Scientists Get Religion Wrong While Eyeing Takeover
To usurp religion, a scientist would need to know both his target and his resources.
Religion comes up in science news almost as often as politics. This is odd, when most people think science should be neutral on such things. Not so; some scientists have a superiority complex on these matters outside their domain, thinking they can take the place of religion and tell politicians how to make policy. To do that, though, they would need to understand religion, science, and the relationship between them. Is that even possible without stepping outside of science? Let’s examine some recent science news articles on religion.
Putting Adam in his rightful place: It was nice of two geneticists to say Adam and Eve met (see “Well, duh; Adam and Eve were contemporaries,” 8/08/13), but they judge the “rightful” place of Adam is 230,000 years ago in “evolutionary history,” reported PhysOrg. Since no one has seen “evolutionary history,” it would seem that documentation might carry more weight as evidence, but no; movie fiction trumped Genesis. Referring to that great scientist Marty in Back to the Future, they confessed that “The question to what extend [sic] did our humans forbearers [sic] interbreed with their closest relatives is one of the hottest questions in anthropology that remains open.”
Darwinists for altruism: Another attempt to evolutionize self-sacrificing love was put forth by two scientists on PhysOrg. To them, the source of love is not God (I John 4:7-8) but natural selection. Some of the commenters seemed to have more insight than the scientists: one pointed out the difference between the Bible’s agape love and mere self-sacrifice for the good of a population, quoting Paul’s treatise in I Corinthians 13:1-3.
Correlation without causation: Scientists can sometimes miss the cause focusing on the effect. Another PhysOrg article is titled, “Visits to place of worship linked to lower levels of criminality.” A researcher found that the positive social effect has less to do with doctrine than fellowship: “religious practice is just one way of gaining exposure to the pro-social behavioural norms that are at the heart of this relationship; other, more secular, activities may equally serve a similar role.” In other words, he opined that atheist clubs could provide the same benefit. Perhaps so, but can all worldviews reduce criminality? What of those that find pleasure in terrorism? By focusing on one external factor, perhaps he missed the primary cause.
Religiosity in the brain: You know what the answer will be from the rhetorical question in the title of this article on Medical Xpress, “Do brain connections help shape religious beliefs?” The Pavlovian response from decades of indoctrination in “scientific” outlooks on religion is what the article provides: “a new study has found that causal, directional connections between these brain networks can be linked to differences in religious thought.” The problems with the “findings” of this study, though, are twofold: (1) the study could be confusing causation with correlation, and (2) the conclusions do not go far enough. Perhaps there are “causal, directional connections” between “brain networks” and differences in scientific thought. That would undermine any claims of epistemic superiority for the assumed “scientific” explanation. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, the distinction should not be between scientific thought and unscientific thought, but between logical and illogical thought.
Religious war: Another presumed white-lab-coated, objective psychologist decided that “religious infusion” produces conflict. “Does religion turn weak groups violent?” is another rhetorical headline with a Pavlovian answer: “there’s something about a group being religiously infused that seems to make it feel somewhat invulnerable to the potential costs imposed by stronger groups, and makes it more likely to engage in costly conflict.” That’s rather slippery language for science. Certainly many exceptions could be found throughout history. It also sanitizes “conflict” of any reasoning behind it other than group imagination, undermining, for instance, any rationale for the Declaration of Independence with its self-evident truths and empirical list of usurpations. The psychologist was altruistic enough to tone down his generality with a peace pipe: “Not all religiously infused weak groups engage in conflict.” But the missing question was the extent to which irreligion can produce conflict, too. Weren’t the deadliest regimes in history the atheist dictatorships of the communists? (11/30/05). Human beings can be devious lab rats (1/22/14); there are certainly many factors that could elude a scientist, convincing him of his own rationality while demonstrating his susceptibility to fallacious reasoning.
In the image of Darwin: A reviewer on New Scientist gave a positive book review without swallowing its claims uncritically; but the title of the book he reviewed is rather audacious: The Gap: The science of what separates us from other animals, by Thomas Suddendorf. No Imago Dei in this tome: just science, if you please. Suddendorf’s premise, however, seems misdirected: “The answer to the question of why we appear so different from other animals is that all closely related species have become extinct.” Surely this begs the question at hand. He asked “why” we are different, not “if” we are different, which is patently obvious – but then places the “why” in the gap, where no data exist. That cannot be answered by crows that make tools and gorillas that fart (things that amused the reviewer). What makes Suddendorf the explainer, and New Scientist the reviewer?
