Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Disingenuous March for Science – Promoting Scientism and Suppressing Knowledge

On April 22, in conjunction with “Earth Day”, marches took place around the country under the name of the “March for Science”.  It has been marketed as a “celebration of science” and seeks to bring awareness to political actions that ignore scientific consensus and may even seek to eliminate it.1

Influencing politics, in what they consider a positive direction, is the focus of this march.  One discussion that should be made is what government role or involvement in science does our U.S. Constitution allow?  That will have to be a discussion for someone else to take up. 

The discussion I am going to address is two underlying presuppositions of this march – 1) that science is the ultimate method for determining truth, i.e. Scientism and 2) that there is a scientific consensus on the two main topics of political-scientific debate:  anthropogenic global warming (hereafter referred to as AGW) and evolution.


The first presupposition, Scientism, is 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).2  In practice scientism is a belief that if something cannot be proved by scientific methods then it is not true or does not exist or is irrelevant.  Purveyors of scientism would have us believe that if our philosophy, theology, politics or even personal experience conflict with scientific “consensus” we should abandon the former for the latter.

This belief has numerous problems though:

1.       Scientism is a philosophical stand that cannot be proved by science, therefore, it is a self-defeating belief.

2.      Scientism ignores other methods of learning the truth, some of which science itself assumes and\or depends on.  Examples are math and logic.  Science can prove neither of them but depends on both of them.

3.      Scientism ignores the fact that science uses unverifiable assumptions.  For example, the speed of light across the universe is assumed to be constant but this cannot be verified.  We can measure the time elapsed for light sent to distant objects and back.  That gives us an average speed for the round trip but it is only an assumption that the outgoing speed and the return speed are the same.  It is a reasonable assumption but nonetheless, it is an unverifiable assumption of science.

Science is just one tool for seeking truth.  Philosophy, theology and personal experience are equally valuable truth seeking tools.  Often they work together.  Often there is a particular field where only one is valid.  There are some fields that are out of reach for the natural sciences.  Questions about ultimate purpose or ethics come to mind.  Science can tell us something about what is beneficial to the longevity, prosperity and comfort of the living beings on this earth but why any of it would carry any moral obligation or value is out of its reach.  Those truths are questions for philosophy or theology.

With the second presupposition we are dealing with AGW and evolution.  The first issue I feel we must deal with is who determines what constitutes a “consensus” or what is “established”?  Even when we have an undeniable consensus why is that an end to further discussions?  Does that not put an end to further knowledge seeking?  Newtonian gravity was a consensus…was Einstein wrong to continue to look into the topic?  General Relativity has a consensus…are scientists wrong to be researching Quantum Gravity?  If the leading theories and facts are not questioned then we would be missing out on a great deal of scientific achievement.  Science is never settled.  Albert Einstein once stated “No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong.”3

Anthropomorphic Global Warming

Is there a consensus of scientific opinion regarding AGW?  It is not hard to find long lists of highly qualified scientists that reject the idea that humans are to blame for any global warming that may be occurring.4  What justification is there to dismiss the opinions of these scientists and the people that listen to them?  Typically, those that listen to them are dismissed as scientifically illiterate.  The scientists themselves are typically dismissed as people that are letting their biases drive their scientific conclusions.  While that could be true in some cases that assertion can be applied to both sides of almost any issue.  We all have biases and that is not a bad thing.  What is important is if those biases are justified and to know that we must look at the evidence and the arguments on all sides critically…including our own.  Dismissing them outright gets us nowhere.


I have spent a lot more time studying evolution than AGW.  The first question we must ask when discussing evolution is what is meant by evolution.  Typically, it means one or more of the following:

1.      Change over time – that living organisms exhibit changes over periods of time.

2.      Common descent – the living organisms are all descendants of one common ancestor.

3.      Change by way of undirected mutation and natural selection (referred to hereafter as Darwinism) as an explanation for the origin of the species on earth.

