Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


series
On Science, part 3: principles of reason

Continued from part 2 « Of course, having established that empiricism is incapable of producing the knowledge which science claims to have, there is technically no need to continue the critique any further. But most pro-science non-Christians (and even some pro-science Christians) will be unpersuaded by the failures of empiricism, and will continue to pretend […]

Continued from part 2 «

Of course, having established that empiricism is incapable of producing the knowledge which science claims to have, there is technically no need to continue the critique any further. But most pro-science non-Christians (and even some pro-science Christians) will be unpersuaded by the failures of empiricism, and will continue to pretend as if logical positivism is alive and well. They will, in spite of everything, continue to assert that their position is the rational one, and that Christianity (and particularly Christian science) is irrational and false.

They will tend to do this on the basis of the fact that “science works”. It will not matter to them that they don’t actually know that science works, because they trust their perceptions anyway without feeling a need to justify this trust. And, since you as a Christian trust your perceptions to a large degree, because you have metaphysical warrant to do so, your opponent can appeal to your own knowledge of reality to demonstrate that science produces reliable and consistent results. This, he will argue, proves its worth as a system for acquiring knowledge about reality; and, therefore, you ought to at least re-evaluate your interpretation of Scripture so as to conform to modern scientific ideas.

Again, there are a great many problems with such a statement. To start with, science does not produce reliable and consistent results a great deal of the time—it’s just that the successes, which yield pragmatically useful results, are well-known, while the failures are not. Indeed, scientists themselves claim that one of the great “advantages” of science is its flexibility: that it can adapt to new data, leaving old theories behind as new experiments disprove them. It is a prerequisite for a theory to be considered scientific that there must be some way to test it, so that if it is wrong, it can be disproved. And, in the history of science, just about every theory has been disproved sooner or later. In other words, the entire history of science is actually a very long list of wrong ideas about reality; a veritable sequence of failures and errors and mistakes leading to more failures and errors and mistakes; and even scientists will admit that modern scientific theories are equally assumed to be wrong. It is therefore no stretch to say that science, at best, is about being wrong. Any scientist worth his salt will acknowledge that no scientific theory is true, inasmuch as no theory is a decently accurate reflection of reality: it is merely the best model that scientists have been able to develop with the limited data they have.

Scripture, on the other hand, has needed no updating, no correction, no amendments, ever, because it is God’s objective revelation about the reality which he created. All it needed was to be revealed. Why would anyone, then, place science over Scripture?

But we’ve already seen that this cannot be done in the previous part of this series (and, more pertinently, in chapter 2 of The Wisdom Of God): Scripture is the basis for knowledge, and it attests that its primary interpretative schema is itself; not science, or anything else for that matter. So to interpret the Hebrew word yom in Genesis, for example, as meaning anything other than a literal day is already to abandon Scripture (as very adequately proved by Jonathan Sarfati in his book Refuting Compromise (ISBN-10 0890514119)), and thereby to abandon knowledge—including any supposed scientific knowledge—altogether.

Moreover, modern scientific ideas are themselves the product of anti-biblical presuppositions. For example, Genesis is at odds with the modern scientific theory of evolution, but that theory itself would never have been developed if scientists had presupposed the truth of Scripture instead of the non-existence of God. Your opponent may argue from the evidence for evolution—but the term “evidence” itself implies a presupposed interpretative schema. A fossil is not evidence of anything without a framework within which to interpret it. It is simply data. Any time your opponent speaks of evidence, you ought to immediately demand that he give account for it. Since data is impotent to interpret itself, he must be able to justify the entire set of presuppositions within which he presumes to call any piece of data “evidence”. A Christian scientist will interpret the data of a fossil completely differently than a secular scientist, and so each will reach totally different conclusions about its significance. And it does no good to pretend that the Christian scientist is not objective or unbiased, and that he is working backwards from a presupposed answer to the evidence, while the secular scientist is objective and unbiased, working from the evidence to the answer—because I’ve already exposed the stupidity and falsehood of such an idea.

