Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Science Misconceptions

(6th post in a series about John Walton's new book, The Lost World of Genesis One)

An important outcome of--but not motivation for--Walton's radical new thesis that there is no account of material creation in Genesis 1 is that this first chapter of the Bible is made impervious to scientific critique. There seems to be an underlying assumption that the account in this chapter, if read in the traditional fashion, is somehow at odds with modern science. Nothing could be further from the truth,* and the Judeo-Christian claim of creation out of nothing has more evidence in its favor than ever. Indeed, adopting Walton's view involves the abandoning of a wealth of science apologetic material that is being used today to help many scientists and educated lay people recognize the Bible as the uniquely accurate understanding of the universe in which we live.

At any rate, believing that his new interpretation is scientifically neutral, Walton proceeds to write at length about intelligent design, evolution, science, and science education. His misunderstandings about these issues are deep and wide, and it amazes me that he had the audacity to write about subjects on which he is so naive and illiterate. So many are his faux-pas here that it is difficult to decide how to address them. The method I have settled on for this post is a little game of "What he said/What he should have said." This will allow me to critique misstatements briefly and in isolation. Let's give it a whirl... What he said:
Science, by current definition... concerns itself with only that which is physical and material.
What he should have said:
Though many modern scientists--especially among biologists--have chosen to adopt a materialist approach to science, there is no historical, logical, or even pragmatic justification for such an approach. Indeed, artificially limiting science in such a way constrains science from discovering truth about the universe.
What he said:
Mainstream science contends that dysteleology [no design, purposeless]must be retained in its self-definition.
What he should have said:
Scientists are not themselves adequately trained or qualified to define science. The experts in what science is are (primarily) philosophers and historians of science and (secondarily) sociologists and psychologists of science. To the extent that some mainstream scientists see dysteleology as a necessary aspect of science, they are dead wrong, as any philosopher of science could tell them.
What he said (In a critique of intelligent design theory):
If scientists simply threw up their hands and admitted that a metaphysical... explanation was necessary, they would be departing from that which is scientific.
What he should have said:
It is impossible to remain metaphysically neutral. The opposite of a theistic view of the universe is not a physical view, much less a scientific view, but an atheistic one. All scientific explanations (including intelligent design and evolution alike) involve fundamental metaphysical assumptions. It is ludicrous and self-serving to seek to disqualify one scientific idea as metaphysical in order to buffer your own theory (which has equally basic metaphysical assumptions) from critique.
What he said:
[Intelligent Design theory offers] an understanding of the world that is ultimately teleological--purposeful--in which sense it departs from the realm of scientific investigation and theorization.
What he should have said:
Teleology is at the heart of science. Modern science was uniquely birthed within a Christian worldview, by men who understood that, as the creation of the rational mind of God, the universe could be expected to display order and law-like processes. Those modern scientists who deny design nonetheless depend (for doing science) upon that order, though they are unable to explain where it comes from or why it should be a feature of the universe.

Again, teleological understanding led the founders of modern science to the conclusion that our senses and reasoning are reliable for discovering the order in the universe (since we are made in the image of God). Those (like most evolutionists) who deny design cannot logically justify the reliability of human reasoning and senses. In short, defense of most of the basic assumptions that make science a worthwhile endeavor depend upon a teleological understanding and become absurd within a dysteleological view.
What he said:
...evolutionary theory requires long periods of time.
What he should have said:
All naturalistic evolutionary theories--including neo-Darwinism--require nearly infinite time. This is why mathematicians recognize the 20th-century discovery of a beginning to the universe only 14 billion years ago as fatal to evolutionary theory. Darwin's theory was proposed within the framework of an eternal, static universe; we now know that this basic and necessary assumption of Darwinian theory is wrong. (Sir Arthur Eddington, one such mathematician, spent his life seeking an explanation that could replace big bang cosmology; he frankly admitted that his motivation was to "allow evolution an infinite time to get started.") Modern evolutionists are either ignorant of or disingenuous with regard to this straightforward problem; they generally invest time with magical properties or ignore it altogether when there's clearly too little of it to allow for their theories.
This has been so much fun (at least for me) that I think I'll save a few of Walton's misunderstandings for another post, and another round of "What he said/What he should have said." Thanks for playing!

* To be sure, some interpretations of Genesis 1 are quite at odds with virtually all of the findings of science. Among these are the very popular 'young-earth' interpretation. But this is just one of many ways of understanding Genesis 1, and not (as its proponents claim) a doctrine of historical Christianity.

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