Archive for October, 2007

Science as an Act of Faith

October 16, 2007

It’s seems like a pair of Lukes are the ones who have taken the most interest in my science posts.  In the midst of my conversation with Luke S. (below on part 5 of the creationism series), I said, “Science itself is an act of faith.”  Luke A. then asked me to give a justification of that claim.  That is the purpose of this post, which I am now typing between sips of Kool-Aid.*

First, let me mention the titles of two books.  I am not mentioning them because I want anyone to go out and read them (I certainly haven’t), but only because the titles say a lot.  Immanuel Kant published a book entitled Religion within the Bounds of Reason or something to that effect.  The title says a lot about Kant’s approach to religion: it must be subsumed under autonomous human reason.  In recent times, Nicholas Wolterstorff (I think it was him) wrote a book entitled Reason within the Bounds of Religion.  In other words, human reason must be subsumed under faith, not vice versa.  I haven’t read either book, but the titles do say a lot about the worldviews behind them.

I have, however, read G. K. Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy.  That is where my comment about science comes from.  Chesterton says something to this effect: “Reason itself is an act of faith.”  If reason is an act of faith, then science must likewise be an act of faith, because science presupposes reason as its primary tool.

So now I must justify the claim.  First, it is important to look back over the history of science.  Where did modern science arise?  It arose in the Christian West.  It did not arise among Hindus or Buddhists or Muslims or any group of people who did not believe that the created world reveals something of God to us.  In order for a person to approach the scientific task, that person has to have a number of presuppositions in place.  Here are some of the presuppositions one must have in order to reach conclusions based on the scientific method:

1. There is a real world out there outside of myself (contra idealism, contra many Eastern religions). 

2. My senses are reliable.  My perceptions are not distorted to the point that I have lost touch with the real world.

3. My ability to make inferences on things like causality is likewise reliable.  In other words, my brain functions such to allow me to make true conclusions about the external world.  Therefore, my brain must not be subject to blind forces of deterministic chance such that all of my reasoning could be attributed to nothing more than random molecules banging around in my head.

4. Other people have minds.

5. While we may come to different conclusions, I must assume that other people have the same basic sensory percpetions, which are also reliable for the purpose of putting them in touch with the real world.  Their reasoning processes likewise must be given some level of credibility. 

6. The world exhibits patterns of uniformity such that, based on a good number of observations, one may reason from particular events to general conclusions.

There could probably be more presuppositions listed.  Hindus would never come to these conclusions.  Hindus deny the reality of the world.  Atheism probably never could have given rise to science.  Atheists have no basis on which to accept the above presuppositions.  Philosophers have long debated whether we can accept the things I listed above.  Kant denied that we could know the world as it truly is, but he did believe that all people have the same mental equipment (concepts) that enable them to make sense of the data that they encounter (percepts).  The only way he could ground this assumption about the uniformity of our mental equipment was his belief in God (Kant was a deist).  Hume’s thought-experiments about causality indicate that science rests on a large number of unproven assumptions which, if jettisoned, would render the scientific enterprise completely meaningless.

Because science presupposes the six things listed above (as well as other presuppositions), science itself cannot prove these things.  It must accept them on faith.  My contention is that only a belief in God can provide a foundation for belief in those presuppositions.  If there is no God who has revealed information to me about himself and the world he created, then how can I be sure that other people have minds?  How can I be sure that what I perceive about the real world actually puts me in touch with the real world?  How can I trust my reasoning ability?  It is only by presupposing that God has made me in his image and has placed me (as part of the human race) over his creation, with all of the proper mental equipment that is needed to carry out that task, that I can even begin to do science in the first place.  If we are nothing but the products of blind, evolutionary determinism, then we have no ground for our scientific claims.  It is no accident that Christianity gave rise to modern science.  Science is an act of faith. 

