Saturday, January 31, 2009

Four Models

In the last post, I mentioned four models for the interaction between religion and science. A reader asked what those four models are. Actually, what I shared in class that night was four categories of models, as outlined by Ian Barbour. They are: Conflict modles, Independence models, Dialogue models, and Integration models.

Conflict models are those that hold that either science is right and religion wrong or (a particular) religion is right and science is (almost entirely) wrong. Examples of the first would be Richard Dawkins and other 'New Atheists,' whereas some 'biblicists' and fideists would adopt the latter view. In class this week, I'll be examining the 'conflict thesis,' the popular but erroneous view that religion (specifically Christianity) has always impeded scientific progress. We'll see, of course, that just the opposite is true--that it was within a Christian worldview that modern science was uniquely birthed, and that Judeo-Christianity provides the necessary philosophical assumptions that make scientific endeavor worthwhile.

Independence models are those that see science and religion as completely separate as to their subject matter and their methodology. Scientific proponents of these models would include Eugenie Scott (spokesperson for the National Center for Science Education) and the late Stephen Jay Gould, the Harvard paleontologist who formalized this view with his idea that science and religion occupy "non-overlapping magisteria" or NOMA. An example of a religious proponent of an independence model would be theologian Karl Barth. Most philosophers of science would reject independence models, since a closer examination shows that science and religion (especially, say, Christianity) share a great deal of subject matter and methodology, and that almost no one is really willing to compartmentalize their life according to such models.

That leaves (as the only live options) Dialogue models and Integration models, which differ only in the degree of overlap (between science and religion) that they acknowledge. Dialogue models would see less overlap, with the two disciplines sharing information mainly about methods and establishing boundaries. Integration models (some form of which I take to be the most accurate) see a great deal of commonality between the methods and the subject matter of science and religion (at least if the religion in view is Judaism or Christianity).

Hope that helps (thanks for asking, Jordan).

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Science and the Bible

Tonight I begin teaching a 14-week class at Kilns College titled "Science and the Bible." I'm really looking forward to it. In this first, introductory, class we'll be looking at 4 models for the relationship between science and religion, and then we'll examine the Christian doctrine of dual revelation. This should set the stage for a semester of examining both the Scriptural and scientific evidence with regard to some of the controversial issues of our day. Sounds fun, eh?

Friday, January 23, 2009

How Science Works

I've read the same illegitimate argument twice in the last week, so it's probably worth bolgging about it, exposing its problems. The conclusion that we are to draw at the end of this argument is, "Rest assured, if evolution were wrong, so many scientists wouldn't hold to it." (I blogged about a similar, but slightly different, argument a few weeks ago in this post.) The following passage comes from the bestseller The Language of God, by Francis S. Collins, who was the head of the Human Genome Project.
One of the most cherished hopes of a scientist is to make an observation that shakes up a field of research. Scientists have a streak of closeted anarchism, hoping that someday they will turn up some unexpected fact that will force a disruption of the framework of the day. That's what Nobel Prizes are given for. In that regard, any assumption that a conspiracy could exist among scientists to keep a widely current theory alive when it actually contains serious flaws is completely antithetical to the restless mind-set of the profession.
The main problem with this line of reasoning is simply that it's not true. That's not the way science works. But let me pause here to make a point, one that comes up over and over again. Collins is here pontificating on an area outside of his training and expertise (which is why his reasoning goes so far astray). Collins is a biochemist, geneticist, and medical doctor. The issues involved in his claim here--the process of discovery and how scientists behave--are the subjects not of biochemistry and genetics but of philosophy of science, history of science, and sociology of science. And the experts in these fields would sharply disagree with the fairy-tale scenario at the heart of Collins' argument.

The essential book on this topic is by Thomas Kuhn, and is titled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. His theses are well-regarded among historians and philosophers of science, and his book is considered one of the 100 most influential books of the 20th century. And apropos to Collins' claim, Kuhn's main theses are these... That most of scientific endeavor is what he terms normal science, which is merely the further extension of an existing paradigm (such as Newtonian physics or neo-Darwinian evolution), and that paradigm shifts (or scientific revolutions) occur only with a great deal of hesitation and angst among a community of scientists most of whom can never accept a different paradigm than the one in which they were raised. In other words, the overwhelming majority of scientific research is done in an effort to bolster a currently-held view, no matter how wrong later scientists will come to consider it.

