Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Dawns in the Laboratory

In the middle ages, we called science "natural philosophy" because we understood that science was the application of a particular philosophy to our understanding of the natural world.  The philosophy then employed was the philosophy of Aristotle, with its mixed bag of insight and nonsense.
Science still is natural philosophy, even though we’ve dropped the name.  The philosophy it now employs -- empiricism -- is exploded.  Even though the finest philosophers now rarely advocate empiricism, modern science still insists on being its laboratory application.  Someone needs to tell the scientists that the rest of the world has junked the scientists’ philosophy and might have been right to do so.
If bad ideas have bad consequences, and if empiricism is a philosophically bad idea, then one wonders what bad consequences flow from the bad philosophy that sits as the bedrock of modern science and is the engine of its movement.
Worth considering, that.
When challenged on the point, these otherwise empirical scientists often take resort to pragmatism:  “We use empiricism because it works.”  Pay no attention to the fact that as a worldview pragmatism has its own set of fatal flaws.  Simply notice that a moment earlier the scientists were talking as if science yielded truth and empirical facts.  Now they don’t.  They move seamlessly yet schizophrenically back and forth between supreme confidence and self-effacing mealy-mouthedness, depending upon which one serves their purposes best at the moment.   
The same nonsense holds true with the scientists’ faulty theology, which says that God, if He exists at all, is and ought to be irrelevant to scientific endeavor, that we can proceed quite nicely without Him, thank you very much.  Put on this lab coat and leave your Bible at the door.
That's perfectly bad theology, pure and simple.
It might be well for scientists to consider Wolfhart Pannenberg’s hypothesis that God is not only a field of force without limitations of time or extension, but that He is the field of force and, if so, then the scientists have been dealing with Him all along in one way and another yet never once realized it because their suffocating worldview made such recognition simply impossible. 
I'm not saying that the alternative to modern science is the bastardized nonsense that one gets at some Christian colleges, but neither ought it to be the bastardized nonsense one gets at shamelessly secular enclaves like Harvard or Oxford, as if Richard Dawkins, not John Lennox, John Polkinghorne, or Michael Polanyi were the master of interdisciplinary thinking on this subject (or any other).
All this academically myopic, self-congratulatory, under-informed, scientific delusion happens because we have divided human knowledge up into discreet and externally impenetrable academic disciplines, each with its own private set of presuppositions and methods, and each with the freedom to do as it sees fit without regard to the knowledge gained in other disciplines.
But it’s utterly unreal.  It’s utterly a rejection of things as they really are:  We don’t have, say, a mathematical universe alongside a historical universe, alongside a philosophical universe, alongside a chemical universe, alongside a theological universe, alongside a sociological universe, alongside a rhetorical universe, alongside a political universe.  We have but one world, and the answers we offer to life’s fundamental and enduring questions need to be true across the board.  Regarding origins, for example, it cannot be that (A.) the universe and matter are eternal and also that (B.) we have reached today -- any today.  Why not? Because it is impossible to traverse infinity, and if the universe is infinitely old, then you can’t get from infinity past to here.
Yet, here we are.
Some scientists, I am pleased to say, have escaped this prison and its “mind-forged manacles.”  They work at places like the Discovery Institute; they also have serious doubts about evolutionary theory and the very unpristine data concerning global warming.  
The prominence of contemporary scientific silliness is the by-product of academic segregation; it's just Jim Crow in charge of the curriculum:  “Separate (disciplines) but equal,” which means, we all know, separate but unequal.  No scientist I know thinks we ought to give equal weight to science and to Karl Barth’s intellectual earthquake, which brought down the towers of natural philosophy and natural theology, or to the first Christians’ discovery of the empty tomb on Easter morning.  If, indeed, the tomb was empty, if Spirit reversed physical death -- doing what matter could never do -- then the scientific presupposition that only matter matters, and that only matter-based hypotheses are acceptable is simply false.  In such a world, science misses out on some of the most important, perhaps even the most important, explanatory principle in or out of the universe:  God.  Easter has dawned in the laboratory and no one there even noticed.
That’s because scientists don’t really think that Theology yields knowledge, that Theology is really an academic discipline that needs to be heard and taken into account.  But they do think the theologians ought to listen to the scientists.  They also think that the traffic between the two disciplines, if it exists at all, ought to be a one-way street from the laboratory to Jesus’ gravesite, not the other way round.
They think that Theology must sit in the back of the bus.


Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Hi Dr. Bauman,

You might enjoy this article by a non-Christian regarding Evidence in Science and Religion.


"In the post previous to this one, I revisited the question of the place of evidence in the discourses and practices of science and religion. I was prompted by a discussion on the the show “Up w/ Chris Hayes” (MSNBC, March 25) in which Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins stated with great force and confidence that a key difference between science and religion is that the conclusions of the former are based on evidence that has emerged in the course of rigorous rational inquiry publicly conducted, while the conclusions of the latter are based on dogma, faith, unexamined authority, subjectivity and mere trust.

