There has been a lot of talk about fake news and what sometimes looks like a “post-truth world” recently. Fake news is obviously a problem in politics. In a similar vein, fake science is a problem for theology. I will explain. Some time ago, I attended a “Science and Faith” symposium at the Museum of Natural History in Washington. All of the clergy panel members, representing different religious faiths, were quite clear that they supported evolutionary biology and modern science in general.
A question was asked by a member of the (largely atheistic) audience how they could support the notion of Imago Dei when “science” has shown that human beings are only 1% different from chimpanzees genetically, and therefore basically the same. The Protestant minister on the panel answered that “created in the image of God” should probably not be restricted to human beings but reinterpreted to mean all living creatures. I have heard this idea repeated since then and, quite frankly, I don’t like it. The problem is that the idea that humans, chimps, other primates are all essentially indistinguishable is a philosophical narrative, not a scientific one. But by labeling this view as “science”, conflating genetic data with non-scientific interpretations, we end up with one kind of fake science.
On another occasion, I was astonished to hear a very prominent biologist claim, in an attempt to discredit ID, that DNA is not really an informational molecule. Again, I have read some non-scientist Christians repeating this concept, ostensibly to be up to date with “science”. I am not fond of ID myself, but DNA is an informational molecule, and saying it isn’t is just wrong.
Finally I will simply mention the so-called “scientific” basis of morality promoted by the likes of Sam Harris, which I have discussed at length in print. I have not yet experienced any agreement on this issue from any Christian thinkers, but it could happen, if it is pushed hard enough. There is the danger of some Christians being fooled by certain philosophical viewpoints masquerading as “advancing science”. The problem is that in most cases it isn’t science that’s advancing, but the worst form of scientism that is being advanced.
Yes, let us indeed try to accept scientific knowledge when it is relevant to apologetics or certain theological applications, but in doing so, let us be certain that we are speaking of real science, and not the pseudoscientific arguments of militant atheist preachers of fake science.
The good news is that if we are careful and rigorous, we will find that discernment of what is real and what is fake is not terribly difficult. Because God did in fact create the world, and does in fact continue to sustain and maintain the evolutionary and creative process – as He continues to guide each of us – so the evidence of His work is there to be discovered. I suggest boldness rather that retreat. Science is not to be feared but revered: it is the method God has given us to uncover His mysterious world.
And let’s never forget that the knowledge we have gained of this world, by His grace, includes not only the laws of motion, mechanics, and physiology, but the mysteries of quantum mechanics, the observer effect, Godel’s theorem, fractals, the uncertainty principle and photosynthesis, to name a few. Real science is consonant with God’s glory and majesty. Real science points us to the Creator, and not away from Him. Real science is a boon and an aid to theology, and we must not make the mistake of rejecting the reality of God’s words and works for the sake of trying to accommodate a science that isn’t real.
I will close with a Jewish folk tale. A poor old couple, who had no food and no money arrived home on the Sabbath to find a table magically spread with golden plates piled with food and silver goblets of wine. The woman told her husband to touch nothing. “This is the work of Satan”, she said. They went to consult the Rabbi, who told them. “It may be the work of Satan, or it may be a miracle from God”.
“But how can we tell, Rabbi?”
“Taste the wine, and try some of the food. If it’s real, and its good, then it’s a miracle of God, for all things that are real in this world are from God, while Satan makes only falsehoods.”
I wonder how we got to the place where a mere scientific measurement (which will be revised as knowledge of the genome grows) gets be be taken as authoritative not only for philosophy but theology, and by the theologians themselves. Religious scientism is the worst kind!
On the chimp genome, I think it was Conor Cunningham who said something along the lines that if the chimp and human genomes are almost identical, it doesn’t mena that chimps and humans are almost identical, because they’re self evidently NOT. It just means you’re looking for the differences in the wrong place.
I like that term religious scientism, and will definitely steal it. I am currently working with a group of pastors, and theologians who suffer from this malady. I think it can be dangerous for the faith.
Sy, could it be something to do with a custom that one should never question what other specialisations conclude “in their own discipline”? “If the biologists say apes = humans, then we theologians must work with it.” I had that impression reading, eg, R J Russell’s summary of the “divine action” research program, as if any field of study is insulated from the questioning of those not “in the guild”.
The trouble is (apart from a touching belief in the infallibility of academics in their own fields) the question of juman exceptionalism is not a biological issue, and they ought to be able to discern when biologists are drawing metaphysical conclusions.
On the other hand, maybe it’s just a lazy failure to engage the science in any depth, like those theologians who take “the selfish gene” as as slam dunk explanation of sin by treating it far more literally even than Dawkins does.
I think its both, but especially the lazy part. When I hear Krauss talking about how simple it is for the universe to arise from nothing with no need for any creator, i know he is wrong, but I am too “lazy” (or perhaps just old and tired) to actually learn the physics to understand what he saying. luckily, one can read other cosmologists who take a very different view. But I do think that many theologians, and perhaps a few philosophers are a bit too enamoured of the academic credentials of “real paid scientists” and their pronouncements. Or even of not such real scientists who affirm that “Science says” something with great confidence, and reference to the original (non peer reviewed) web site.
Looking for difference in the wrong places – an excellent answer,Jon. And how often we look for so many things in the wrong places.
Sheila – it all began with trying to get private tuition in wisdom from a snake…
Jon, Juman makes perfect sense. It clearly refers to the time when Abraham began his covenant with God and became the first of the Hebrews, or the first Juman.
Fantastic pun (and fantastic post!). Hope the New Year is going well!
Great piece. And amen. I think that a big problem, and one that I’ve seen in my own past, is that critical thinking isn’t encouraged as much as it should be, and therefore too many people just accept everything as fact that comes from “experts” in a particular field. I think it’s good for us to apply a healthy skepticism and to always bear in mind the margin of human error when addressing these topics.
That’s right Ethan. But I have to say that sometimes I get just as worked up when people refuse to believe anything that experts say. Like when YECs start in on how biologists are not really experts on evolution. But, that’s for another post.
I hear ya. That’s been a huge issue in our political landscape as of late. It’s like people love to occupy the extremes on both ends and either believe too much without questioning or reject anything that’s contrary to their views. Or maybe those types of mentalities just get the most media coverage. Either way, may I suggest that we need more humility in how we handle information and how we handle opposition. Pride seems to be at the heart of the extremes.
Absolutely. Very wise comment, thanks.