Scientists challenge “scientism”: two perspectives (Pt. 1)

#1: Famed Yale computer science professor quits believing Darwin’s theories | The College Fix origin of species is exactly what Darwin cannot explain.

Source: Famed Yale computer science professor quits believing Darwin’s theories | The College Fix

Science is one of the great gifts God has given us: intellect, rationality, powers of observation, perception, and deduction, and the creation and use of technology to gain understanding about the world – and cosmos – in which we live. I am grateful for it; and so, I believe, should we all be!

Science, properly understood and utilized, should be a vehicle toward the greater glorification of God, as we come to understand more and more the glory and grandeur of Creation, and give praise to its Creator.

Scientism, in contrast – defined by Merriam-Webster as “an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation (as in philosophy, the social sciences, and the humanities)” – is inward-looking, hubris-laden, and ultimately, closed-minded… however much its proponents think otherwise.

(For more on the problems and limitations of scientism, see this excellent post – “The Problem with Scientism” – by Massimo Pigliucci, on APA Online, the blog of the American Philosophical Association.)

I believe it is important to note that I am not a “young-Earth creationist,” nor do I find it necessary to my Christian faith to believe that all we see here and now, in this incredibly vast cosmos, or the incredibly complex web of life here on Earth, was brought into being over a period of an earthly week.

It could have been, of course; it would be hubristic of me to rule out the possibility. But given what we are able to discern, using our God-given powers of intellect, observation, reason, and discernment – as noted above – it seems to me more likely that this is a metaphor, or a poetic representation, for how the cosmos came into its current flourescence.

But nor do I find it convincing that it all sprang into being spontaneously – initiation without an Initiator – and then somehow independently ordered itself into the grandeur and glory that we see around us, without any sort of design or guidance… without, that is to say, a Designer, whom we Christians know as the God of the Bible.

The old argument is just as valid today as it was centuries ago: if you see a watch, in all its complexity, it is both logical and rational to suppose the existence of a Watchmaker.

To assume that all of the components came into existence and joined together randomly, without design or intentionality, to form a workable watch, is counter to reason and logic – much like the idea that a hundred monkeys, pecking away at typewriters, could eventually come up with Shakespeare.

Yet that is exactly what many – but not all – scientists today try to claim, about the origins of the Cosmos, and the rise of life on Earth. And for such extraordinary claims, extraordinary evidence is required: evidence which seems, quite frankly, to be lacking.

As David Gelernter, noted Yale professor of computer science, notes (quoted in the linked article),

“My argument is with people who dismiss intelligent design without considering, it seems to me — it’s widely dismissed in my world of academia as some sort of theological put up job — it’s an absolutely serious scientific argument,” Gelernter said during his interview. “In fact it’s the first and most obvious and intuitive one that comes to mind. It’s got to be dealt with intellectually.”

Gelenter notes that for many (most?) scientists today, Darwinian evolution has ceased to function as an ordinary scientific theory – an explanation that makes sense, given our current knowledge, and appears to account for the available evidence, but is subject to challenge as our knowledge base changes or expands – and become an object of ideological, almost religious faith, which cannot be challenged: quite the opposite of the scientific method! He then sounds a cautionary note:

“Gelernter said an ideological bent has taken over the field of science. There are good scientists doing good work, ‘but we have a cautionary tale [that] what happened to our English departments and our history departments could happen to us, God forbid,’ he said.”

He further notes that while he likes many of his colleagues at Yale, that they are his friends, when he looks at

“their intellectual behavior, what they have published – and much more importantly what they tell their students – Darwinism has indeed passed beyond a scientific argument as far as they are concerned. You take your life in your hands to challenge it intellectually. They will destroy you if you challenge it,”

and adds,

“what I have seen in their behavior intellectually and at colleges across the West is nothing approaching free speech on this topic. It’s a bitter, fundamental, angry, outraged rejection [of intelligent design], which comes nowhere near scientific or intellectual discussion.”

Why is this a problem? Leaving aside the issues of free speech and the free exchange of ideas which is one of the major underpinnings of both Western culture and Western academia, it renders its proponents unable to look at new data, or differing interpretations of existing data. With respect to life on earth, for example, adaption is well-attested. Speciation – much less origin – not so much. Here’s Gelenter again:

“There’s no reason to doubt that Darwin successfully explained the small adjustments by which an organism adapts to local circumstances: changes to fur density or wing style or beak shape,” the professor wrote. “Yet there are many reasons to doubt whether he can answer the hard questions and explain the big picture — not the fine-tuning of existing species but the emergence of new ones. The origin of species is exactly what Darwin cannot explain.”

