Incoherent Science – Part 1

Michael Metzger

“Faith can and should be proclaimed from every mountaintop and city square.   But it has no place in science class.”1

One week ago, Charles Krauthammer – a respected journalist, commentator, and a friend of religion as a public voice – wrote that “intelligent design” supporters make a grievous error when they attempt to integrate their theory with science curriculum.  Why?

According to Krauthammer, science “begins not with first principles but with observation and experimentation.”2   Religion, on the other hand, begins with subjective speculations that can only be embraced by faith.  Krauthammer’s essay is just a prelude to the upcoming Time Magazine (the August 15th cover reads: “Evolution Wars: The push to teach “intelligent design” raises a question: Does God have a place in science class?”).  My guess is the stories will follow Krauthammer’s lead – that science ought to be segregated from faith.

But T.S. Eliot, Thomas Kuhn, Sir Isaac Newton, Louis Agassiz, C.S. Lewis, Walker Percy, and Albert Einstein would – in my opinion – challenge Krauthammer’s segregation of science from religion.  That’s a long list of luminaries, and I’ll only get half-way through it in this Clapham Commentary, but let’s start with Eliot.

In 1951, the world renowned poet, critic, and editor T.S. Eliot was invited to address the entire faculty of the University of Chicago on the topic “The Aims of Education.”  Eliot made the point that judging how education ought to be practiced (as Krauthammer is doing) requires using language that can only be provided by philosophy or theology – not science.  Biology, for example, can provide particulars (how systems work) but it cannot impart purpose.  “Every definition of the purpose of education, therefore, implies some concealed, or rather, implicit philosophy or theology.”3 Eliot believed, for example, the moment you say that religion ought to be separate from education,

whether you are a ‘religious person’ or not, or whether you expressly repudiate everything that you call ‘a religion’; there will be some sort of religious attitude – even if you call it a nonreligious attitude – implied in your answer.4

In order to advocate for the segregation of science from religion, Krauthammer uses a religious orientation toward science.  I find that to be incoherent.

Second, Krauthammer trots out a tired cliché that science “begins not with first principles but with observation and experimentation.”  In 1962, Thomas Kuhn (1922-1996) refuted this notion in his ground-breaking book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  After earning his Ph.D. in physics (Harvard, 1949), Kuhn developed his idea that, contrary to popular conception, typical scientists are not objective and independent thinkers.  Rather, they begin with first principles, just like religion.  Kuhn popularized the term “paradigm,” meaning the assumptions scientists make that guide the problem-solving process.  Many times, Kuhn maintained, these assumptions cause scientists to miss important observations or preclude other disciplines’ contributions (e.g., religion).  This is why, according to Kuhn, science does not evolve gradually toward truth, but instead requires periodic revolutions (which he called “paradigm shifts”).  When Krauthammer declares that science begins not with first principles but with observation and experimentation, he is simply parroting a reigning paradigm in science – one that Kuhn debunked years ago.

Third, if Krauthammer’s dictum had been adopted centuries ago, it’s likely we would not be enjoying the spectacular benefits of science today.  It is no coincidence that those countries most closely aligned with the Judeo-Christian tradition have also been the leaders in scientific developments.  This is because Christianity “depicted God as a rational, responsive, dependable, and omnipotent being and the universe as his personal creation, thus having a rational, lawful, stable structure awaiting human comprehension.”5
The modern university originated in the monasteries of Europe.  And modern science was cast in the crucible of these new schools.

Sadly, you wouldn’t know this by reading most of today’s science and history text books.  We forget that Sir Isaac Newton saw a harmony between science and theology; placing his science books right next to his Bible in his research.  “He did not live in fear of contradicting his faith through the study of the world.  He said that the activity of the scientist is to think God’s thoughts after him.”6   It is also why Louis Agassiz (1807-1873), who combined the results of his brilliant fieldwork with elegant expressions of the Design Argument, was among the most important geologists of the nineteenth century and the first to hold an appointment at Harvard.  Science and religion went hand-in-hand.

Charles Krauthammer’s remarks reflect the incoherence of science today.  In two weeks, I’ll show you how this state of affairs came to be – and how to reunite faith and science.

1“Let’s Have No More Monkey Trials: To teach faith as science is to undermine both,” by Charles Krauthammer, Time Magazine.  August 8, 2005
3T.S. Eliot, To Criticize the Critic – The Aims of Education, p.75
4T.S. Eliot, To Criticize the Critic – The Aims of Education, p.108
5c.f., Rodney Stark’s excellent history in For The Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-hunts, and the End of Slavery, Princeton University Press, 2003.
6R.C. Sproul, Lifeviews: Understanding the Ideas that Shape Society Today, 1986, page 167.


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