FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–“Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?” was the theme of a conference sponsored by the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and hosted by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
Michael Keas and William Dembski of Southwestern Seminary and Stephen C. Meyer, John West and Jay Richards of the Discovery Institute were among the featured speakers at the Oct. 23-24 conference.
SCHOLARS DEBUNK MYTHS
Keas, professor of the history and philosophy of science at the College at Southwestern, noted that faith played an essential role in the development of the modern sciences.
“It’s like there are huge erasers that have erased our cultural memory of all of the incredible, rich Christian theological roots for science,” Keas, also a senior fellow with the Center for Science and Culture, said. “And we come into a modern science classroom today, and it is like none of this happened.
“… We have got to remember the past. … Secular scientists today are living off of capital they borrowed from Christianity, and they haven’t given us credit for it.”
Two of the most common myths about the historical relationship between faith and science remain in school textbooks to this day, Keas said. According to the first myth, medieval Christians thought the world was flat until Christopher Columbus proved otherwise in his 1492 discovery of the Americas. On the contrary, people knew that the earth was a sphere even in ancient Greece, and the belief was passed on to the thinkers of the Middle Ages. Any debate in Columbus’ time lay in the size of the earth rather than its shape.
Second, Keas said, it is popularly believed that Copernicus dethroned man from his privileged place in the universe when he discovered that the earth revolved around the sun. To the contrary, medieval men believed that the earth’s central position in the universe implied that it was unprivileged and merely the dregs of the cosmos. For medieval men, Copernicus’ discovery placed the earth in a more privileged position, where it was able to “participate in the dance of the stars.”
Christianity developed the philosophical foundations upon which science depends, Keas said, citing as concepts supported by Christian doctrine as including the comprehensibility of the world, the unity of the cosmos, the relative autonomy of nature and the existence of mechanical laws of nature.
In another session of the conference, Jay Richards, a senior fellow with the Center for Science and Culture and coauthor of “The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos is Designed for Discovery,” corrected opponents of the Intelligent Design movement who claim that it is merely religion disguised as science.
Much of the erroneous ID critique is based on inaccurate definitions, Richards said, setting forth two basic assertions that ID proponents make. First, “the activities of intelligent agency are sometimes detectable.” Commonly accepted fields of science are based on the assumption that scientists can observe the effects that intelligent beings have upon nature. Archaeologists, for example, put this into practice when they examine artifacts they believe to be manmade, and forensic scientists apply this principle when they attempt to trace the proof for intelligent causes in homicide cases.
Second, Richards said, ID proponents suggest that “nature exhibits the evidence of intelligent agency,” something he said is “theologically minimal.” Although ID proponents may observe signs of intelligent activity in nature, they cannot prove scientifically that the intelligent designer is the god of a certain religion, or that the designer is even supernatural, Richards said. Describing the nature of the designer belongs in the realm of philosophical and theological discussion.
“So notice how lightly it travels,” Richards said. “Notice, there is not a doctrine of creation here. There is not a doctrine of God here. There is not a developed theology. There is not even really a developed philosophy at this point. There is just basically these two claims. …
“Think of Intelligent Design generally as a research program that seeks to ask questions like this, ‘Does nature display objective evidence of design or purpose?’ It uses publicly available evidence from the natural world. It also includes, usually, some type of theory of design detection so that we can determine whether something is designed or not.”
THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF MATERIALISM
Darwinian materialism has had a negative effect on ethics, culture and the study of Scripture and theology, another scholar said during a chapel service at Southwestern prior to the conference.
“Many people who have a Christian faith have a sense that something is amiss in our culture,” said philosopher and geologist Stephen C. Meyer, director of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and author of “Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design.”
“One of the things that I think makes people feel ill at ease about the culture is this pervasive and overweening devaluing of human life,” Meyer said, citing as an example a University of Texas professor who garnered attention for suggesting that 90 percent of the earth’s population should be eliminated in order to preserve the earth.
“He at one point suggested that the Ebola virus would be a perfectly legitimate means by which to accomplish this, although he later kind of backed off on that,” Meyer said. “But he has gone on to advocate that we ought to confiscate the wealth of all families with two or more children as a way, again, of saving the earth.”
Such claims, Meyer said, are the result of a worldview based on the same scientific materialism that has resulted in a modern trend of disbelief in God.
Political scientist John West elaborated on the implications of scientific materialism and Darwin’s evolutionary theory. West is associate director of the Center for Science and Culture, and he has explored such issues in his books, “Darwin Day in America: How Our Politics and Culture Have Been Dehumanized in the Name of Science” and “Darwin’s Conservatives: The Misguided Quest.”
“Materialism is the idea that all of reality, including human reason, human morality and even religion, can be ultimately explained as merely the products of mindless matter and motion, the result of blind chance and necessity,” West said.
Philosophical materialism has existed in some form since ancient times, he said, but until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was a “fringe concept” and “nothing that most sensible people would accept.”
“Darwin’s theory was key in providing a mechanism that seemed to make materialism plausible, giving it a seemingly scientific justification,” West said.
Devoted to finding a materialistic explanation for the world, Darwin made two major claims: that all living beings descended from a common ancestor and that, as West put it, “all creatures were produced by a blind, impersonal material process of natural selection acting on random variations.”
West said Darwin’s theory supposedly explained the appearance of design in the universe without reference to a designer, but rather to materialistic processes. The theory is supposed by its supporters to establish scientific materialism, in which “science substantiates philosophical materialism.”
“It is also important to recognize that people sometimes misunderstand Darwin himself and the implications he thought his views had for culture,” West said.
Some say Darwin only concerned himself with plants and animals and did not consider the implications of his theory for human culture, but West said Darwin discussed these issues in his book “The Descent of Man” and in his personal journals.
