Why I got tired of science apologetics.

Posted: 04/10/2011 in apologetics, atheism
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Throughout blog, I have deliberately avoided addressing apologetics, espeically when it comes to atheism.  Atheism v Christianity apologetics oftens turn into some variation of the scientific arguments for design, creation, or whatever.  This is what what I mean, by “science apologetics” -defending or maligning Christianity via science.  This does not grab my attention anymore.  I was not excited, or interested, when the so-called “new atheists” starting publishing.  Some of Christopher Hitchen’s blunders made me laugh.  Ricky Gervais is a comedian not a philosopher.    It was pretty cool when Antony Flew became deist.  Yet that’s an exception.  Basically, I simply don’t think that science apologetics get very far -for athiest or Christians.  Here’s why:

An honest examination of science and religious faith can be found here.  It is written by a blogger named Dan McCormick – a “meta-scientist” who teeters on metaphysics (more on that later).  At the beginning of his essay, he makes a few statements of principle.  If I understand him correctly, these are assertions about epistemology -which is a word philosopher’s use about “how you know things.”

  1. You can’t tell anything about anyone based on what they don’t believe.
  2. In the absence of direct evidence, non-belief needs no justification.
  3. Science makes many mistakes, but the scientific method is the best way to understand reality.
  4. It is unlikely that the Universe had a beginning (i.e. it is perpetual, though it changes in form).  This is the prevailing view of the scientific community.

Now, number 1 I think I can agree to, but I’m not sure why it is listed here.  Number 4 is not something I am qualified to comment on and is not relevant to subject at hand.  Number 2 I think depends on number 3.

Number 3 is the point of discussion here.  Here it is, put very simply.

3.  The scientific method is the best way to understand reality.

You must forgive me for adding philosophical language here.  One term I have used already: epistemology.  If you have ever watch a court drama, gone to a doctor for illness, or watched mythbusters, you’ve been concerned about epistemology.  Epistemology is about “how do we know things.”  If you sick, you go to a doctor and he uses a series of tests, instruments, etc to know if you are sick and to know what kind of sickness you have.  If you went to a witch doctor in the amazon, they would consult chickens to know what kind of sickness you have.  That’s weird to us, and I don’t endorse it, but our methods sound just as weird to them.

The second term is metaphysics.  Metaphysics is all about “what is real” or “what is reality.”  In 8th grade science classes, we were taught that all reality was reducible to atoms.  Of course, string theory is also popular.  Metaphysics also covers questions like “do we have soul that we can’t touch, see, or feel?”  Another example is, “did the universe begin to exist, how will it end?”  or ” why do scientific laws always stay the same, and never change?”

Most importantly, metaphysics asks, “Does a god exist?”

With those two philosophical terms in mind, here is principle 3 again.

3. The scientific method [epistemology] is the best way to understand reality [metaphysics].

The scientific method is an epistemology and reality is metaphysics.

Now, this statement should be fairly easy to understand.  There is a hidden implication.  It is this hidden assertion that is important to Christians and the whole project of science apologetics.  If we take Dan’s third premise here, we could probably see that it is also saying this:

3a. All of metaphysics (reality) can be understood by the scientific method (epistemology).

3a here is just simply rephrasing of 3.  Though there is some ambiguity, with the word “best.”  Now, I will invite anyone who believes in premise 3 to correct me if I have misunderstood it.  Feel free to comment.

When we talk about Metaphysics here, we are not simply talking about stuff we already know.  Such as the orbit of earth, the boiling point of water, or the formation of the Hawaiian islands.  We are talking about anything we might know as well.  Such as, how to cure cancer or travel faster than the speed of light.  We are talking about any question that humans ask.

When we are talking about the scientific method, we are talking about a very purist, and objective, form of knowledge.  We do not know we love our friends, significant others, or family by the scientific method.  We do not know that music is delightful by the scientific method.  These are subjective and relational ways of knowing.  That isn’t to say that the scientific method isn’t important.  It is just different.

