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Is Scientism Fundamentally Flawed? Part 3

Introduction

In the first part of this three-part article series we looked at what ‘Scientism’ as a worldview entails. In summary it says that all of reality is physical or material, nothing exists other than matter and energy in space and time. Scientism then goes on to say that the only way we can know that reality is through science. There is no other knowledge than scientific knowledge.

In the second part of the series we looked at the first two approaches to refute Scientism. In this third and final article in the series, we will identify non-physical/ immaterial realities that we know exist, but which are not able to be known through science. If we can identify just one such thing, just one entity, then scientism is refuted. Just one will do, but in fact there are many.     

Refuting Scientism: Non-Physical/Material Realities

Moral Principles & Obligation: In the worldview of scientism, moral principles are not objectively real, in the sense that they exist externally to the human mind and are knowable. Moral principles are merely human constructs. So in reality, good and evil; right and wrong, can change over time, they are subjectively decided by society. Therefore, there is no real obligation on an individual to follow them. There is no real shouldness or oughtness. Largely according to the view of scientism, the majority, persuasion, or power, decides what is right or wrong. Might makes right! Interestingly, this even undermines the application of values in science, for example, the need to accurately report results and not cheat. But scientism has no real evidence to support its claim that ‘might makes right!’. How could it, since scientism denies the reality of such immaterial realities and is not the appropriate method through which to know them. Remember, you don’t use a weighing scale to measure how tall you are. Christianity explains moral principles as an immaterial objective reality grounded in the character of God and revealed in His Word. The obligation to follow them comes from the fact that God is our creator. The same applies to human virtues such as courage, honesty and compassion. This explanation is more powerful and plausible than the alternative offered by scientism.     

Objective Aesthetic Beauty: True objective beauty in the natural world, the wonder of the Grand Canyon, or the splendour of a peacock’s feathers, are not real with scientism, they are just subjective, chemically induced reactions. Similarly, music: dance: the arts: so essential to being human in all societies, are not objects of true beauty. Scientism again reduces our experiences to physical, mechanistic, reductionist explanations, that seem at odds with our most basic human intuitions. Similarly love, the most powerful force known to humanity, is reduced to mindless chemicals in our brain! But the claims of scientism here, are just that—claims, mere assertions—there is no real evidence presented to support them. This just seems so intuitively wrong, and perhaps our intuitions are correct.

The Human Soul, Freewill and Self Identity: The existence of an essence to each human being, a soul, is simply denied with scientism. There is no soul, mind or consciousness, there is just a physical brain. But, again, these claims are not supported by science in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, there is much positive evidence for a soul. 

First, there is our basic intuition that we are more than our body, more than our brain, common to all humanity. Second, there are philosophical arguments based on the law of identity that show that the immaterial mind is different to the physical brain, in that they are not identical in their substance and properties. Third, there are numerous strong credible reports of near death and out-of-body experiences, pointing to an immaterial reality at the core of all of us.

Related to this question of the soul/mind, scientism claims there is no real human freewill, no real volitional choice, all that is really happening is endless physical cause and effect in the brain. Scientism inevitably entails a deterministic view of human life. This determinism, combined with the implication that there are no real moral principles, means that according to  scientism no one should be held accountable for crimes, since crime is just a societal construct in the first place; and secondly, since free will is an illusion, that they didn’t really make any moral choice. Further to all this, the idea of self, an ongoing unique personal identity, makes no sense under scientism. If we are just physical atoms which are replaced over time, then we are a completely different person in the future than we were in  the past, as all the atoms of the human body are replaced. Within the view of  scientism, the self has to be reduced to ideas such our narrative, our abilities, our accomplishments. But these things  are all transient, so if we lose our memory, lose our abilities, who are ‘we’? Who am ‘I’? There is no ‘me’ or ‘I’ at the core of scientism. But scientism has no evidence to support such a radical claim, it is a claim based on the assumption that there can be no other non-physical, immaterial answer. The issues of human personhood, abortion, and euthanasia are replete with views stemming from this baseless scientism.   

Our Thoughts, Feelings, Desires and Memories: Our private thoughts, feelings, desires, and memories are not accessible by science, they are non-physical realities. Brain waves and maps may correlate with certain emotions and thoughts, but they will not tell us what they are, since they are non-physical and not publicly accessible by science. Memory knowledge is interesting in this case, since much of what we know is memory, but our memories are not testable by the classic scientific method. Therefore, scientism reduces a huge body of our personal knowledge to non-knowledge! It would deny its reality, yet that reality is fundamental to us.   

