True scientists – do they exist?

A true scientist tests all kinds of different hypotheses to see which works best. The trouble with the scientific world today, in particular regarding evolution, is that the consideration of hypotheses different from those that are currently believed in by most scientists is positively discouraged.

If you want to undertake scientific research to test the hypothesis that the grand theory of evolution (i.e. that all life forms descend from a common ancestor) is false, you won’t get funding. If you want to do the same for a hypothesis that climate change depends mainly on non-human actions and that current carbon emissions level have a negligible effect – no funding. The same goes for a hypothesis that doesn’t fit with the big bang theory. I have heard from friends of mine at PhD level and beyond that if you are requesting funding, you try as hard as possible to shoe-horn the words ‘climate change’ into the title, as funding is then much more likely. Even if you just want to count badgers, as long as you are considering the effects of climate change your funding should come through.

So the scientific world is currently predisposed against paradigm shifts in any of these areas. The greatest advances in scientific history have been made when someone dared to question the established views of the day. Therefore, true scientists should actually encourage attempts to disprove the established theories of today. In fact, the more times an established theory withstands such a test (i.e. a contradictory hypothesis is tested but fails), the more sensible it is for scientists and others to believe in it.

I’m not saying that every established scientific theory today is wrong, but a glance through history would suggest it is arrogant to consider that all our established theories are now correct – most scientific generations have thought this, only to be proved spectacularly wrong within a few generations’ time.

This “we’ve got everything right now so don’t need to question our basic assumptions” philosophy has also affected the way science is taught to children. You never hear phrases like “most scientists now believe” with regard to the grand theory of evolution or the big bang – these are just stated as facts. A budding young scientist will want to question everything he is taught by doing experiments, and will not accept anything as fact. However, an attempt by this young scientist to start questioning an established theory will hit a dead end very quickly. The science curriculum in many countries actually bans such questioning, and as an adult if you don’t toe the established line you lose your funding and face ridicule.

Some scientific theories are more difficult to question than others. It seems to me that some of the most difficult are the grand theory of evolution and the big bang. I think there’s a good reason for this situation – alternative theories tend to imply a God. Particularly for the grand theory of evolution, evidence against it is necessarily evidence for the divine as that’s the only other sensible option (all would agree that the animals we see today would never simply pop into existence fully formed, which leaves divine creation as pretty much the only other option).

This is where many scientists stop being true scientists and show that they are actually humans with beliefs, just like everybody else. They want to discourage belief in the divine, as it goes against one of their basic assumptions – that God does not exist. Why do they have this assumption? It’s certainly not a scientific assumption, but it’s certainly one that many scientists have.

Take, for example, the recent discoveries of soft tissue and red blood cells in dinosaur bones. These were completely unexpected by atheistic scientists, as they had measured decay rates of tissue and knew that it couldn’t last anywhere near that long. The new evidence appears and, do they question their basic assumption? No – as the only alternative is for dinosaurs living recently, which would mean the creationists were right. Instead they scratch their heads, wondering how soft tissue could last so long. If they were being truly scientific, they would consider other hypotheses and would see that the “dinosaurs lived in the last few thousand years” hypothesis fits much better, as this immediately explains the presence of soft tissue – it hasn’t had time to decay yet.

This is just one example of scientists being blinkered by their basic assumptions, which in many cases they don’t realise they have.

One often hears these atheistic scientists criticising creationists by saying “aha! You’ve just admitted that you start from the assumption that the Bible is true, therefore you’re not a scientist. Scientists look at the evidence with an open mind and come to the conclusion to which the evidence points”. However, they have failed to see their hypocrisy in saying this, as they have their own non-scientific basic assumptions, in particular that God does not exist (or at least that they should seek to explain things without a God). Perhaps deep down the eternal consequences of having to face up to God puts them off. For many, science is a way to get God out of the picture. In their hearts they say, “if I can come up with a theory that sounds plausible but doesn’t involve God, then I don’t need to worry about him and can live how I want “.

These scientists only consider hypotheses that fit with their basic assumptions, and hence the best they can come up with (the grand theory of evolution and the big bang theory) might not actually be the best explanation, if a better explanation exists that doesn’t fit with their basic assumptions. For example, explanations involving a divine creator might be better, but will be dismissed without fair trial due to the clash with the scientist’s basic assumptions.

The most “scientific” thing to do is actually to test lots of different basic assumptions with an open mind (as much as this is possible) and see what the world we see fits with best. As we’re all humans, no one remains an absolute scientist for very long (if ever) – we like to make up our minds at some point and choose a belief system. This isn’t a scientific thing to do but it is a sensible thing to do (as the Bible shows there are eternal consequences for what we decide).