In direct contradiction to what Collins claims, Kuhn writes the following (and where Kuhn mentions 'paradigm,' think of neo-Darwinian evolution, which is the paradigm in biology today),
Mopping-up operations are what engage most scientists throughout their careers. They constitute what I am here calling normal science. Closely examined, whether historically or in the contemporary laboratory, that enterprise seems an attempt to force nature into the preformed and relatively inflexible box that the paradigm supplies. No part of the aim of normal science is to call forth new sorts of phenomena [say, irreducible complexity]; indeed those that will not fit the box are often not seen at all. Nor do scientists normally aim to invent new theories, and they are often intolerant of those invented by others. Instead, normal-scientific research is directed to the articulation of those phenomena and theories that the paradigm already supplies.
Kuhn would probably have answered Collins that one need not appeal to 'conspiracy' to challenge neo-Darwinism. Rather, the paradigm of neo-Darwinism was so fundamentally a part of the education and training of today's biologists, that they cannot even see or think clearly about any evidence that would call that paradigm into question. Kuhn avoids using the word 'indoctrination,' but his descriptions of the normal training of scientists makes it clear that the result is the same.
The study of paradigms [again, think 'evolution']... is what mainly prepares the student for membership in the particular scientific community [biology] with which he will later practice. Because he there joins men who learned the bases of their field from the same concrete models, his subsequent practice will seldom evoke overt disagreement over fundamentals. Men whose research is based on shared paradigms are committed to the same rules and standards for scientific practice. That commitment and the apparent consensus it produces are prerequisites for normal science, i.e., for the genesis and continuation of a particular research tradition.
Collins might be excused for his general lack of understanding of these things, since he is not a philosopher or historian of science. (Though, by the same token, he ought to be admonished for making such confident claims in fields in which he betrays himself as grossly undereducated.) But glaring counterexamples should cause him to question his claim, and only a few pages later he discusses one such example (without, apparently, recognizing that it refutes his earlier statement).

Einstein's famous equations clearly led to the revolutionary notion that the universe is expanding and that it had a beginning. But this conclusion was at odds with the paradigm of his day, which held that the universe is eternal and static. Far from recognizing this as his chance for greatness as an innovator, Einstein succumbed to the herd mentality and introduced (without any other justification) a fudge factor into his equations that neatly avoided these clear conclusions. Even Einstein could not trust his own reasoning and equations, but made them subservient to the 'inflexible box,' the scientific (and metaphysical) paradigm he had been taught.

The bottom line is that consensus among biologists is a bad argument for the truth of neo-Darwinism. It is fallacious (it's an example of the ad populum fallacy); and Collins' version of it is dead wrong. Questioning the paradigm that one has been taught is extremely difficult for scientists. To the biologist today, "evolution is fact" is merely a way of saying that all they have ever been taught leads them to see the world through evolutionary lenses, and that they are simply unable to recognize--much less deal seriously with--evidence that would call that paradigm into question.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Comeback Victory

(The post below is best read with a British accent.)

Monday evening, the Antioch men's indoor soccer team evened their new season's record at one game apiece with a stunning come-from-behind victory over Fuerza Uno. Trailing 4-1, 5-2, and 7-5, the men in the white jerseys eventually combined commitment to defense, strong open-field passing, and relentless pressure on the opponents' goal to produce a sparkling 8-7 win.

Missing some of its top players, the Antioch side started off tentatively, especially on defense, and found themselves on the wrong side of the ledger throughout the first half. Indeed, the visitors only drew level in the fortieth minute of the (44-minute-long) game and never led until the forty-second minute. They enjoyed balanced scoring, however, with two goals apiece from Emi Popa (on loan from the Romanian league) and Kesh Phillips (seeing his first action of the year), and a hat trick from Nate Gerhardt. With the absence of midfield partner Tyler Fetters, Gerhardt was asked to control the center; he did himself credit, and Phillips, Popa, and steady defender Jason Wilkins helped him to keep the home team continually on their heels in the second half.

Landon Miller added a crucial goal late, and his presence in the opponents' box kept their defenders busy. Antioch also received valuable minutes from newcomer Chris Sterry. Jasper Gerhardt anchored the defense with a gutsy, hard-fought performance, and his telling runs forward repeatedly created scoring opportunities (and two assists) for his mates. Popa's two goals were the critical ones, with the first knotting the score and the second proving to be the game-winner.

Antioch will look to build upon this big win in their next game, Wednesday, January 28th. Some seats are still available for that game (with a 10:10 start time) at the Central Oregon Indoor Soccer Center.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Lecture on the Environment

Next Sunday evening (January 25th from 7-8:30), Kilns College will be having its spring semester kick-off event at the Kilns Bookstore. As part of that event, I'll be giving a lecture on Christianity and the Environment. It's a timely and relevant issue, of course, and one that (like an outdated lightbulb) seems to generate more heat than light.

I'm an ecologist by training and trade, and have always been somewhat of an environmentalist (the two are not the same thing, though they are often conflated in our day). Though I will undoubtedly offer some suggestions for navigating our way through some of the complexity of modern claims about particular environmental issues, that won't be my main focus. Rather, I hope to examine the biblical grounding for creation care and what that means for followers of Christ in our day and age.

