Friday, November 26, 2010

Hawking's Self-Refutation

Regular readers will know by now that one of my favorite things is identifying when someone goes on record making a claim that is self-referentially absurd, or self-refuting. We have seen that scientism suffers from this fatal fallacy, we have had fun discussing the self-refuting claims of postmodernism, and we have dismissed the biblicism of young-earth creationism on the same grounds.

And now we find arguably the most brilliant mind of our lifetimes wallowing in self-refuting claims, and thereby making what may be his final book a testimony to the absurdity that results when one sets out to deny God.

I'm referring, of course, to Stephen Hawking, the iconic mathematician whose Brief History of Time was the best-selling science book of its era. His latest, coauthored by physicist Leonard Mlodinow, is titled The Grand Design, and was released in September. Its central claim--that the universe and its laws can be explained without reference to God--is indeed sweeping and grand, but the foundation required to buttress that claim is riddled with self-refuting arguments. Let's look at a couple of them.
Philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge.
I'm sure that some of you see the problem here (even though Hawking, his coauthor, and his editors must have missed it): these and all related claims are not scientific claims but philosophical ones. And I'm not cherry-picking an isolated logical mistake here; fully a third of the book (and arguably a whole lot more) is a rambling, philosophical discourse, one that will cause any good philosopher to wince, laugh, or cry, depending upon his mood while reading. We scientists are notoriously poor philosophers, and if it does nothing else, Hawking's book serves as a stark reminder of this fact.

But scientific naturalists have even more reason for dismay. For many who would deny God's existence, Hawking offered the best hope, as he years ago devoted his brilliant mind to discovering a 'theory of everything.' This book would seem to be the culmination of that search, and yet it winds up dissolving into postmodern nonsense.

Hawking and Mlodinow devote a chapter to the question "What Is Reality?" And the conclusion to which they arrive is that
there is no picture- or theory-independent concept of reality... our perception is not direct, but rather shaped by a kind of lens, the interpretive structure of our human brains. [Therefore, no model of reality] can be said to be more real than any other.
What are we to do with such? If no view of reality can be said to be real, why bother interacting with Hawking's view of reality? If there is no theory-independent concept of reality, then this concept isn't. Like all self-refuting claims, these epistemological ones are necessarily false.

So where we expect to find piercing scientific argumentation, we are treated instead to sloppy, self-refuting philosophy (after first being told that philosophy is dead).

Others of the main claims of Hawking's new book likewise disqualify themselves, but perhaps I'll save those for another time. The bottom line is this... the Christian need not fear the fallacious arguments either of the scientific naturalist or the postmodernist (or, as in this case, someone who mixes both in bizarre ways). Even the most brilliant mind will end up stunningly in error, if he begins his search for truth with a denial of the Author of all truth.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Evolutionism vs Creationism

Here's another vimeo of the Redux session I sat in on a few weeks back. I received a number of good questions that day, including
How would you respond to the debate between evolutionism and creationism?

The Debate Between Creationism and Evolution from :redux on Vimeo.

Monday, November 15, 2010

AIG Addendum

As a follow-up to the last post, it needs to be said (since the situations are so parallel), that...

When Galileo used scientific evidence to correct the Roman Catholic church leadership's faulty interpretation of Scripture about the solar system, he wasn't attacking either the Word of God or the Son of God. We all recognize Galileo's interpretation to have been correct and the interpretation of the church (which, incidentally, was shared by both Luther and Calvin) to have been wrong.

In the same way, when William Lane Craig (or any of a host of other committed followers of Christ) uses the evidence from the creation to critique the hopelessly outdated Lightfoot/Ussher interpretation to which Ken Ham has anchored his ministry, he is not attacking the Word of God or the Son of God either.