Change over time is rarely disputed. It can be considered fact.  We commonly see changes in species as they adapt to environment changes (e.g. the Galapagos finches and the peppered moths of England as well as necessary changes in vaccines as diseases change).

Common descent has some debate.  There is evidence for it in the geological record but there are also many questions and some problems but this isn’t where most debate on evolution arises.

The third item - Darwinism, as the mechanism for large scale evolution, is where the hot debate is. 

Is there a consensus for this?  Just like with AGW, it is not difficult to find long lists of highly qualified scientists that do not accept Darwinism.5 Also, in a recent meeting of the Royal Society, a fellowship of many of the world's most eminent scientists and the oldest scientific academy in continuous existence6, scientists expressed the deficits of Darwinism in its explanatory power to generate new forms of life as it is commonly given credit for.7,8

Just like with gravity, as our knowledge and technology increased, we saw that our current theories and understanding was lacking.  As our knowledge deep into the cell has increased we have seen that it is full of detail and complex machinery all that is constructed in accordance with complex blueprint\code that is found in DNA.  This functionally specific information is necessary in the reproduction process of organisms, and this reproduction is necessary for evolution.

The first dilemma is that evolution requires this information so this information could not be a product of evolution.  In addition to the functionally specific information the tools to translate and act upon the information had to be in place as well before any evolutionary type reproduction could take place.

A second dilemma is that for new species to evolve new information would need to be inserted but an undirected mutation having the ability to create new information is extremely improbable.  It is most probable that it would destroy a function instead of create a new one.  The information in DNA has been compared to complex computer code.  My career has been in computer programming and IT technical support.  In decades past, when we did file transfers via modems, it was not uncommon to receive a file that did not come across cleanly.  The received file would, in effect, have a mutation from the file that was originally sent.  Not once did I ever open the file to find it now contained new functionality but in just about every case the file was rendered useless.  What scientists are discovering is that at best the mutations in DNA are activating or deactivating portions of the code, which gives small scale changes as we described in our first definition of evolution, but nothing new introduced to the code.9  So, where did the original code and new code come from?

Charles Lyell strongly influenced Charles Darwin.  Lyell taught that when we are seeking causes from the past we should look at the causes now in operation.10  What causes do we see today that produce this type of functionally specific information?  It is like words in a book or computer code.  Our only source for words in a book or computer code in our present environment and for as far back as we have record is intelligent beings.  If this is where the evidence leads – i.e. if it is the best explanation available to us – why should this be suppressed?  As outspoken atheist physicist Lawrence Krauss likes to say about science (or his interpretation of it), it is what it is “whether you like it or not.”

Some might say that this is Intelligent Design (ID) and ID is not science.  Well, if we are interested in finding truth then do we really care if it comes from science?  The advocates of scientism may reject it because they don’t consider it science but we’ve already shown the flaws in scientism.  Furthermore, ID is accepted as science in the fields of archaeology, CSI and SETI so why should it be rejected as science in biology and chemistry?

Some might say that ID is just trying to sneak in God.  Two points about that:

1.       ID does not make mention of God.  You are free to posit any source of your choosing for the Intelligent Designer.  Richard Dawkins, for example, is open to an intelligent designer from elsewhere in the universe.11

2.      If you oppose ID based on the implications it might open up, such as the possibility of some supernatural being then you are letting your personal biases or ideas drive your decisions.  This is the sort of thing the organizers of the March for Science say they are trying to stop.12 (or are they really?)

Those that preach that science (and politics) should be free from religious influence often point to the case of Galileo and the Roman Catholic Church.  It is argued that the church tried to silence Galileo out of fear of what his discoveries might mean to church doctrine.  It is argued that the church was wrong and that if behavior like that is allowed then society will suffer, there will not be advancement and the powers that be will be oppressive.

