Modern culture views truth as having a gold standard, science. It measures all statements against scientific facts, accepting the ones that align with science and rejecting the ones that do not. Somewhere down the list are religious truths, which are either tossed into the pile of subjective statements or rejected outright as hostile to truth.
When we step back from this a bit, we will notice problems with science as a measure of truth. We notice that science does not say anything, but scientists do. Science is a field of endeavor, but humans make the decisions. Science is actually a series of humans who have human cares and desires and motivations, and make decisions on what to tell us and what to leave out. How do we know they are giving us objective truth? We are told the scientific method and peer-review process is designed to weed out falsehood and encourage accurate conclusions. But are we to believe that this process, run by humans, is infallable? This same process was in place a generation ago, but how many of last generations science texts are still considered accurate? Therefore how many of today’s science texts will still be accurate a generation from now?
We also have this pesky problem of objective observation. We have much difficulty finding a view from nowhere, and all viewpoints seem to have some biases and presuppositions. The bias of the observer is not just a conscious thing, but impacts the data that is observed and noted. For example, if I were to view an x-ray, all I would see are smudges and smears. But to a trained surgeon, the information communicated would be significant. Therefore how do we know that the data being observed is not influenced by the worldview of the observer?
The more we try to shake ourselves loose from the impact of the observer, the worse it seems to get. Stage magicians succeed in their craft because they know what we will look at and what we will not. They do the trick right in front of us, but because they are masters at distraction, they know what they can do in plain sight to fool us. This is all good fun, and we go home entertained. But when the scientists’ observations and conclusions end up impacting our nations laws, what we teach our children, how we spend our money, who can work and who cannot, and such, then we owe it to ourselves to at least be careful. When we move to the public arena, how do we know that the scientist just did not see the anomalies as a pattern of causes or symptoms?
We also note that science is a general term. The actual work is done in tiny slices of specialization. We do not actually have scientists as much as we have micropeleontoligists, imuno-molecular geneticists, optical physicists, and a host of other fields, sub-fields, and sub-sub-fields. Each of these areas has its own publications that publish so much material that these capable people have difficulty reading it all. How can we be sure that when they put all this data into a unified whole, they have put the conclusion together in a valid form? They cannot possibly have the cognitive bandwidth to evaluate each others’ areas of specialization, yet they make statements that broad areas of research are established fact.
So when we read in the popular media that ‘scientists say that…’ we typically are not expected to question. We are all happy…..until an outsider comes along and approaches the issue from a completely different perspective.
When Phillip E. Johnson, a law professor, published his landmark book Darwin On Trial, he took his expertise as an expert in legal evidence and applied it to the creation / evolution controversy. When describing a legal brief filed by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, Johnson stated “The Academy thus defined ‘science’ in such a way that advocates of supernatural creation may neither argue for their own position nor dispute the claims of the scientific establishment.” (p.8) He went on, ”A second point that caught my attention was that the very persons who insist upon keeping religion and science separate are eager to use their science as a basis for pronouncements about religion. The literature of Darwinism is full of anti-theistic conclusions . . .” (p.8).
Johnson mentions Richard Dawkins, a leading symbol of only-science-is-truth cultural norm:
His 1986 book The Blind Watchmaker is at one level about biology, but at a more fundamental level it is a sustained argument for atheism. According to Dawkins, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.’ When he contemplates the perfidy of those who refuse to believe, Dawkins can scarecely restrain his fury. ‘It is absolutely safe to say that, if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid, or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that)’ (p.9)
So much for calm objective observation about facts. Such statements as Dawkins’ would never pass basic legal or philosophy classes, but are regularly given in the popular media.
We should not be so inconsistent as to condemn all technical researchers, for overall they have done us much good. But we should take a great long look at who we take as authoritative fountains of truth. Many of our science gurus have all the same issues as the rest of us.
Personally, I’ll take the ancient source of truth in the Bible over the sages of modern science most every time, for it has a much better track record over time.