to worry! Ta daa!
Enters… the scientific method!
On this model, science takes three systems of knowledge, however flawed they might be, and then proceeds to ‘churn’ them through an iterative, self-correcting process of testing and evaluation that’s designed to remove any errors and inconsistencies which, with every iteration, is expected to edge it asymptotically closer to the truth, something like this…
But here’s the thing… for the scientific method to know whether any of its findings are approaching truth (or, that, whatever it’s doing is becoming ‘truer’), it necessarily needs to recognise an objective standard of truth which stands apart from the scientific endeavour itself!
So, the scientific method doesn’t go about inventing a standard of truth!
It merely attempts to cohere to an already existing standard of objective truth!
Or to put it another way:
science doesn’t furnish (or generate) truth;
it merely attempts to comply with an objective standard of truth!
And yet, the proponents of scientism insist that ‘science is what determines what is true’!
Here is Karl Popper, one of the most influential philosophers of science of our time, on this point, and mind you, Popper was not a Christian or even a theist when he has this to say, “First, although in science we do our best to find the truth, we are conscious of the fact that we can never be sure we have got it… [W]e know that our scientific theories always remain hypotheses… In science, there is no ‘knowledge’ in the sense in which Plato or Aristotle understood the word, in the sense which implies finality. In science, we never have sufficient reason for the belief that we have attained the truth…”
In sum, science doesn’t give us truth!
3. There Are Limits To What Science Can Do!
We have to recognise that science has certainly proved to be very efficient at telling us just ‘how’ things are in the ‘real world’!
But by its own admission:
science can never, and here I stress never, explain things to us;
and it can certainly never tell us how things ought to be!
In other words, science is very good at the ‘how’, but it is utterly useless at the ‘why’ and the ‘so what’:
‘Science’ may well be able to provide us with a cure for cancer, but it cannot tell us why we should have a cure for cancer! Only the Bible does that!
‘Science’ may be able to probe the far reaches of the cosmos, but it is completely incapable of answering the most important existentialist question of all… “why are we even here?” Only the Bible does that!
‘Science’ is therefore:
at best, descriptive;
it is never explicative;
and it can certainly never be prescriptive!
51.4. Science Is Always False!
To say that ‘science’ is always false, I realise is quite a thing to say, especially when we all entrust so much to the things that science has given us!
But let me show you why this is true…
Firstly, all scientific experiments commit the fallacy of asserting the consequent (and this is true for both the inductive as well as the modern, hypothetical deductive method of ‘doing science’):
In syllogistic form, it looks like this: “if P, then Q; Q, therefore P”;
For example: the scientist theorises that “If Einstein’s theory of relativity is true, then we should expect light to bend in the proximity of large objects.”
And when he observes that “light does bend in the proximity of the sun”, he concludes that “Einstein’s theory of relativity is true”.
Here’s Bertrand Russell once again – he recognised the fallacy of this form of reasoning when he had this to say:
“All inductive arguments in the last resort reduce themselves to the following form: ‘If this is true, that is true: now that is true, therefore this is true’ This argument is, of course, formally fallacious.”
Russel goes on to give an example which, in simple language, goes something like this:
“If the battery to my car is dead, then my car won’t start. My car won’t start, therefore the battery of my car is dead!”
Whilst a dead battery could well be the cause of my car not starting, there could be any number of other things wrong with my car and that would cause it not to start!
No mechanic will ever make such a silly mistake, and yet, scientists do it all the time!
Secondly, science commits the fallacy of induction:
Induction is the attempt to derive a general law from particular instances, and all science is necessarily inductive.
For example: a scientist happens to study swans and after having observed 1,000 swans, he concludes that “all swans are white”.
But that cannot be, because the 1,001st swan that he observes in Australia, may be black!
And that’s not counting all swans that have existed in the past, that may exist somewhere in the universe now, and that are yet to be hatched!
In fact, the scientist cannot even conclude on a probabilistic basis that “all swans are white” for the same reasons!
And there goes Bayes’ Theorem!
Thirdly, all scientific laws are always selected, they are never discovered:
Suppose a scientist sets out to determine the boiling point of water at different altitudes (or barometric pressures).
