A very interesting development that began to unfold in Italy this past week, has rightfully managed to attract widespread attention as well as concern from the scientific community around the world. Because of what is really at issue in the case, it is also something that ought to be of much interest to all thinking Christians…On Tuesday, seven scientists accused of failing to predict an earthquake that killed more than 300 people in the Italian town of L’Aquila in April 2009, went on trial in Rome where they have been charged with manslaughter.
The seven - six scientists from the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Vulcanology and a member of the Civil Protection Agency - were members of a governmental panel which now stands accused of giving a 'rough, generic and ineffective assessment of the seismic risk.' The seven, members of a so-called 'major risks' panel, stand accused of having published 'inaccurate, incomplete and contradictory information about the dangers of seismic activity undermining the protection of the population.'
In June last year, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), wrote a letter to Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano to express 'concern' over the indictment of its Italian colleagues. Co-signed by more than 5,000 scientists, the AAAS letter claimed that 'the charges against these scientists are both unfair and naïve.' The basis for the seven indictments, the AAAS argued, appears to be that the scientists failed to alert the residents of L’Aquila of the impending disaster, something which 'they could not have done credibly.'
The seven scientists face up to 15 years in jail if found guilty of having failed to alert the people of L’Aquila in advance of the impending disaster. In a concurrent civil case, survivors of the earthquake are also seeking to recover damages of €50m ($68m/ZAR540m) from the seven scientists.
If the reaction by the AAAS is anything to go by, then the matter promises to have widespread repercussions for those who dare to hold science out as the final arbiter of truth… The Real IssueWhile the tragic events of April 2009 must surely hang like an acrid cloud over the case, what is really on trial here, I contend, is not the credibility of science, but rather the very claim made so often by so many and so easily 'in the name of science'…
That claim was perhaps best articulated by the brilliant British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, and ardent anti-Christian, Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), when he wrote, 'Whatever knowledge is attainable, must be obtained by scientific methods; and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.'
A contemporary of Russell, the English mathematician, Karl Pearson (1857-1936), endorsed this view when he wrote, 'The goal of science is clear - it is nothing short of the complete interpretation of the universe… The scientific method is the sole gateway to the whole region of knowledge.'In other words - science and the scientific method, is the only means that we have to bring us into possession of knowledge! Formally, this view is known as 'scientism.' The X-ClubIn the history of thought, the 18th century was indeed a watershed period, and especially so in Christian thinking - this was when the so-called 'Age of Enlightenment' emerged amongst the intellectual elite of Europe who came to celebrate the autonomy of human reason and to challenge the Christian doctrine which held that (true) knowledge was only attainable by divine revelation.
Until that time, science had been firmly regarded as an adjunct to the Christian world-and-life view, as men like Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, even Leonardo do Vinci, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday, Kelvin, Bacon, and a great many others just like them, appealed to Scripture as their warrant for 'doing science.'
However, emboldened by the successes of science and roused by the newly vaunted idea that the Biblical account of origins had been supplanted by one that managed to give a (scientifically credible) explanation for the genesis of organic life, Thomas Huxley (who earned the somewhat ignominious title of 'Darwin’s Bulldog' for his outspoken advocacy of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution), set about to establish a clandestine organisation which had as its main purpose, to 'wrestle science from the clutches of Christianity.'
Known as the X-Club, its members enthusiastically proceeded in their goal, admitting, 'We wanted not to pin our faith to that or any other speculation [i.e. other than the Bible], but to get hold of clear and definite conceptions. The Origin [of The Species by Charles Darwin] provided us with the working-hypothesis we sought. Moreover, it did us the immense service of freeing us forever from the dilemma [of the authority of the Bible] - refuse to accept the Creation hypothesis and what have you to propose that can be accepted by any cautious reasoner?'
Over the past 160 years or so, the bifurcation ideals of the X-Club have largely been realised, as is very evident from a recent response by the renowned Cambridge physicist, Stephen Hawking, when he was asked to comment on the ‘tension’ between Christian theism and science - he said, 'Science will win.' Science As The Final Arbiter Of Truth?Contrary to the highly embellished claims made by men like Russell, Pearson, Hawking and many others that science is 'the sole gateway to knowledge', the case that is now playing out in Italy lends good support for what I’ve tried to argue for so long (and apparently, with very little success): while the utility of science is not in question (science has certainly managed to provide us all with a lot of useful ‘stuff’, and it has definitely given us remarkable insight into the handiwork of God), science however is utterly incapable of furnishing us with truth!
