Apologize to Charles Darwin?

A senior cleric of the Church of England wants his church to apologize to Charles Darwin in time for the observance of the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth next year. The Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown, Director of Mission and Public Affairs for the church, made his case in an article entitled, “Good Religion Needs Good Science,” published in a special new section of the Church of England’s official Web site.

Apologize to Charles Darwin? On today’s program, Dr. Mohler says the Church of England may well need to apologize, but not to Charles Darwin. If anything, the church needs to apologize for its rightful embarrassment in considering an apology to Darwin.

MP3 is here.

Original here.

'Reasons We Believe' by Nathan Busenitz

50 lines of evidence that confirm the Christian faith

Book image

“Nathan Busenitz shows how God’s Word convincingly defends its own truth claims and then demonstrates how those claims are also confirmed by extra-biblical sources. Thoroughly biblical and meticulously researched, yet readily accessible and straightforward, Reasons We Believe belongs on every Christian bookshelf, whether you are looking to be equipped for evangelism or simply encouraged in the faith.”
John MacArthur (from the foreword)

“We live in a day when the new atheism tells us that ‘religion poisons everything’ and that ‘God is not good’ and when authors prostitute their scholarship to become rich on sensationalist books about so-called ‘lost Christianities’ and ‘lost Scriptures’. In the midst of this stench, Nate Busenitz’s sane and sound treatment of Christian evidences comes as a breath of fresh air.”
William Varner, Professor of Biblical Studies, The Master’s College

“That the Christian faith clearly stands head and shoulders above all other religions of all time is laid out by the author in a compelling fashion. Explanations from the reasons given will prove to be richly nourishing for the heart and mind of the believer, yet will also serve to challenge forthrightly the unbeliever.”
Trevor Craigen, Professor of Theology, The Master’s Seminary

Is Intelligent Design science? A response to Ken Perrott

I recently wrote on the question ‘Is intelligent design scientific?’ responding to some comments by Dale Campbell, attached to kiwi atheist Ken Perrott’s article ‘A new science bashing campaign?’ This generated a lot of feedback, and Ken has now posted a follow-up article titled, ‘Redefining science by inference’. I’d encourage you to read this before reading my response below. I’ll structure this response according to the headings Ken has used.

The arrogance of science-bashers

Firstly, I think it needs to be pointed out how Ken is framing this issue. He’s couching the question in terms of “science-bashing”, so that anyone who promotes ID is not only mistaken, but actually an anti-science zealot with an agenda to proselytize. Now, to a certain extent his defensive attitude is understandable. In my own opinion, many ID advocates have made a poor name for themselves in the public square precisely because of this sort of tactic. I tend to agree with Ken’s criticism that this is hypocritical, and with his concern that ID tends to be about tearing down evolution rather than building up any useful positive arguments of its own.

However, the push-back from the scientific community is no less prejudicial and no less ideologically-motivated. Since Ken is responding specifically to my own comments, I find his couching the matter in terms of “science-bashing” to be disappointing. I am not anti-science. True, my philosophical views about science hold it in a lower regard than most scientists would like. I hold the propositional revelation of God above the procedural revelation of his creation, and as the lens through which to interpret it. Science is not a means toward discovering ultimate truths. It is a tool for interacting with and manipulating the world. But by merit of this fact, I obviously do not deny its usefulness (on the contrary, I affirm it), and I am not shrilly paranoid about its ability to advance our understanding of the world in many ways. I am realistic about its shortcomings and limitations (such as its philosophical commitment to naturalism), and about how these will color and affect its conclusions and theories. But I am not anti-science.

It also needs to be said that Ken’s analogy is really poor. He likens ID advocates to people who criticize the methodology or philosophy of their plumbers and motor mechanics. But plumbers and motor mechanics fix relatively simple systems which have been designed. This is markedly different from scientists, who try to develop systematic explanations for highly complex systems which supposedly have not been designed. (Dentists, the third example, can at least be said to fix relatively simple systems, even if the origin of these is a matter of dispute.) The analogy might seem superficially persuasive, but in Ken’s own words there is an “abrupt discontinuity” between it and the reality it’s supposed to represent. It’s just not an equitable comparison.

Playing with words

Getting into the meat of the objections Ken raises, the accusation that proponents of ID “play with words” or try to “redefine science” is pretty common. In my view, the accusation says more about the ignorance or misunderstandings which scientists have of the philosophy behind their own discipline than about the intentions of those arguing for intelligent design. If ID proponents are arrogant, scientists have a certain superciliousness of their own as regards the relationship between science and philosophy. This is pretty well indicated in Ken’s post, when he talks about “the honest scientific process” as compared to the “word play” of ID supporters; one which has clear facts behind it, and one which clouds and confuses those facts.

