Book Club Channel
On the Integrity of Science: A Response to Bill Dembski
Fortunately, Bill accepts the great age of the earth as determined by the scientific community, so he is not in this tragically uninformed group. But most of his fellow anti-evolutionists are.
There are, perhaps, no serious practical implications of getting the age of the earth so incredibly wrong. People can hold all sorts of odd beliefs and still be able to tie their shoes and get to work, as Glenn Beck has shown so clearly. But, in order to prevent evangelicals from discovering the overwhelming evidence against their young earth position, the anti-evolutionists have had to assault the integrity of the scientific enterprise until most evangelicals just don't trust it.
This is a widespread strategy employed in various ways by all the anti-evolutionists. Phillip Johnson—arguably the founder of the contemporary intelligent design movement—smeared science most articulately in his classic polemic Darwin on Trial. and follow-ups Reason in the Balance and The Wedge of Truth. In these volumes and his other writings he insists that science as practiced today—particularly evolution—rests on a shaky foundation of "metaphysical naturalism," rather than "empirical evidence." “Darwinism,” he wrote in Reason in the Balance (p.16) is not really based on empirical evidence. Its true basis is in philosophy, and specifically in the metaphysics of naturalism.” This is an amazing claim on so many levels. For starters, the label science—which includes physics, chemistry, and biological evolution (which critics prefer to call “Darwinism”)— is short for "natural science." The supposedly sinister "naturalism" of science that frightens good Christians is not a foundation at all, as if it can be separated from that science like a foundation that awaits the arrival of a house. Naturalism is central to the very definition of science.
And the charge that any scientific investigation is not based on "empirical evidence" seems incomprehensible to me. What can this mean? It would be a mistake to claim, of course, that science is based exclusively on such evidence and nothing else—mathematics comes immediately to mind—but claims that science is based on metaphysical naturalism rather than evidence are, quite simply, absurd. One need only enroll in an undergraduate science class to see the strangeness of this claim.
Johnson ups the ante even further when he talks about evolution. The scientific community promotes evolution, he says, to "persuade the public to believe that there is no purposeful intelligence that transcends the natural world." This claim, made by many in the anti-evolutionary community, comes from mistakenly assuming that certain popular science writers speak for the scientific community. Mariano Artigas and I analyzed this disturbing phenomenon in some detail in Oracles of Science: Celebrity Scientists versus God and Religion. In particular, we noted that the leading public faces of science over the past twenty-five years—Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Steven Weinberg, Stephen Jay Gould, Edward O. Wilson, Stephen Hawking—are significantly more anti-religious than the scientific community as a whole. Many of the anti-evolutionists today—and I include Bill in this group—seem to assume that these scientists speak authentically for the scientific community when, in fact, they do not.
Karl W. Giberson (Ph.D.) is a leading voice in America's creation-evolution controversy and the author or coauthor of four books on science and religion, including Oracles of Science: Celebrity Scientists Versus God and Religion (with Mariano Artigas), Species of Origins: America's Search for a Creation Story (with Donald Yerxa), and Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution, which was included in the Washington Post's "Best Books of 2008" list. Giberson serves as professor of physics at Eastern Nazarene College, directs the Forum on Faith and Science at Gordon College, and is executive vice president of The BioLogos Foundation, which he helped launch.