Therefore, when your opponent starts to talk about the evidence for evolution, you should immediately correct him. What he actually means is the data which he has interpreted according to demonstrably faulty presuppositions, and which he has then concluded supports his presupposed theory. The scientific claim of objectivity and neutrality is so easily exposed as a sham that it is difficult to think that any scientist truly believes it; yet, the inability of unbelievers (particularly university-educated unbelievers) to think clearly and rationally should not be underestimated. We should not ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

Lastly, however, the actual reasoning behind the idea that Scripture should be reinterpreted in the light of scientific inquiry is formally fallacious: that is, it does not follow a process which leads to a necessarily true conclusion. It assumes firstly that the practical success of science in various fields of technology proves its truth; but even granting this (which is a stretch beyond reality!), the unstated inference is that because it works in these particular instances then it must therefore work in all instances—which is invalid. The conclusion might be true—but it equally might not be, and we have no way to be sure. But this invalid reasoning is the way in which all scientific inquiry is conducted: the scientific method itself is based on generalizing from the particular to the universal.

At the beginning of this series, I established that the scientific method involves “the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.” That is, a scientist will take a problem, such as “why do ships appear to sink into the sea as they get further away?” and he will collect as much data about the problem as possible so as to test various hypotheses he might have. For instance, he might imagine two different possible explanations: firstly, that the earth is spherical, and that the ships are moving beyond the visible horizon for the observer; secondly, that it is an optical illusion caused by the fact that light is made up of particles, and that particles travel in a trajectory when influenced by gravity, and thus “sink”.

He may then devise an experiment to determine if either hypothesis is correct. For example, he may note after careful observation that the stars rotate about an axis in the night sky. He may also note that one particular star might be just visible on the horizon at one location, but be invisible at locations further north. From this, he may reason that, if the stars are actually stationary, then the earth is a sphere which rotates about an axis. And, from this, he may further reason that, like the stars, the sun is stationary, and that the earth rotates from west to east, explaining the phenomena of sunrise and sunset.

There are a number of things to notice about this example. Firstly, although the scientist came to the correct conclusion about the shape of the earth, his reasoning was based on a premise which is not actually true: the stars are not, in fact, stationary: they move, but very little relative to the solar system. However, now that he has assumed that the stars are stationary, and he believes this assumption has yielded useful results, he may draw false conclusions about other things because of his mistake.

Secondly, even if we imagine that his premises are all sound, his conclusion does not necessarily follow from them. That is to say, it’s possible to imagine a different explanation for all the phenomena he observed; an explanation which contradicts his existing solution, and which cannot be disproved by his experiments. He is therefore unjustified in believing that the earth is spherical, even if it is.

Thirdly, he has not actually disproved his other hypothesis. In fact, according to one model of physics, light is carried by particles, and these particles do sink into gravity wells. But, because of their velocity and lack of mass, this effect is negligible on earth, and is unrelated to the phenomenon of ships disappearing over the horizon. However, again, having set these two hypotheses against each other, concluding that one is correct, the scientist’s tendency will be to discard the other hypothesis as wrong. This, again, could cause him to draw false conclusions about other phenomena in the future.

Now, a scientifically-minded person might object to this fabricated example on the basis that it is invented to demonstrate a point, rather than to reflect reality. But I don’t need to cite an actual experiment to adequately demonstrate the scientific method. The objection is merely based on the fact that I have simplified the method enough to demonstrate its basic nature, and thus its absurdity:

  1. If P is true, then Q will be true.
  2. Q is true.
  3. Therefore, P is true.

This is a logical fallacy known as affirming the consequent. To take a well-known example, I might say that if it is raining, the road will be wet. Since the road is wet, I then infer that it is raining. But perhaps a fire hydrant burst, or perhaps a river flooded. Or, I may say that, if knowledge is gained by sense experience, then I will have knowledge. Since I believe I have knowledge, I therefore infer that it came through sense experience. But perhaps I do not have knowledge despite appearances, or perhaps I came by it another way without realizing.

One of the ways in which scientists attempt to mitigate the obvious fallaciousness of this method is by falsifiability. That is, they devise many different experiments to test the reliability of an hypothesis from as many angles as possible, so as to try to exclude as many potential alternatives as they can. Similarly, they run the same experiment many times, so as to ensure that the results are consistent. Where the results are similar, they average the differences between them so as to increase the likelihood of accuracy, discarding those results which seem too dissimilar.

