Is Science Good for the World?
by Josiah Audette
Rusticated in a small, bucolic village their lived two priests who were responsible for their own respective parishes. Both priests had a dilemma, and that was the desire to smoke while they prayed. To resolve this quandary both decided to write to the Pope in inquiry. The one priest wrote to the Pope, “Is it permissible to smoke while praying?” to which the Pope reposted that it was not, since prayer should be the focus of one’s whole attention. Now, the other priest, being more crafty than his contemporary wrote to the Pope and asked tactfully, “Is it permissible to pray while smoking?” To which he frabjously received the reply that it is was, since it is always appropriate to pray. The moral of the story is that the form of every question may hinder us from identifying the answers to problems that otherwise become noticeable when the question is ever so slightly rephrased. Hence the title of this lecture “Is Science Good for the World?” You may find it humorous for the fact that it is a word-play and slight alteration to one of our culture’s more clamorous debate titles, namely, Is Religion Good for the World? We have witnessed the new atheist movement mantle its intelligentsia on this issue with such polemics as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. In 2010 Hitchens engaged in the enormously popular Munk debate with former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, entitled, “Is Religion a Force for Good or Ill?” In 2007 Hitchens and pastor Douglas Wilson published a series of written exchanges on the topic of “Is Christianity Good for the World?” and in the following year filmed a documentary on the same subject. Both Dawkins and Hitchens have respectively debated with the Christian Oxford Mathematician, John Lennox, over “The God Delusion” and “God is not Great”. Dawkins has written, “As a scientist, I am hostile to fundamentalist religion because it actively debauches the scientific enterprise. It teaches us not to change our minds, and not to want to know exciting things that are available to be known. It subverts science and saps the intellect.” Hitchens likewise, “There are, indeed, several ways in which religion is not just amoral, but positively immoral. And these faults and crimes are not to be found in the behaviour of its adherents (Which can sometimes be exemplary) but in its original precepts.” I herein have entertained the notion to hoist these assayer’s own petard by interchanging the object of the discourse. The inquiry now concerns whether or not science is good for the world. Is science a force for good or ill? Is science a delusion? Is science even great?
Science Poisons Everything
The mechanical clock was a remarkable invention of the Benedictine monks of the thirteenth century. It was conceived as a instrument to regulate the seven times of devotion to be conducted each day. It provided a salient solution to the quandary of maintaining routine. The clock thus originated as an instrument of worship, a mechanism to advance holiness. However, the Benedictine monks did not foresee the revolution it would bring forth once it moved outside their monastery walls. Once the merchants had obtained this new scientific technology, they transformed the material world by it. It opened the possibility and birthed the reality of regular production and labor. It made possible Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations.” As Neil Postman wrote, “The clock was invented by men who wanted to devote themselves more rigorously to God; it ended as the technology of greatest use to men who wished to devote themselves to the accumulation of money.” It transmogrified from an instrument of righteousness to an instrument of mammon. Similarly when Galileo took hold of Johann Lippershey’s toy and transformed it into an instrument of science that we now call the telescope, it was to discover the glories of God’s heavens in a manner that had not been possible before. Like the Benedictine monks, Galileo could not foresee the injury this instrument would do to the offices of the Roman Church by collapsing it’s geocentric doctrine. With righteous pure intention, devoid and unadulterated by any inclination toward subverting religion, the sciences of these men eventually deposed the very design of their contrivance. These events (Among the other inventions and technologies such as the printing press and stethoscope as Postman would argue) were the accouchement of modern science. These new instruments simply didn’t add or subtract from the world, rather, they changed both the world and its words. With the invention of the telescope “heavens” took upon itself an entirely new meaning, for no longer was it an abstract expression of God’s glory and man’s centre in it. Societies perception of reality, meaning, and truth was reordered. With the invention of the clock whole nation’s were now commandeered by a capitalism endowed with order. Their interests and what they thought about was restructured. With the invention of the printing press “knowledge” received an entirely new definition and purpose. With new technologies competing for a dominance of world-view over the old technologies, institutions, (Especially the church and state) were threatened and created a cultural crisis. Postman critiqued, “Technologies change what we mean by “knowing” and “truth”; they alter those deeply embedded habits of thought which give to a culture its sense of what the world is like – a sense of what is the natural order of things, of what is reasonable, of what is necessary, of what is inevitable, of what is real.” Science was now the prolegomenon of the future and in this future man could scientifically measure all things. When man is the one measuring all things, he himself becomes the measure of all things. Man was now more interested in the age of rocks than the Rock of Ages. Science poisons everything.
