Monday, April 30, 2007

Bad ASA, Bad! (Not)

While I was on hiatus I see that there was a tempest in a teapot over on Uncommon Descent regarding the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), an organization of scientists/Christians up in my neck of the woods (though way down south in Massachusetts).

Dembski is upset because the ASA has apparently (based on what Dembski wrote, I am not a member of the ASA) shifted its emphasis from a battle against "scientific materialism" to a fight against Young Earth Creationism.

Well, I'm guessing this is a case of reaping what you sow. If the ASA is less friendly to ID than it was, it is because of the direction ID took under the guidance of Dembski, Wells, and company. An organization of Christians and scientists would, in my opinion, be performing its fiduciary duty (to both camps) by distancing itself from a movement that employs deceptive tactics and a fondness for litigation. In Christianity, the ends never justify the means. Never. While Paul could be "all things to all people," he always did so honestly. Timothy was circumcised, after the Jerusalem Council (I wonder if his first response to Paul's instruction was: "but, but, but, the Council ruled..I saw the letter..), to be more acceptable to the Jews, but it was not a deception to get his foot in the door. He didn't say: "See, I'm a Jew like you, let me in your schools" just so that, once inside, he could reveal that, in spite of his previous protest to the contrary, it really was all about Christianity. There is no "wedge document" approach anywhere in scripture. May it never be.

If the ID leadership does not like the ASA's tepid support: heal thyself.

What about scientific materialism? Well, it has many definitions. I'll just use the one from Wikipedia, which redirects you to a page on Naturalism:
Definition of Methodological Naturalism

Methodological naturalism contrasted with metaphysical naturalism

Metaphysical naturalism, which is often called "philosophical naturalism" or "ontological naturalism", takes an ontological approach to naturalism. Ontology is a matter of whether something exists, and so this is the view that the supernatural does not exist, thus entailing strong atheism.

In contrast, methodological naturalism is "the adoption or assumption of philosophical naturalism within scientific method with or without fully accepting or believing it … science is not metaphysical and does not depend on the ultimate truth of any metaphysics for its success (although science does have metaphysical implications), but methodological naturalism must be adopted as a strategy or working hypothesis for science to succeed. We may therefore be agnostic about the ultimate truth of naturalism, but must nevertheless adopt it and investigate nature as if nature is all that there is."

Relationship to the supernatural

This definition rules out recourse to the supernatural. Pennock contends that as supernatural agents and powers "are above and beyond the natural world and its agents and powers" and "are not constrained by natural laws", only logical impossibilities constrain what a supernatural agent could not do, and "If we could apply natural knowledge to understand supernatural powers, then, by definition, they would not be supernatural". As the supernatural is necessarily a mystery to us, it can provide no grounds on which to judge scientific models. "Experimentation requires observation and control of the variables … But by definition we have no control over supernatural entities or forces." Allowing science to appeal to untestable supernatural powers would make the scientist's task just too easy, undermining the discipline that allows science to make progress, and "would be as profoundly unsatisfying as the ancient Greek playwright's reliance upon the deus ex machina to extract his hero from a difficult predicament."

Naturalism of this sort says nothing about the existence or nonexistence of the supernatural which by this definition is beyond natural testing. Other philosophers of science hold that some supernatural explanations might be testable in principle, but are so unlikely, given past results, that resources should not be wasted exploring them. Either way, their rejection is only a practical matter, so it is possible to be a methodological naturalist and an ontological supernaturalist at the same time. For example, while natural scientists follow methodological naturalism in their scientific work, they may also believe in God (ontological supernaturalism), or they may be metaphysical naturalists and therefore atheists. This position does not preclude knowledge that derives from the study of what is hitherto considered supernatural, but considers that if such a phenomenon can be scientifically examined and explained naturally, it then ceases to be supernatural.
(In heaven, we might ask Luke the physician if he practiced medicine in a manner consistent with this definition.)

Folks, this is not a threat to Christianity. In fact, it is a profound misunderstanding of Christianity to claim that this is a threat. A similar yet perhaps more understandable mistake would be to claim atheism as a threat to Christianity, which is utter nonsense. For one thing, the bible tells us that such people will exist, and it does not characterize them as a threat. They are fools, but not a threat.

Indeed, in a universal sense there can be no threat at all to Christianity. He who is in us is stronger than he who is in the world. His word will not return void. Christianity is not dualistic: it is not a religion that pits good versus evil. God is an infinitely powerful good. Evil, by comparison, is infinitesimal. Not only is scientific materialism not a threat, and not only is atheism not a threat, but even if the United States declared itself a secular atheistic republic that would not be a threat to Christianity. To think so is to acknowledge that the Sam Harris’s of the world can thwart the will of a sovereign God. If you fight the culture wars, do so for the glory of God, not because you are worried that God could somehow lose. If you think God might lose, go back and study the Sovereignty of God.

Any warfare in the spiritual realm is not between God and Satan (which is silly even to contemplate) but on a personal level between a Christian and demonic powers. It is not a battle to gain control of the country, it is a battle to get you, in some form or another, to deny God. Satan battled Peter (and, in that instance, won) getting him to deny Christ--Satan did not battle God or Israel. The bible doesn't ask us to fight the culture wars; it asks us to keep our personal walk in line regardless of the circumstances.

In other words, and on a more practical level, the only "threat" to Christianity comes from within. Because the only "damage" (not the right word, but you know what I mean) that one can inflict upon God is to rob him of his glory. And it is Christians, not unbelievers, who rob God of glory, by (1) cursing Him (which is what Satan tried to get Job to do—he was not after Job's soul—what would he do with it?) or (2) by not giving the gospel or by (3) behaving badly, as it were.

Denyse O'Leary asks, in a follow-up UD post: Did the premier organization of Christians in science really choose to target fellow Christians instead of materialism in science?

She then goes on to write that the answer, alas, appears to be yes. She is shocked that the ASA (Again, I am assuming they are reporting the ASA position accurately) has "turned its fire on fellow Christians."

But the right response is: In principal there is nothing wrong with that, depending on the manner in which one "targets" his brother. It is far more important for Christians to engage other Christians in a common search for God's truth (iron sharpening iron) that to engage in apologetics with atheists who, apart from divine intervention from the Holy Spirit, are predisposed to deem our arguments as foolishness. Why fight what you can't win—you cannot possibly, by force of reason, convert Richard Dawkins. (Of course, I am not saying don't give the gospel--I am saying that, to first order, only give the gospel.) But you might persuade a fellow Christian that a stance, particularly a dogmatic stand, as is often the case with Young Earth Creationists, is unbiblical.

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