But this method is utterly futile: it attempts to minimize the probability of error by increasing the number of instances of confirmation. But probability is measured by dividing the number of actual situations of something by the number of possible situations. Since the number of possible situations would require universal knowledge to discover, the idea of increasing probability in this manner is plainly stupid. The probability is unknowable, and always will be. That is, if the numerator is unknown, the probability of accuracy (and thus of error) is unknown, since the equation cannot be completed.

In other words, the accuracy of any scientific experiment is completely unknowable, and thus will never increase even if scientists were to run experiments until the proverbial cows returned. And if we don’t know, we don’t know, and so the theory is no better than speculation. Therefore, performing repeated experiments is self-evidently pointless, since scientists can have no idea whether this is helpful or not. Yet, they still act as if they can know. Even though they should be well aware that this is just an irrational pandering to their intuitive sense of what makes something likely, they do it anyway. It has nothing at all to do with actual probability, or with reality, or with rationality.

There is more to this foolishness, however. For example, if an experiment yields a certain result, but then whenever it is conducted in the future it yields a different result, the initial result is discarded as an error. Indeed, any outlying results (ones which seem too different to the others) are ignored, and only “consistent” results are collected and averaged. This is supposed to increase certainty and accuracy, as discussed above. But consider:

How does the scientist determine when a result is aberrant and when it is not? Since any repetition of the same experiment will yield different results each time, if only because our own observation is limited to a certain margin of error, the scientist can never obtain a perfect result. That is, all his results are in error to some degree. How he determines the degree of error which is acceptable is really quite arbitrary. He may think that it’s reasonable to discard results which show a discrepancy larger than the margin of error he has calculated for his equipment, but then he is still accepting that there is error present, so any theory he derives from his results does not reflect reality as it actually is.

In fact, his theory is a result of a mathematical set of averages. For example, if he is determining the speed of sound at sea level, he may measure four times (I will say four for the sake of simplicity, but really it would be more than this), and get the results 340.33, 340.28, 340.28 again, and 340.27. However, he will not take any of these measurements to be the speed of sound—instead, he will average them by determining their mean, and get 340.29 meters per second. Notice that this result never appeared in his observations at all, and yet he claims that it is the speed of sound instead of one of the results he did obtain! Furthermore, if he is going to average his results, why not choose the mode, 340.28, instead of the mean—at least that way he would be using an actual experimentally observed number! So we can see, using a very simple example, that scientific “facts” are not actually data imposed upon the scientist by reality, but rather mathematical models imposed upon reality by the scientist. His decision to average his results was not arrived at empirically. It was not dictated or even suggested by the empirical measurements he took. On the contrary, rather than being a finding at all, it is a formulation, ultimately determined by aesthetic philosophical notions, rather than empirical observation.

Another good example which may help to clarify this issue is the equation used to describe the motion of a pendulum, which says that the period of its swing is proportional to the square root of its length. This particular equation irritated me greatly in high school because, quite simply, what it predicted was never more than vaguely approximate to any experiment I performed, no matter how careful or accurate I was. But this should hardly have surprised me, since the equation assumes that the pendulum’s weight is a point (ie, infinitely small); that its string is tensionless; and that there is no friction on its axis. Such a pendulum never existed, and never could exist! Therefore, this law is not empirical, for it does not describe actual things—rather, it describes some imaginary “perfect” pendulum which the scientist has invented. Physical pendulums, as Gordon Clark put it in Science and Truth, do not obey the laws of physics.

But when the scientist performs his experiments so as to get results which he will average into a non-empirical, mathematical model which he calls a “law”, which the universe nonetheless doesn’t actually follow, he faces an even bigger problem. Consider that, on top of averaging the results, he also chooses which ones he will average at all. How does he decide? Well, he assumes that consistent results are to be expected! After all, it’s not reasonable for him to ignore results which are outside his arbitrary margin of error if he doesn’t presuppose that his results will be consistent in the first place.

