A reader writes:

I went out and read some of what (http://www.catholicintl.com/epologetics/science.html) Bob S has to say. I’ve come to a greater appreciation of his position, but I find his methods to be misguided, at best.

First, in his defense, he sometimes returns to what he knows and makes some good points. I tend to agree with him that science and religion are not entirely orthogonal (studying unrelated domains). The view that they are has its roots in the anti-Aristotelian movements of the Enlightenment, which decoupled “natural philosophy” from the higher sciences (metaphysics->philosophy->theology) and more greatly to lower sciences (mathematics). The results have been mixed, to say the least.

Science unfettered has greatly advanced technologies, but at what cost? A culture of scientism, in which scientific theories are given the weight of Truth, and scientists made arbiters of justice, even life (e.g., IVF, stem cell research). Scientific theories sometimes advanced for political or ideological purposes (biological evolution… Darwin’s bio is illuminating). And, let’s face it, an often politicized science whose warring camps compete for the most students to present their dogma to the world, and to question the current “magisterium” is to lose friends of one’s colleagues and be laughed out of the academy (Kuhn’s “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” is also a good read) (and just look at what’s happening to Bob).

These also seem to be the concerns at the root of Bob’s, er, tirade, and rightly so.

That having been said, his apparent decision to go on such a controversial attack is almost precisely the wrong way to present his case. And make no mistake, putting the onus of proof on the established, entrenched position, and with the sarcastic insult of a “prize”, as though it were some bar bet is an attack, and a decidedly repellent one at that. (In fact, there may just be a Latin phrase that describes precisely the kind of repellent rhetorical device it is, and were it not almost 3am, I might have looked it up.)

Worse, he is almost impossible to read, because he has chosen to take the discussion into realms entirely out of his depth. To list every error would be Sisyphean; for every correction receives only more bile from Bob, and with bile comes three more errors in place of the one. Yes, he is right to present the competing (often ignored) theories of other scientists, but consistently misrepresents those. His consistently incorrect presentation of his opposition and misunderstanding of physics terms grates on the initiated like so many fingernails on a chalkboard.

There are real and important concerns behind his fight, but he decided to take the fight to the opposition’s court, and though he’ll win the battle for the $1000, he’ll lose the war.

The real shame (as you have stated) is that he is a great apologist. There is something about how he has staged this particular battle that smacks of pride, though. Winning the sciences back to the Church would be truly wonderful, but it will not be accomplished in this manner. Worse, embarrassment here could lead to the unraveling of an otherwise blessed ministry.