Book Club Channel
On the Integrity of Science: A Response to Bill Dembski
A year ago the renowned Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke lost his job at a conservative seminary for suggesting that evangelicals needed to take seriously that the scientific community had reached a consensus on origins. He was chastised by a blogger at Uncommon Descent for his inappropriately "high regard for 'current scientific orthodoxy.'"
The blogger asked the same question that Bill is asking in his review of The Language of Science and Faith: "Can we no longer confront the data on our own?" Bill and I have very different answers to this question. My response, which I provided at greater length a while ago on the BioLogos site, is "Of course we cannot confront the data 'on our own'."
Dealing with scientific data requires training and experience in whatever narrow area we are considering. If you say, for example, that you can interpret fossil data on your own—as biochemist Duane Gish and legal scholar Phillip Johnson do—then you need to know about fossils. You should be able to answer detailed and sophisticated questions about fossils, before you presume to challenge the conclusions of people who study fossils for a living. But most non-specialists cannot answer even basic questions like: Where might you find a fossil? How much of a fossil skeleton is typically present? How do you determine the age of a fossil? What exactly is a fossil? What parts of a skeleton are most likely to be missing? How do you decide if fossils found together are from the same organism?
If you cannot answer simple questions like these then you cannot confront fossil data "on your own." But, rather than engaging such a quixotic project, you can simply accept the conclusions of people who know way more than you do.
And fossils are the simplest part of the evolutionary picture. Interpreting genomic data, with its complex biochemical, statistical, and historical underpinnings is not remotely possible without the relevant expertise. In my field of physics I cannot imagine what it would mean for a layperson to deal with the data and draw their own conclusions. If you don't understand differential equations, to take one example, then you cannot understand quantum mechanics. You can look at the colored lines in a spectrum and somehow imagine that they come from electrons jumping back and forth in the atom, but that is a far cry from understanding what is going on.
The only time we hear calls of the sort that Bill is making to stand up and challenge "orthodoxy" is when we don't like that orthodoxy. But this is hardly the position of a reasonable man—to selectively cry "foul" on the process when you don't like the conclusion. That is nothing more than yelling at the umpire when his calls go against your team. If the scientific community has missed the boat on the science of evolution, then they have missed it on everything else. What basis is there to decide that the evolutionary biologists are completely incompetent but the medical researchers that discovered the drug you are taking for your heart condition is reliable?
To understand science is to understand the process of science, to appreciate just how much effort is expended over the course of a century as thousands of scientists from different disciplines, different countries, and speaking different languages, gather data and work vigorously until they all get onto the same page—and reach a "consensus"—about what is going on. To suggest that this "data" can be handed over to non-specialists so they can make up their own minds is to profoundly misunderstand the nature of science.
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.