The Existence of Evil and Suffering: This may seem an odd reality to include in this list. But while moral goodness, discussed above, is a non-physical objective reality that undermines the worldview of scientism, the existence of evil and suffering similarly does so, but perhaps even more powerfully. If scientism is accepted, then evil and suffering are not real in an objective sense, they are just things we subjectively don’t like! However, believers in scientism will often argue that the existence of evil and suffering disproves God. How could an all good, all powerful, all knowing God allow evil and suffering? They will often rightly be passionate about injustice, suffering and evil in the world, especially those that have been propagated in the name of religion. While there is not space here to outline good reasons why God may allow evil, many have presented such reasons in the past. For the purpose of this discussion, the important point is that the reality of objective evil and suffering in this world is something we all intuitively perceive, and something even people purporting to believe in scientism will invoke. But this then means that if some things are objectively wrong, there must be a right; if some things are objectively evil, there must be a good. We can’t know crooked if there is no such thing as straight! Deep inside we all know that some things are just plain evil—not just socially constructed wrongs—and that evil is a non-physical immaterial reality, which undermines the worldview of scientism.

Scientism may claim that its opponents hold to an argumentum ad consequentiam—we dismiss the truth because we don’t like the consequences. It claims that we just don’t like the fact that our thoughts, feelings, consciousness, soul, mind, moral principles, beauty, love, purpose, and meaning are all illusions. However, our case is that there is positive non-physical philosophical, experiential, existential, intuitive, perceptive and historical evidence for knowing these non-physical realities. In order to so quickly dismiss everything that makes us human as an illusion, needs very strong evidence, as in doing so it undermines everything that makes us human in the first place. Scientism fails to provide such evidence.

Conclusion

The cumulative impact of these refutations should be enough to persuade any open-minded person that scientism is fundamentally flawed as a worldview. It is simply false. Additionally, the worldview of scientism, in reducing humanity to mere machines, claims that there is no real meaning to life and no purpose. Not even the pursuit of knowledge through science has any real meaning or purpose in the worldview of scientism! Christianity on the other hand is prepared to follow the evidence wherever it leads. It will lead you to the foot of the cross and into eternity, if you are prepared to follow it—I encourage you to do so.

Bibliography

Austin L. Hughes, ‘The Folly of Scientism’, The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society, 2012.

John C. Lennox, Can Science Explain Everything? London: The Good Book Company, 2019. 

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, New York: Macmillan, 1955S.

McDowell & J. Morrow. Is God Just a Human Invention – And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2010.

J. P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology. Wheaton, Illinois, Crossway, 2018.    

Examining Nature

Is Scientism Fundamentally Flawed? Part 2

Introduction

In the first part of this three-part article series we looked at ‘Scientism’ as a worldview. Scientism claims that all of reality is physical or material. Nothing exists other than matter and energy in space and time. Scientism then goes on to say that the only way we can know that reality is through science. There is no other knowledge than scientific knowledge.

In this second part of the series we will look at the first two types of refutation of Scientism. First, we will examine the assumptions Scientism makes. As we will see, these assumptions cannot be proven by science, and therefore refute Scientism’s claim that the only source of knowledge is science.Second, we will show that the best explanation for many phenomena in this universe is an agent designing cause, not a natural cause. According to Scientism, all causes of any phenomena must be natural, physical, or material causes. If we can identify any other cause, then Scientism is refuted.  

In the third and final article, we will identify non-physical/ immaterial realities that we know exist, but which are unknowable  through science. If we can identify just one such entity thing, just one entity, then Scientism is refuted. Just one will do, but in fact there are many.      

Refuting Scientism: Assumptions Scientism Makes, But Cannot Prove

Circular & Self-Refuting Reasoning: Scientism lacks the evidence to support its most basic claim: all that exists is matter and energy in space and time. Instead, it makes this assumption, and then attempts to explain everything on that basis. It assumes what it claims to prove, it is a circular argument and as such is fundamentally flawed. The logic of Scientism can be presented as follows;

P1.The only realities that exist in the universe are physical.

P2.Science is used to explain the universe and everything in it.

P3.Since the universe is physical, science can only provide physical explanations.

C.Therefore, science proves that the only realities that exist in the universe are physical.

Anyone applying the most basic level of critical thinking can see this fundamental flaw in Scientism, if only they step back and actually think! Further, the knowledge claims of Scientism are not just circular, they are self-refuting. For example, the claim that “only what is testable by Science can be true” is a “philosophical statement about science that cannot itself be tested by Science”, therefore it refutes itself![5]

Laws of Logic/Numbers/Mathematics: Science simply assumes that the laws of logic, numbers and mathematics are real, but it cannot prove they are. These laws are clearly non-physical realities. At this most basic level Scientism is proven false! Just think about it. The scientific method can’t be used to prove the reality of logic, numbers and mathematics, it a priori assumes the existence of these immaterial, non-physical realities. This proves that Scientism is wrong! In contrast, the Christian worldview holds that non-physical realities such as numbers can be understood as grounded in God. Our ability to recognise them comes from the image of God, the imago Dei, in us.

The Existence of a theory independent external world, that is orderly, uniform and knowable: Similarly, Science simply assumes the existence of a theory independent external world that is orderly, uniform and knowable. It can’t operate without this assumption. Christianity on the other hand knows there is a theory independent external world, that is orderly, uniform, and knowable, since it was created by God. This is revealed in God’s Word, Scripture, and in nature itself, with the presence of orderly, uniform, and knowable specified complex information pointing to a designing mind. This will be discussed further later.