Even for Darwin, West said, the theory of evolution had a host of negative implications for mankind and for society. Darwin denied any concept of free will, and while Darwin himself typified the moral character of a Victorian Englishman, he believed that morality was “ultimately determined by reproductive success” and that morality could thus change in any way that ensures survival. Darwin understood that his theory degraded human dignity, West said.
“A large part of The Descent of Man was made to argue that humans are not unique nor special,” West said, quoting Darwin’s own claim that “there is no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties.”
Further, West said, Darwin argued that his theory explained why men of different races showed a disparity in mental abilities. Also, even though Darwin was personally a sympathetic person, he wrote that human society was doing itself a disfavor by saving its weak members and letting them breed.
“It is a fair question to ask about the logical repercussions and logical implications of something like this,” West said. “Ideas do have consequences. When you write ideas and you put them out in public, and especially when you yourself have put them out and applied them to things like morality and human beings and human dignity, there are consequences.”
During the remainder of his lecture, West noted the social consequences of Darwin’s materialistic evolutionary theory. He said the Darwinian denial of free will led courts to treat criminal behavior as a disease because people cannot help doing what they are programmed by evolution to do.
Concerning family life and human sexuality, Darwin argued that monogamy was useful for survival in 19th-century Britain, but he admitted that marriage customs could change if necessary for survival. More recently, some Darwinists have approved of child molestation based on this principle, West said. Darwin’s concerns about allowing the weak people in human society to breed led to the development of eugenics, a term coined by Darwin’s cousin, Francis Galton, who developed this practice of improving the human population by controlled breeding. Darwin’s reasoning also has been used to justify abortion, West said.
Also at the conference, a panel of scholars — including Richards, Meyer and William Dembski — discussed the impact materialism and Darwinian thought have had on biblical and theological studies.
“Darwinism is proving to be a suffocating ideology,” said Dembski, research professor of philosophy at Southwestern Seminary and a senior fellow at the Center for Science and Culture.
Scientific materialism and Darwinism have fostered a sense that the Bible is unreliable and that miracles are impossible, Dembski said.
Dembski and his colleagues uphold Intelligent Design as a critique of scientific materialism and as a “credible scientific alternative to Darwinism,” in which scientists can find evidence for design in the natural world, Dembski said.
DARWIN AND THE RETURN OF DESIGN
Scientists in the 21st century may discover evidence of design within nature, Meyer said during the conference.
“I think we can say that there has been a profound shift away from the materialistic world picture that we inherited from the scientists at the end of the 19th century,” he said.
“We have evidence of a definite beginning of the universe. We have evidence of design, of intelligent design, from the very beginning of the universe, built into the very fabric of the physical parameters that govern the universe as we know,” Meyer said. “We have evidence of design arising later along the cosmic timeline, in the form of irreducibly complex biochemical machines [and] in the form of the origin of life and the information required for that event to occur.”
Meyer said 19th-century scientists like Darwin believed the natural world must be explained “by reference to purely unguided, undirected materialistic processes” and without reference to design. Although secular scientists have inherited this view of the world, Meyer said some scientists are breaking loose from the philosophy.
“The Darwinian view is that things looked designed, but are not really designed because natural selection has the power to mimic a designing intelligence without itself in any way being designed or guided,” Meyer said. “Now that was maybe a credible perspective in the 19th century, but increasingly that idea is straining credulity. Part of the reason for that is what we’re discovering in the inner recesses of the cell, in the nano-world of the molecular machinery.”
Such evidence, Meyer said, can be seen in the seemingly high-tech structure of microscopic systems, such as bacterial flagellum, which are unable to function if any of their parts are removed. This “irreducible complexity” implies that this system could not have developed through a random evolutionary process, apart from an intelligent designer.
“I think the even more fundamental evidence of design in biology is at a deeper level,” Meyer said. “It’s in the realm of information, the information stored in DNA, and … probably in some other places in the living system as well.”
Scientists have discovered that DNA molecules contain information “in the form of a four-character digital code” that provides instructions for the arrangement of amino acids into proteins that then “form the parts of nano-machinery inside the cells,” Meyer said. The genetic information is necessary for biological life and biological functions, and any new forms of biological life require new information.
“If you want to build life in the first place, you also need information,” Meyer said. Biologists, however, have been unable to identify the source of biological information.
When Meyer was introduced to the question of the origin of biological information in 1985, he began to read Darwin’s works. After all, he said, Darwin “had pioneered a rigorous method of studying events in the remote past. In fact, his theory of evolution by natural selection was a historical scientific theory. It was an attempt to give a causal explanation for the origins of the forms of life.”
Darwin’s theory uses a method of reasoning called “the method of multiple, competing hypotheses” or “the method of inferring to the best explanation,” Meyer said. In order to discover what the best available explanation was for the variety in biological life, Darwin borrowed another concept from his own scientific mentor: “If you want to explain an event in the remote past,” Meyer summarized, “you should invoke or find the cause which is known to produce the effect in question.”
“And when I saw that phrase,” Meyer said, “a nickel dropped, and I asked myself, ‘What is the cause now in operation — what is the cause we know from our uniform and repeated experience — that is capable of producing information? … Intelligence. There is only one.
“If we apply Darwin’s principle of reasoning to what we now know about life that he did not know — namely, that information runs the show in biology — we come to a decidedly contrary-to-Darwinian conclusion. In other words, there is evidence of intelligent design. We haven’t explained design away. Design is not merely apparent. It is real.”
Benjamin Hawkins is a writer for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For more information on “Science and Faith: Friends or Foes?” visit scienceandgod.org.