Book Plunge: Evidence Considered Chapter 9

What can we learn looking at the pale blue dot? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s been awhile since we last looked at the work of Glenton Jelbert. It hasn’t been because of lack of desire, but because of other reading requirements that I have had. Today, we return to look at a chapter on the pale blue dot.

Like all chapters, this one is a response chapter. The original writers are Jay W. Richards and Guillermo Gonzalez. Jelbert points out that both of them work for the Discovery Institute which we should all know is pretty much the thinktank for the Intelligent Design movement.

I will also state that I am not a promoter of the Intelligent Design movement. I prefer the traditional teleological argument of Aquinas that does not rely on scientific knowledge and I think the current ID makes the universe more of a machine which still gives us the problem of materialism. It was said long ago that he who marries the spirit of the age is destined to be a widow, and I really don’t want to build a worldview on modern science.

That said, there is some history. Richards and Gonzalez are certainly correct about the false narrative given in our schools today about science and Christianity in the so-called dark ages. Most people grow up hearing that Columbus sailed west to prove the Earth wasn’t flat, when this is entirely false as no serious thinker was suggesting that it was.

So also we are told that people would want the Earth to be at the center of the universe, but this wasn’t so. The center was not where God was after all. With this, I stand firmly in support of Richards and Gonzalez.

This then goes on to the idea that science has established our insignificance. We have moved from a place of honor to a place where we really don’t matter. We are just a pale blue dot in the universe. As you would expect, I do not find this convincing. C.S. Lewis said years ago there was a problem that any position would be argued against Christianity. If our planet is the only one with life, well that shows that life really doesn’t matter to the universe and there is no God. If there is life elsewhere out there, well that shows that life really isn’t that rare and unique so there is no need for God. This is a heads I win, tails you lose, approach and is based on an entirely subjective criteria.

Jelbert does say that the big challenge for religion is coming not from science but from history. While this will be looked at later in the third section, I find it quite amusing. The things liberal scholars even will grant today about the historical Jesus are things that would not even be thought about a century ago. We have more and more cemented information so much so that a minimal facts approach can be taken to the resurrection.

Jelbert in going further is absolutely right that how we feel about a proposition in science (Or any other field for that matter!) doesn’t matter. Reality doesn’t care how you feel. If Jelbert says that all that matters is the data, then I agree.

Jelbert says then that this is a slippery slope because it led to the establishment in science of our insignificance. Jelbert says he does not see how this is so, but it does not take much to see. It’s not Christians that demoted man. It’s man that demoted man. If there is nothing special about us, then let us eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. Many people are not persuaded after all by the facts of science so much as by the story of science. Few people will ever read the scientific journals, but many of them will go along with the story that is given. It’s the narrative today that matters.

Jelbert says the Catholic Church resisted heliocentrism for theological reasons. This isn’t accurate. Galileo was not the first to posit that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Several people had come beforehand and done so and they weren’t persecuted for it. So what was the big deal? Galileo was trying to teach theology and this without the necessary theological training.

There’s an irony that Jelbert thinks this case of resisting a claim for theological reasons should be ringing in the ears of those supporting ID. As I said, I do not support ID, but I think it would honestly be the opposite. Galileo was right and Galileo was the one challenging the reigning dogma of the day and insisting that he was right. That should be ringing in the ears of more of the scientific critics than anything else.

Jelbert also disputes that materialism does not enjoy a scientific pedigree. He rightly says that heliocentrism is independent of materialism, which is true, but I suspect Richards and Gonzalez have a lot more in mind than just that.  What is being spoken of lightly is the idea of the scientific revolution from then on and that supposedly materialism has been the great driver of it.

Jelbert also says what matters is not the historical success of an idea but what the evidence of it is. I contend that if you want to know if materialism is true or false, science is not the place to go to. It cannot answer those questions. The question is a philosophical one and not a scientific one.

