Sunday, April 29, 2007

Science, Faith, and Politics

I was watching CSPAN today and came across a discussion on the “Politics of Faith.” Of course I was interested in the topic and decided to watch for a few moments. After hearing about five minutes of comments I had to turn off the program. One of the authors opined that there was a conspiracy going on between corporate America and evangelical Christianity—if you can convince the dimwitted employees of Sam’s Club or Wal-Mart that they are “right with Jesus” and that He will take care of you, you can pay them bad wages and terminate their jobs. This is why, according to this particular author, that these companies have chaplains.

Another author frothed that America was one of the only countries in the world that has a “faith based” approach to abortion and stem-cells. Another railed that Americans love the benefits of technology gained via science, but they don’t want to embrace the very foundation of science itself: Darwinism! This last point would be a surprise to many chemists and physicists that I know! To my mind, and to the minds of many scientists, the foundation of modern science is not Darwinism, but the belief in a rational, coherent, and orderly world that can be at least be partially dissected by the mind of man. Without this presupposition, the practice of science makes no sense.

In the background I could hear the echo of the late Christopher Reeve: “When matters of public policy are debated, no religions should have a seat at the table." People with moral convictions based upon religious principle, you see, are too moronic to seriously think about these issues objectively. It is this parody, this horrible caricature of religious belief, that offends so many Christians—perhaps it is the reason Christians are not even invited to discussions such as these, for fear they couldn’t stop drooling long enough to issue a coherent verbal utterance. This is not the manner of Christianity most classical Anglicans know, if they are familiar with the writings of C.S. Lewis, Thomas Aquinas, William Temple, G.K. Chesterton, or the philosophical writings of modern Roman Catholic thinkers such as John Paul II and Pope Benedict and Reformed thinkers like Alvin Plantinga.

It is from philosophic and theological foundations that science operates, and since these foundations grew within the Christian tradition and gave rise to modern science it is the Christian tradition that must have a seat at the table when the moral issues raised by science and its applications are addressed. From these very foundations we believe in an ordered creation with man as the creature with the intellect to uncover such order; we also believe in the inherent dignity of man. This is really the major problem for the CSPAN authors alluded to above—Christians believe in the dignity of human beings at all stages of development. As long as it is human and living, it has value and worth. Yes, this is a conviction based on religion and philosophy. But how is the conviction that an embryo or a fetus does not have value any different? How is this any less a philosophical or religious position? I have yet to hear that issue addressed.


Anonymous said...

Dear Anglican Cleric:

I saw the same program. I think that many educated people are genuinely afraid of democracy, because by (explicitly) including everybody in the political process, the democratic state (implicitly) allows the deepest convictions of its citizens to influence public policy. And the deepest convictions of many Americans are simply anathema to the highly educated elite who claim to value freedom, particularly as vouchsafed by democracy.

How to get out of this conundrum? Simple: you claim that those whose beliefs you anathematize are free to participate in the political process, so long as they are willing to do so in ways that ignore or even violate their own most deeply held convictions. We can tolerate believers of that stripe (John Kerry, anyone?). No matter that we are, by this logic, recommending double-mindedness and acts against conscience as democratic virtues.

Jay Hershberger said...

"...the foundation of modern science is not Darwinism, but the belief in a rational, coherent, and orderly world that can be at least be partially dissected by the mind of man. Without this presupposition, the practice of science makes no sense."

Spot on! Not only this, but non-believers cannot account for this rational, coherent, and orderly world. At precisely the point that they acknowledge the orderliness of the world, they must do so presuming God. Borrowed capital would be another way of putting it.

Anonymous said...

The screed about "dimwitted" Sam's Club employees is a brain-dead variation on Marx's religion as opiate nonsense; the idea that Darwinism is the foundation of the sciences is a hoot; the handwringing over this country's faith-based approaches to abortion and stem cell research betray's a deeply impolitic eurocentrism ( a bit of baggage that no self-respecting, secular pluralist wants to cart around ); finally, if religiously informed opinion ought to be excluded from all discussions of public policy, then we should declare the advances made over the past 50 years in civil rights, null and void ( let's not even mention a national charter invoking a "creator" as the source of all "inalienable rights" ).


Rev. Dr. Hassert said...


I think the fellow on CSPAN actually said what you said about evangelical Christianity being an "opiate." I'm sure he'd be in complete agreement with Herr Marx.