The trouble with many atheistic scientists is that they have never seriously considered basic assumptions outside their own. Ask such a scientist “what would you expect the world to look like if the Bible were true” and they would probably have no idea as they haven’t thought about it before. Alternatively, ask a creationist such a question and it is more likely that they will be able to answer. This is because creationists tend to be better at trying on other people’s glasses to see the world through their basic assumptions. To do this you first have to realise that you’re wearing glasses of your own, so that you can take yours off before putting a different pair on. Atheistic scientists for the most part don’t even realise that they are wearing glasses, so there’s no hope of them taking theirs off to try another pair.

I encourage these scientists to have a go at trying on the biblical glasses and asking what they would expect to see if the Bible were true. What if there was a flood that covered the whole earth? What if God had made animals in different “kinds”? What if we are all in rebellion against God? What if Jesus did rise from the dead?

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Science Vs the Bible – is there really no conflict?

St Helen’s Church in London (of which I am a big fan) have produced some videos about Science and the Bible. Please take a look at them here.

It’s mostly good stuff, but I think that in their attempt to show that there is no conflict between science and the Bible they have presented a limited view of the Bible’s scope. A number of the videos contain a point along the lines of

“I see no conflict between science and the Bible because they relate to completely different questions. Science deals with “how” (i.e. how things work etc.) but the Bible deals with “why”. Science is limited and can’t address “why” questions, so we need to go to the Bible to answer those. There is therefore no conflict because they address different issues.” [my paraphrase]

I think this position is right about science but wrong about the Bible.

This position is particularly applied to the early chapters of Genesis. We’re told that if you try to use these chapters to ask “how” questions then you’re doing it all wrong, as these chapters are not there to tell us how creation happened.

However, when you read the text of these chapters, you see that the contention that the Bible is about “why”, not “how”, doesn’t stand up. These chapters actually don’t have very much at all to tell us about “why”, but mainly answer other questions, and “how” questions are probably answered more than any other type.

For example, the first verse of chapter 1 says:

“In the beginning [this is a “when”] God [this is a “who”] created the heavens and the earth [this is a “what”].”

Most of the rest of chapter 1 of Genesis doesn’t deal with “why”, but actually deals with “how”. For example:

“God said, ‘let there be light’ – and there was light”.

This tells us the “what” – that God created light, and tells us the “how” – that he created it with his word. Chapter 1 from verse 2 onwards mainly sets out the “how” of the “what” of verse 1. Verse 1 says that God made everything, and the rest of the chapter explains how God made everything. If you look for verses that explain why God made everything, you actually won’t find very much at all. Perhaps the odd hint here or there, but very little is said in this respect. We do find more on this explained later in the Bible (e.g. Ephesians 1), but there is very little scriptural support for the position that the early chapters of the Bible are about “why” questions.

The next few chapters of the Bible after chapter 1 are similar in addressing lots of different questions, not just “why”. For example, the flood narrative explains in detail how the flood happened as well as why it happened.

I get the sense that some Christians, if they had their way, would quite like to rewrite some of the early chapters of the Bible, as they are frustrated with the conflict they see these chapters as having created between the secular worldview of our day and the Christian worldview. They see this as being due to a misreading of these chapters, which they try to explain away by saying they are just about “why” questions. They see these chapters as a stumbling block getting in the way of the important stuff about Jesus, and would rather keep the focus there.

The problem with seeing the Bible as a “why, not how” book is that this view spreads through the whole Bible and actually conflicts with the way Bible talks about the events regarding Jesus, in particular his death and resurrection. In this area there is no conflict between Christians, as there is with how to interpret the early chapters of Genesis. If the Bible is just a “why” book, then it is strange that the gospel writers spend so much time on “how” aspects as well. Of course, we are told the “why” in that Jesus died so that we might be saved from the punishment due for our sins, but we are also told lots of “how” points, such as that Jesus’ death was by crucifixion, that the crucifixion was ordered by Pontius Pilate, after Jesus had meetings with Jewish religious leaders, etc. The “how” parts of this account help to show us that it was a historical event, and the Christian faith depends on this being an historical event. It’s therefore vital that the Bible tells us how it happened, not just why, so we know it was a real historical event.

If we tell an unbelieving scientist that the Bible is a “why” book (in an attempt to remove the stumbling block of the early chapters of Genesis), why should we expect them to put their trust in the “whats” and the “hows” in the Bible regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection?. They would be likely to see the Bible as little more than a book of moral guidance.