The Reliability of our Cognitive and Sensory Faculties: Since scientism cannot allow a designing cause and creator to the universe and human life, it leaves us with the explanation that humanity is totally the result of physical evolutionary processes. In such an all-encompassing macro-evolutionary narrative, all that matters is the survival of the fittest, which is produced by random physical cause and effect over time. But if this is the case, why should we trust our cognitive and sensory faculties as a means of discerning truth? Survivability is all that counts, not truth, yet scientism simply assumes that we can trust our cognitive and sensory faculties. This cannot be proven, it is simply assumed, and if the evolutionary narrative is true, why should we trust our faculties? The Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga has written extensively on this issue. Christianity on the other hand infers that our cognitive and sensory faculties can be reliable as they are created in the image of God. We also recognise that they are not one hundred percent reliable. There is a humility that comes from knowing this world is fallen and corrupted, which is entirely absent in scientism.

Refuting Scientism: Agent Causes

Another important assumption of scientism is that there can only be physical/material causes. Which is to say that there can only be natural causes. Everything must be reduced to a natural cause. This is why science is often described as reductionist, reducing all explanations to the physical or material.

In this view human beings are merely a collection of physical/material entities, atoms, that have been in cause and effect action throughout time. As discussed above, this results in scientism, in which our sense of consciousness, mind, and freewill are merely illusions. There is just physical cause and effect. This however conflicts with our most basic intuitive understanding of causes in the world.

 In the real world we accept that humans have free will, and by their volitional choice as acting agents, they can cause things to happen in the physical world. Thus, we understand there are agent causes, as well as natural causes. Additionally, we recognise that agents may have goals, future purposes and motives which they act to achieve, otherwise known as end causes. As a simple example, imagine a boiling jug of water. If we asked what caused the water to boil, we could give the natural cause, by explaining how heat energy is transferred to H2O molecules causing them to change from water to gas. However, we could also rightly say that the agent cause was that Mark turned the jug on, and further the end cause was that Mark wanted a cup of tea! But in the worldview of scientism, such agent causes and end causes are simply not allowable, since all is physical! We may think that Mark chose to turn the jug on for the purpose of having a cup of tea, but in reality it is all physical cause and effect, Mark’s choice and purpose are simply an illusion. There is no real mind, there is just matter! Atoms bouncing into each other, natural cause and effect. 

Hence, when Christians infer from the evidence of fine tuning in the universe, or the specified complex information in DNA, that there is a designing mind as an agent cause, this is simply dismissed by scientism (and unfortunately by many implicitly influenced by scientism). This is in spite of the evidence, i.e. that the only known cause we know in the universe for such specified complex information is a designing mind, and that the probability of that happening through natural causes by chance is literally impossible! Such an agent cause explanation is simply not allowed with scientism. Any natural hypothesis, no matter how implausible and no matter whether it can be tested, verified or falsified, is preferable. This quote by Lewontin sums this view up well:

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine foot in the door. [6]     

 

Bibliography: 

Austin L. Hughes, ‘The Folly of Scientism’, The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society, 2012.

John C. Lennox, Can Science Explain Everything? London: The Good Book Company, 2019. 

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, New York: Macmillan, 1955S.

McDowell & J. Morrow. Is God Just a Human Invention – And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2010.

  1. P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology. Wheaton, Illinois, Crossway, 2018.

Is Scientism Fundamentally Flawed? Part 1

 Introduction

You may not have heard of the word ‘scientism’ and even if you have, you may not know what it means, but I can guarantee that you will have been exposed to strong views and opinions that have the worldview of scientism at their core. Statements such as “the only truth we can know is discovered through science” or that “science has proven God doesn’t exist” have scientism at their heart. This three-part article series will explain what scientism is and how it is all prevailing in much of what we see and read. Its influence is everywhere in our media and culture, usually implicitly and not explicitly, it is just assumed. This article series will also show just how deeply flawed scientism is as a worldview.       

The nature of reality and how we know it

Scientism says that the hard sciences alone have the intellectual authority to give us knowledge of reality. Everything else – especially ethics, theology, and philosophy – is, at least according to scientism, based on private emotions, blind faith, or cultural upbringing…[they] offer no truth at all.[1]    

Apologetics is essentially defending the Christian view of the nature of reality and how we know it, past, present and future. Scientism is also a view on the nature of reality and how we know it. Scientism claims that all that exists is matter/energy in space and time, there is nothing more than the natural/physical/material, hence Scientism is essentially the same as naturalism, physicalism and materialism as a view of reality. Scientism also claims that the only way we can know anything about that natural/physical/material reality is through science. This usually assumes the application of the scientific method of empirical observation, measurement, hypothesis formation and then testing, to see whether the hypothesis was correct. This is called inductive reasoning.  In that process it also assumes and applies logic and reason, i.e. deductive reasoning. This is what usually comes to mind when people think of ‘science’. Often, they will unthinkingly say that an untestable belief is untrustworthy.