For example: while science may be our best hope to discover a cure for cancer, it simply cannot tell us why we
ought to direct expensive research funds to find a cure for that dreaded disease - only the Bible does that! And while science is able to provide us with the marvel of nuclear energy, it simply cannot tell us whether we ought to use it to light up our cities or to reduce them to rubble - only the Bible does that! Science can't even tell us why we ought to 'do science' - only the Bible does that!
Briefly: by its very nature, science and the scientific method, inductively interprets empirical data in order to arrive at certain conclusions about the nature and the operation of life and the world around us. In this sense, science is a bit like trying to construct the ‘box top’ from the individual puzzle pieces, and as any epistemologist will tell you, one can never deduce a universal from the particulars. In other words - one can never arrive at something like truth by proceeding purely from an examination of the available evidence, or from an interpretation of the ‘facts’ (whatever that means).By arguing inductively, we necessarily and unavoidably confuse what is true, with what truth is!
That is why we as Christians are called to appeal to God and His revelation as our ultimate authority on all matters - a sound apologetic always proceeds from the vantage point of God and His revelation as our one standard of truth when we try to interpret and understand life and the world around us - never do we work the other way around as so many Christian apologists are inclined to do!
The misappropriation of science as our ultimate epistemic authority, is sadly evident in so much of the apologetic literature and apologetic rhetoric that pervades the Christian landscape today: just one example of this, is a recent series of four lectures released on DVD by Dr Stephen C Meyer, a pre-eminent scientist, philosopher of science and co-founder of the Discovery Institute, a leading proponent of Intelligent Design. Entitled, The Four Great Discoveries Of Modern Science That Prove That God Exists, Dr Meyer commits the tragic error by in fact implying that science enjoys higher epistemic authority than God and His revelation!
Where it concerned the reality of Jehovah, the apostle Paul on the other hand, does not make any appeal to science or anything else as his epistemic authority. Instead, Paul makes it patently clear that every man in fact possesses an innate knowledge (or an instinctive awareness) of the Creator God, but that he suppresses that knowledge in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18-21). Why then would Dr Meyer (and sadly, many other well-meaning Christian apologists just like him) deem it necessary to appeal to science in order to prove to the satisfaction of the unbeliever what he/she already knows in his/her heart of hearts?
An inductive (or more properly, ‘evidentialist’) approach to 'doing apologetics', puts God in the dock with man standing over Him as both judge and jury, when it is in fact sinful man who stands before the Almighty in judgment!
When we as Christians dare to elevate science (or anything else for that matter) to the position as our final court of appeal whenever we come to judge what is true and what is not, what is right and what is wrong, we in fact grant that science enjoys higher epistemic authority than God and His revelation! Moreover, we in fact concede that Christianity becomes at best, the conclusion of the scientific endeavour, and is no longer what in fact enables man to 'do science!' Christian Theism - The Heart Of True ScienceIn spite of the bifurcation which we as Christians have allowed to emerge between science and Christian theism over the past century and a half, true science nevertheless remains to be solidly anchored in the pages of Scripture - true science is simply not possible without an appeal to God and His revelation!
For example: true science has as its premises, certain truths that are all firmly anchored in the pages of the Bible - briefly, science assumes, as an unargued philosophical bias, inter alia that:
- science is a means toward an end and is not an end in itself;
- life and the world around us is intelligible;
- there is something worthwhile discovering about the handiwork of God;
- knowledge is possible;
- apart from divine revelation, epistemic certitude is just not possible;
- there is uniformity in nature that will make certain events and outcomes predictable;
- science ought to be employed towards human flourishing;
- scientists have a moral duty to warn people if they happen to face impending disaster…
While this is a subject that extends well beyond the scope of a simple essay like this, I would be terribly remiss to point out the obvious philosophical self-contradiction which lays the claims of intelligent men like Bertrand Russell, Karl Pearson, Stephen Hawking and the like to utter waste: when they claim that 'science and the scientific method is in fact the only way for us to know anything,' the obvious apologetic to that kind of nonsense, is simply to ask of them… by what method of science do you know that Dr Russell, Dr Pearson, Dr Hawking…
'Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of the age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified…'
- 1Corninthians 1:20-23 (NIV)
Andre L Immelman
Last edited by heb13-13; 12-16-2011 at 09:58 PM.
There is no other book like the Bible in the world where you have to know the Author to understand the book. If Christianity were the religion of the Book then it would be no different than any other religion in the world. But, Christianity is Christ! It is the dynamic, personal Spirit of God functioning in man.
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