The truth of the matter is that the process of science is not detached from the philosophy of science; yet the scientists themselves are detached from not only the philosophy of their field, but also its history. Perhaps this is understandable, but it’s still unfortunate, because it leads to a great deal of prejudice against any questions which can’t be tested in the lab (so to speak). ID is pretty much exclusively a philosophical issue—but it’s a philosophical issue regardless of which side you stand on. Scientists seem blind to this fact, however, because they hold to the side which asserts a naturalistic explanation. Since naturalistic explanations are scientific, they fail to notice that this one is still philosophically grounded. When you try to point this out, they treat it as “word play”.

Here’s what I mean. Consider the following inference which most scientists make:

  1. The commonly-recognized appearance of design in the universe is best explained by naturalistic, non-intelligent phenomena.

Making inference respectable

According to people like Ken, this is a perfectly acceptable scientific inference. Most scientists would probably take it for granted; they’d assume it implicitly—but an unstated inference is still an inference. Why is it so intrinsically acceptable that most scientists would take it for granted? Because science is concerned with natural causes, effects, and explanations. A natural explanation is a scientific explanation; and so the thesis that the appearance of design can be naturally explained seems, to the philosophically untrained, like a valid scientific conclusion. But then, consider its antithesis:

  1. The commonly-recognized appearance of design in the universe is best explained by the universe being designed by an intelligent agent.

Notice how this is exactly the same question—only with a different answer. Indeed, prima facie this is the better abductive inference, as opposed to (1). This doesn’t mean that it’s correct, necessarily, but it does seem intuitively better.

Is the question scientific at all?

Now, perhaps the question “What is the best explanation for the appearance of design in the universe?” is itself unscientific. Perhaps it’s something which scientists cannot answer, and so one for which any answer will be unscientific. I don’t think most scientists would agree with this, but if they did, then why are so many of them insisting on a naturalistic answer? Is it perhaps because they assume that naturalistic explanations should be accepted by default? Why? The fact that science, as a method of investigating reality, is naturalistic does not in any way imply that every explanation must be naturalistic. Scientists are conditioned to look for natural explanations—and that’s fair enough, because that is what science is all about. But that doesn’t mean that:

  • when we’re presented with the appearance of design, we should automatically exclude non-naturalistic explanations;
  • a naturalistic explanation is “scientific” by definition, while a non-naturalistic one isn’t. If the question itself is unscientific, then any answer to it will be unscientific as well;
  • if a non-naturalistic explanation is not scientific, it is therefore false. Being unable to investigate something scientifically does not imply its falsehood.

However, if the question is scientific, then—

Poverty of inference

If answer (1) is scientific, then answer (2) is as well

Notice how (1) and (2) above are addressing the exact same question. Yet (1) is dismissed as unscientific and even anti-scientific; while (2) is not. Why? Is it harder to falsify the thesis that the universe was designed than its antithesis, that it was not? I don’t see that it is. How might a scientist go about testing the assumption that the universe wasn’t designed? Probably in a similar way that he’d go about testing the assumption that it was. Yet the very complaint which scientists level at ID advocates is that we have not provided any falsifiable predictions to test. Okay, maybe that’s so—but why is the onus purely on us to falsify ID? Why is it not equally on secular scientists to falsify the antithesis? Isn’t that how honest scientists work? Once a question is raised, like, “Is the universe designed?” honest scientists don’t try to enforce a particular answer. They try to find one.

Conversely, if answer (2) is unscientific, then so is (1)

Most importantly, if intelligent design, as an explanation, is disqualified as unscientific, then its antithesis is disqualified as well, because they would both be falsified in the same way. The same test which could falsify intelligent design could (one would expect) falsify its denial. If we can make some prediction about some phenomenon which would occur if the universe is designed, and if we then test for that phenomenon, finding it would suggest that ID is right, while not finding it would suggest that ID is wrong. Similarly, if we can make some prediction about what we’d find if the universe is not designed, finding it would tend to prove ID wrong, while not finding it would tend to prove ID right.

In conclusion

Scientists don’t have to regard the question of intelligent design as important. They may not care one way or the other. Or they might be agnostic about it because they think it can’t be falsified one way or the other. That would be appropriately scientific. But if secular scientists want to say that the question of whether the universe was designed or not is nonsense; if they want to say that intelligent design, as a thesis for explaining the appearance of design, is unscientific; if they want to say that we should reject non-naturalistic explanations by default, then I must ask them to explain themselves:

Do they think that the thesis that the universe was not designed is falsifiable? If so, how so? But if not, then why are they championing it as scientific, over and against the thesis of intelligent design?

Is it on the basis of philosophical naturalism—the view that the natural world is all that exists? If so, can philosophical naturalism be falsified? No? But then it is unscientific—so why do they use it as a basis for decrying ID so loudly? Are they hypocrites?