Given the vagaries of the experiment itself: the intensity of the heat source, the size of the container, the volume of water, the chemical mix of the water, and so on, all things that interfere with his experiment to give him a range of different results, he then proceeds to plot the different results on a graph, something like this…
And then he repeats the process at different levels of altitude, plotting the various results for each experiment.
Upon conclusion of his experiment, he calculates an average for the various sets of results, bearing in mind that he has a number of different types of averages that he can choose from: arithmetic mean, geometric mean, harmonic mean, and a whole lot more.
But he chooses one method to arrive at an average for each of the result sets.
Finally, he plots a line through these various sets of numbers.
But here’s the thing: how many lines can pass through two points on a graph?
Well, an infinite number!
But here the scientist chooses one, so what are the chances that he happens to choose the right one?
Well, it’s one out of an infinite number, or zero!
Here’s Karl Popper again: “…all [scientific] theories, even the best, have the same probability, namely zero”!
And then fourthly, there are a number of other problems associated with the scientific endeavour, not least of which is the fact that:
scientists make mistakes – the fella who put the little rubber at the end of the pencil, was a scientist – he knew what he was doing!
and scientists are not always entirely honest, as a series of recent newspaper reports attest to; and then
we also know that the self-correcting, peer review mechanism built into the scientific method, often falls well short of what it is intended to do!
One: What appears to be a conflict between science and the Bible in fact turns out to be a conflict between two worldviews: scientism (which is no science at all), and Biblical theism!
Two: The conflict between scientism and Biblical theism comes about because scientism vies with the Bible for truth!
Three: There are limits to what science can do!
And four: science, whilst it provides utility (it’s useful to us), science is always false!
In my concluding remarks, I will argue for:
the truth of Biblical theism;
and why only Biblical theism stands the preeminent authority on all matters of life and the world around us!
Q: What is truth and why is it so important?
A: Do you want the true answer, or the false answer?
Think about it logically for a moment: for truth to be truth, it necessarily needs to demonstrate certain essential qualities (or characteristics):
It needs to be objective: that means that it cannot be the product of either human invention or imagination – it has to come from some transcendent source (God);
It needs to be absolute: it cannot admit of any exception;
It needs to be universal: it must be equally valid on all places and at all times and under all circumstances;
It needs to be knowable: we must at least be aware of it.
And truth is important, because it is truth that serves as the foundation upon which we rest all of life’s most important considerations:
It is truth that gives us our epistemology: how we know what we know;
It is truth that gives us our metaphysic: how we understand life and the world around us;
It is truth that gives us our ethic: how we are to conduct ourselves;
It is truth that gives us our politic: how a government ought to function as a people.
And the definition of truth? I define truth as ‘all the propositions contained in the 66 books of the Bible and the inferences drawn from them’!
Or to put it in a different way, truth is ‘all knowledge perfected in Christ Jesus’, and here I will refer you to Col 2:3!
Q: You said that true science only agrees with the Bible, but what about the Muslims who claim the same?
Islam claims as its foundations:
the Torah (the law of Moses or the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible);
the Psalms of David; and
the four gospels.
But then it proceeds to deny those foundations – by its own admission, if Islam is true, it is false!
It’s like the Barber of Seville paradox: the Barber of Seville shaves all those who do not shave themselves. Question: who shaves the Barber of Seville? Because if the Barber of Seville shaves himself, and since he only shaves those who do not shave themselves, then he doesn’t shave himself. And if he doesn’t shave himself, since he shaves all those who do not shave themselves, then he does shave himself! So if he does, then he doesn’t, and if he doesn’t, then he does!
And so, it is with Islam, if it is true, then it is false!
Now the Qur’an makes it clear that the very idea of there being any laws of nature, is blasphemy as it’s a denial of Allah’s freedom.
And of course, without any laws of nature, there can be no science by the Islamic worldview!
Q: If science has shown that miracles aren’t possible, how can we still trust the Bible?
A: This is typical of the confusion between science and scientism!
You have to ask yourself this question: by what method of science can anyone demonstrate that miracles are not possible?
And the answer is that there is no method of science that one can use to either affirm or to deny any of the Biblical claims of miracles!
And that makes this claim not one of science, but of scientism, and hopefully, I managed to show you that scientism, as just another philosophy-of-life, has no scientific credentials whatsoever!
We cannot trust scientism!