Jelbert says we accept materialism because of its empirical success. I wonder what he would think about what Lewontin said:

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

The problem is that the philosophy does not dictate how the science is done. Christians have been doing the science the same way for centuries. In the lab, a Christian, an atheist, a Muslim, a Jew, a Wiccan, or whoever, does not follow a different set of rules for the science. It’s done the same way. Jelbert says the science cannot establish the case but then claims science is automatically an endeavor of materialism. I find this odd.

He concludes by saying that we have here no evidence of God. The problem is at the start he says that this was not meant to be. Saying the narrative is wrong does not mean God exists, but it should plant a seed of doubt. Why is it that materialists seem so eager to rewrite history? What else could they be wrong about?

In Christ,
Nick Peters


Book Plunge: Scripture and Cosmology

What do I think of Kyle Greenwood’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I always have an interest in books on science and faith and books I think could be related to inerrancy and books about the worldview of people who lived in Biblical times. With Kyle Greenwood’s work, I have all three. The heavy emphasis is on the third part with a still sizable portion on the first and just a touching on the second, but the reader who goes through this book will be informed on the topic under consideration better.

One of the great problems we have today is people trying to read modern science into the Bible. Christians want to act as if so much of modern science was predicted by the Bible long ago, as if God had a great interest in teaching people scientific principles. That He does not does not mean that He does not care about science, but it does mean that He was wanting to get across a major message and was willing to leave the rest for us. After all, God told us things that we could not know on our own and left what we could discover for ourselves to be discovered by ourselves.

For non-Christians, there is this idea of course that if God spoke, God would speak in agreement with our modern science. One can only wonder what would happen if we were living 1,000 years from now and how much of our science might be different. Would we need a whole new Bible at that point because the science had changed? If the Bible supposedly does not speak about modern science and in scientific language, then it should not be treated seriously.

Greenwood writes to first off show how the ancients viewed the world with the main elements being land, heavens, and sea. Was their worldview primitive by comparison? Yes. What of it? God did indeed speak in that world and used the terminology that the people would be familiar with. Rather than give a whole discourse on the scientific nature of reality, something that would be largely unintelligible to the people back then and would have no way whatsoever to be discovered and backed back then, He instead chose to use the terminology of their time and culture in order to give His revelation.

Of course, in some ways, the Hebrews did not borrow from their pagan neighbors as much as they might have shared similar cosmology. This wasn’t attributed to the gods and there wasn’t sacred space for various deities out there. Everything was attributed to the one God and it was the one God who kept everything in motion by His wisdom and by His power. Naturally, this continues in the New Testament where Jesus Himself is included in this creative force as being the agent of God’s creation.

Greenwood also interacts with how the worldview of cosmology was changing. The first major change was brought by Aristotle and then more change came later on through minds like Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton. Through this, interpretations had to be changed and could it be they had to be changed because we were reading science into the text to begin with and had removed it from its original context? This is why I have been especially pleased with the work of scholars like John Walton as well that point out that works like Genesis 1-3 are not written to answer scientific questions but to answer questions on the nature of God.

To be fair, while I have not been an extensive reader on the medieval period and history, I have done some and there were a few parts that I thought I wanted to check up on. I would certainly want to make clear that the time was not really a dark ages time. There was indeed great scientific advancement going on and I think the work that Greenwood cites illustrates some fine examples of that going on.

Now we come to today. What can we learn? It’s not that science and faith don’t mix. Of course they do. I think Greenwood would mainly agree with Galileo. It is the role of creation to tell us how the heavens go and the role of Scripture to tell us how to go to heaven. Many times when we have married a scientific interpretation to the Bible, it has led to embarrassment mainly because that’s not what the text was trying to teach us in the first place. Does this mean the Bible errored? No more than there’s an error when we talk about sunrise and sunset today. We simply have God speaking in the language of the people at the time. The nature of their cosmological claims does not alter the truth being conveyed. (The glory of God reaching to the ends of the Earth does not change depending on the size and shape of the Earth. God is still the most glorious.)

This will be a fine book in anyone’s library working to understand the worldview of people of the Bible and how better to interpret the text today.

In Christ,
Nick Peters