Sad that this is what goes by the name of "intellectual discourse" in so many of our institutions of higher learning.


Anonymous said...

Oft overlooked by scientists, and its cheer leaders, is the inconvenient fact that the scientific method, the basis for all valid science, is based on a metaphysical presupposition that is not itself verifiable by the scientific method. Indeed, the bedrock presupposition of all science is usually overstated as the principle that "the universe is regular and predicable." (Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy.) Obviously, no scientific experiment can be done to prove this principle as science presupposes it. Thus, the veracity of all scientific conclusions depends on a underlying philosophical/metaphysical presupposition requiring nonscientific proofs. This alone ought to make scientists very uncomfortable, as there whole scientific edifice is actually built on nonscientific metaphysics and philosophy, two fields usually beyond there depths but absolutely essential to the validity of their enterprise.

Worse yet, common sense and personal experience inform us only that "the MATERIAL universe is GENERALLY regular and predicable," which does not conform to the more absolutist presupposition that science textbooks usually present (without much justification). But, luckily for scientists, this moderated statement of the scientific principle (i.e., general predictability) is sufficient to bolster ALL the USEFUL science every done. Indeed, no law of nature need be absolute in the face of rare supernatural interventions. All scientists may rest comfortably knowing that, virtually always, an apple will fall down from its branch when ripe, but that should God want for some reason to suspend this general rule, he could.

But hardcore scientists go further by insisting that the universe is MATERIAL ONLY, hence persons with free will and spirit, whether divine, angelic, or human, cannot upset the ABSOLUTE RULE OF REGULARITY AND PREDICTABILITY (i.e., the absence of the supernatural and freewill). Hence, in its most militant form, science is a metaphysical philosophy that a priori denies the possibility of free will, the divine, the supernatural, and real free choice. But, these hardcore assertions flie in the face of the witness of the entire human experience and eyewitness testimony. By way of simple counter-example, who but God alone can predict the fical ways of women's hearts? Certainly not nerdy scientists! (When's the last time a Scientific Nobel Prize winner dated a super model?)

Worse yet, hardcore scientism doesn't have a coherent logical basis, though it often claims such a conceit. Indeed, as already pointed out, absolute materialism and regularity are unnecessary presuppositions for the vast majority of all scientific projects, and certainly for those that have actually rendered useful technological advances. Thus, they seem to be nothing more than baseless, contrarian, gnostic assertions.

* * * * *

In sharp contrast, Christianity is based on public revelation witnessed by many and handed down to us today with virtually no alterations, and certainly no significant ones. It is a historical and empirical faith that is not completely at odds with logic and the human experience, though it is indeed mysterious and transcends full human comprehension. Moreover, Christianity is completely compatible with the moderated scientific principle that the material universe is usually regular and predictable [the rain fall equally upon the good and the wicked], subject the occasional unpredictable human action or divine intervention {miracles]. On the other hand, hardcore scientism is based on blind, nihilistic faith without any empirical or rational basis whatsoever and which fails to produce any meaningful or useful output or serve any useful purpose.

welshmann said...

I think one of the most glaring disconnects in modern rationalistic thought can be found in the area of environmental conservation. On the one hand, rationalists insist that human beings are purely the result of blind natural processes, i.e., man is nature. On the other hand, many of the same rationalists will insist that human beings have no right to "encroach" upon "unspoiled" habitats, i.e., man is different from nature. The two propositions are irreconcilable. Words like "encroach" and "unspoiled" presuppose a system of objective values, but rationalists insist that such a system does not exist. They say that values are merely the likes and dislikes of those in power. From a strictly naturalistic point of view, then, there is no fundamental difference between a pollution-belching factory or even a nuclear bomb on the one hand, and a beaver's dam on the other. Except, of course, that they know that there is a difference. They've just given up the ability to articulate meaningfully what the difference is.


J. Gordon Anderson said...

It just goes to show that it doesn't always takes brains or consistent thinking to become a bigwig legislator in Washington!

Anonymous said...

Since it was an English cleric, Robert Grossteste, who formulated the scientific method on the basis of a couple of verses in Psalm 148, none of us should be surprised at the dificulties which non-believers have with real science. The first time I ever served at the eucharist it was for the Rev'd Doctor William Pollard, the head of Oak Ridge Institute and probably the premiere nuclear physicist in the United States at that time.

And Anglicans should know, even if many regard it as a scandal that most of the early members of the Royal Society were English parish priests.