The science of afterlife: A further audacious usurpation of religion is seen in Live Science‘s entry, “What Happens When You Die?” Scientists can certainly make observations of the body, but Elizabeth Palermo rules out anyone but scientists, the new authorities on the afterlife: “There’s only one group of people who really know what happens when you die: the dead,” she says. “And since the dead won’t be revealing their secrets anytime soon, it’s up to scientists to explain what happens when a person dies.” Why is it up to scientists? Didn’t Jesus Christ have something to say about that? Didn’t He provide some observational evidence to back it up, being seen by many eyewitnesses after rising from the dead? Palermo did not even consider such evidence, applying, instead, her grasp of possibility thinking to toss out some possibilities for naturalizing near-death experiences (NDEs): “Some studies claim that NDEs are just another form of lucid dreaming, while others link these experiences to oxygen deprivation in the brain.” Well, then, that’s that. End of story. A clever gadfly might ask if lucid dreaming could cause belief in scientism.
The science of prelife: Not content with the science of afterlife, Science Daily turned its scientific method on prelife. “Belief in immortality hard-wired?” the headline blares with another Pavlovian bell quickly satisfied with doggie treat: “Study examines development of children’s ‘prelife’ reasoning.” Well, if it’s a “study,” one must pay attention to it, even at the cost of ignoring a thousand sermons (ministers never “study” anything, do they?—q.v. II Timothy 2:15). Step aside, pastor; science is here. “By examining children’s ideas about ‘prelife,’ the time before conception, researchers found results which suggest that our bias toward immortality is a part of human intuition that naturally emerges early in life,” the article explains. “And the part of us that is eternal, we believe, is not our skills or ability to reason, but rather our hopes, desires and emotions.” But is this not another question-begging statement masquerading as a scientific explanation? What should be of interest is not that children think they are immortal, but why that is so. Could not the issue be framed thus: “because children (as well as all humans) are in fact immortal, it’s only natural they should envision themselves to be so.” The psychologists were blind to their own bias on the subject, assuming that beliefs about immortality “while nonscientific, are natural and deep-seated.” That’s why they wanted to investigate “the cognitive roots of religion.” But should something that is “natural” be presumed “nonscientific”? Doesn’t science deal with nature? Alas, their slip was showing again. Our clever gadfly retorts with a counter-question, “What are the cognitive roots of scientism (the assumption that only science can answer all questions)?” It was convenient for these “study” authors to restrict their study to children rather than mature theologians with PhDs.
Bubba Buddha, Science Buddy: “How far can a Buddhist approach to biology take us?“, Michael Bond asked on New Scientist in a friendly review of David Barash’s new book, Buddhist Biology: Ancient Eastern wisdom meets modern Western science. Christianity never got such a pleasant reception on a science site as the religion that spends most of its time denying reality. While noting that reincarnation is “blatantly unscientific,” Barash and Bond find a lot of common ground: (1) a focus on the fixed self, (2) the belief that all things are in a state of flux, and (3) interconnectedness (which Barash says is the ground of ecology). “Barash’s preferred solution to this uniquely human conundrum is to coalesce aspects of biology, Buddhism and existentialism into a kind of manifesto to live by,” Bond writes of this “sophisticated analysis“. But if either of them practiced their manifesto the way many Buddhists do (lighting candles before idols), it seems science would never find Nirvana.
Update 2/02/14: Creation Ministries International posted an article, “Buddha, science and Jesus” by a former Buddhist.
Are you learning how to respond to irrational claims? It’s worth memorizing C.S. Lewis’s perceptive analysis of science:
The physical sciences, then, depend on the validity of logic just as much as metaphysics or mathematics. If popular thought feels ‘science’ to be different from all other kinds of knowledge because science is experimentally verifiable, popular thought is mistaken. Experimental verification is not a new kind of assurance coming in to supply the deficiencies of mere logic. We should therefore abandon the distinction between scientific and non-scientific thought. The proper distinction is between logical and non-logical thought.
Laymen should stop standing in awe of the cultural shamans of our day (the prophets of scientism) and exercise their right to evaluate their claims logically, even if they can’t follow the jargon that often acts as a smokescreen. The “studies” above with their alleged “findings” are full of logical fallacies, smokescreens and miscellaneous baloney. Especially prominent is “begging the question” and sidestepping – making statements that dodge the real issues. Also prominent are glittering generalities, suggestion, and self-refutation: offering “explanations” that undermine their own premises. Arching above is a pervasive air of pride as they position themselves far above “religion” – a term they despise as they worship their Bearded Buddha.
Be bold! This is arrogance. Scientism-ists have no grounds for exempting themselves from the human race (the set of lab rats they experiment on – see Yoda Complex). As they draw a circle around the “religious,” they fail to notice we can draw a bigger one around them. Consider Edwin Markham’s famous lines, “He drew a circle that shut me out— heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win: we drew a circle and took him in.” Tough love doesn’t let a fool remain in his folly in a Yoda costume. Help take his latex costume off and bring the fool into the human race with you, so that you can talk rationally face to face.