I spend a good deal of my time discussing history and philosophy of science issues, showing how modern science uniquely arose from within the Christian worldview, and how science depends upon theistic assumptions for its logical grounding. Though it has been popular in the last 100 years to claim that Christianity and science have been opposed to one another, this claim could hardly be more false. In the history of the interaction between Christianity and modern science there has really only been that one case--the Galileo incident--in which church leadership seriously erred in their interpretation despite contrary scientific evidence. Unfortunately, the success of so-called Creation "Science" organizations in our day (like Answers in Genesis) has lent a great deal of credibility to those who would claim that Christianity opposes science. I can't wait for the day when we can look back on young-earth creationism as an amusing, aberrant, anti-intellectual interlude in recent church history.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Illogical Basis of AIG

A good deal of great material in the news lately, plenty of grist for an apologetics blogger (I just wish I knew one that had more time to respond to it all). A SETI anniversary experiment, pastors admitting that, despite their having become atheists, they stay in the ministry because they don't have any other way of making a living, and, of course, an aging Stephen Hawking lapsing into some of the silliest logic imaginable for arguably the most brilliant mind of our lifetimes. But let me start with Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, who this week sunk to a new low as he articulated with unusual clarity the illogical basis of his entire ministry, career and life. Here's an excerpt:
When Christian leaders deliberately reinterpret God’s Word on the basis of man’s fallible ideas (taken from outside the Bible), not only are they undermining the Word of God, they are actually though unwittingly) conducting an attack on the Son of God! This is very serious. Yes, when you compromise the Word of God, it is also an attack on the Son of God, whose Word it is.
If you care to read more, the full article can be found here, but this quote gives us plenty to discuss.

Here's the first very basic fact that Ham seems completely unable to see... Everyone who interacts with God's Word is interpreting it, Ken Ham as well as William Lane Craig (the Christian leader against whom Ham's remarks are addressed). Thus, if Craig interprets God's Word differently than does Ham, it is Ham's interpretation that is being questioned, not the Word of God. It's just as simple as that. And the inability to grasp that, his blindness to the fact that his interpretation is not the "Word of God" but an interpretation of it, is foundational to the entire scheme of Ham's whole ministry.

Elsewhere, Ham (as well as others of his ilk, including the more well-respected Bible commentator, John MacArthur) insists that those who doubt [his interpretation of] the creation account, will invariably doubt the resurrection of Jesus.

Now, that Jesus rose from the dead in a glorified body is explicitly taught over and over again, in all four Gospels and in nearly all of the other New Testament books. But nowhere in Scripture is it explicitly taught that the Earth and universe are only 6,000 years old (as Ham believes) or that the 'days' of the creation in Genesis 1 are 24-hour days. Indeed, the more explicit Scripture passsages that deal with the age of creation state that the mountains are far, far older than human understanding. No, Ham's view about the age of creation is a complex theory that makes a number of interpretive decisions, each one of which is at best dubious and at worst demonstrably false. What's more, Ham's interpretation of Genesis is very recent in church history, as he could rightly be said to be following the interpretation that arose with Lightfoot and Ussher in the 17th century.

In his insightful book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Christian historian/philosopher Mark Noll refers to Ham's position this way:
...a fatally flawed interpretive scheme of the sort that no responsible Christian teacher in the history of the church ever endorsed before this century [that has come] to dominate the minds of American evangelicals on scientific questions
Perhaps an even bigger problem in the thinking of AIG's leader is that whenever he examines the interpretations of others, he finds them fallible, and clearly implies that by contrast his own thinking, ideas, and conclusions are infallible. Now, he doesn't say this right out, of course, because it sounds so silly. He again hides behind "the Word of God." when what is really being compared is the fallible interpretations of those with whom he disagrees over against the fallible interpretations of Ken Ham. Until he confronts this glaring aspect of personal pride and bad reasoning, I'm afraid Ham will continue to be an embarrassment to the name of Christ and a barrier to belief for those more willing to make the most of the minds that God has given them as they seek to understand His precious written Word.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Science and Theology Redux

I've decided to give you a break from reading my thoughts about how we know things are true, how we decide about things like the age of the creation. Instead, I'll let you listen to (and watch) me answer a couple of related questions. The forum is last Sunday's Redux (Q&A) service at my home church, Antioch. (I believe you can link to other Vimeo answers at the bottom.)

The Relationship of Science and Christianity from :redux on Vimeo.