Friday, October 12, 2007

Unscientific or non-scientific? Reply to BWolf30 #2

Here's another quote from the 7-foot ninja:

Next, there is a big difference between "'inaccurate' scientific facts" and non-scientific statements based on a phenomenal point of view. The Bible never does claim to be a scientific manual, but to acknowledge this and then claim error by contemporary "scientific" standards, albeit purposeful error, doesn't follow. Non-scientific doesn't mean unscientific.

I almost didn't make a post to reply to this, because I wasn't sure it was that vital to the discussion. But then I changed my mind. I'm going to assume that by "phenomenal point of view" you mean that because of the point of view of an ancient Hebrew--i.e. without microscope, telescope, advanced mathematics, geological understanding of plate tectonics, etc.--they make non-scientific statements that to us, if viewed as scientific commentary, would be inaccurate, but they are really just points of view based on the available information to that ancient Hebrew. In other words, when I wake up and say "Look at the beautiful sunrise" instead of "Look at the viewing of the sun as the earth rotates on its axis" you don't judge my first statement as a scientific inaccuracy. If that's what you mean, I think I agree with you.

But if that is what they are, non-scientific statements, then why do so many Evangelical Christians today take them to mean scientific things?

Scientific facts should be used carefully in situations of philosophic and theological discussion. Today's "understanding" of the human genome could become tomorrow's earth-centric solar system.

My main point is that the whole creation-science movement (of which I was long a part, at least in my belief) tries very hard to make the Bible say scientific things when it isn't. And even more egregious is that they make belief in these scientific biblical statements mandatory for being a True Christian.


BWolf30 said...

Hey Arnie, I was reading this and my earlier post and thinking a big problem with this issue is a lack of clarity and precision of statement. Usually we are not self-critical enough of our own position and assumptions; if we would spend more time clarifying what we are really trying to say perhaps some of these problems would dissolve on their own. For example, in the quote you cite what I said is generally true but really doesn't touch the real issues. Also, in my first post I said, "If 'natural history' and 'science' by contemporary definitions automatically exclude God and his intervention in the world, why then do so many Christians accept the presuppositions of such theories and the slanted results that they produce?" Again, this not clear or precise enough to force the main points of contention out. (Certainly this is often true of broad based theories, but is it always true on every level? Is methodological naturalism always unacceptable to Christians?) Much of what you say in your post falls prey to the same shortcomings. I think a good step would be to specify better what we are talking about.

To me, the crucial point is what I mentioned at the end of my earlier post - we need to properly situate "science" and "theology" in order to better dialogue between them. Monolithic entities called Science and Theology just don't exist - they don't make statements, they don't offer theories, and they shouldn't be personified as if they did. We need to approach each on a much more particular level. Certainly individual branches of science interrelate with various aspects of theology in fundamentally different ways. To ignore this is unhelpful. I think it is much more fruitful for the discussion to throw off the cultural hegemony of Science and the generalized statements that ultimately obscure what is going on. Rather, we should take specific scientific approaches and theories that are properly delimited and bring them into contact with specific theological constructions - with each always having in mind who is saying what and why. Perhaps this will help us better hit the issues on the head.

A couple of questions for you:

1) What exactly are "scientific statements?" Only statements made by scientists? What are the limits of the scientist's authority here? Or are they things regular people say based on the available information? Or do we idealize a "rational person"? I bet 99% of the people today aren't any more "scientific" than any other age. Sure, we know general facts such as the earth revolves around the sun, and we obviously know and use scientifically based knowledge everyday - but, I would say general knowledge of the how and why of the stuff we use is lacking. Knowing how to turn on a computer doesn't mean you know the science that went into developing and making it. Turning on a light doesn't mean you know anything scientific about electricity. I think we see here the ambiguity of what a "scientific statement" is.

2) What, exactly, are you talking about when you say there are unscientific statements in the Bible? Are we just talking about Genesis 1, or something in addition? I think here it is extremely important to specify what we are talking about. Further, on what basis are these unscientific? What scientist proved this? Which experiment? When was this done? Here is where the person who criticizes the Bible as unscientific needs to be much more self-critical. It is easy in our culture to make vague comments to this extent, but we need to investigate the grounds on which these statements are made. What is the basis of the criticism - real science, philosophical conjecture, a mixture? What are the assumptions of the criticism? What are the processes and methods involved? etc.

3) I think you interpreted "phenomenal point of view" in basically a correct manner. No weatherman has yet been called unscientific because he says sunrise and sunset, and IMO most of the Biblical statments in question fall under this category (but then again, your answer to number 2 might show I restrict the quantity of these statements more than you). To answer your question why so many Evangelicals take them to mean scientific things I would say two things - one, what is exactly meant by scientific here?; two, it is an example of committment to a construct not entailed by the scriptural evidence and elevated by many into dogma (like the idea we have to sing certain hymns with just organ music, or KJV-onlyism).

