Science and the Fine Art (of Making Distinctions)

A friend on facebook linked this article today. Like most articles, it has its good and bad points. To the good, it points out that a Christian rejection of reason and science is a bad idea – unfortunately, I am naturally a critic, so I want to talk more about its bad points.

And the bad point is basically this: most Christians don't reject science, and are of all religions the most especially relation on rational arguments. True the premises we accept may differ from the secular mainstream, but premises have to be false to invalidate an argument. The question of falsehood is most notoriously not settled.

Anyway, Dr. Giberson makes a striking error when he offers up as evidence that "fundamentalists" refuse to believe in evolution and global warming. We'll take the latter first, because it's an easier target. To deny global warming is not to in any way disregard science: the peer pressure applied and lies perpetrated to keep up the climate change 'hype' are well-documented, if conveniently forgotten: Forbes (the magazine) on the subject; FOX on a fraudulent experiment; the BBC on how models don't match reality. And then there's the bit where thirty or forty years ago the whole "little ice age" theory was the new big thing. Man-made climate change could be true anyway, of course, but it's not like there's no debate.

And evolution? At least there pretty much is a scientific consensus here. And yes, most people who disagree are religiously motivated – though most of them take good care to find some sort of scientific basis as well (e.g. Ham and ICR's positing that much of the upheaval credited to several million years of existence could also be explained by global flood conditions). At the same time, I'm automatically suspicious of anybody claiming to know what happened 17 million years ago, especially when it might actually be 3 million or 50 million depending what the current "evidence" suggests. I don't say these conclusions are necessarily wrong: but I don't care much, not least because I don't have the expertise to evaluate the claims myself. At the same time, we don't have much but circumstantial evidence on the question. To be facetious, "God said so" seems like just as good a reason to me as "these little rocks say so" when we're talking about things I'll never actually experience myself.

Which is all to say, rejection of evolution or global warming (or other dangerously accepted idea that may not have sufficient backing) is not a rejection of reason. In fact, if anything, it's not much more than a hyper-skepticism, which I thought was supposed to be a good thing. Imagine a conversation: "This skeleton is 250,000 years old." "How do you know?" "Well the carbon here decays..." "How do you know?" "Well we've determined in a lab that..." "Okay, but this wasn't in a lab. What if something changed?" "Well we're assuming nothing major changed." "...For two hundred fifty thousand years? NOTHING major changed in two hundred fifty thousand years?" "...uh, yeah?" (Off the top of my head, wouldn't industrialization over the last two hundred years or so have changed "natural" carbon levels and stuff? Again, I'm not making a decision here on the validity of current scientific research, and I'm well aware that I'm oversimplifying drastically – I'm just pointing out that skepticism may not be entirely out of order.)

Finally, if "everyone knows" something's true... Galileo was wrong. Even if the YECs are off their collective rockers, they're at least a challenge to the scientific establishment, and answering them ought to both prove a valuable exercise and solidify the evidence further, right? Ignoring them does nothing except create ideological martyrs (if they ever get noticed at all, at least).

In other words, the worst you can accuse a Christian skeptic of, say, abiogenesis of is hypocrisy. "So you trust a book you've been told by 'experts' is divine, but you won't trust a bone 'experts' say is a million years old." But you always have to choose which authorities to trust: Hayek or Keynes? Your dad or your friends?

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