However, science doesn’t just apply the classic laboratory-style inductive reasoning method. It also often applies what is called abductive reasoning (also known as inference to the best explanation). In this method, a person would take all the evidence and attempt to infer the best explanation. The best explanation is the most plausible, and has the most explanatory power and scope for all the evidence. Abductive inferences are often not as testable, verifiable or falsifiable as inductive hypotheses. Historical sciences, such as geology or forensic science, look at evidence from the past,  and often employ abductive reasoning, producing hypotheses that are not observable or reproducible in a laboratory, but which still infer the best explanation for the evidence. Much evolutionary science is conducted in this manner, inferring explanations that simply cannot be tested in the more classic inductive manner.

This application of abductive reasoning is often conveniently forgotten by strident supporters of scientism when they are speaking against the Christian worldview, such as arguments for the historicity of the resurrection, which infers the truth of the resurrection as the best explanation for all the historical evidence. This opinion is summed up by John Lennox:

I know now that the only sort of knowledge of reality is that which can be and has been quantified and tested in the laboratory. If you can measure and test it scientifically, you can know it. If not, the topic is nothing but private opinion and idle speculation.[2] 

The issue here isn’t the abductive method, since science legitimately employs it all the time in the historical sciences, it’s that scientism simply will not allow any explanations that are not natural/physical/ material. If abductive reasoning was unscientific per se, an invalid method of seeking truth, then for example, all non-repeatable knowledge from the past would be deemed “nothing but private opinion and idle speculation,” since you can’t put the past non repeatable events in a laboratory, ruling out among many things, the whole criminal justice system (and forensic science), as well as any historical investigation as legitimate pursuits of truth, including much evolutionary and geological science.

For scientism all that is in existence, has ever been in existence, or ever will be in existence, is natural/physical/material and the only explanations for anything observed in the universe must be natural/physical/material. The only causes and effects allowed in this view of reality are natural/physical/material. But is this true? That’s the key question addressed here.

Science vs Scientism – The Difference

However, before we look at whether scientism is true, we first need to clarify the difference between scientism and science. This is not a Christianity versus science debate, it is a Christianity versus scientism one. So, what’s the difference? Science is the application of a scientific methodology to understand the natural world. Science is a wonderful source of knowledge about the natural world. There is no Christianity versus science war, since Christians believe that God created the universe! In understanding how it works we are discovering how God has worked. Many of the greatest scientists in history were strong Christians; Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Boyle, Newton, Faraday and Clerk-Maxwell, motivated in their scientific work by the knowledge that in nature they were discovering how God has worked.[3]

The difference between the Christian worldview and Scientism is that Christianity believes that there are also non-physical, non-material realities and that we can know them in other ways than just the classic scientific method. Scientism is limited in that it assumes there can only be a natural world with natural explanations, and as such, all evidence must be fitted to that conclusion. This is anything but open-minded curiosity, this is narrow mindedness! Christianity accepts that we can also know non-physical realities; truths that traditional science will not be able to reveal. To assume science can tell us anything about non-physical realities is like standing on a weighing machine and expecting it to tell you how tall you are. The methods of science will not tell us much about the truths revealed by philosophy, theology, ethics, the arts, history, direct human perception and Divine revelation. Scientism is science without humility. It lacks the ability to see that there is more to reality than the material world and that we can know this through methods other than science. As J. P. Moreland says “I love science. My issues are with scientism.” [4]

Refuting Scientism

To refute Scientism and to show its fundamental flaws as a worldview is easier than you may think! There are three main types of refutation available. First, there are the assumptions made by Scientism that cannot be proven by science, refuting their own claim that the only source of knowledge is science. Second, since according to Scientism all causes of any phenomena must be natural, physical, or material causes, if we can identify any other cause—such as an agent cause—then Scientism is refuted. Third, if we can identify one thing, just one entity, one reality, that is immaterial and is not able to be known through science, then Scientism is refuted. Just one will do, but in fact there are many. 

The next two parts of this three-part article series will look at these refutations of Scientism. You may not find all these refutations equally convincing and Scientism may try and posit natural explanations, but the question must be asked; are the explanations of scientism the most plausible? What is the best explanation, with the most explanatory power and scope? A possibility does not equal a probability, just because it is labelled ‘scientific’.

Either Scientism is true or it isn’t, either everything is physical/material, or it isn’t, and if it isn’t, we must be open to asking just what these non-physical realities are. Can we know them through science alone? If not, how we can know them?

 

Bibliography: 

Austin L. Hughes, ‘The Folly of Scientism’, The New Atlantis: A Journal of Technology & Society, 2012.

John C. Lennox, Can Science Explain Everything? London: The Good Book Company, 2019. 

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, New York: Macmillan, 1955S.

McDowell & J. Morrow. Is God Just a Human Invention – And Seventeen Other Questions Raised by the New Atheists. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2010.

J. P. Moreland, Scientism and Secularism: Learning to Respond to a Dangerous Ideology. Wheaton, Illinois, Crossway, 2018.

Destroying and Annoying: Why would God create mosquitos, viruses, and bacteria?

“Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:7-10)

As a Christian biologist I’m often asked: “Why would God make creatures that only destroy and annoy?” I myself have struggled with this question, especially just after being nipped by a particularly mouthy horsefly. I once asked this question to a Christian medical doctor and her response was simply, “I guess God gave Satan his own paintbrush.” Her response grieved me even more than my question had. Surely the Prince of Darkness was not co-Creator of our world, but the Prince of Peace. Yet the death and suffering we observe due to a myriad of seemingly evil micro-critters bids us seek an answer. This article will explore the trifecta of organisms most well-known for their destruction and annoyance of the human race; namely, mosquitos, viruses, and bacteria.

MOSQUITOS

Mosquitos are positively ubiquitous. They live 8,000 feet high in the Himalayan mountains, and deep below sea level in the California desert. As recently as 1870, the idea that a mosquito could kill was considered preposterous. Today we understand that a million people die each year from malaria alone. Dengue fever (which I have personally enjoyed, along with malaria), Zika virus, Chikunguya, and others have resulted in countless lives lost. If God chose to make mosquitos, why on earth? Our answer lies in the mosquito’s natural history.

Females perch daintily on the surface of the water and lay eggs in two long rows. The eggs bow upwards at the ends, giving it the appearance of a tiny canoe made of pearls. When the eggs hatch, mosquito larvae serve to clean the water of their aqueous habitat because they eat detritus (waste material). Larvae also feed on fallen bug carcasses, thus cleaning the surface of the water. While larvae benefit aqueous ecosystems, most of our qualms with mosquitos have to do with this stage: the successful production of offspring.

Interestingly, most mosquitos will never bother you. There are more than 3,000 species of mosquitos, but only 200 bite humans. It’s important to realize that, as a rule of thumb, only the females bite, and only when they are reproducing. It is estimated that only one in a million mosquitos at a given time will bite. Females need protein to make eggs, and without a blood meal they will be unable to reproduce. Male mosquitos are usually purely nectarivorous. Females also stick to nectar when they are not trying to produce eggs. This drinking of nectar is very important ecologically, as mosquitos are major plant pollinators. In fact, some plants are only pollinated by mosquitos! Also, mosquitos are basically little buzzing candies. Birds, frogs and fish enjoy eating those sugar-packed insects.

Mosquitos have benefited science in many ways, the most major being the design of their proboscis. This has inspired scientists to design less-painful hypodermic needles. Work is also being done on insertion guides for placing electrodes into the brain, and a study of mosquito saliva to determine its special properties.

VIRUSES

Everywhere we find life, we find viruses, and in staggering abundance. 1 mL of ocean water contains about 100 million virus particles. Estimates indicate there are 1031 viruses on Earth. If we could weigh all the viruses on Earth, they would equal the weight of 75 million blue whales. At the offset, this sounds like a major concern. Indeed, viruses like influenza, herpes and measles kill 10 people every hour globally . Yet virologist AJ Roberts writes: “The vast majority of viruses on planet Earth are not associated with disease or suffering. In fact, they are critical for sustaining balance in Earth’s ecological webs.”

But just how do viruses provide this delicate balance of Earth’s ecology? At every level, it would seem. Bacteriophage, for instance, help keep our bodies’ microbiomes in balance so that we don’t become overrun by bacteria.

Also, the next time you enjoy a gentle rainstorm, thank a virus. We would not have the same precipitation cycle without them!

Aerosoled viruses hang out in the upper atmosphere and help create nucleation (clustering) to initiate precipitation. Viruses are also essential for our ocean ecology. Viruses split open 40-50 percent of the bacteria in Earth’s oceans on a daily basis, releasing gobs of organic molecules into the food chain for other organisms to survive on.

The vast majority of virus activity has a symbiotic effect . These viruses help plants, insects, and many other organisms to survive under otherwise impossible environmental conditions. Certain viruses even protect plants from the infection of detrimental viruses.

Viruses have enabled us to make leaps and bounds in science. At least 15 Nobel Prizes have been awarded for research based on virus-dependent work. Viruses were used to discover the triplet base codon nature of the genetic code, RNA splicing, and tumor suppressor genes. The virus used in the polio vaccine helped lessen global cases from over 350,000/yr in 1988 to less than 500/yr in 2013. Today viruses are used to fight cancers, genetic illnesses, and chronic infectious diseases.

As AJ Roberts said: “Although a few viruses are remarkably bad, we dare not put all viruses in that category. In fact, life as we know it would not be possible…without the vast array of viruses that fill the planet.”

BACTERIA

Similar to the viruses and mozzies, we are often only aware of the detrimental ramifications of bacteria. ‘Bad’ bacteria are extremely bad, especially when they are resistant to antibiotics. According to the CDC, at least 2 million people in the U.S. are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria every year, leading to the death of at least 23,000 people.

Yet, on the whole, bacteria are key organisms in biogeochemical and metabolic processes. They play an essential role in the earth’s biodiversity, both on terra firma and in aqueous environs.