Let me finish this post with an illustration that I got from Ronald Nash’s book Life’s Ultimate Questions (I think he got it from someone else).  Imagine you are on a train.  As you look out the window, you notice that on a green hillside a number of rocks are arranged in a pattern that spells out a message: “Welcome to London.”  You have to decide how those rocks came to be in that arrangement.  Either an intelligent agent arranged them for the purpose of communicating a message, or they came into that arrangement by random, naturalistic processes. 

Let’s say you opt for the former: intelligent design.  Then you would be justified in thinking that you actually were entering London.  But what if you opted for the latter: naturalistic processes?  Would you be justified in thinking that the train really was pulling into London?  If there is no intelligence behind the message, then there is no link between what the message says and objective reality.  Therefore, you would be a fool to conclude that a random arrangement of rocks actually told you something about the geographical location of your train. 

Modern science is in the same predicament.  Scientists rely on their own abilities to perceive and understand the world, just like the train passenger relies on the rocks to tell him where he is.  And yet, naturalistic scientists believe that their own abilities were not given to them by an intelligent Creator but rather are the result of blind chance.  Naturalistic scientists are like the passenger on the train seeing the rock formation, believing that it was random, and yet concluding that it provides reliable information about where they are.  Without faith in a Creator, an intelligent designer who gave us the mental equipment to know this world in the first place, science has no foundation. 

*Not really, we don’t keep Kool-Aid at our house.


The Beauty of Complementarity

October 12, 2007

Last Saturday I performed a wedding ceremony for the first time.  It was for a young couple that I have had the privilege of getting to know over the past few months.  Back in May I baptized both of them and welcomed them into the fellowship of our church.  The wedding was a very special event for me, not only because it was my first wedding to officiate, but also because it was the wedding of two friends. 

I have a personal policy of guidelines that I use to determine what weddings I will perform and that provides information concerning my views on marriage, family, and gender.  Whenever a couple asks me to perform a wedding, I provide these guidelines to them, ask them to read over them, and then to let me know if they still want me to officiate.  These guidelines clearly explain my views of the roles of men and women, namely, that of male headship in the home.  After reading over the guidelines, the couple still wanted me to do their wedding.  After several sessions of premarital counseling where we discussed issues including the roles of husbands and wives in the home, they still wanted me to do their wedding. 

At the wedding I read three passages of Scripture: Genesis 2:18-25, Revelation 21:9-10, and Ephesians 5:22-33.  I explained that marriage is an institution of God that goes back to the beginning and awaits us at the end.  The marriage of the first man and woman is a pattern of all marriages to come, which points us to the union of Christ and his church.  In this union, husbands play the role of Christ, and wives play the role of the church.  I told the groom that his role was to love his bride as Christ loves the church, namely, in a self-giving, sacrificial way that seeks her good above his own.  I told him that it was his responsibility to lead his family, to provide for his family, and to protect his family.  I told the bride that her role was to submit to her husband’s godly leadership and help him carry it through.  I told her that most of all, her husband needs to know that she respects him.  I told them both that they are equally made in God’s image, but to be equal does not mean to be interchangeable (although I didn’t say it at the wedding, I think one would have to conclude that if men and women are interchangeable, then homosexuality is no different from heterosexuality). 

I gave a robustly complementarian message.  The couple seemed very pleased with how it all went.  After the wedding, a number of people complimented me on the message.  I don’t say this to blow my horn, but simply to make a point (which I will get to in a second).  A few of those who complimented me were men, but the majority of them were women.  In fact, one young woman who complimented me is a member of my church and is engaged to get married.  Her wedding is scheduled for 2009.  She was the most enthusiastic about my message, and she told me that she wants me to say some of the same things about the roles of men and women at her wedding.

It is quite possible (in fact, quite probable) that some people were offended by the message but simply didn’t express that to me.  I will say, however, that I was surprised by how many people–women especially–gave a resounding affirmation to the complementarian theology that I proclaimed.  This in no way proves that complementarian theology is correct (Scripture proves that); it does, however, seem to undermine to some degree the idea that complementarian theology is oppressive to women.  Most women I know would be thrilled to see their husbands take on a Christlike, self-giving, strong, protective leadership role in the home, and they would be happy to submit to that kind of leadership.  While the egalitarian view of the sexes seems to be dominant in mainstream culture, I doubt that it is quite as dominant as most people think.  And within the church, it is still the minority position (and has been throughout the entire 2,000 years of the church’s existence). 