Emphasis added. Darwin’s seminal work was entitled “The Origin of Species,” but “the origin of species is exactly what Darwin cannot explain.” This is a problem for Darwinists, naturally, and it explains their at-times almost hysterical reaction to anything that would challenge their core doctrine.

I will not here recount Gelenter’s specific arguments, but please click through the link and read them yourself: they are telling. But they come down to the conclusion that “the idea that random chance and mutations are the driving force behind the vast complexity of life – even with billions of years of time – is not just scientifically improbable, it’s an impossibility.”

The only place in which I disagree with Gelenter is when the article notes that “he sees intelligence in Earth’s design, and has no quarrel with ID proponents, but notes the world is a mess, its suffering far outweighs its goodness.” I would say that, on balance, the goodness far outweighs the suffering, although of course, locally, suffering can be intense. But a full discussion of the theodicy is far beyond the focus of this post!

In any case, Gelenter notes,

“Darwin would easily have understood that minor mutations are common but can’t create significant evolutionary change; major mutations are rare and fatal,” Gelernter wrote. “It can hardly be surprising that the revolution in biological knowledge over the last half-century should call for a new understanding of the origin of species.”


To be continued, in Part Two!

Yale’s David Gelernter: Darwin’s Doubt Is “One of the Most Important Books in a Generation” | Evolution News

Yale University computer scientist David Gelernter is a polymath, a brilliant writer, artist, and thinker. Famed both for his specific scientific expertise, and for his cultural, political, and historical reflections, he’s also now a confessed Darwin skeptic.

Galernter credits reading Meyer’s book as the primary cause of his rejecting neo-Darwinian evolution, a “brilliant and beautiful scientific theory” now overtaken by science.

Source: Yale’s David Gelernter: Darwin’s Doubt Is “One of the Most Important Books in a Generation” | Evolution News

I am not a “young earth” Creationist, in the sense of one who accepts the calculations of Archbishop Ussher (an Anglican, it must be said!), who determined that the cosmos was just over six thousand years old, or who believes it essential to adopt a literalist attitude to the “six days” of the Genesis creation narrative.

Let’s remember that a) the Ancient Near East of the time used a hexadecimal system of calculation – our 360° circle, 365 day year (360 + 5 intercalculary days), 12-month year, and even 24-hour day are vestiges of this system – so six is an appropriate number of completion; and b) these literal, 24-earth-hour days make sense only for Earth itself, since every other planet in the solar system (and beyond) has a different length of day.

Also, there are plenty of indications that God – being eternal – views time quite a bit differently than we do: “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4), and “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8, likely following the Psalmist), to cite but two examples.

(Note: we should not jump to the conclusion that “a divine day equals a thousand earth-years,” either: the Scriptures frequently speak symbolically and allegorically).

And evolution, in the sense of adaption / development in response to environmental stimuli, is an observable phenomenon, both in the lab and in the field. As an explanation of observed phenomenon, evolution makes sense. Anyone who denies this is either not paying attention, or is hampered by ideological blinders.

The problem comes when science spins off into “scientism,” and people try to make of evolution something it is not, or should not be – a motive force, a mechanistic, deterministic replacement for God – and “believe in” Darwinism as a replacement for religion.

The bottom line is this: I am a Christian, and a Christian cleric. As such, I believe that we are living in a Creation, and that it has a Creator: God the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. All the glory and grandeur we see around us, in the heavens and on earth, did not “just happen,” as a result of the intersection of random happenings and (unoriginated, self-existent) natural laws. We do not live in an accidental Cosmos.

What is interesting to me is that more and more professional scientists are beginning to adopt the same view. Intelligent Design (“ID”) is not, itself, a theological position; the Designer of ID need not necessarily, by the tenets of ID, be the God of the Bible. But it is at least a step in that direction; a concession that the Cosmos did not “just happen,” that – in the terms of the old natural theology – if you happen to come upon a watch, the logical deduction is that there is a Watchmaker.

(It must be noted that a great deal of the challenge to the dominant scientific paradigm comes from secular, naturalistic scientists. However, as an article in The Federalist points out, the

“leading critics [of Darwinian evolution] have been intelligent design supporters, who are looked down on by naturalists.” [N.B. – in the sense of those who support solely naturalistic explanations for observed phenomena, not those who explain the natural world to families in parks and nature centers!] “But as each group adds to the scientific literature, certain critiques and findings inevitably bolster or redirect the research of the other [emphasis added].”

The originally linked essay by David Klinghoffer is an excellent introduction to the growing debate, and includes a large number of links for those who wish to follow up on it. As Klinghoffer concludes,

“Scientists, intellectuals, and ordinary thoughtful adults are giving up the old pledge of allegiance to Darwin. The evolution in thought is very gradual, admittedly, but it’s unmistakably happening.”