But that still doesn’t avoid the question: are miracles possible?
Now, if you’re going to confine yourself to just the inside of the ‘box’ of ‘natural science’ and insist that everything must have a natural cause and a natural explanation, and if you sit with this stunted idea that miracles represent the suspension of the natural order of things, then yes, I can see why you may have problems with the idea of miracles!
But in a theistic universe, when you move outside of the ‘box’, you get to discover that miracles really represent the restoration of the natural order of things, and not the suspension of the natural order of things!
So, if you look at this question through the eyeglasses of Biblical theism, then yes, miracles are very possible!
Q: Science has proved that the world is not 6,000 years old as the Bible claims – surely that is enough evidence that the Bible is wrong?
Firstly, there is no way that science is able to ever prove anything, and I shared some of the reasons with you earlier on!
So don’t let anyone ever tell you things like “science has proved” or “it’s a fact of science”!
Science can never make such claims! Only scientism can!
Secondly, you need to know that none of the radiometric dating methods, whilst the theory is sound, produce consistent and accurate results!
For one, all the various radiometric tests depend entirely on the assumptions with which the scientist approaches the experiment, none of which he can neither prove or disprove:
So, if the scientist has an old-earth bias (and no scientist is neutral), then he’ll invariably come up with an old-earth result;
And if the scientist has a young-earth bias, then he’ll invariably come up with a young-earth result!
But there are a number of evidences that point to a young earth (less that 10,000 years old), for example:
We have the abundance of Carbon 14!
Theoretically, nothing over 50,000 years old should have any detectible C14 left, and yet, we don’t know of any coal deposits that don’t contain C14!
We’re losing our moon at the rate of about 4cm every year!
And if you do the math, you’ll quickly figure out that the earth cannot possibly be 4.5 billion years old as the evolutionists claim!
But, to be fair, there are other ‘evidences’ that seem to speak of a very old universe.
When we look at a distant star that is many millions light years away, we have to ask ourselves, how can that possibly square with the Genesis account of a young universe?
Well firstly, God created light (day 1) before he created any of the cosmic bodies (day 4).
And secondly, He created the universe with the appearance of age!
And when reading the Scriptures, it seems to me that God gives the unbeliever enough rope to hang himself (otherwise it seems to me that it’ll interfere with man’s free will), so God sends the scoffer the kind of delusion which we read on in 2Thes 2:11!
Q: If science is false, then how come it works?
A: Clearly the person who asked this question, doest run Windows and isn’t a Vodacom subscriber!
The best way I can explain this, is by way of an example:
We have, say 100 (PMDLG) people attending here this evening.
And I guess it’s accurate to say that most of you (if not all), are carrying some kind of timepiece (a watch or a cell ‘phone or a whatever that gives you a reading of the time) – these are all products of science!
Now, if we all took a reading of our watches at exactly the same time, I bet you’d find that we end up with 100 different readings (or however many people are here this evening)!
Now, all the readings may all be very similar, with just a few seconds or even a few minutes variance!
But does that have any effect on the actual (the true) time? No, it doesn’t!
And who can tell us what the true time is?
Is it something we determine, or is time independent of any of us?
And yet, this evening happened quite OK!
Even a broken clock is right twice a day!
Here’s another example:
We’re sitting here in George, and let’s assume that someone asked us in which direction he should travel to get to say, East London.
If we told him to head due West, would that be wrong?
No! Now, it may not be the most efficient direction for him to travel in, but get there he will!
5. The Truth OF Biblical Theism
In closing, allow me to make a case for the truth of Biblical theism…
In the short time that we were given tonight, I’ve tried to argue for the fact that:
scientism, as a worldview, is intellectually bankrupt and without any scientific credentials;
and that science, whilst it is able to give us a lot of very useful stuff, is unable to furnish us with truth!
For truth, we have look elsewhere!
And truth is important, because all our most important considerations about life and the world around us, are anchored in our understanding of truth!
I shared with you that the founding fathers of science were all men of faith who:
expected to find law in nature and they knew that they would find law in nature, because they had come to know the Law Giver;
they trusted in the uniformity of nature because they knew that this very finely balanced universe of ours is only being held together by God who delicately ordains and sustains it;
and they knew that God would reveal himself in his created order of things – that there are things to be discovered and knowledge to be acquired through nature!
