Monday, February 28, 2011

The Mantle of Science

Del Ratzsch, in Science and Its Limits, makes this provocative statement: “Our worldviews, in short, are inescapably shaped by science.” We often assume the public understands what we mean by science. If someone makes a statement such as, “According to science…” it is often taken as a mantle of authority generating respect or awe. We often assume the public completely understands what we mean when the term science is invoked. But people in science professions or science education are often disappointed to discover the public’s deficient grasp of the subject. Even so, when the subject of evolution is raised, supporters often reverently clothe the subject with the mantle of science. Those who teach evolution, pressuring others to believe it is a true account of human origins, use public ignorance of science in their powerful lobbying campaign.

As a working discipline, science is enormously complex. Beyond the understanding of nearly everyone that the root word of science is knowledge, there is considerably less agreement on what science is and how it works. Many who profess to “like” science look favorably on the acquisition of knowledge, particularly if they are both interested in a certain scientific subject and have confidence that the knowledge they acquire is real and true. If they suspect the knowledge they acquire is not real and true, sometimes they will not view the science favorably.

Science is also described as the process of how knowledge of the natural world is gained. There is considerable variability in how scientists go about acquiring their knowledge. When non-scientists discover the complexity and challenge involved in gaining good scientific knowledge, some become discouraged or skeptical. At times the scientific methods may be flawed. On other occasions science conclusions may be driven by the strongly agenda-driven consensus of certain groups of professional scientists. Science is a distinctly subjective human enterprise--a fact sometimes not recognized.

Public attitudes toward science often fail to include an adequate knowledge of science philosophy. Calvin College philosophy professor Del Ratzsch states, “The philosophy of science is basically the study of what science is, what it does, how it works, why it works, and what we should make of it.” Sometimes even the scientists themselves fail to appreciate the philosophical and epistemological dimensions of their science--their presuppositions, values, what kinds of knowledge claims they make, and how they are justified. Most people prefer simple answers to scientific questions. They see science philosophy as esoteric, even unnecessary. Philosophy drives the scientific enterprise, however. Few people are interested in the philosophy that powers science. Unfortunately, most scientific laypersons merely stop off at, “What does science say?” on significant questions of our day.

Evolution is a topic of wide ranging impact in our secular culture. Within the evangelical community, theistic evolution is increasingly becoming an issue of profound metaphysical and theological significance. Theistic evolution is becoming strong in some evangelical media, churches, and campuses. Perhaps the dilemma is more important in evangelical culture than in secular culture. While the secular culture has generally embraced evolution, in the evangelical community embrace of theistic evolution may amount to a virtual paradigm shift.

We might ask, “What is the main support pillar for the theistic evolutionists’ drive to convert creationists to their origins belief system?” After reading large volumes of material produced by proponents of theistic evolution generally and BioLogos personnel in particular, I conclude their repeated invocation of the term “science” as a mantle of support for the evolutionary paradigm works well for them. The technical science of genetics they claim supports evolution is often obscure or difficult for laypersons to understand, but being generally on board with “science” resonates with the public. We must be aware that the methodology and philosophy driving “science” are highly variable and have changed dramatically over time.

Young people, in particular, want to be perceived as scientifically literate. I am fearful, however, that one’s self-perception of support for “SCIENCE” and belief in evolution sound with the same modern ringtone. Many evolutionary claims are supported largely by inference and the consensus of bio-scientists. That community has a strong evolutionary bias.

I encourage all who find theistic evolution appealing, or even “elegant,” to continue the challenging task of prayerful inquiry, intent on discovering the truth God has for His people. There are many wonderful and helpful written resources available on all sides of the question. Proper judgment is not possible without carefully studying the material produced by all of the stakeholders.