The Poison in Science
The poison in science is its’ major tenant that we can know everything about the science of anything by science and science alone. So it is its own end and its own means or as Henry David Thoreau stated of technology, “Inventions are but an unimproved means to an unimproved end.” In our neurosis for assimilating how to measure all things, the inquiry as to why we measure all things also abates in relevance. The poison is in science for the sake of science. Science tells us that we must develop our knowledge of truth, meaning, and value absolutely on our own initiative by rationally building out from ourselves, having only man as our integration point. This is no more than one pulling himself up by his own bootstraps. Francis Schaeffer wrote in The God Who is There of this kind of rationalism, “If you want to understand the century you live in, you must realize that it is not the outward form which the dialectic takes which is the real enemy. This may be expressed in theistic or atheistic forms. The real enemy is not the form it takes, but the dialectical methodology itself.” We have deified science to the point where it validates our meaning, it authorizes our actions and it satisfies our wants. Those most affable to this poison are those who recognize science as the chief achievement of man and the solution to all our extremities. In the time of the Benedictine monks, Galileo, and the Gutenberg Press people believed in the authority of their religion, no matter what. Today, we believe in the authority of our science, no matter what. And as Postman argued, “We believe, because their is no reason not to believe.” Furthermore science is best prescribed and performed by experts such as our friends Dawkins and Hitchens. As Postman said, “We must not be dazzled or deluded by differences in method between preachers and scholars.” For these and other scientist do not merely diktat scientific laws of biological or chemical matters, but arrogate our social and moral affairs such as preachers would. With the weakening of the church and historic cultural institutions by the invasion of new technologies and sciences the people lose confidence in these old values and tradition. The Galileo Heliocentric Trial and three hundred years later the Scopes Monkey Trial illustrate the enfeebling of our institutions as Postman argued, “In their defeat, more was lost than the Bible’s claim to explain the origins and structure of nature. The Bible’s authority in defining and categorizing moral behaviour was also weakened.” Herein science’s cognoscenti come to fill in the vacuum left by the institution of the church. Neil Postman in his book Technopoly provides a Huxleyan like prophesy of this, “In Technopoly, all experts are invested with the charisma of priestliness. Some of our priest-experts are called psychiatrists, some psychologists, some sociologists, some statisticians (And I would add, some are called scientists). The god they serve does not speak of righteousness or goodness or mercy or grace. Their god speaks of efficiency, precision, objectivity. And that is why such concepts as sin and evil disappear in Technopoly. They come from a moral universe that is irrelevant to the theology of expertise. And so the priests of Technopoly call sin “social deviance,” which is a statistical concept, and they call evil “psychopathology,” which is a medical concept. Sin and evil disappear because they cannot be measured and objectified, and therefore cannot be dealt with by experts.” We live and are encompassed by the age of science and are desensitized to these very ideologies, to the poison of our science. Postman dissected this poison into three principal parts, “The first and indispensable idea is, as noted, that the methods of the natural sciences can be applied to the study of human behavior. The second idea is, as also noted, that social science generates specific principles which can be used to organize society on a rational and humane basis. The third idea is that faith in science can serve as a comprehensive belief system that gives meaning to life, as well as a sense of well-being, morality, and even immortality.” Before and since the mechanical clock the increasingly secularized scientific world is looking for an alternative moral authority to the church. In their desperation they plead, wish, and hope for the natural scientist to say it is science that speaks, not the subjective, frail judgments of mere mortals, to moral issues. They long for the illusion that their data, their structures, their procedures, their science speak as accurately, precisely, quantifiably, and reliably on moral matters as they do on material matters. That science not only is the solution for the narrative of life, but even provides us with the narrative in the first place. This kind of science is a poison.