There is certainly a wrong way to preach and teach a complementarian theology.  But when it is preached right, taught right, and lived right, it truly is a beautiful thing.  And many people–far more than you might think–will be glad to embrace something so beautiful.

Abuse a Teenager, Win the Lottery

October 9, 2007

On April 9, 2004, Donna Summers, an assistant manager of a McDonald’s restaurant in Mt. Washington, Kentucky (not far from Louisville), answered a phone call and heard the voice of a man claiming to be a police officer.  He told Summers that one of her employees may have stolen a customer’s purse, and after hearing a description she called eighteen-year-old Louise Ogborn to the manager’s office to question her about the matter.  Ogborn denied stealing anything, but the voice on the phone pressed the matter, convincing Summers to demand that Ogborn first empty her pockets and then take off all of her clothes.  Shocked and scared, Louise Ogborn reluctantly complied with these demands, getting completely naked in the back office of a McDonald’s restaurant.  She would remain that way for around three hours, most of the time with nothing but an apron to cover her. 

As the voice on the phone kept pressing the matter, Summers decided that she had to get back to work.  It was a busy night for the restaurant, so she called her fiancee, Walter Nix (not a McDonald’s employee), to take the phone and keep an eye on the suspect.  Summers left a scared, naked teenager in her office alone with her own fiancee.  The security footage would later reveal what a terrible mistake that was.  On orders from the voice on the phone, Nix made Ogborn drop her apron and do numerous bizarre acts, like jumping jacks, supposedly to shake out any loose items from her body.  Whenever she questioned these bizarre demands, the voice on the phone ordered that she be bent over Nix’s knee and spanked.  Nix complied, hitting her over and over.  At some point, again following orders from the voice on the phone, Nix made Ogborn perform oral sex on him. 

Needless to say, the voice on the phone was no police officer.  The whole incident was a cruel hoax.  A man suspected of being the caller was arrested and charged, but he was acquitted.  To this point, justice has not been served in this case.

Both Donna Summers and Walter Nix were charged with crimes.  Summers served a year on probation, and Nix actually went to prison (whether he is still there or not, I do not know).  Louise Ogborn recently sued McDonald’s and won five million dollars just last week.  Her claim was that McDonald’s failed to warn its employees about these kinds of calls (a number of them had happened previously in fast food restaurants), thereby failing to protect its employees from this kind of abuse.  Apparently, the Bullitt County jury agreed that McDonald’s was culpable in this matter.

I was not on the jury, and I did not hear all of the evidence.  But from where I sit, blaming McDonald’s for this incident seems like a mistake.  McDonald’s has a policy against strip searching, and from what I understand, a mass email was sent out warning managers about these kinds of calls.  In our litigious society, we have almost come to the point where if anything bad happens at all, no matter how stupid, depraved, or immoral the person is who commits the crime, we believe that we also have to take to court those who “let it happen.”  McDonald’s was sued for a failure of imagination.  The corporation could not imagine that any manager would be so dumb as Donna Summers.  I think that is a reasonable assumption to make.  It’s kind of like the warning label on the McDonald’s coffee cups: “Warning: HOT.”  You know it is written not for the general public but for the 2% of people who are either (a) so dumb that they don’t realize that coffee is hot, or (b) so litigious that they will spill it on themselves and sue.  McDonald’s made a reasonable assumption that its strip-search policy, its email about the calls, and the I.Q. level of its managers would be enough to keep something like this from happening.  I think that was a reasonable assumption, but apparently the jury disagreed.  The fact that the incident happened in spite of the reasonableness of the assumption does not assign culpability to McDonald’s but rather to the individual involved in the incident.  But that matter is neither here nor there.