We have found extensive populations in the Arctic and the Antarctic, and everywhere in between. Bacteria appear wherever other organisms are, and they are sometimes found where there is no other evidence of life. Bacteria are essential for human existence. In fact, there are 10 times more microbial cells than human cells inside a human being. So in a sense, you are more bacteria than you are human! But don’t think about that too much or it might make your stomach hurt. And speaking of your stomach, the highest numbers of microbial species in a human are found in your gut. Helpful strains of E.coli and Streptococcus aid in digestion, stave off harmful pathogens, and help develop the immune system. The disruption of gut bacteria has been linked to many disease conditions. We are dependent on the services of commensal bacteria for not just digestion, but for many aspects of our health.

CONCLUSION

We have much to learn about mosquitos, viruses, and bacteria. The hand of God crafted each of these creatures with a lovely purpose. We can solidly say of this trifecta, as God said, “It is good”. Yet we can also see the destruction they cause and say, “It is fallen”. This sinful, broken world is not as it should be. But if we look close enough, we still see God’s fingerprints on the gently buzzing mosquito, the wandering virus, and the fastidious little bacterium.

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Xiao-Feng, Z., Jiangbo, G., Xiuchun, Z., Tea, M. (October 20, 2015). Random Plant Viral
Variants Attain Temporal Advantages During Systemic Infections and in Turn Resist other Variants of the Same Virus. Scientific Reports, 5.

Zimmer, C. (2015). A planet of viruses. Chicago : The University of Chicago Press

Zobell, C. (1942). Bacteria of the Marine World. The Scientific Monthly, 55(4), 320-
330. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/17937

Richard Dawkins is Coming to New Zealand, and That’s Good News!

(From Canterbury Evangelism Network and Thinking Matters)

Who is Richard Dawkins?

Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and science populariser. He is the former University of Oxford’s Professor for Public Understanding of Science. He has written many books including The Selfish Gene, The Blind Watchmaker, Climbing Mount Improbable and The God Delusion. He is a passionate rationalist who vigorously promotes science-based education, values and understanding. He is a staunch defender of atheism and a controversial critic of religious belief. He is well regarded by media and many academics as a top scientific thinker and a compelling public speaker.

Why is Richard Dawkins coming to New Zealand?

Dawkins is promoting his new book Science in the Soul in Auckland on May 10, 2018, and Christchurch on May 11, 2018. The book is a collection of 42 of his essays spanning three decades that proclaim the power and glory of science, the wonder of discovery, and the necessity of scientific thinking in diverse areas of society. He defends Darwinian evolution and natural selection, and the role of scientist as prophet. He responds to questions about whether science is itself a religion, the probability of alien life and the beauty and cruelty of life on Earth.

Why should the church be interested?

Dawkins has been identified as one of the New Atheists, a group that speaks critically against religion in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon. He is well known for his criticism of creationism and intelligent design and non-rational approaches to social policy. In The God Delusion, he argues that there is almost certainly no God and that religion is a delusion. He equates religious indoctrination of children with child abuse and offers the following description of God:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

How is this “Good News”?

Dawkins has brought the discussion of religious belief back into the public arena and we can be grateful for that. No longer simply a “private faith”, Christians are being asked to think carefully about what they believe and why they believe it in light of his strong attacks on Christianity. St. Peter encourages Christians to “in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV). The faith and witness of followers of Jesus Christ will grow and the Church will be strengthened when we seek answers and present them with humility and respect.

How should I think about the conflict of science vs. faith?

Is it always science or faith? Is it possible to be both? We enjoy many benefits that science has brought to our lives; modern medicine, electricity, automobiles and smartphones. We can find areas where we agree with Dawkins if we’re willing to listen carefully. We can learn to discern claims of verifiable facts from claims about the implications of those facts. Scientists, like all people, are just as susceptible to affirm or ignore evidence based on our view of the world. Remember that there are faithful, obedient Christians who believe in a young earth, an old earth and theistic evolution. Be gracious.

How can I engage my non-Christian friends and colleagues?

Pray to God with thankfulness. Dawkins’ visit is a gift that can open up conversations about Jesus. Listen carefully and genuinely seek to understand what others believe and why. Affirm areas of agreement with the Christian worldview. Resist a combative response, even if you feel defensive. If you don’t have solid answers to their questions, say so with humility. Offer to journey together to discover what is really true and whether it matters to our lives. Consider Paul at the Areopagus in Acts 17. He quoted pagan philosophers and poets to build bridges that moved people towards Jesus. He ignored those who sneered at his faith and instead went with those who were genuinely interested in learning more. Get out there and do likewise. In addition, explore some of the articles on this website, you might find something that speaks to the subjects that either you or those you know struggle with.

How can I pray?

We urge you to pray for Richard Dawkins. This is an important opportunity. Instead of being prideful, defensive or argumentative, we can choose to bless him as one created in the image of God and to pray for his salvation and a destiny that he has yet to embrace. We would love to welcome him into God’s Kingdom here in New Zealand. We choose to pray for revelation of the living God. We choose to pray for dreams and visions of Christ to flow into his life. It has been prophesied that this city is a place where people will come and meet God and then take the good news back to the nations. It is in this spirit that we believe good things for Richard and want him to have the blessing of knowing Christ.