The Science Delusion
The delusion of this kind of science is simple. To put it in the basic explanation of John Lennox, “Science can tell you that, if you add strychnine to your grandmother’s tea, it will kill her. But science cannot tell you whether it is morally right or wrong to put strychnine into your grandmother’s tea so that you can get your hands on her property.” Real science, natural science, principled science, can explain how the world around us operates, but it cannot explain why or how it morally and metaphysically ought to. Or as Postman wrote, “Science can tell us when a heart begins to beat, or movement begins, or what are the statistics on the survival of neonates of different gestational ages outside the womb. But science has no more authority than you do or I do to establish such criteria as the “true” definition of “life” or of human state or of personhood.” None of the experts of modern science can quantify or qualify values to metaphysical and moral matters. They cannot be measured, to attempt such would be a misapplication of technique. Postman identified this impasse of quantifying metaphysicals in Technopoly, “The first problem is called reification, which means converting an abstract idea (mostly, a word) into a thing. The second problem is ranking. Ranking requires a criterion for assigning individuals to their place in a single series” So no matter how desperate the cry for a new moral authority, science has no answer, anything else is a romantic delusion.
Science is not Great
“Christianity on the other hand is not romantic; it is realistic” writes Schaeffer, “Christianity is realistic because it says that if there is no truth, there is also no hope; and there can be no truth if there is no adequate base. It is prepared to face the consequences of being proved false and say with Paul: If you find the body of Christ, the discussion is finished; let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. It leaves absolutely no room for a romantic answer… Christianity does not look over this tired and burdened world and say that it is slightly flawed, a little chipped, but easily mended. Christianity is realistic and says the world is marked with evil and man is truly guilty all along the line. Christianity refuses to say that you can be hopeful for the future if you are basing your hope on evidence of change for the better in mankind. The Christian agrees with the people in genuine despair that the world must be looked at realistically, whether in the area of Being or morals.” Neither though is Christianity nihilistic as principled science would leave the individual, without salvific word on moral authority or redemption. Christianity alone gives the answer to the meaninglessness that principled science logically concludes with. Christianity answers that our revolt has separated us from the God who is there, and this God who is there is not silent, but has sent his only begotten Son. Science is not great enough to measure all things (i.e. Being, morals, metaphysics) and science is not great enough to be the measure of all things.
So then is this poison of science good for the world? Is the delusion that man can scientifically measure issues of morality, being, and metaphysics a force for good? These are but rhetorical questions. When we, as the crafty priest, rephrase the question, we find, in Marshall McLuhan’s words, “The medium is the message.” That is to say that scientism is not just a vehicle of knowledge, but it has become the driver. “Along the way” Postman wrote, “It ceased to be merely a servant of social institutions and became their master.” Scientism we now observe has ideologies and a teleological concept. The plinth of this concept is that all things can be calculated. Not just the age of rocks, or weight of microscopic matter, or human anatomy, but even the worth of these things. Even human beings and their souls as Michel Foucault phrased become, “A calculable person.” The illusionary ability to assign a concrete, logical number to an abstract idea. This is a fairly tale like question, “Who is the fairest of them all?” As if we can measure beauty, intelligence, and life itself. This fairyland makes possible the discipline of eugenics, genocide, abortion, censorship, and other such atrocities where science commandeers itself outside the physical world into the metaphysical. History has only to tell us that this science has and does kill, literally.
Science a By-Product of Religion
The greatest prestidigitation of science is the illusion of being able to give authority to the realm of morality. Pastor Douglas Wilson in his Huffington post article, “Athiests Suck at Being Athiests” removes the smoke and mirrors behind such a nefarious claim. “So if the universe is what the atheist maintains it is, then this determines what sort of account we must give for the nature of everything — and this includes the atheist’s thought processes, ethical convictions, and aesthetic appreciations. If you were to shake up two bottles of pop and place them on a table to fizz over, you could not fill up an auditorium with people who came to watch them debate. This is because they are not debating; they are just fizzing. If you were to shake up one bottle of pop, and show it film footage of some genocidal atrocity, the reaction you would get is not moral outrage, but rather more fizzing. And if you were to shake it really hard by means of art school, and place it in front of Michelangelo’s David, or the Rose Window of Chartres Cathedral, the results would not really be aesthetic appreciation, but more fizzing still.” If you remove the romanticism from science you are left with an abject despair, because all science can really observe about morality is that the universe doesn’t care, it just keeps on fizzing and so should we. Yet in their romantic fantasy they still make pronounced moral claims. Take Dawkins in his book “The God Delusion.” “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” Once again, Dawkins, as a scientist could very well make such observations about the God of the Old Testament, but what he is limited to do as a scientist is assert whether such attributes of the God of the Old Testament are good or evil, great or pathetic. When Dawkins and science would declare that such attributes are, for instance, bad they are speaking as men not scientists. Furthermore, they are speaking as men who borrow Christian capital to arrange their own sense of morality and they use this concoction of morality to poison Christianity in return. Science hereby becomes a by-product of religion that hijacks the vehicle of religion and crashes it into a tree.