I had the opportunity to hear a lecture just the other night (and also in Bend, Oregon) on the very same topic. At this point, I can only promise you that I will come from and to quite different positions than did that lecturer. I'm really looking forward to it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Signs of Spring (09)

(I hope that my ski-bum friends will overlook this post.)

Today I saw and heard three avian evidences that spring is just around the corner.

Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) are carrying sticks to refurbish old nests or begin new ones (which of these it is likely depends upon whether one of the pair is new to the territory) and roosting for the night in their nest trees.

I heard a male Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) calling from an elevated perch. This species has spent the winter in complete obscurity and anonymity, remaining on the ground, silent and out of sight. Today, at least one has decided that it's time to find a high perch and both visually and vocally set up shop and start courtin'.

Similarly, the Horned Larks (Eremophila alpestris, one of our area's earliest nesters) were today singing and chasing one another as though last week's snowdrifts are a distant memory and it's time to get down to it.

Oh, there're still plenty of wintering birds around, and I look forward to seeing Northern Shrikes and Rough-legged Hawks for several weeks to come. But today's sights and sounds are a reminder that days are getting longer and this wonderful ball on which we live is steadily making its way along its orbit.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

January Wanderlust

About this time every year, I begin to tire of winter and have a hankerin' to migrate south. This feeling stems from a time (nearly two decades ago) when I did just that for three years in a row. I'd leave the northern, snowy climes of the Boise, Idaho area and drive south. By south I mean through Texas, down the Gulf Coast of Mexico, into Belize, and finally into northern Guatemala. There I would spend the first half of the new year, basking in the warmth of the tropical sun and wresting secrets from some of the myriad different creatures that made (and make) that beautiful forest (of Tikal National Park) their permanent home. Below is one such creature, the Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus).

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Similarities Among Living Things

(This is part 7 in a series of posts critiquing Dinesh D'Souza's reasons for accepting evolution.)

Many modern evolutionists claim that similarities among living things are evidence that the macroevolutionary tale is true. Darwin himself didn't emphasize this fact about living things. He knew that his opponents--those who understood all living things as the result of a creative process--knew about, acknowledged, and could account for such similarities as well (or better) than he could. So, as I stated in the last post, his theory was not an attempt to explain the similarities among living things but rather an attempt to explain (away) the differences.

Unfortunately, modern evolutionists are not as able to think clearly about such issues, and so they appeal to similarities--whether anatomical, biochemical, or genetic--as evidence in favor of their theory and against the idea that life was designed. In a rather famous example of such clouded thinking, evolutionist Tim Berra asks us to think of the similarities among living things as analogous to the similarity among Corvettes...
If you compare a 1953 and a 1954 Corvette, side by side, then a 1954 and a 1955 model, and so on, the descent with modification is overwhelmingly obvious. This is what [paleontologists] do with fossils, and the evidence is so solid and comprehensive that it cannot be denied by reasonable people.
Of course, reasonable people recognize that Corvettes are designed and manufactured by intelligent beings, and are not the product of naturalistic evolution. Far from supporting the theory in which Berra believes, his analogy nicely highlights the point of this post... that the existence of similarities among living things does not effectively differentiate between the theory that all life is connected by evolution and the idea that living things are all the product of a single intelligent Creator.

Simply put, the Christians who birthed modern science were well aware of the similarities among living things, and this similarity fits perfectly with the Judeo-Christian understanding that God created all living things. It is disingenuous for evolutionists to claim that their theory predicts such similarities and opposing theories do not. At the biochemical level (where this similarity argument is most commonly made today), the Bible has all along declared that all living things are made of the same 'stuff' (Gen. 2:7 and 19).

And so, we have critically examined--and dismissed as fallacious, false, and/or invalid--each of the four reasons given by Dinesh D'Souza for his acceptance of evolution.* To repeat, D'Souza himself denies the naturalistic component of modern evolutionary thought. But my point has been to demonstrate that he offered not a single compelling reason to accept macroevolution at all (even in a theistic sense). But now that you know that his thinking on this one issue is jaded and inferior, let me say once again that on the whole What's So Great About Christianity is a book well worth reading. In order to make up for slamming him on this particular (evolution) chapter, I'll try to remember to give some of his other chapters a positive plug from time to time.

* There's a seemingly stronger sort of argument offered by evolutionists, one that D'Souza didn't make. It represents a special case of the argument from similarity. For these evolutionists, it is the presence of the same non-functional ("junk") DNA in, say, chimps and humans that provides the ultimate proof that evolution is true. The Darwinist who commented on my blog the other day offered endogenous retroviruses (one form of "junk" DNA) as just such a proof. So in a coming post, I'll explain why such evidence is not a problem for a design or creationist view of the origin and diversity of life on Earth.