Posted tagged ‘science’

A Cosmic Wrench in Our Power Grid

June 26, 2018


The podcast, Unbelievable, with host, Justin Brierley, is becoming a favorite food for thought. I just listened to Steven Pinker vs Nick Spencer: Have science, reason & humanism replaced faith? Pinker is an atheist professor of Psychology from Harvard, and Spencer is billed as a member of “the Christian think tank, Theos”. The subject was “Pinker’s recent book ‘Enlightenment Now’, addressing his claim that science, reason and humanism are the drivers of progress in the world, not religion”.

As with most of the episodes I have listened to, this one was a very civil and respectful “debate”, really more of a dialogue, on the respective points of view. This civility and respect sets Unbelievable apart from more reactive “discussions” of controversial topics.

In this particular discussion, the focus was on Pinker’s optimistic view of humanism bolstered by science and technology echoing the familiar theme that we are progressing as a species as we free ourselves from religion with the aid of science and technology carrying us forward. Pinker minimizes the influence of religion on the enlightenment and the sudden advancement of science that accompanied it, while Spencer argued that the influence of religion is what fundamentally motivated and shaped those movements.

Spencer agreed with much that Pinker says about the progress of modern man, though he disagrees that science has shaped the moral advances we have experienced. He says that the value of the individual and sanctity of human rights is at heart a religious concept. He even points out that Pinker has to resort to the religious term, sacred, to describe these concepts as some evidence of the religious influence.

I have long toyed with the notion that we are not as advanced, morally, as we think ourselves. The 20th Century was the bloodiest of all centuries. Characteristic of the 20th Century was the genocidal bloodshed and cruelty of the atheist regimes under Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot and others. Some would add Hitler to the hit list of atheist genocidal despots, but that point is often argued, with religionists foisting Hitler on the atheists, and the atheists pushing him back on the religionists.

Hitler is somewhat of an enigma, generating an almost religious following marked by a personality that modeled a religion-like fervor. Pinker and Spencer debated whether Hitler was influenced by Darwinism, with Pinker countering that Hitler despised Darwin.

Though the truth of Hitler’s motivations my remain a mystery, and despite the unprecedented genocides perpetuated in the 20th Century, Spencer agreed with Pinker that we have progressed morally into the 21st Century. We generally exhibit a higher morality, however you slice it, (at least in the western world) in modern times than ever before, and this higher morality tracks scientific and technological progress.

As the two men carried on the conversation about the relative influences of religion and scientific and technological advancement on that progress, some thoughts occurred to me that I hadn’t considered before. I would agree with Spencer that religion (principally Judeo-Christian principles in the west) has largely carried us to this place where, ironically, we are finding no more need of God.

This perspective, also, flows from those same Judeo-Christian roots that holds out human pride as the principal problem (sin) of humankind. Having achieved a degree of independence and comfort through the advancement of technology, we believe “can do this” on our own (to paraphrase the testosterone influenced enthusiasm of my former teenage boys).

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Discussion on Science and the Bible

June 16, 2018

Michael Gillan Interview with Jeff Zweerink

Since I was in college and first read the Bible in a world religion class, I have found the Bible to be uniquely layered in its meaning and personally intimate at the same time. It was like no other book I read, and still is.

I read the Bible for the first time in a World Religion class, so I read it in light of and comparison to the other major world religion texts. In that comparative study, I found the Bible to be exceptional in its depth of meaning, intricacy and nuance.

My religion professor took the position (I later found out) that all roads lead to the top of the same mountain. He didn’t favor one text over another, least of all the Bible. He presented all the texts to be read on their own merit, letting them “speak for themselves”.

This is the way I approached them. I was a seeker, not knowing where truth was to be found, but assuming that all world religions contained nuggets of the ore. I viewed philosophy and great literature the same way, seeing them as deposits of truth to be explored and mined for their value.

I have to say that I found myself becoming a bit of a skeptic about science. I now understand that the skepticism would have been more appropriately leveled at scientists, who often acted (and apparently believed) as if science has a corner on truth and that all truth should be viewed through a scientific lens.

I have since learned that this “scientism” is a caricature – an exaltation of science beyond the scope and limitations of science and what we can and should expect of science. Science is the study of the natural world – matter, energy and motion. Science cannot tell us why we appreciate beauty, for instance, or even what beauty is.

But, I have also learned that science is beautiful in itself. Science unveils some of the most beautiful and wondrous facets of the universe we live in.  That we can even “do” science is beautiful and wondrous in itself!

Following is an interesting interchange between physicists about science and the Bible. I hope you enjoy it as much as a I did.

Inspiration or Artifice? Faith and Reason

December 7, 2017

From a presentation by Francis Collins at the Veritas Forum at the California Institute of Technology

Take a close look at the two images. What do they represent? We might say that one image represents science and the other represents religion (or faith). But which is which?

The images are similar, but one of them is manmade, and the other is something we find in nature. Do you know which is which? Is the manmade image the scientific one or the spiritual one?

I will answer these questions; at least I will answer them as they were described in a presentation given by Francis Collins, the manager of the Human Genome Project, at a Veritas Forum at Caltech University in 2009. In the process, we will explore the chief question examined by this eminent scientist: whether science and faith are compatible.

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An Inkling of Transcendence: Lewis and Tolkien

October 8, 2017

Despoitphotos Image ID: 121201272 Copyright: chrisdorney

“[His] father had taught him to absorb doubt and disbelief into his beliefs.”