The new atheist movement has held little reserve in expressing its rage toward the teaching of religion to children by parents and persons of trust. Dawkins wrote, “I am persuaded that the phrase ‘child abuse’ is no exaggeration when used to describe what teachers and priests are doing to children whom they encourage to believe in something like the punishment of unshaven mortal sins in an eternal hell.” Hitchens similarly in “God is not Great” writes, “When we consider whether religion has “done more harm than good” – not that this would say anything at all about its truth or authenticity – we are faced with an imponderably large question. How can we ever know how many children had their psychological and physical lives irreparably maimed by the compulsory inculcation of faith?… But we can be sure that religion has always hoped to practice upon the unformed and undefended minds of the young, and has gone to great lengths to make sure of this privilege by making alliances with secular powers in the material world.” Hence in the age of scientism, schools have replaced the institution of the Church and become science’s firs bureaucracies. Bureacracies designed for the governing of, as Postman said, “The ecology of information.” Yet science has poisoned this institution as well with the chimera of being purely scientific in the sense of being religiously and morally neutral, object, and observatory in its content, methodology, and culture. As Cornelious Van Till observed, “Brute factuality does not exist.” That is to say, all facts must be interpreted to have meaning. Furthermore, the selection of facts we include and exclude in our education system reflect as Postman argued, “The theory of the purpose and meaning of education.” Doug Phillips in his excellent article, “Education Choices are Not Neutral” remarks, “The very culture in which education takes place is a reflection of the religious assumptions, values, beliefs, and character qualities of the people who form the environment in which education takes place.” The poison in the school institutions of the scientistic age is the guise of moral neutrality when in reality it has no moral center. It is an education which has been emptied of a coherent worldview, a meaningful narrative of life, a teleological concept, a moral, intellectual, and social centre. It is Dawkins platitude, “Children should be taught not so much what to think as how to think… The important point is that it is their privilege to decide what they shall think and not heir parents; privilege to impose it by force majeure.” This is an ineffable abuse, of the souls of countless children today in school institutions being expunged of reality and surrogated with the poisonous myth of science being both the measurer and measure of all things. The incalculable damaging effect of having their worth and meaning calculated for them by the austere scientism medium.
The only coherent worldview, complete narrative, and moral authority can be found in the Scriptures. The words therein are true and sufficient for all of life and godliness. True science may indeed reveal to us the “how” in the operations of this physical world. But if we are left only with this science, it will lead inevitably to a rationalism of despair or an empiricism of romance. Both are insufficient and poisonous to societies. What’s required is not an additive, but rather a base consisting of the true revelation to us of the “why” in the operations of this physical and metaphysical world. We must be watchful and wary of the ideologies that are the invisible hand behind new technologies and sciences as the Benedictine monk and Galileo and the Gutenberg press exemplify. We must be attentive to what things we measure by science and leave that which cannot be measured untouched. While we may use science to measure certain things we must not permit science to become the measure of all things. We must free ourselves from the magical delusion of science having the ability to calculate the worth of being and ideas. We must not regard the lauded scientific calculation of our age and society as an adequate substitute to judgment or synonym to truth. We must not lose the battle of definitions that are waged against old traditions and words by new institutions and technologies. We must rather take seriously the institution of the Church as being the depository of the doctrine and words of God. We must furthermore refute science being an institution that acts as the depository, producer, and wholesaler of truth. We admire science but do not embrace it as the chief end of man.