>Soulforce Part III: Science

Posted: 23/10/2008 in homosexuality, plantinga, psychology, science, thomas kuhn

>In this third blog I must deal with a seemingly straight foreward appeal that Dr. White makes – the appeal to science. His claims are twofold: the Holy Spirit can use science to correct Christian viewpoints on sexuality, and that science, those it does not yet know why, shows that homosexuals do not have a choice in their orientation. I must confine my response to the first claim. I believe that Dr. White’s appeal to science makes the serious mistake of oversimplifying it, and in the end it gets Soul Force no traction.

White is clear on the role of science. He writes, “Often, the Holy Spirit uses science to teach us why those ancient words no longer apply to our modern times.” After that, he cites a psychological study that concludes homosexuality is not a mental disorder. Instead, it something caused by yet unknown pre-natal and post-natal conditions. He also appeals to a 19th century social scientist, Karl Ulrichs, who showed that homosexuals “are a whole class of people whose drive to same-sex intimacy is at the very core of our being.” He even further explains that science, not scripture, is the proper tool for judging homosexuality and sexuality in general.

There is good reason why White appeals to science. Science, in our context, is enshrined as objective, unbiased, and unquestionable. As Rorty said, Science is the religion on the Enlightenment. It is pursued with the same zeal. It claims to have the same scope of explanation (everything). Some have even described scientists as the priests of our society. Most importantly, science is free from religious (and more broadly philosophical value) concerns. Science must be all this things for Soul Force’s argument to work. If White can make a good appeal to science, then we (good citizens of western civilization) must concede.

The problem is science is not so simple. Science (following Thomas Kuhn), is never done as objectively as we thought it was. Science is always done from a specific paradigm: a set of rules, assumptions, and questions. These paradigms come before the conclusions of science. They influence what it looks at. They decide what science will talk about. They set the parameters for what counts as a “proof.” They exclude data that does not fit the paradigm. Something other than the (high school textbook version of) the Scientific Method decides what makes up these paradigms. Most importantly, paradigms may not be neutral in the sense that Mel White needs them to be. This understood, how should Christians approach psychology? What will show us what “ancient words” no longer apply?

Consider the following examples. The famous psychologist Jean Piaget concludes that it is natural for children to believe that everything has purpose and/or is guided by God, but as we grow into maturity we learn to forego these notions and think scientifically. A more recent scientist, Herbert Simon, argued that altruism (helping others instead of reproducing yourself), is best understood through survival traits: our survival ability to learn from others (in this case, altruism) accidentally overrides the more rational need to reproduce our own damn genes.

These are appeals to science. It is a similar discipline that White appeals to. Now, what Christian sees these conclusions and says to them self, “I see! It is good to know that the Bible passages about altruistic behavior no longer apply, since science has shown it does not really come from God. In fact, the idea that religion is for grown-ups seems wrong now too. Christianity should now be properly restricted to children. I am glad I am an up-to-date Christian who knows that science corrects ancient words.” I do not think many people would. But why are we justified in doing so?

To be clear, I do not believe that science cannot inform faith. What I believe (and credit Alvin Plantinga for) is that science, especially the social sciences, are not wholly neutral and free from philosophical value judgments as Mel White may believe. Many “conclusions” about science may demand a philosophical commitment to atheism. Plantinga argues that science often makes its allegedly neutral conclusions (such as Piaget’s and Herbert Simon’s), from the perspective of certain philosophical values (what makes a person “mature”) that are in conflict with faith. When science does influence faith, it must be done from the perspective of faith.

This is why the appeals to psychology and such cannot help Mel White’s case. Value judgments about homosexuality precede the conclusions of science. They make up part of the paradigm. Many more value judgments –free will, the mind, human origins, etc- also make up the paradigm. These hidden assumptions need to be dealt with before we jump on board with Ulrich. For Christians, these values are informed and influenced by the Bible and Christian tradition. Using science to tell Christians what Bible verses don’t apply puts the cart before the horse.

Far more could be said here. It is short for sake of brevity. What I am showing here is that Mel White needs an objective, value-free, and neutral basis (“science”) in order to make his appeals here on homosexuality strong. The problem, he doesn’t have that, because science [i]isn’t[/i] that. If Mel White wishes to invoke Ulrich and expect us to follow, why would he not also follow Simon and Piaget? Certainly, there are ways to bring science into the debate, but not simply on the “science says this ‘is,’ therefore, this ‘ought’” type of argument.

Mel White makes one last appeal to Science. It is mixed in with the emotive appeals that are run throughout the article. He of course, references the familiar story of the Copernican revolution. I intended this to be a fourth blog, but it feels superfluous. Besides, I am growing tired of dealing with this subject. My final blog will contain a very timely (thanks facebook!) explanation of how I feel about Prop 8. You know, that proposition that I want to abstain from voting on.

Thanks for reading. Now go read Kuhn. 😀

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