Now, from a purely naturalistic perspective of things (thinking only inside the ‘box’):
Firstly, the scientist has no cause whatsoever to expect law in nature – here is Dr Paul Davies, one of the leading physicists of our time (now, to my knowledge, he is not a Christian), with this to say – this is quite a long quotation, but it’s an important one, so for the sake of time, I’ll summarise it for you:
“The worldview of the scientist (even the most atheistic scientist) is essentially that of monotheism. It clearly has to be his belief which he needs to accept as an article of faith, that the universe is ordered in an intelligible way, for it is simply not possible for a scientist not to believe in these two things:
One, if the scientist did not believe that there was an underlying order to be discovered in nature, then he would simply not bother to do it for there is nothing to be found;
Second, unless the scientist believed that it was intelligible, then he would simply have to give up if it was not possible for him to understand it all.
So scientists do, as a matter of faith, accept that the universe is ordered and that it is at least to some extent, also intelligible to human beings – it is this belief that underpins the entire scientific enterprise, something that is nothing less than a theological position. This particular worldview has been supported throughout the ages by science and it is one that scientists today unshakably retain, as an act of faith. Now that does not mean that one has to buy into the religion or into a particular theology, but it nevertheless remains to be a belief that cannot be proven and that has to be accepted logically that the universe is both rational and intelligible. It could quite easily have been otherwise – it could have been arbitrary, it could have been absurd and it could have been utterly beyond human comprehension. But it’s not.” – Dr Paul Davis, Physicist
Here Dr Davies admits to the fact that there are certain qualities about the universe (such as law-like order) that are essential to the scientific endeavour, but which the scientist is unable to explain and which he necessarily has to accept ‘by faith’!
Secondly, the scientist has no warrant to expect uniformity in nature – he has no cause to expect what happened yesterday will repeat itself again tomorrow!
Here is Bertrand Russel once again: “We have no reason to know that the future will resemble the past” – The Problems Of Philosophy;
And then thirdly, the scientist has no cause to trust his intuitions, unless he has an absolute standard by which he can judge whether they are true or whether they’re false!
In short, from a ‘box’ perspective:
the scientist cannot account for any of the foundations of science;
he cannot know why he should trust any of the First Principles that make his scientific endeavour possible;
and then he cannot make any value judgments which his scientific discoveries may lead him to!
For example, in developing nuclear energy:
There are definite laws that govern the chemical reactions that make a nuclear reaction possible, which the scientist cannot give a naturalistic account for and which he has to accept as an article of faith!
Equally, when doing all his sums, the scientist has to accept, as an article of faith, that 2 plus 2 is equal to 4 and not something else!
And when he finally has the whole nuclear fusion thing worked out, who is he to say that it ought to be used to light up cities or reduce them to rubble!
The answers to all of these questions I believe, only come from the Bible:
It is only the Bible which teaches that there is a God who sovereignly controls this universe of ours in a law-like fashion!
It is only through Biblical revelation that we can come to understand why 2 plus 2 equals 4, or why the laws of logic are valid, or why the axioms of mathematics are true, or why the laws of nature are there!
And it is only when we appeal to the Biblical standard of morality that we can say with any certitude that it’s ‘right’ for us to use nuclear energy to light up cities but that it’s ‘wrong’ to use the same power to reduce them to rubble!
Now, Nathan here will be quick to point out that there are a great many outstanding scientists in the world today who do all of these things, but who do not acknowledge the Bible as their ultimate authority and who do not bow their knee to the God of the Bible!
And I would agree with that, but in the Bible we learn that it is God who imparts knowledge to all men, although they choose to suppress that fact in unrighteousness!
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them. For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that no men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” – Romans 1:18-21
And herein lies the preeminence of Biblical theism: it is the only worldview that provides us with the necessary preconditions of intelligibility!
Or, to put it differently, it is only when we either consciously or subconsciously appeal to the Bible as the one source of all truth that we can hope to make sense of life and the world around us!
The truth of Biblical theism lies in the fact that nothing in human experience can be intelligible without it!
Without the Bible, we cannot prove anything, let alone ‘do science’!
But here’s a thing… mere intellectual commitment to Biblical theism does not make anyone into a Christian, that demands nothing less than an act of God himself!