I am a good bit more upset over the fact that the jury also awarded Donna Summers a million dollars.  You read that correctly.  The manager who abused this teenager, who forced her to take off all of her clothes, who left her naked and alone with her own pervert fiancee, who was so incredibly gullible that it staggers one’s ability to conceive, has won the lottery.  McDonald’s must pay the woman who was convicted on criminal charges in this ordeal.  That is complete lunacy.  Had Donna Summers simply had enough common sense to hang up the phone and be done with the matter on that night, she would still be working in the fast food business.  But instead, her depraved gullibility has earned her the status of victimhood and made her a millionaire. 

While we’re at it, why don’t we sue the phone company for failing to foresee that this might happen and enabling it through the provision of phone service?  Why don’t we sue the doctor who delivered Walter Nix into the world (if he is still alive) for allowing a depraved pervert into human society?  Why don’t we sue whatever high school (likely a public school) that Donna Summers attended for failing to teach her the Bill of Rights, since she is obviously unaware of the fact that police officers do not have the authority to demand strip searches over the phone? 

Whenever juries award money to stupid people, it sends a message: our society sanctions stupidity.  We don’t expect anything more from assistant managers at McDonald’s.  The fact that Donna Summers fell for this hoax is okay by the standards of our society.  The real culprit is the evil, rich corporation that did not compensate for Donna Summers’s stupidity. 

To the jury of Bullitt County: is this the kind of society that you want?  Do you really want to say that this kind of depraved gullibility is a winning lottery ticket? 

An Observation

October 4, 2007

I can’t help but think that those who are demonstrating for the release of the Jena 6 are in the same position as those who demonstrated for the acquittal of O.J. Simpson. 

Summing up on Creationism and Science

October 3, 2007

After writing my last post on this subject, I thought up a quick way to express my approach to scientific questions surrounding the age of the earth.  Here it is, in one sentence:

Because the act of creation was a miracle, the origin of the universe cannot be measured according to the same laws that are used to measure phenomena in the natural order of things as they exist now.

Think about that for a second.  What is a miracle?  I define a miracle as an extraordinary intervention of God that pertains to creation and quite often violates natural, scientific regularities (or laws, if that is your preferred term).  I say miracles “quite often” violate scientific laws because they do not necessarily do so in all cases.  The locust plague on the Egyptians was a miracle, but there is no reason to suppose that it violated any natural laws.  God simply providentially ensured that an extraordinarily large number of locusts would be gathered together on the land of Egypt at one time.  It is, of course, possible that God created these locusts ex nihilo and then sent them to Egypt, thereby including a law-violating component to the miracle, but Ockham’s Razor would lead us to the former conclusion that God providentially orchestrated natural phenomena to produce an extraordinary event within the ordered system of laws that he ordained over creation.  Nevertheless, we know that God’s extraordinary interventions quite often ignore natural laws and therefore would not be subject to the same kind of scientific scrutiny that regular events would be subject to (I have repeatedly mentioned Jesus’ turning the water into wine, which is only one of a host of examples I could cite). 

Was creation a miracle?  Surely every Christian would agree that it was.  Is it reasonable to suppose that it was a miracle that bypassed natural laws?  Everywhere the Bible claims that God created by the power of his Word alone, and that to me suggests clearly that creation was a miracle that occurred outside natural processes.  In fact, the creation of this world would have involved at the same time the ordering of the world under the scientific laws that govern it.  Therefore, even the laws themselves were “created” at that time as well. 

I conclude, therefore, that if we approach creation as a miracle, we should actually approach it as a miracle, meaning that it is something that God must interpret for us, not something we can claim to understand apart from his revelation.  I am not advocating the complete overthrow of science.  Science has an important role to play in our understanding of the world as it now exists and operates.  But I do not believe autonomous human reason alone can discover how it all began.  It is much better to trust what God has told us about his own miracles.  It is high time for science to get a dose of humility before God.