Book Club Channel
On the Integrity of Science: A Response to Bill Dembski
The various strategies employed by anti-evolutionists to undermine faith in science have been wildly successful. Today you can take almost any scientific idea and discover, to my dismay and hopefully yours, that merely being evangelical makes one more likely to reject that idea. Global warming is a case in point. Fifty-eight percent of Americans "unaffiliated" with any religion accept that it is man-made, as the scientific community has definitively stated, but only 34 percent of white evangelical Protestants accept this. Unlike the age of the earth, or even evolution, global warming is a serious and immediate threat and it does matter what we think about it as it shapes many of our decisions. I am quite discouraged that the evangelical community has so distanced itself from science that we are making it harder for our society to address this problem.
There is more to be said here but I want to get back to my primary point: the scientific enterprise, as described by Bill and others in the anti-evolutionary movement, is unrecognizable to me. And I think this deep foundational difference is at the heart of most of our smaller differences on things like pseudogenes, common ancestry, and natural selection.
The Integrity of Science
Bill levels the following accusation at The Language of Science and Faith: "consumers have a right to expect truth in advertising. And here, in my view, this book signally fails." I don't like all the "marketing" and "advertising" metaphors here, which I think are just ad hominem rhetorical detours taking us off track, so I am not going to comment on Bill's extensive use of those concepts. What I want to look at is the profoundly different way that Bill and I view the scientific community and the appropriate way to evaluate scientific ideas.
Let me start with this passage from Bill's review: "Throughout their book, Giberson and Collins overconfidently proclaim that Darwinian evolution is a slam-dunk. Thus one reads, 'There has been no scientific discovery since Darwin—not one—which has suggested that evolution is not the best explanation for the origin of species' (21-22). No theory is that good. Every theory admits anomalies. Every theory faces disconfirming evidence."
The claim that evolution is a remarkably successful theory—what Bill calls a "slam dunk"—is nothing more than a description of how the scientific community—as a whole, with a tiny number of notable exceptions—views evolution. The scientific literature is not filled with growing concerns about the viability of the theory; scientific meetings do not have sessions devoted to alternative explanations for origins; and leading scientists are not on record objecting to the continuous and blinkered embrace of evolution by their colleagues. This is not to deny the presence of anomalies, as Bill rightly notes, which are observations that don't fit the prevailing paradigm. Most scientific theories have anomalies. But it requires a rather dramatic leap to argue, as I believe Bill does in the passage quoted above, that anomalies suggest that the prevailing explanation is no longer the best one available. Let me provide an example.
When Newton's much vaunted theory of gravity was complete, it was celebrated as the best explanation for the motion of physical objects in the solar system, from rocks falling on the earth, to the motion of the moon, to the elliptical orbit of Mars about the sun. But the orbit of Saturn did not match the prediction of Newton's theory. It occasionally departed from the nice ellipse it was supposed to trace out, as it orbited the sun. This departure from the prediction of a reliable theory is a classic example of an anomaly.
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.