4) I agree with much of what you said in this post, my only contention would be in your last paragraph - I think it is very important to separate Creation Science (6 days, no questions asked, Duane Gish, etc.) from the Intelligent Design movement. I think in method, tone and thrust the ID group is radically different. I think the ID movement is great and headed in the right direction, but we can talk about that later. BTW - this movie looks really good: http: //

Arnie Adkison said...

You are right about clarification and self-criticism. Nothing to add, except that I would say again that the difference between an academic discussion and a popular discussion requires different communication tools. The former, which you prefer--and I enjoy too--requires the precision that you're talking about. In the latter however, that precision can become overly burdensome and tedious, like reading Leviticus when you don't understand the basic issues of the Hebrew priesthood.

So to answer your questions:

1. I agree.

2. Genesis 1 & 2 is the focal point of what I am referring to. Specifically, the "snow globe" cosmology that many ancient cultures understood to be true and which I think found it's way into the description of creation in Ge 1.

3. Again, I think we're in agreement on this. Few people have the commitment to try and understand much of anything.

4. Yes, certainly ID is different from CS. Unfortunately at the pop level, I think that the perception by many on the evolutionary side is that ID is (A) an undercover creation science group trying to sneak into public schools or (B) an unrealistic effort to combine "science" and "religion".

The real issue, which I will eventually post another full blog entry about, is NOT that science and religion are incompatible, but that the real battle is between a naturalistic materialism and a relational theism.

BWolf30 said...

I would agree there is a difference of precision between academic and popular discussion, but I am not saying we need the second to be on the level of the first. What I am trying to say is that we need to recognize our situation and confront the pretenses that set themselves up against the knowledge of Christ. Science in our culture carries tremendous authority and many treat it as the paradigm of rationality, and it shouldn't be hard to see that it is highly atheistic and defensive in academia. This carries into our society at popular levels - religion is for the weak or the weird, or at best it is a private affair. This provides part of the the backdrop for common objections against Christianity and the Bible that they are unscientific.

However, to force someone to examine the basis of such claims is not to demand academic precision. It is rather to expose a philosophical claim for what it is. For example, if someone says science has proved all that exists is matter, we can ask what scientist proved that, when he did it, and how - because in fact this something that science just can't do! I disagree with your restricting precision and self-criticism to academic discussions, I think in this type of dialogue it should be the heart and soul of a Christian apologetic in our culture today. Not letting someone get away with inaccurate statements that are unfounded and just picked up through the media or Richard Dawkings or someone like that doesn't require minute, specialized detail. It is entirely appropriate and necessary even at the popular level.

To respond briefly to points 2 and 4:

2. I disagree with the snow-globe contention. I can see how the traditional 6 day interpretation came about, although I don't think it is necessarily entailed by the Scriptures. I don't think, however, the snow-globe claim is legitimate. First of all I don't see it in the text; and externally, actually examining the other cosmologies shows profound differences that are suspiciously steamrolled when they are compared to the biblical account. In any case, the purity and simplicity of the Hebrew tradition would point to its priority and probable consonance with the pre-written account, so the borrowing would be one way, not both. Also, the developing picture of the cosmos from the big bang can be seen to be in accord with natural interpretations of Gen 1 (although I know there are difficulties).

4. I think the Evolutionary establishment fights like crazy to keep ID lumped in with creation science. They refuse to acknowledge any other viewpoint and act like no problems with their position even exist. Talk about anti-intellectual, closed in and bigoted! What other branch in academia refuses to defend itself, critique opponents, and simply tries to stick its head in the sand define its enemies out of existence? I think you hit the nail on the head in your last paragraph - the issue is naturalistic materialism vs. theism (I am wondering what you mean by "relational" - I hope you aren't going all feminist, pomo, and wishy-washy on this point). And this point is exactly the attack made by the ID guys, especially Phillip Johnson. The force of their arguments is to expose the philosophical (naturalistic) biases that distort the empirical evidence. Again, we can utilize this on a popular level and I think we should.

Arnie Adkison said...

Totally agree on your introductory paragraphs! "Science", whatever it is, makes claims that must be justified and often cannot be.

We'll have to agree to disagree on the snow-globe cosmology for now, otherwise we could spend days just on that, I'm sure. Nothing like chasing rabbits!

I'm glad you agree about the real battle. I don't have a problem with Philip Johnson or other ID proponents arguing the case, but I think too many average, everyday, church-goers are not engaging the battle at the point of materialism vs theism, but their interpretation of the Bible vs what they perceive to be Science's and they avoid any philosophical reasoning whatsoever. Like I once did 20 years ago, they utilize a pseudo-argument that boils down to "God says it, I believe it, that settles it." As we both stated earlier, we often don't take the time to evaluate our own assessment of what God has or has not said.

On your little feminist, pomo, wishy-washy whatever jab :) I was just trying to distinguish Christian theism from a more deistic theism, and for me that distinguishing mark is God's passion for relating directly to his creation, esp. us.