What a privilege to pray for a man God loves and wants to rescue and restore. God used Saul to become one of Christianity’s greatest evangelists. He can use Richard Dawkins the same way.

If you would like to share this information with your church, download the Richard Dawkins Brief in PDF, print copies to A4 and then cut them into A5 sized handouts.

Fool’s Gold

This is a guest post by Lachlan Gordon, one of our newest writers at TM.


The Psalmist reports the fool saying there is no God. The Atheist, meanwhile, declares the Christian the fool. Who, then, is the fool?

Francis Bacon (1561-1626) was, according to Voltaire, the ‘father’ of the scientific method – the method of modern science. In observing the order in the universe Bacon wrote, ‘I had rather believe all the fables…then that this universal frame is without a mind.’ He also wrote that ‘God never wrought miracle[s] to convince atheism, because his ordinary works convince it.’ For Bacon that God existed was a self-evident fact. To this Isaac Newton (1642-1726), the founder of classical physics, adds that, ‘this most beautiful system of the sun, planet and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.’ He also stated that, if nothing else, the thumb alone would convince him of God’s existence.

Both Bacon and Newton believed in a rational god: because God was rational so to was his creation. And because a rational creation is coherent it can be studied. Scientists like Bacon and Newton did what they did precisely because of their belief in God, not in spite of it. In the case of Michael Faraday (1791-1897) is was because of his particular theology that lead to his discovery of electromagnetic induction – a discovery that lead to the development of the electric motor. Faraday was a devout Christian, and a member of a small (Presbyterian) sect known as the Sandemanians, who believed that because God created the world then everything must be interconnected. Faraday had been given an apparatus consisting of a magnet and a wire. When the wire was dangled over the magnet and had an electric current applied to it, the wire rotated around the magnet as if carried by an invisible wind. Faraday applied his theology to this phenomena and imagined an invisible force (the interconnection of electricity and magnetism) swirling around the magnet, and discovered the magnetic field. Richard Dawkins, the notorious atheist, has stated that he is against religion because ‘it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world.’ Dawkins’ premise is rebutted by the scientists mentioned above, all of whom believed in God, and yet made very important scientific discoveries.

It may be that Christians are indeed foolish, but if that is the case then there have been some very intelligent fools.

Further Reading : Francis Bacon, http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/ scholarsandscientists/francis-bacon.html . Isaac Newton, http://www.christianitytoday.com/
history/issues/issue-30/faith-behind-famous-isaac-newton.html
. Michael Faraday, http://
www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-genius-and-faith-of-faraday-and-maxwell
.

Jesus The Game Changer

Jesus The Game Changer 10 of 10: REASON & SCIENCE

Pop quiz – Which work of ancient literature contains the following: “Come, let us reason together”?

The answer is, of course, the Bible. The Sunday school teachers or taught may have got that one right, but I highly doubt anyone else did. Reason and religion are oil and water to today’s enlightened mind.

Are religion and science really enemies?

Thanks to a bunch of influential pseudo-philosophers and historians, a vast number of people now think that religious claims lack any authority and are completely at odds with the claims of ‘objective’ science.

In order to do science, one must assume that reality is orderly, intelligible and understandable. Do the dominant narratives of today – materialistic naturalism and humanism – provide these foundations or are they borrowing capital from more capable worldviews?

Only certain subject matter is accessible via the scientific method. For example, science can tell us about the various processes at work in the baking of a cake – the combination of chemical ingredients and their reactions, the force required to mix them together, the heat of the oven and what it does to the cake – but it can’t tell us the why of reality, the deep questions that we all seek answers to. Science can explain the cake rising, but not the reason for which the cake is baked – to celebrate the birthday of a loved one and to see joy spread across their face.

My hope for the future

Pop up quiz 2 – Which religious text contains the commandment to “love God with all your mind”? Contrary to public opinion, you don’t leave your mind at the door when embracing Christianity. Quite the opposite.

These small thoughts can by no means provide a detailed analysis of the relationship between religion and science but hopefully they can start a conversation – one where both sides bring reason and tolerance to a vital topic.

Event: Are We Alone in the Universe? God and Planet Earth. By Dr Jeff Zweerink

Are We Alone in the Universe? God and Planet Earth

Thinking Matters and Reasons for Faith are privileged to welcome Dr Jeff Zweerink from Reasons to Believe for this special event:

Are We Alone in the Universe? God and Planet Earth

Over the past two decades, astronomers have found thousands of planets orbiting stars beside the Sun. These “exoplanets” bring us closer to answering the questions nearly everybody wants to know: Does life exist beyond Earth?  How would we find any hypothetical life and what would the consequences be if we found it elsewhere in the Universe?  In providing answers to these questions, Jeff opens up questions of faith and science and what it would mean to mankind.

