When Spirituality Intersects Science
Who saved the Ebola-stricken doctor, God or science? What is science’s take on whether to flee or fight terrorism? Why should a scientist be honest?
When scientists report news that intersects religion, they sometimes don’t know how to frame the questions. Some examples point out the issues involved.
Who saved Nancy Writebol? Live Science reported the testimony of Nancy Writebol, the humanitarian worker stricken with Ebola in west Africa who survived when flown for treatment to Atlanta’s well-equipped hospital. They quoted her own feelings about her recovery:
“I just want to express first of all my appreciation to the lord [sic, Lord] for his grace, for his mercy, and for his saving of my life,” Writebol said.
An earlier article on Live Science headlined that Dr. Kent Brantley, the other Ebola survivor flown to the Emory hospital from Africa, said “God saved my life.” It was a “miraculous day,” he felt, when he walked out of the hospital after surviving the deadly disease.
These articles led to lively comments about what saved them: God, medicine, or luck. So far, about 1,700 Africans did not survive the disease, and only time will tell if Dr. Rick Sacra, at the time of this writing being flown to a hospital in Nebraska, survives.
Maybe it’s not a question of which cause was the effective cause, but which combination of causes. Writebol said,
“I’m often asked what saved me,” Writebol said. “Was it the ZMapp, was it the supportive care? Was it the Liberian or U.S. medical people? Or was it your faith? And my answer to that question is all of the above.“
Suffer or fight? National Geographic reported on the quandary of Christians in Iraq deciding whether to fight the Islamic terrorists who threaten to exterminate them. Having already suffered genocide-scale losses in their homeland (a Christian base for at least 1,600 years), they are opting to join forces with the Kurds:
The Peshmerga are the official forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government [with whom some Christians are joining]. It is the first such action by Iraqi Christians since some Christians fought briefly alongside the Kurds against Saddam Hussein….
“We keep talking about Jesus and peace, and now we’ve reached the point where it’s not enough,” he [Henry Sarkis, spokesman for the Assyrian Patriotic Party] said in an interview at his party’s headquarters in Dahuk. “The age of waiting for the Peshmerga to take back territory while we sit is over. We took the decision that, with our limited abilities, we will try to participate.“
The decision marks a “significant shift” in the thinking of Iraqi Christians, who have largely been seen as “passive victims” of Islamic aggression since attacks against them starting increasing in 2003. They want to be seen not as aggressors, but as protectors of their homeland. “Before 2003, Iraq held about 1.5 million Christians. The number today is fewer than 500,000,” the article mentions.
The value of Dad: In “Dad is important for his children’s development,” Science Daily reports that “A sensitive and attentive father has a positive influence on his child’s development” — a headline that would agree with the Biblical view of the family. But then the article qualifies the agreement, saying, “but only if he spends a considerable amount of time with the child during its first year, research shows.” Does that mean his influence stops on the first birthday? Is Dad free to leave after that?
The Bible commands parents to bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Fathers clearly have a vital role throughout their children’s life, even into adulthood, in both Jewish and Christian Scriptures; the book of Proverbs, for instance, contains lengthy admonitions from fathers to sons about illicit sex, something that would only be appropriate for sons in puberty years. How could science say otherwise? Does science even understand what is obvious to most parents? One of the “researchers” said, “I was very surprised to find gender differences at such an early stage.”
Does science “get” human exceptionalism? Michael Balter in Science Now talks about the amazing fact that “Humans are generally highly cooperative and often impressively altruistic, quicker than any other animal species to help out strangers in need.” He tries, though, to show that this behavior has roots in animal ancestry, rooting human altruism in things like “cooperative breeding” (or “it takes a village”) observed in some animals and birds. He points to experiments with monkeys that appeared to show a relationship between cooperative breeding and willingness to help another monkey obtain food, but admits, “cooperative breeding may be only one of a number of explanations for why humans evolved altruistic, highly cooperative behavior.” Another anthropologist cautioned that “it was not just one magic factor like cooperative breeding that made us what we are.” Sarah Hrdy, inventor of the cooperative breeding hypothesis in the 1990s, though appreciating the new experiments, admits she is still at a loss to explain human uniqueness: “But we still have a long ways to go to explain why humans are so interested in the thoughts and feelings, intentions, and needs and desires of others.”
When did it start? Occasionally there are suggestions that human ancestors possessed “cognitive skills” farther back than previously thought. One study presented in Science Daily suggested that the manufacture of stone-tipped spears by members of Homo some 500,000 years ago (long before modern humans or even Neanderthals were thought to have appeared) “may represent the origin of new cognitive and social development in our human ancestors.” What kind of mutation would cause that? Another highly-publicized finding suggests that Neanderthals had art (e.g., see BBC News for story and photo). Clive Finlayson’s team found etchings on the floor of a Gibraltar cave that appear to show aesthetic leanings thousands of years before alleged “modern humans” could have taught them cave art classes.
Thank science? Can there be a science of gratitude? Medical Xpress reports on a study that found that saying “thank you” goes beyond friendliness or appreciation; it “facilitates the initiation of new relationships among previously unacquainted people.” That, however appears to be selfishness rather than genuine gratitude. Can a scientist say anything beyond observing whether the mechanical saying of “thank you” results in differences in relationships? How would those traits be encoded in the genes of gametes?
Mend the mind: Another report in Medical Xpress reports that “mindfulness-based depression therapy reduces health care visits.” What is it? “Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is a structured form of psychotherapy that combines elements of cognitive-behaviour therapy with mindfulness meditation,” the article says. It’s usually administered in groups, and involves talking with patients as if you care for them, or prescribing meditation, rather than prescribing drugs, for instance. This kind of therapy presupposes that minds are real, as opposed to the materialist view that behavior is just a phenomenon of the material brain. While the results are interesting for acknowledging “mindfulness,” did the researchers ever consider sharing God’s grace and mercy as presented in the gospel of Christ with the depressed? How would that rate? How could it be measured?
Thou shalt not lie in the lab: Nature had two articles about the importance of integrity for science. One was titled, “The cost of misconduct.” Another, “Lies have consequences.” Here’s the world’s premiere science journal getting a little “preachy” to its constituents. Does science need any other of the Ten Commandments to function? How about “Thou shalt not covet” thy neighbor’s priority or Nobel Prize? or “Thou shalt not steal” thy colleague’s data? What mutation built those behaviors into the hominid brain?
Science needs all the commandments, starting with “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” Boot the Darwin idol out the temple of science; let God be true, but every man a liar. Theology doesn’t need science; science needs theology. Science is actually intended to be a subset of the human responsibility as stewards of God’s creation. That’s because stewardship requires understanding the natural world so as to care for it effectively to the glory of God. Since the understanding was darkened by the Fall, it is corrupt in its motivations and goals, even though secular scientists bump into the truth once in awhile. Without conscience and the image of God, humans would be dumb brutes caring nothing about understanding. Science was born out of a Judeo-Christian world view, is coasting along on that world view, but is rapidly becoming brutish again as man relies on his own understanding. One cannot get integrity out of material forces or unguided natural processes.