Incoherent Science – Part 2

Michael Metzger

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?1

A year ago, biologist Richard Sternberg (who holds two PhDs in evolutionary biology) published a paper by Stephen C. Meyer (a Cambridge University-educated philosopher of science) making a case for “intelligent design.” At that time, Sternberg was the editor of theProceedings of the Biological Society of Washington (the journal that published Meyer’s article). Sternberg is “not convinced by Intelligent Design… but they have brought a lot of difficult questions to the fore.”2 He hoped the paper would stir the scientific pot and promote scientific inquiry.

No such luck. Sternberg instead lost his position as editor along with being the victim of a vicious smear campaign, according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. His credentials as a scientist were challenged, his religious beliefs were investigated, and he was slandered as a “crypto-priest.” All this for suggesting intelligent designmight have something to contribute to the question of origins. It seems modern science has become myopic when it comes to even considering the idea of design. Let me tell you why.

In my August 12th Clapham Commentary, I noted Charles Krauthammer’s assertion that science should be separated from religion: “Faith can and should be proclaimed from every mountaintop and city square. But it has no place in science class.”3 This line of thinking simply parrots the late Stephen Jay Gould.

No scientific theory can pose any threat to religion – for these two great tools of human understanding operate in totally separate realms: science as an inquiry about the factual world of the natural world, religion as a search for spiritual meaning and ethical values.4

At first, this sounds imminently fair. Science pertains to Monday through Friday; religion is for the weekends. Science deals strictly withfacts; religion trades in the realm of personal values. But as Albert Einstein noted, how you see the “factual world” depends on the theory (or “spiritual meaning and ethical values”) you bring to it! In other words, nobody is completely objective. Every discipline brings unverified (i.e., faith) assumptions to their work (again, see my August 12th Clapham Commentary).

It’s intriguing that many scientists who witnessed the horrors of World War II (e.g., Einstein) pressed for a marriage of science and religion (or philosophy). For example, scientist turned philosopher Michael Polanyi (1891-1976) argued for the seamlessness of faith and science after surviving the atrocities in Europe. No longer harboring any illusions about the inherent goodness of human nature, Polanyi criticized the ideal of scientific objectivity and the rejection of the influence of religion. Polanyi’s point was that science can bewonderful… but it cannot provide a weltanschauung5 that differentiates between good and evil. When you lose that distinction, moral science6 devolves into myopic scientism. And if you dare to challenge the prevailing assumptions of scientism (as Sternberg did), you’re gone.

Myopic scientism was spawned in a movement of “Metaphysical Clubs” in the 19th century. Populated by such influential thinkers as Oliver Wendell Holmes, these men fostered “an absolute distinction between facts and values. Fact was the province of science and value was the province of what he called, always a little deprecatingly, metaphysics,”7 or religion. For these philosophers and scientists, ideas about the origin, end and meaning of life came naturally to human beings. But they “thought they should never be confused with science.”8 As a result, the new scientism dispensed with any moral compass. It was supposedly “pure” science. But atrocities like Auschwitz dispelled that notion for many scientists.

Moral science, on the other hand, was spawned in the ancient Judeo-Christian tradition that is characterized by four types of conversations: (1) how science and education ought to be, (2) what is – i.e., what are things really like in a rational and coherent world, (3) what science can do to make things better, and (4) what things will be like some day, how will life or the world be fully restored, and not just made better or repaired. This kind of science employs a moral compass.

The myopia of scientism extends all the way to Harvard University, which recently launched the Origins of Life in the Universe Initiative; a “scientifically ambitious assault on an age-old question.”9 The mission is to discover “a very simple series of logical events that could have taken place with no divine intervention.”10 Whew! I’m glad they dispensed with all that “religious” stuff right away!

But this means Harvard has also dispensed with wisdom. T.S. Eliot believed if you take faith out of the scientific equation, wisdom is lost in knowledge and knowledge is lost in information. In such a world, science ultimately becomes incoherent.

1 Choruses From The Rock (1934) by T.S. Eliot
2 “Editor Explains Reasons for ‘Intelligent Design Article, Washington Post, August 19,2005. A19.
3 “Let’s Have No More Monkey Trials: To teach faith as science is to undermine both,” by Charles Krauthammer, Time magazine. August 8, 2005
4 Stephen Jay Gould, I Have Landed: The End of a Beginning in Natural History, (New York: Harmony, 2002), p.214.
5 “Weltanschauung” is the German word for “worldview” and is commonly understood to be the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world. It is a collection of beliefs – which can either be proven or not proven – about life and the universe held by an individual or a group.
6 C.S. Lewis, another witness to the horrors of WWII, distinguished between good science and bad scientism (a dogma that refuses to examine its philosophical assumptions).
7 The Metaphysical Club, p.207.
8 Ibid.
9 For more information, see “Harvard’s New Mission: Find out how life began,” Washington Post, August 21, 2005. Section C, p.1
10 Ibid.


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