This statement from the book, Inklings, by Humphrey Carpenter, is spoken of Charles Williams, who was a regular participant in the informal discussion group, the Inklings, formed by CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien at the University of Oxford, England. The group met at various times in Lewis’s classroom and a local pub from the late 1930’s to 1949. Charles Williams was an early member of the group and continued as a regular until his death in 1945. Williams grew up “a devout churchman” but was encouraged by his father “to appreciate the force of atheistic rationalism and to admire such men as Voltaire and Tom Paine”.

Lewis, of course, was an atheist when he arrived and began teaching at Oxford. His journey from materialism to agnosticism to Christian theism is chronicled in his autobiographical work, Surprised by Joy. Tolkien was already a Christian when Lewis joined him as a professor at Oxford, and Tolkien influenced Lewis in his transition to Christianity. Williams came along later. These men were attracted to each other as much by their love of language, literature and poetry as their faith, though their views on literature and faith often diverged sharply.

These three men, and others who joined them, were powerhouses of thought and creativity. CS Lewis, of course, wrote many books from fiction to philosophy. JRR Tolkien wrote, perhaps, the greatest mythological series of the 20th century in the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Charles Williams, though lesser known, was a prolific writer, literary critic, publisher and student of English literature who could recite hundreds of passages from sheer memory.

They influenced each other, despite their very distinct differences, and their collective influence has been felt by generations from their day to ours. They were Christian men, believing very authentically in the Bible as scripture, but they were also fierce academics who held their faith up to the rigors of intellectual exercise.

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Is the Bible Scientifically Accurate?

September 14, 2017

Photo taken of friends at a church in Missouri viewing the eclipse

I listened to a presentation by Jon Jorgenson on Science vs. the Bible in which he addressed the question whether the Bible has any scientific errors. Jon’s YouTube channel is aimed at teenagers and young adults, and he is a prolific producer of inspirational and devotional material.

He acknowledges, the answer, literally, is yes. For instance, in Genesis, the author describes the Moon as a “lesser light”, but we know the Moon is not technically a light. It doesn’t generate light of its own like the Sun.

Another example is the parable of the mustard seed. Jesus calls the mustard seed the smallest of all seeds. We know that there are other seeds in the world that are smaller than mustard seeds.

For these reasons, we cannot honestly say that the Bible, on its face, taken literally, is scientifically accurate. It simply isn’t.

Jon offers that we shouldn’t expect the Bible to be scientifically accurate because it isn’t meant to be.  2 Timothy 3:16 states: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”. (NASB) From this, he makes the point that the Bible is written for a different purpose.

Still, one might ask, doesn’t the God of the universe know these things? Why doesn’t He get the facts right?!

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Turning Idols toward God: the Human Intellect

August 30, 2017

Depositphotos Image ID: 20592505 copyright: olly18

Human beings can make idols out of anything, including making an idol of human intellect/mind. As with all created things, the human intellect is limited, finite and utterly unable to save us from our human condition, but many people, nevertheless, put their faith in the human intellect. This is ultimately idolatry when we trust in our own intellect instead of trusting in God.

Putting our faith in our own intellect is also, ultimately, foolish. What do we know that God doesn’t know? What can see understand that God doesn’t understand? Relying on ourselves in this way, to the exclusion of relying of God, is (to put it mildly) short-sighted. It is sin, to put it bluntly.

It is the same mistake that Eve made in the garden when the serpent tempted her by saying “you will be like God”![1] We want to be our own gods, relying on our own intellect.

This basic prideful condition, which is the essence of sin, is why “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise”.[2] Of course, “the wisdom of this world is foolishness” to God.”[3] As Isaiah says:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.

For these reasons, and others perhaps, Christians today tend to distrust science, worldly thinking, philosophy and even the mind, itself. Christians have all but abandoned the world of science, philosophy and the intellect to secular institutions and minds, and this is a terrible mistake!

Christians are reluctant to acknowledge science. Christians are fearful of philosophy. Christians are even distrustful of their own minds. Many Christians have abdicated the realm of the intellect to modern culture and secular institutions. But here’s the thing: this is sinful too!

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When Scientists Stray From Science

August 23, 2017

Depositphotos Image ID: 151533714 Copyright: avemario

Methodological naturalism is the basic approach of science. Since science is the study of the natural world, the methodology of science is limited to the parameters of the natural world. Methodological naturalism is theologically neutral.

So what does that mean?

On a very fundamental level, it simply means that science is the study of the natural world, and, therefore, science is limited to naturalistic methodology. Science is limited to the observations of matter, energy, space, and time.

Another way of putting it is that science has no preoccupation with anything that is super natural. Science is limited to a focus on the natural world. Science doesn’t bother itself with anything but the natural world (though scientists might stray beyond it).

None of this should be in the least bit earth-shattering. Confusion arises, however, when we begin discussing the supernatural, the metaphysical, the theological, and even the philosophical realms in relation to science.

There are those scientists, for instance, who have recently suggested that the advance of science today has done away with the necessity of philosophy. People like Lawrence Krauss and Neil deGrasse Tyson have made statements like that, though they have both backed off of those initial statements more recently. It’s important to understand that those statements, themselves, are philosophical in nature, and not scientific.

To suggest that science has done away with necessity for philosophy is to ignore the limitations placed on science in its very methodology. Science, itself, is not philosophical, but evidence from science can support premises that are philosophical, and scientists themselves draw philosophical conclusions from scientific facts.

Science may inform philosophy, but it can never replace philosophy. To think otherwise is to exalt science beyond its natural parameters (pun intended) and to fail to appreciate the difference between science and philosophy.

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Malcolm Guite

Blog for poet and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite

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