March 29, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Secular Scientists Rely on Biblical Values

It’s a material world, except when you need truth, justice, and the scientific way.

Secular scientists (including journal editors and reporters) like to position themselves as the wise men of modernity. They dish out simplified philosophy for the lay people. They say when it’s time to express moral outrage. They have a mechanical method in a material universe that puts religion in the dust of their rear-view mirror. But every once in awhile, when they feel the need for values, they implicitly cite the Ten Commandments for authority, but without attribution.

It’s the Law: Live Science likes to play teacher about philosophy of science: e.g., What is a hypothesis? What is a theory? What is a law? That’s been the latest offering. In “What is a law in science?” Alina Bradford dishes out a fairly customary logical-positivist rendition, the kind we learned in middle school, i.e.: laws are out there in the world; they are discovered by scientists, but scientists can revise them as they get more precise measurements; they do not say why or how things happen, just that they do happen; and they are usually expressed in mathematical terms. All fine and good, but more interesting questions are ignored: such as, Are laws mere patterns in experience (the empirical view), or are they natural mandates (the realist view)? In other words, do laws of nature only describe what happens, or do they make things happen? Both views have their drawbacks. The empirical view cannot guarantee the law will hold tomorrow, due to the riddles of induction pointed out by David Hume, Bertrand Russell and Nelson Riddle. The realist view, on the other hand, opens up the can of worms (for the secularist), “Who is the Lawgiver?”

Tacit knowledge: Demonstrating once again that the “scientific method” is not an impersonal, mechanical crank anybody can operate to output knowledge (3/11/15), Science Magazine pointed out the value of intuition and creative insight in scientific discovery. Reviewing Sanjoy Majahan’s new book, The Art of Insight in Science and Engineering: Mastering Complexity, Sybil Derrible was glad to see its renewed focus on the human element in science. She appreciated Majahan’s accounts of scientists who could “see the forest for the trees” without getting bogged down in data. It recalls Michael Polanyi’s emphasis on “tacit knowledge,” a skill that some people innately have more than others, but that can be improved by practice. “Senior undergraduate and graduate students will likely enjoy the book because it encourages them to think beyond the equation, and it may help build mental connections between many concepts learned in classes.” Those sound like mental actions that surpass the abilities of an evolved, material brain.

White liesPhysOrg noted how easy it is for researchers to tweak their experiments in order to get them published. “P-hacking” is a new term for fudging the significance of a finding so that it appears statistically significant. Scientists may “unknowingly tweak” their results, because they know that exciting, sensational findings tend to get noticed by journal editors, while null results are boring. The solution? Greater awareness of the problem and its dangers. But that implies that people will have the moral courage to obey their consciences and do the right thing.

Scientific integrity: Marcia McNutt, editor of Science Magazine, mounted the pulpit in her editorial this week, “Integrity—not just a federal issue.” After bemoaning numerous ethical lapses in Big Science recently, she encouraged states to follow the federal government’s lead and enact “integrity policies.” One can almost hear “Thou shalt not bear false witness” in the background. But will a printed policy guarantee integrity among evolved apes who got where they are by natural selection?

Join my drumbeat: Secularists who deny the existence of moral absolutes sure like to beat their own drums. Science Daily posted results of a study in Nature Climate Change about how IPCC reports are being perceived, and what steps could be taken to “frame” them more effectively. The undertone is that people “should” believe the IPCC reports because skepticism about them is wrong. Meanwhile, Nature published a “Worldview” column by Nicole D. LaDue advocating that scientists “Help to fight the battle for Earth in US schools.” Those are just two recent examples of a common occurrence in otherwise stodgily secularist science journals: moral advocacy for a cause worth fighting for.

Thanks, god; you can leave now: New Scientist likes spicy headlines. Try this one: “Should we thank god for civilization?” Readers know that New Scientist is strongly secularist. The headline is a teaser to acknowledge that religion played a historical role in organizing ancient people into cities—examples being Gobekli Tepe in Turkey (3/10/09), and the capital city of Ceibel among the Mayans. The “ceremony first” model proposes that religious ritual brought hunter-gatherers together, sparking the rise of civilization. That was then; do we need gods today? The answer is predictable:

Some secularists dislike the idea that spiritual needs drove the rise of civilisation. They fret that it will reinforce or restore religion’s central place in society. But just because spirituality may have led to civilisation, it doesn’t follow that it should lead it now. If religion did have an early founding role, we must acknowledge this, learn from it – and move on.

So good-bye god(s); we can handle it from here. But this attitude leaves the question hanging: Did ancient people really have spiritual needs? What are spiritual needs? Are they manifestations of atoms in brain circuits, or do people really possess a spirit that can be deprived? If so, do moderns have spiritual needs, too? Other questions are waiting in the wings: How does a secularist know what a spiritual need is? Does secularism fulfill the role of a spiritual need? Why “fret” over the idea that religion once had a central place in society (and perhaps should now)? Doesn’t that imply a sense of values?

Since materialism is a self-refuting belief system, it’s an act of charity to point that out to them.


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  • tjguy says:

    About scientific integrity, I read the article/editorial by Mary McDuff in Science Magazine referenced in the article.

    I found it extremely interesting that the two examples of lack of integrity she showcased both had to do with anti-climate change people. Presumably McDuff is a strong proponent of climate change.

    What was lacking though were examples of those who attribute climate change to humans – the famous hockey stick graph, the e-mail scandals, Al Gore’s now famous claims, etc.

    I wonder why she only gave examples from one side!

    Also, I wonder why she didn’t give examples of lack of integrity from regular scientists who are not even dealing with climate change, an issue where many believe the exact cause of which is still inconclusive.

    There are plenty of examples where papers had to be retracted, lies were documented in publications, etc.

  • rockyway says:

    “If religion did have an early founding role, we must acknowledge this, learn from it – and move on.”

    Must? Why ‘must’ material objects in a meaningless, impersonal universe obey the moral commands of other material objects… and how can this make any sense?

    – There can’t be freedom in a purely materialist universe… but yet materialists refuse to admit this, and continue to give us sermons on how we must change and begin to act in ways that please them.

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