Does science owe a debt to Christianity for setting down the philosophical prerequisites for scientific progress? One author seems to think so. But like retroactive quote mining to find that the Bible was actually in harmony with what we’ve learned through modern science all along (more), the argument is desperate and unconvincing. As commenter Ann Kah noted, “This is so over-the-top that it fits into the category of ‘not even wrong.’”
This post concludes our critique of this article (part 1 here).
But Christianity is more hopeful!
Next up is the obligatory claim that the Christian message is more hopeful than that of any competitors. About the previous five properties of Christianity that are supposed uniquely nurturing to science, the article warns,
Reject one or more of them, and you will end up sooner or later in a hopeless cul-de-sac.
Hmm—do I want the worldview that’s more hopeful or the one with the best evidence that it’s true?
I guess it’s an indication of the poor quality of the Christian argument that “Yeah, but our view is more hopeful!! :-)” can be presented without embarrassment. But it seems out of place in an article written by a Christian celebrating science.
Only Christianity can save science
The article tells us that Western society is lurching toward “the death of humanity”:
Scientists are sawing off the branch on which they’re sitting.
How about that—who knew that science was on its last legs?
The article declares that scientists like Richard Dawkins reject “objective morality, free will, and the meaningfulness of life” (presumably, that’s objective meaning in life). Then it whines about how (to the atheist) religion, altruism, love, and more “must all be explained away as the purposeless side-effects of [natural selection and] mutations.”
You say that objective morality and meaning exist? Stop complaining and show us. Ball’s in your court. You’re right that evolution can explain religious belief and emotions, but let’s second-guess evolution after it stops being the scientific consensus.
At the end, the article laments about the naturalistic view:
The perception that each of us has that a proposition is provable, or an experiment is conclusive, is no guarantee of anything in external reality; instead it is the outcome of subatomic dominoes falling in random patterns. How can science continue if even scientists start to believe this about their minds? . . .
A few more decades of such irrationalism will undermine completely the foundations of research and truth-seeking in the sciences, and the West will go into the same despairing stasis that haunted ancient Egypt, India, and China. Ironically, the only hope for science now is a rebirth of faith.
“Subatomic dominoes”? Perhaps this author lies awake at night afraid, not of monsters, but quantum indeterminacy lurking under his bed. Instead of learning about whatever scientific puzzle concerns him, he’ll just label it as nonsense. Satisfying his common sense apparently outweighs the scientific consensus on quantum mechanics.
The author dismisses the civilizations of Egypt, India, and China, apparently unaware that they lasted far longer than the period of modern science we’re in at the moment in the West.To understand where this author is coming from, imagine someone who thinks that food is made in the back room of the grocery story by some mysterious process. He can get by with this confused idea of how the modern food industry puts food on the shelves, but he would be wise to avoid critiquing a process he doesn’t understand. Our author is like this with respect to science. Next time he feels the urge to critique what he doesn’t understand, he should lie down until the feeling goes away.
A restorative from Mark Twain
To those of you who were annoyed by the brainless chum in this article, I have an antidote. Mark Twain’s 1905 reply to a patent medicine salesman nicely fits our predicament.
Your letter is an insoluble puzzle to me. The handwriting is good and exhibits considerable character, and there are even traces of intelligence in what you say, yet the letter and the accompanying advertisements profess to be the work of the same hand.
The person who wrote the advertisements is without doubt the most ignorant person now alive on the planet; also without doubt he is an idiot, an idiot of the 33rd degree, and scion of an ancestral procession of idiots stretching back to the Missing Link. It puzzles me to make out how the same hand could have constructed your letter and your advertisements. Puzzles fret me, puzzles annoy me, puzzles exasperate me; and always, for a moment, they arouse in me an unkind state of mind toward the person who has puzzled me.
A few moments from now my resentment will have faded and passed and I shall probably even be praying for you; but while there is yet time I hasten to wish that you may take a dose of your own poison by mistake, and enter swiftly into the damnation which you and all other patent medicine assassins have so remorselessly earned and do so richly deserve.
The last word
You’ve heard that correlation doesn’t prove causation. That’s true, but if there’s causation, there must also be correlation. The argument in this article fails by its own metric: there’s no correlation between Christianity and experimental science since Christian Europe was asleep for a thousand years after it took the baton from the Roman Empire. No correlation means no causation.
Consider a very different approach. The book Guns, Germs, and Steel also looks at relative progress between societies. It opens with a description of the 1532 meeting in Peru between Spanish conquistador Pizarro and the Inca (ruler of the Inca empire) and asks, why did Pizarro sail to Peru and capture their king and not the other way around? It explains why some parts of the world did well and others not by looking at the distribution of livestock and crops and other properties. It’s like a card game—Europe happened to have been dealt a good hand of resources, and Christianity isn’t necessary to explain its success.
European Christianity was a leg-iron to progress, not the catalyst to it. Only by moving from supernaturalism to naturalism has society progressed from pretend-answering questions about nature to really answering them.
Faith has produced zero new knowledge about reality, and science has produced libraries’ worth. I think I’ll stick with science.
— P.C. Hodgell (often misattributed to Carl Sagan)
Image from Alexander Kliem, CC license