If we try to restrict the “why” part of the Bible to just the early chapters of Genesis, they would see an inconsistency and ask, “how do you know this is just a “why” part while other parts of the Bible are more than this? Who gets to decide which parts of the Bible are which?”

Therefore, I think the attempt to separate the Bible and science into two distinct domains (“why” and “how”) actually diminishes the relevance of the Bible and undermines its authority.

I’d say that a better position would be to say that the Bible has something to say on all of life’s big questions (who, what, when, where, how, why…), but only says a finite amount about each. It tells us as much as we need to know to be able to satisfactorily answer these questions and restore our relationship with God. It mainly therefore gives us the big picture of things, leaving out the details. We can then (starting from the Bible) use science and other disciplines to find out more details about things. In doing science, we’re not exploring territory that the Bible doesn’t address at all, but we are finding out details where the Bible gives only a broad outline.

The Bible tells us certain things about the historical context of the time of Jesus, and we can do archaeology to find out more details about what life was like at that time. Similarly, the Bible tells us that there was a flood that covered the whole earth, and we can use science to find out more about the effects of that and why the world now looks how it does.

We know that we are fallible people but that God’s word is perfect, and so when we do science, we should treat God’s word higher than our own ideas and interpretations, and so we should trust God’s word in every area that it touches. If we come up with an idea or interpretation that contradicts what God’s word plainly teaches, we know that the idea is wrong. (This might seem unscientific to some, but actually science can’t operate without biblical assumptions anyway – see here.)

A better response to the “Bible Vs Science” conflict starts with the same point: that science is limited to “how” questions. However, the Bible doesn’t operate in a different domain but actually science only covers one of many domains that the Bible covers. The Bible has a wider scope and is more authoritative because it is God’s word.

The conflict we have today is not between science and the Bible but is between the Bible’s view of history and a view of history devised by fallible humans with a disposition against the existence of a divine creator. That is why the prevailing view in the secular world of science is that life essentially created itself.

Unfortunately there are many Christians who, in the event of such a conflict, are too quick to appease the views of those who don’t believe the Bible, and to try to make the conflict a non-issue so that they can get to the good news of Jesus. However, in many cases this won’t work as in doing this they have already undermined biblical authority, as I’ve explained.

Instead, we should first stand on the authority of God’s word in whatever it says in all domains, including “how” questions. We should then build our science on that, and not be afraid of disagreeing with scientific experts even if they know more than us about their field. God knows more than them (and us) and has given us broad answers to the big “how” questions in his word. So we know with certainty that if a clever scientist proposes something contrary to God’s word, the scientist is wrong. It’s not actually science that is wrong, just the belief of the scientist.

Les Gracerables

Just got back from seeing Les Miserables at the cinema. Despite my love of musicals I had actually never seen or read it before in any of its forms. The thing I was most struck by, apart from someone dying every ten minutes, was the examples of grace given throughout the story.

At first, we have a slave who finishes his prison sentence (under a strict law) and is then allowed to return to the free world, but has no money or possessions. He is offered shelter by a priest and is fed and allowed to stay the night. Such is the man’s desperation regarding his situation that he wakes up early and leaves the church with a bag full of its silverware. The police catch him and bring him back to the priest to return the stolen goods, telling the priest that the thief told them he had been allowed by the priest to take the silverware. Much to the thief’s surprise, the priest goes along with this and actually gives the man more silverware to add to his bag. After the police have gone, the priest then tells the man to use the silverware to make an honest man of himself. We then see this throughout the film, as the man sacrifices and gives to others, often at great risk to himself.

This reminded me (as I suspect the author intended) of the grace that Jesus gives. None of us deserved it but were just like the thief. We (i.e. those who accept him) are given the gift of the forgiveness of our sins and eternal life in the new creation despite not deserving this in any way. We are then told to live good lives, but it is important to remember that the gift comes first and living a good life is a response to that, not a way in which we earn our reward. All we have to do is accept this offer and the gift is ours.

Later in the story, the baddie of the film is shown the same grace by the former thief, who spares the baddie’s life even after the baddie was trying to kill him. However, the baddie reacts very differently and cannot bear to be living due to the mercy of the man he hated. He ends up choosing his own destruction by committing suicide.

In a way this is what people do who reject Jesus’ offer of forgiveness. They cannot bear to be living due to someone else’s mercy rather than their own strength, so they choose instead to go their own way, which sets them on the road to their destruction. The baddie had the chance to accept the grace given to him before it was too late, but he chose not to. I pray that others in this situation in the real world would reconsider the grace offered by Jesus and accept the free gift before it is too late for them.