Or is it on the basis of some other evidence? If so, what is it, and why should we find it compelling?

Is intelligent design scientific?

In the comment stream of a recent post by Ken Perrott, ‘A new science-bashing campaign?’, some discussion has been taking place about whether intelligent design (ID) can be considered scientific. Typically, secular scientists are vocal in their assertion that ID is a philosophical idea, and not a scientific one. It’s inappropriate to treat ID as if it were a scientific theory, or as if there is real evidence to support it, they say. And there is the vocal minority of ID supporters who push back and say the opposite.

In the comments on Ken’s article, the editor of Christian News New Zealand cited an article on Opposing Views by Jay W Richards, titled ‘Is Intelligent Design Science?’. I encourage you to read this article; it argues simply, yet I think persuasively, that it is not unreasonable to consider ID science—and that wherever you stand on the issue, you’d be naive to dismiss ID as unscientific by trying to define science in such a way as to preclude it.

In response to this article, Christian blogger Dale Campbell, who is an evolutionist, said:

What Jay Richards and others need to realise is that ‘ID’ is a philosophical inference which attempts to be scientifically informed. It starts with an inference, and then tries to find/match it with science – or (re)interpret science to try and match it up with the inference. The inference is not scientific, but philosophical.

Now, I don’t think Dale is opposing ID per se; rather, he is expressing his view that it’s a philosophical, rather than scientific position. As a Christian, I’m sure he does believe in ID; and as a Christian, certainly ID is a philosophical position. But does this preclude it from being scientific as well?

I don’t believe it does. Firstly, ID does not necessarily start with the inference of design, and then look for data in support of it. In fact, I think manifestly the fact that ID is not a specifically religious view demonstrates that it is quite possible and reasonable for it to be an a postiori rather than an a priori inference. Certainly for the Christian it must be treated as a priori: we come to the study of science with the presupposition that the universe was designed and created by God. But ID is not confined to Christianity, nor to religion at all. ID is simply the thesis that the universe, or some part thereof, was designed. A non-religious scientist could come to this conclusion quite reasonably by studying empirical data, and deciding that the facts at his disposal are best explained by a designer.

Is this an unscientific conclusion? Is it merely philosophical? This question raises another in turn: What is the difference between a “philosophical” as opposed to a “scientific” inference? For my own part, I’m not sure I see a clear distinction between them. Scientific inferences have two defining characteristics that I can see: (i) they start from empirical data; (ii) they are by nature abductive (and/or inductive; but abduction really is what defines them). Abduction, however, is itself a philosophical process; so I don’t see how we can deny that scientific inference itself is intrinsically philosophical. It is simply a kind of philosophical inference. All inference is philosophical in one way or another; and abduction is arguably more influenced by philosophical concerns than straightforward deduction.

But if scientific inference is characterized by these two principal factors, then how is ID not a scientific inference? Empiricism and abduction seem to describe the inference of ID just as well as any uncontroversial scientific inference which comes to mind.

Typically, I’d expect a scientist to say that I’ve omitted a third factor: scientific inferences need to be falsifiable. But there are two obvious objections to this: (a) falsifiability is a relatively modern notion in the history of science, and as such can’t be used to define science qua science. But more importantly, (b) it’s transparently evident that not all scientific inferences—indeed, perhaps not even most scientific inferences—are falsifiable. It’s not inferences which scientists generally require to be falsifiable, but theories. But even then, a theory is just the conclusion of a number of inferences (ie, it is itself an inference), many of which might not be themselves falsifiable; so the demand of falsifiability seems rather arbitrary.

Whether or not ID is true, and whether or not anyone can or has come up with falsifiable hypotheses about it, it does seem to me that Jay Richards is correct in his evaluation that it is not intrinsically unscientific. As he explains, we can’t validly keyhole science to fit certain preconceived philosophical notions about the world. In fact, the attempt to define ID out of science is openly prejudiced and hypocritical, being the attempt to exclude philosophical views of the world from science, on the basis of a philosophical view of the world. The definition of science really is not as fixed, narrow, or agreed upon as anti-ID scientists and philosophers would like to say it is.

New Apologetic Articles from the Christ on Campus Initiative

The Christ on Campus Initiative is a newly set up ministry of the Gospel Coalition for the goal of addressing the needs of university students with the truth and relevance of Christianity. One of the central purposes behind the establishment of Thinking Matters here is to see Christianity more rigorously defended in the marketplace of ideas and especially on the campuses of our universities, arguably a potential fountainhead of dialogue and inquiry.

With this purpose in mind, it is important that campus ministries have available the right resources and apologetic tools for meaningful engagement. And this week, in conjunction with the Henry center, two more articles were added to the CIC page that would be quite helpful to anyone wanting to be aware of some of the apologetic issues involved in student ministry. Each of the articles is over twenty pages in length (in pdf format) but are certainly worth the time invested. 

