Monday, March 24, 2008

An Accidental Man in an Accidental Universe: A Comparison of Apples to Apples and Faith to Faith

Brothers and Sisters,

Henry Adams, the great-grandson of President John Adams, and the grandson of President John Quincy Adams, was a prominent nineteenth-century historian, intellectual, and social critic. A dour, humorless man, he nevertheless had the unique ability to see beyond his own times into the dark future of our present age. For instance, he once compared science to a wild mustang, upon which man, once mounted, quickly loses control. During the depressing days of the Civil War, he commented: "I firmly believe that before many centuries more, science will be the master of man. The engines he will have invented will be beyond his strength to control."

The statement has proven to be prophetic in ways that Mr. Adams could not have anticipated. The "engines" he spoke of now represent far more than mere technological advances, but a philosophy of scientific materialism which has come to dominate public discourse in today's culture.

Materialism is one of many "isms" I hope to discuss in this blog. Darwinism, atheism, humanism, naturalism, relativism are each essentially a different branch of the same tree. They are philosophies intent on defining our universe by denying the existence of God. Materialism, for its part, suggests that everything can be explained through the existence of matter, and that material things are the only reality. Rocks, dirt, air, grass, these are the only things, in such a view that, well, matter. Spiritual and intellectual impulses are described as only the casual tweaking of neurons in our material brains. Sounds like a pretty boring world to me.

The materialist crowd claims that theirs is a complete framework for understanding the universe, that only science has the capability of revealing all, and that all must be subjected to its methods. Yet, Scientific materialism, in many respects, does not bear close scrutiny. In fact, much of it is blatantly unscientific.

In explanation, I'm reminded of a lecture I once attended on the subject of epistemology, which refers to a theory of knowledge, or how we know what we know. At one point, the lecturer, clearly a materialist, who went on and on about the wonders of Darwinian complexity, announced that he did not take the Bible seriously because it could not be proven scientifically. Most of the audience responded with dutiful leers and a smug nodding of their robotic heads. It was not considered polite to question the speaker during his lecture. But, one young lady snickered loudly and suggested that the speaker should compare apples to apples. What did she mean, the man asked? As she began to explain, she was indignantly interrupted and accused of being an enemy to science. How typical. I have often thought of that young lady and wondered what point she may have argued. I'm not quite sure, but I think I have a good idea. It goes like this.

The Bible is a historical document. Attempting to prove it scientifically is a little like getting the girls down at Accu-Nail to do your taxes. It just doesn't make much sense. There is a misunderstanding on two levels. 1) How to verify historical events, and 2) Ignorance and/or flagrant misuse of the scientific method.

You can choose any date in history, say, for argument's sake, my wife Karen's birthday. I know for a fact that Karen was born on June 25th, 1956 (I just hope she doesn't mind me telling this). Every year she recieves presents and we celebrate on that date in recognition. But I cannot, and she cannot prove that she was born on that date scientifically. Why? Because we're not comparing apples to apples.

The key to the scientific method is empirical observation, or that which can be repeatedly examined by the senses. It is the all-important first step in the process. Then you formulate a hypothesis, or an educated guess, based upon these repeated observations, test your hypothesis by experiment and theorize upon its conclusion. This is basic scientific inquiry.

Because a historical event cannot be observed repeatedly (Please resist the urge to ask if history does not repeat itself), it lies outside the bounds of the scientific method. In other words, we simply cannot watch Karen being born over and over again. However, if a past event can be documented, it can be confirmed in a historical and legal sense. Karen can produce a birth certificate that states she was born on her birthday. This proves, by the same standard of proof used in a court of law, which is beyond a reasonable doubt, that the date of her birth is quite correct. It is a verifiable historical fact.

The New Testament is the most well-attested, best corroborated work to survive from ancient times. The Old Testament comes in second, and many of its events are confirmed in the New. Because they are better documented, the events of the Bible are more verifiable than any in the ancient world. So no, the scientific method cannot tell us much about the Bible. But let's go back to comparing apples to apples. What can it tell us, when accurately applied, to some of the major tenants of materialism?

"Vanity of vanities, all is vanity," Solomon famously writes in the Book of Ecclesiastes. His point is that without God, everything is vanity. It is meaningless, and random. This is exactly the kind of world that material scientists ardently wish for, squeezing their eyes tightly closed, as they attempt to force out any possible element of theism in their constructs, while inexplicably using the language of design in their expression, with such phrases as "evolution produces," or "nature provides." It is perfectly normal to these guys to suggest that the inanimate universe has an intelligence, as long as we do not mention God.

This is the world they have forced upon us, where all the complexity of life is deemed accidental. The universe happened by accident; the sun, the stars, the galaxies, by accident. The earth and its incredible richness of environment and species is an accident. Man is an accident. My big toe is an accident. (That hurts. I'm quite fond of my big toe.)

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy," Hamlet says in Shakespeare's play of the same name. (I always wanted to say that to an atheistic scientist.) Hamlet (Shakespeare) was so right. We only have a finite view of an infinite universe. There is more out there than we can ever begin to know. We accept this as part of God's mystery. The materialist conjures up suppositions that seek to eliminate Him as a source. The problem is that none of these ideas are actually provable by science. Why? Go back to the scientific method. They cannot be empirically observed. There was no one around to see the beginnings of the universe, as science tells us it occurred. There was no one around to tediously watch the so-called "billions of years" development of the earth. There was no one around to see complex organisms spring to life from inanimate matter, and there was certainly no observation of species emerging and evolving into variant and more complex species over eons of time.

None of these notions are scientific facts. They are merely postulates, or assumptions, based upon prior beliefs. The main ones are: 1) There can be no miracles, and 2) There can be no God. So, if this is not science, then what is it? It is faith, pure and simple, naturalistic, materialistic faith. Now, we are comparing apples to apples. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather have faith in a God whose design is "clearly seen," imminently observable, and who has ennobled us with purpose and meaning, than in a universe whose machinations are random and thoughtless.

Love in Christ,