Most importantly though, the scientific method depends fully on the human intellect, which is good.  It also assumes that there are no limits to what the human intellect can understand, which is unproven.

Therefore, 3a is really is saying something like “All of metaphysics (reality) can be completely understood by the human mind (3b)”

The question “Does a god exist?” is part of metaphysics, but Christians don’t  assert “a god.”  We assert something very specific.  After all, “a god” can be the a Greek anthropomorphic superman, or a pantheistic force, or the source of all spirituality according to Opera or Unitarians.

No, Christians never assert “a god.”  We always assert, “the God” or “our God.”  We mean something specific.  We mean the Trinity (not modalism), the Incarnation of Jesus, we certainly mean monotheism, and  importantly “that which is necessarily beyond the scope of objective human knowledge.”  So strong was this in Christian tradition, that it produced via negativa:  Our God can’t be completely described in human language, but we do the best we can anyway.  Sure, there may be “a god” that can be discovered by the scientific method, but this is not Our God -the God Christians worship.

Now let’s go back to the implication of Dan’s premise.

3a. All of metaphysics (reality) can be understood by the scientific method (epistemology).

The question of “whether a god exists” is part of metaphysics.  So it means this:

3c. Whether or not a god exists can be answered by the scientific method.

This premise is at the heart of science apologetics.  If you want to follow this premise, then I think that Dan’s blog post is a great example of where you will get.  He is not atheist in the sense that Hitchens or Dawkins is.  He is a certain kind of pantheist.  There are probably many scientists who disagree with him, and they have scientific method to discuss it.

If a Christians were to do science apologetics, we could accept 3c, but why?  Christians are not concerned about “a god of some kind or another.”  We have certain creeds and confessions.  So if we want to be science apologists, then we commit to a this implication of premise 3.

3d. Whether or not the Christian God exists can be answered by the scientific method.

This statement, though, is false.  Part of what we mean by “the Christian God” is a being that can not be understood by the scientific method!  Christians then, cannot accept “The scientific method is the best way to understand reality” when that reality refers to our God.  It is the wrong tool.  We might as well say, “there is no evidence for Jupiter in any of the microscopes we use.”

This is why I am bored and tired of science apologetics.  Christians have great, and intellectually interesting arguments for design, first causes, and so forth.  However, they are only of value after you are Christian.  Ricky Gervais has wisely said that there is no scientific evidence that a god exists.  Yet, this a moot point because any god that could  be fully understood via science is not the God that Christians care about (please stick to comedy, Ricky).  There are many candid scientists like Dan (whose blog helped inspire this one), who look for “a god” and see him through science.  I admit that this is very fascinating.  It is a great third way, and I appreciate an honest, different perspective.  This pantheism, however, is not Christianity and no one is claiming that it is.

I am bored with science apologetics and apathetic to the Christianity v atheism debates.  What does that mean about Ricky Gervais, Dawkins and Hitchens?  Let them bark and complain all they like.  When they say, “there is no scientific evidence for a god.”  Their complaint is with some other hypothetical deity.

So what about you?  Are you bored with science apologetics?  Please subscribe and follow the comments.  Repost after you do so.

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Comments
  1. Stephen says:

    Speaking as an atheist with an amateur interest in science, I think it’s a fallacy to undermine the scientific method simply because it doesn’t confirm the conclusions of Christianity or any other religion. If you claim that a god exists, be it Christian or otherwise, you have an obligation to prove it. And if you refuse to use the scientific method to do so, you have to provide a vehicle of proof that is equally if not more robust.

    Until that happens, scientific apologetics is the only method by which you will be able to prove the tenets of your religion. What then is the alternative method of proof?

    • Jin roh says:

      Strictly speaking, I am not sure if I have undermined the scientific method, but rather a metaphysical assumption that often coincides with it. Specifically, “all reality is perfectly understandable via objective human knowledge.”