“Do Christians Have a Worldview?” by Graham Cole.

This article discusses the frames of reference that shape our lives. Professor Cole examines what it is that makes up a worldview, the tests of explanatory power and existential livability. He looks at the touchstone of propositions that form the heart of Christianity and its central subplots (creation, fall, rescue, restoration), how these address reality and the human condition and then finally why Christianity claims to be more than merely a way to look at the world.

“Jesus of Nazareth: How Historians Can Know Him and Why It Matters” by Craig L. Blomberg.

Distinguished professor of the New Testament at Denver Seminary in Colorado, Blomberg surveys the historical evidence for Jesus and examines the reliability of the Christian documents. Comparing the “Christ of faith” with the actual data we have available, he weighs the non-Christian sources, the synoptic gospels, John’s gospel and the gnostic material. Blomberg argues that the Christian portraits do stand up to scrutiny and in fact enable the message of the New Testment to be seriously considered.

“I Believe in Nature: An Exploration of Naturalism and the Biblical Worldview” by Kirsten Birkett

Birkett, from Oak Hill Theological College in London, discusses the worldview of naturalism and the Biblical response to it. In four parts, she first maps out the some of the significant figures in the history of the development of science and then in part two tackles the question of what is science: its methods and limits. The third segment explains the Bible and the Natural World; how Christianity can properly account for an intelligible and orderly universe and indeed encourages the flourishing of science. In the final part, Kirsten looks at Naturalism – the problems of power, morality and the inability of the worldview to explain the broad complex reality of human life.

“A Christian Perspective on Islam” by Chawkat Moucarry

Moucarry has served as the Director of Inter-Faith Relations for World Vision International since 2006, and in this massive 40 page article offers an insightful appraisal of the relevant issues invovled in the dialogue between Christianity and Islam. He responds to some of the central criticisms of the Bible from the Muslim perspective and sets out positive evidence for the trustworthiness of the Christian documents. He then addresses some of the central doctrines of both faiths (God, Jesus Christ, Sin and Forgiveness, Muhammed, and the kingdom of God) and defends the uniqueness and credibility of the Christian positions.

 

 

Apologetic events in Tauranga and Auckland this week

Tauranga

Tonight the Tauranga Thinking Matters study group will be kicking off its series on Relativism. Dr Matthew Flannagan will be speaking. Matthew currently teaches part time at the Bible College of New Zealand. He holds a Masters degree in Philosophy from the University of Waikato and a PhD in Theology from the University of Otago. He has debated notable New Zealand skeptics including Bill Cooke.

Relativism remains an attractive position in our society today. Moreover, it is often suggested that relativism promotes tolerance and safeguards us from dogmatism and authoritarianism. But even if we recognise that there are a wide range of moral viewpoints – that something may be wrong for me but seem perfectly acceptable to someone else, or another society – is this all we can say on the matter? For any moral belief you have, should the mere fact that you believe it alone justify its truthfulness? Matt will consider the implications of this view, it’s ultimate incoherence and how a Christian can formulate a response.

If you’re in the region, it is free to attend. And there will be time for questions and answers.

When: 7-9pm
Where: Bethlehem Community Church Center – 183 Moffat Rd, Bethlehem

Download the brochure or for more information and for the rest of the Tauranga events this month (including a lecture by Mark Mullins on religious pluralism) check out the Tauranga website.

Auckland

Tonight, Dr Steve Kumar is continuing a week-long apologetics training course at the Baptist Tabernacle. The sessions have been organised for those interested in university campus ministry but anyone is welcome. The subjects will be broadly accessible for those wanting to deepen their appreciation of the intellectual credibility of Christianity and in widening their resources for the articulation and defense of their faith. There is no cost to attend.

Steve has been involved in apologetic ministry in New Zealand for almost thirty years and is a regular speaker at universities, conferences and churches throughout Australasia, Europe and the US. He has debated several notable skeptics and philosophy HoDs and is the author of several books including Christianity for Skeptics, Think Why You Believe, and Answering the Counterfeit.

The Baptist Tabernacle is on 429 Queen Street in the CBD (at the very top of Queen Street) with parking available at the church.

Timetable:

Tuesday. Examining atheistic worldviews: normativity and meaning under a secularist outlook.

7.30- 9.30. On Level 3.

Wednesday. The evidence for God and assessing common objections to the Christian worldview

7.30-9.30. On Level 1 Room 4

Thursday: Understanding the basic beliefs of the major world religions in comparison to Christianity.

7.30-9.30 Lounge

Friday: Christianity and the cults: the ambit of orthodoxy

7.30-9.30 Library

We welcome any news of apologetic events around New Zealand, email us and we’ll be happy to post the details.