But what justification does he have to assume that it is the aberrant results which are in error? What if all the other experiments were in error instead? Certainly it seems unlikely; his assumption seems reasonable; but I have just shown that intuition is totally useless for determining things like what is probable and rational, given an empirical worldview. Indeed, how would probability even be determined in this instance without making a whole host of other unjustified, non-empirical assumptions? For example, why does he assume that only one of the results can be correct? Why does he not instead assume that, at that one particular point in time, the experiment yielded a different result, making the whole question of probability moot?

This gets down to perhaps the most fundamental principle in science: that of the uniformity of nature. Scientists assume that the future will resemble the past, and that an experiment conducted in one location will yield the same result when conducted in another. Again, to prove the irrationality of the scientific method, one need only ask: why? Indeed, although I have taken the long route in getting to the topic of uniformity, it is the prime example to pick when refuting any scientific argument, because it avoids getting side-tracked with specific theories and instead cuts directly to the heart of all scientific inquiry. It must be true if any scientific theory is to be even considered plausible, because it is implicitly assumed by the scientific method itself; and yet it commits the same logical fallacy as every other instance of scientific reasoning. There is simply no reason, no justification, for the assumption of the uniformity of nature (when we look at the vastness of the universe, and its supposed age, really it doesn’t even make any kind of necessary intuitive sense). It is also obviously a non-empirical assumption, and this is why I said before that the point at which science begins and philosophy ends is really not clear at all—certainly it is not where the scientist would smugly like to believe it is, and this just goes to show his ignorance and stupidity once again.

Recognizing the importance of uniformity, your opponent will try to justify it despite that it is both non-empirical and formally fallacious. He may say that we can expect the future to resemble the past because that is what we have always observed to date. Certainly it’s possible that the future could suddenly be different, he might concede: as far as he knows the laws of nature might radically alter at any instant, since there is no consistent and orderly God causing them from one moment to the next. But, he will continue, it’s very unlikely, because it’s never happened before.

But this is just the same fallacy all over again: probability isn’t measured in the way he would like to think it is. In fact, in total opposition to what he thinks, it is again unknowable as to whether the future will resemble the past! If the only way for him to justify his assumption is to argue for it on the strength of its historically always having been so, then he is sunk, because this reasoning is openly fallacious by merit of its circularity—after all, his inference is only justified if he’s already assuming that the future must be like the past. But to even posit this much, he must first assume that his memory of the past is accurate, which again is an assumption justified, in the lack of a valid metaphysic, only by his presupposition of the fact, and so constitutes (at best) question-begging. So not only can he not know that the future will be like the past; he cannot even know that the past has been like the past! His beliefs, then, are not only irrational, but obviously irrational; such that even the simplest person could expose his error.

I mention the obviousness of the error for two reasons. Firstly, because those who disbelieve the Bible on the strength of science tend to have an extremely high opinion both of their own intellectual abilities, and of the rational standing of scientific inquiry. Secondly, because they conversely tend to have a very low opinion of the intelligence of Christians, and of the credibility of the Bible. They pride themselves on being more intelligent and more rational than we are. Yet, despite their estimation, we have seen that what they believe is obviously stupid and irrational—and that they are so mentally incompetent that they didn’t even notice until we, irrational Christians, explained it to them. Ridicule may be a powerful ally as we seek to fulfill the biblical command to destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, by proving that unbelievers are fools, and their thinking futile.

Proving this is as important as proving any other scriptural truth, and it is entirely appropriate to use it as a means for forcing your opponent to consider the Christian worldview more seriously. By destroying his own way of thinking, showing him that it’s utterly useless and incompetent just as the Bible says, you open the door to set up biblical thinking in its place, proving its rationality and invincibility. In this series, I have so far shown how to approach the first half of this process: how, ultimately, scientific beliefs are derived from a form of reasoning which can be essentially represented as follows:

  1. This object is spherical.
  2. Billiard balls are spherical.
  3. Therefore, this object is a billiard ball.

Once you have shown this, putting the supposed rationality of the unbeliever to shame, you’re in a position to move on to replace their useless opinions with the objective truth of Scripture. To conclude this series, then, we should briefly address the correct relationship between science and knowledge-acquisition, as defined by biblical metaphysics and epistemology.

Continued in part 4 »

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