      This premise, I think, is unproven.

      • Stephen says:

        It’s a false assumption, for sure. Anything beyond the realm of human knowledge can’t be proven or disproven, and science is only interested in what can be proven. That being the case, though, why believe anything specific about an unprovable reality? Why, for instance, believe in the Christian God, as opposed to the nearly infinite things that could occupy that unknowable realm?

      • Jin roh says:

        Well, notice that was careful with my words. I did not say “human knowledge” I said “objective human knowledge.”

        You ask a good question, but it is well beyond the scope of the blog. I may answer it a future time, but plenty of philosophers smart than me have already answered it (see Paul K. Moser). thanks for commenting in any case.

      • Stephen says:

        I haven’t heard of Moser, I’ll be sure to check him out. I appreciate the forum to talk. All the best!

  2. Dan McCormick says:

    I don’t not endorse any of the view expressed here. There are numerous errors of fact regarding my blog as well as basic science. I will rebut this essay in detail on my blog

    Dan McCormick

    • Jin roh says:

      Did I misunderstand your premise?

      • Dan McCormick says:

        The God of Abraham is a Creator God. His existence explains how the universe got here. He is a premise, not some one/thing to be discovered.

        Science doesn’t bother with God and wouldn’t except as a premise. So far, His existence hasn’t been a necessary premise to explain anything.

        There’s no such thing a s scientific apologist. Science needs no defender. The results of Science, even–especially–its failures, are eloquent testimony to its validity.

  3. […] A blogger back-linked one of my recent posts. […]

  4. Alexander says:

    Joel,

    Perhaps you are conflating the scientific method and empiricism.

    The thing about the scientific method – or any empirical approach, really – is that it cannot truly prove anything. Proofs are for mathematicians. It can only furnish a posteriori evidence for a theory or disprove a falsifiable statement.

    The notion of the existence of ‘a god’ or ‘the Christian God’ is not a falsifiable claim. I would not take anyone seriously who claimed they could empirically prove the nonexistence of a god.

    And I don’t think most scientists, probably not even most atheists – though admittedly this is speculation on my part – subscribe to the sort of metaphysical naturalism that would say that ALL of metaphysics can be understood by the scientific method.

    The scientific method is based on methodological naturalism – naturalism as approach – and does not necessarily preclude the validity of other epistemological approaches.

    So I’ve never really been very much interested in what atheists have to say about Christianity. My particular reading of the Bible does not conflict with scientific theories such as the Big Bang or evolution, etc. There are no falsifiable tenets I can think of. I have no problems with the scientific method. So what can they say other than ‘Christians do bad things.’ I know, I took Church history. All I hear is “I’M ANGRY, and I am threatened by the fact that you don’t think the way I do!”

    Lame. Unscientific. Waste of my time.

    *To be fair, I know atheists who are not antagonistic to theists. Also, the theists certainly started it. But this discussion seems to be about the particular atheists who take it upon themselves to tell the theists They Are Wrong(TM).

    • Dan McCormick says:

      I agree with the sentiment that the bickering back and forth does no one any good. There’s much more to be gained by civil discourse and it’s a truly narrow mind that is sure it has nothing to learn from someone who has a different view.

      Both atheists and theists subscribe to this kind of mental laziness. Keeping lines of communication open (like this blog) is the best remedy.

  5. Mike Hart says:

    I taught a lesson about something like this once. It was about the fact that God (the Christian God) does not conform to humanity’s scientific laws. Example: Being omniciant, He is not bound by time or space.

    The scientific method only concerns things that conform to scientific law.

    Simply put, I agree with you. It is foolish to try to use the scientific method to prove or disprove the existence of something that does not follow humanity’s laws of science.

    • Jin roh says:

      I would be a little concerned about talking about “man’s science” as that kind of language implies the whole man vs God kind of thinking. I still agree with scholastics that all knowledge is God’s knowledge.

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