Sunday, August 21, 2011

Circular Science Reasoning

A strong antipathy exists between those who believe in creationism or intelligent design and those who promote naturalistic evolution. Creationism and intelligent design are often regarded as anti-science positions. Science deals only with the natural; no one is permitted to infer supernatural interventions along the timeline of earth history even if the evidence points that way. Expressed belief in creationism or design amounts to religion, as opposed to science, we are reminded. Science has become secularized, as has virtually every segment of our society.

Frequent media invocation of the vaunted term science often carries with it a heavily loaded meaning. We are not told the science may be the consensus science of those who support specific agenda. Science is an umbrella term. Multiple methodologies and various schools of thought exist throughout the science profession. As valuable as the human endeavor of science is, interpretation of data and application of its conclusions are frequently subjective and agenda driven. Biased media commentators attack entire groups such as religious denominations or political parties by questioning or criticizing their attitudes toward science.

Two examples illustrate the point. Supporters of global warming theory ask why certain religious groups or political parties do not support science. Their question implies that if they did support science, they would uphold the idea of anthropogenic global warming. Further, they would also implement heroic remedies such as cap-and-trade emissions rules. Vigorous supporters of theistic evolution provide another example. They speculate that skepticism concerning evolution would vanish if doubters would just “get on board with science.

Logical fallacies abound as arguments are made for one viewpoint or another. Reverently invoking science in discussion of issues could be an example of begging the question or circular reasoning. Whenever one of the first premises in discussion of an important issue runs along the lines of “Science tells us this,” or “No one who believes in science would think that…,” we should raise a flag of caution. The statement “Science tells us evolution is true,” begs the question. It says evolution is true because invocation of the term “science” is meant to force the listener toward a certain conclusion. Such arguments lack logical justification.

One might highlight the fallacy of this argument on other grounds, including “appeal to authority.” My theistic evolutionist friends correctly make the point that virtually the entire science profession has concluded evolution is true. Therefore, so should we, their argument goes. The scientific authority they cite, however, is questionable because their strong naturalistic bias permits no other interpretation. They would interpret all data according to their naturalistic preconceptions.

One of the most fruitful investigations Christian laymen could make involves understanding sound and cogent arguments and logical fallacies in argumentation. We are called upon both to receive and to defend belief positions. Scripture encourages believers to use their minds effectively. Among the many passages related to the principle of sound use of the gift of mind is II Tim. 1:7 (NKJV): “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and love and of a sound mind.” Many other translations of this verse indicate the need to exercise sound judgment and discipline when receiving or presenting arguments.