Jeff ZweerinkAstrophysicist and Research Scholar – Jeff Zweerink – is the Executive Director of Online Learning at Reasons to Believe where he encourages people of all backgrounds to consider their faith and how it connects with the evidence of science.

He writes and speaks on the compatibility of faith and science and on evidence for intentional design from multi-verse theory, dark energy and dark matter, and exoplanets. His speaking engagements take him to universities and conferences around the world.  He holds a part-time position at UCLA and is working on GAPS, a balloon experiment seeking to detect and understand dark matter. Jeff is co-author on more than 30 papers published in peer-reviewed journals, such as Astrophysical Journal, and Astroparticle Physics, and Astrobiology, as well as numerous conference proceedings.  Click here for a full bio.

WHAT: Lecture with Q&A
WHEN: Tuesday March 29th
TIME: 7:30pm – 9:00pm
WHERE: Kauri Room, Windsor Park Baptist Church, 550 East Coast Rd, Mairangi Bay, Auckland
RSVP: None
COST: Free – but Koha (donation) welcome

We hope to see you there!

Can a Scientist Trust the New Testament? by N. T. Wright

wright

N. T. Wright recently spoke at St Andrews University on the trustworthiness of the New Testament. The message was a part of the James Gregory lectures, a series of public talks by eminent national and international speakers on a wide range of contemporary issues in science and religion.

Michael Horton addresses common questions about the Christian faith

horton1

Michael Horton recently sat down and answered five of the most common apologetics questions people get when they share their faith with their friends and family. Horton is a professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Seminary California, co-host of White Horse Inn and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine.

How Can Jesus Be the Only Way?

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Did the Christian Middle Ages Help or Hinder the Scientific Revolution?

James Hannam, in a guest post on the nature.com blog:

“Few topics are as open to misunderstanding as the relationship between faith and reason. The ongoing clash of creationism with evolution obscures the fact that Christianity has actually had a far more positive role to play in the history of science than commonly believed. Indeed, many of the alleged examples of religion holding back scientific progress turn out to be bogus. For instance, the Church has never taught that the Earth is flat and, in the Middle Ages, no one thought so anyway. Popes haven’t tried to ban zero, human dissection or lightening rods, let alone excommunicate Halley’s Comet. No one, I am pleased to say, was ever burnt at the stake for scientific ideas. Yet, all these stories are still regularly trotted out as examples of clerical intransigence in the face of scientific progress.

Admittedly, Galileo was put on trial for claiming it is a fact that the Earth goes around the sun, rather than just a hypothesis as the Catholic Church demanded. Still, historians have found that even his trial was as much a case of papal egotism as scientific conservatism. It hardly deserves to overshadow all the support that the Church has given to scientific investigation over the centuries.

That support took several forms. One was simply financial. Until the French Revolution, the Catholic Church was the leading sponsor of scientific research. Starting in the Middle Ages, it paid for priests, monks and friars to study at the universities. The church even insisted that science and mathematics should be a compulsory part of the syllabus. And after some debate, it accepted that Greek and Arabic natural philosophy were essential tools for defending the faith. By the seventeenth century, the Jesuit order had become the leading scientific organisation in Europe, publishing thousands of papers and spreading new discoveries around the world. The cathedrals themselves were designed to double up as astronomical observatories to allow ever more accurate determination of the calendar. And of course, modern genetics was founded by a future abbot growing peas in the monastic garden.

But religious support for science took deeper forms as well. It was only during the nineteenth century that science began to have any practical applications. Technology had ploughed its own furrow up until the 1830s when the German chemical industry started to employ their first PhDs. Before then, the only reason to study science was curiosity or religious piety. Christians believed that God created the universe and ordained the laws of nature. To study the natural world was to admire the work of God. This could be a religious duty and inspire science when there were few other reasons to bother with it. It was faith that led Copernicus to reject the ugly Ptolemaic universe; that drove Johannes Kepler to discover the constitution of the solar system; and that convinced James Clerk Maxwell he could reduce electromagnetism to a set of equations so elegant they take the breathe away.

Given that the Church has not been an enemy to science, it is less surprising to find that the era which was most dominated by Christian faith, the Middle Ages, was a time of innovation and progress. Inventions like the mechanical clock, glasses, printing and accountancy all burst onto the scene in the late medieval period. In the field of physics, scholars have now found medieval theories about accelerated motion, the rotation of the earth and inertia embedded in the works of Copernicus and Galileo. Even the so-called “dark ages” from 500AD to 1000AD were actually a time of advance after the trough that followed the fall of Rome. Agricultural productivity soared with the use of heavy ploughs, horse collars, crop rotation and watermills, leading to a rapid increase in population.”

Read the whole article.

For more about Christianity’s contribution to science, Hannam’s book The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution is available now.

HT: Wintery Knight

The Use of Science in the Debate with New Atheism

mcgrath

Last month, Professor Alister McGrath delivered a lecture at Gresham College on the way science has been used to defend the intellectual credibility of Christianity. He highlights particularly how New Atheism’s unsophisticated appeal to science is being matched by a more sophisticated appeal within Christian circles.

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