In response, Hayes observed that as laypersons, with respect to most areas of science we must take on trust what practitioners tell us. I took Hayes’s point further than he might be willing to take it, and suggested that because trust is common to both enterprises, the distinction between them, at least as it is asserted by Pinker and Dawkins, cannot be maintained.

Readers responded by pouring the proverbial ton of bricks on my head. The chief objection, repeated by many posters, was to the positing of an “equivalence” (a word that appeared often) between science and religion.

Michael K. declares that “the equivalence between the methodological premises of scientific inquiry and those of religious doctrine is simply false.” I agree, but I do not assert it. Neither do I assert that because there are no “impersonal standards and impartial procedures … all standards and procedures are equivalent” (E.). What I do assert is that with respect to a single demand — the demand that the methodological procedures of an enterprise be tethered to the world of fact in a manner unmediated by assumptions — science and religion are in the same condition of not being able to meet it (as are history, anthropology, political science, sociology, psychology and all the rest).

This means that all standards are equivalently mediated, not that all standards are equivalent in every respect."

Dr. Michael Bauman said...

I wonder how he'd respond to Pannenberg's argument that both religion and science operate on precisely the same basis and proceed by the same methods.

Thanks for bringing this article to my attention. I hadn't seen it before.

Best to you.

J-bred said...

What are your thoughts on this answer I have constructed on the relationship between the natural sciences and theology.

The bible is inerrant, but incomplete therefore, therefore God has ordained other disciples, such as physics, and psychology to be engines for Truth, but still these other Truths are to be received only if they expand on biblical Truths, because the the bible is already written inherently, while the book on physics is constantly self correcting.

Dr. Michael Bauman said...

I agree -- the Bible is inerrant, though it is not complete. What it teaches is true, though it does not address every issue. I'm not sure I'd say that God ordains the modern science, especially since their presuppositions and methods are intentionally secular and purposely leave out all considerations of God.

Anonymous said...

Goodness, I guess this collection of words constitutes an argument of sorts. But this kind of sophistry only convinces the choir, which is fine. What I find offensive, however, is the co-opting of civil rights discourse as a bulwark for reactionary thought. If it's conscious then it's cynical; if it's not, then it's deeply misguided.

Dr. Michael Bauman said...

Goodness, I guess your collection of words constitutes a response of sorts. But this kind of sophistry only convinces the choir.

Here's what I mean:

Since when did your offense constitute an argument? Your being offended is a fact about you, not a valid argument about the merits of a position, any position. If so, it's hardly relevant. I await your valid argument.

Since when did placing a label such as "reactionary" on a position constitute a logical critique? I await your valid argument

Since when did your false reduction of possibilities -- either my view is cynical or else misguided -- constitute a valid argument? After all, numerous other possibilities exist, including the possibility that mine are logical deductions drawn from true premises, and as such constitute moving properly and rationally inside a worldview that you have erroneously rejected. If so, you have some explaining to do. I await your valid argument.

I also await your choice to speak in your own name.

Until then, you haven't responded to the case argued above that modern science arises from a worldview -- from a philosophy and a theology that for many reasons have been rejected by competent philosophers and theologians. Perhaps science was right to reject the philosophers and theologians who critiqued the scientific world view. If so, let's hear your philosophical case about why we all should be empiricists or pragmatists or, perhaps impossibly, both at once.

Having done that, you'll then need to refute the theologians. Let's hear your theological case against (1) Pannenberg's argument that theology and science employ precisely the same intellectual methods and that a critique of one is a critique of both, and (2) his notion that God is a field of force and therefore is more immanent than science has yet to conceive. Then (3) you'll have to refute Thomas Torrance's scientific application of Barth's rejection of natural theology. Good luck with all that. If you aren't sure which of their books to read or where to begin, let me know. I'll be glad to help.

If you decline to refute them because they are philosophers or theologians and, as such, they are irrelevant to science, then you are, indeed, practicing academic segregation of the sort I described.

Again, I await your valid arguments.

Dr. Michael Bauman said...

With all that behind you, Anonymous, you then can tackle the problem of traversing infinity: If one cannot traverse infinity, and if matter is infinitely old, how did we get from infinity past to today? If matter is not infinitely old, please explain its origins.

BRan said...

Great stuff. Sorry to post another link, but what you've identified here about modern science's arrogance and unduly narrow worldview brings to mind an essay by Edward Feser entitled "Blinded by Scientism" over at First Things - see

BRan said...

Sorry. It's actually published at "The Public Discourse", and not First Things. The link is still good, though...

Dr. Michael Bauman said...

Many thanks for the link, which I appreciate. Best to you.