What is often missed in the argument is that Galileo was going against the “consensus” of his day.  In an odd turn of events, the many within the March for Science event that are seeking to silence the opposition to the so-called “consensus” of today have taken on the role of the church vs. Galileo – the church which they so often prop up as having been a danger to education and advancement.  If they are successful, society will suffer, scientific advancement will suffer and we will be ruled by oppressive interest groups.

Bill Clute is the Greenville, SC chapter director for Reasonable Faith.  He works as an IT professional with a degree in Computer Systems from the University of North Carolina-Asheville where he was also a member of the basketball team.  He has also been a professional airshow pilot and now flies a plane which was built from scratch by he and his father.

3.      I could not find a source for this quote but it is commonly attributed to Albert Einstein.
10.   Lyell, Charles. 1832. Principles of geology, being an attempt to explain the former changes of the Earth's surface, by reference to causes now in operation. London: John Murray. Volume 2.
12., “…not whims and decrees.”

Monday, December 5, 2016

Abortion: Supported by logic? Supported by scripture?

One of the most contentious topics of our lifetimes is the topic of abortion.  Mud-slinging and stereotypes fly from both sides with no end in sight.  In this article I will attempt to give a reasoned, non-emotion fueled, look at this issue.  I will not hide the fact that I am pro-life and a Christian, although, I think those two traits do not necessarily have to go together.  There are some non-religious people in the pro-life camp as well as religious people in the pro-choice camp.  I will first take a philosophical look at the issue and then, since Christians are to look to God’s Word for guidance, I will look at Biblical scriptures that are used from both sides in the argument.

Philosophical analysis
My analysis begins with positing a deductive argument in opposition to abortion:
1.      It is morally wrong to intentionally kill an innocent person – i.e. murder.
2.      The womb of a pregnant woman contains an innocent person
3.      Abortion kills the occupant in the woman’s womb.
4.      According to #2 that occupant is an innocent person.
5.      Therefore, abortion is the intentional killing of an innocent person and is morally wrong.

This is a deductive argument in that if the premises are true the conclusion necessarily follows.

I think most would agree with premise 1 but if there are disagreements it would require a separate discussion on what actions, if any, are “morally wrong”.  Premise 3 and 4 are non-controversial.  The heart of the argument is premise 2.

The question of when and what constitutes personhood or humanness (in the philosophical context) will not be decided here.  It is a debate that is nowhere near an end.  Despite this we will look at some ideas that have been considered.

Some have argued for “viability” as the gauge for personhood and this has been used in some legal definitions but viability is a measure of technology and not personhood.  As technology increases the age of viability has and will continue to decrease.

Some may argue that what is in the womb at 4 weeks is much different than what is in the womb at 39 weeks and that while what is in the womb at 39 weeks may be a person what is in the womb at 4 weeks is not.  My question then is what is the defining property for personhood that they are using in making this determination and when is it obtained?  

I would propose that whatever defining property anyone comes up with that it be consistent and not ad hoc.  The evaluation method should be able to be applied equally to the unborn as well as the infant and on to the elderly – from the healthy to the handicapped. 

Some have suggested that the determination of personhood should be self-awareness and\or capability for rational thought.  On a quick glance this sounds reasonable but then what about infants and mentally handicapped, both of which would fail this definition?  This would be an example of a defining property that cannot be held consistently as I suggested in the previous paragraph.

When there lacks a clear definition, how do we proceed?  We can look to examples in our experiences.  When there is an uncertainty of whether or not innocent persons may be in danger what is the typical protocol?  Consider hostage situations.  Law enforcement could storm the location in an aggressive attack if there is no possible danger to innocent persons but if there is uncertainty then their plan may change.  The common protocol is caution in favor of the potential of innocent persons – i.e. when there is doubt they play it safe in the interest of life.  When there is uncertainty of the presence of innocent persons the decisions made and actions taken will assume the presence of innocent persons.  What reasoning can be given to not do the same regarding the unborn in the womb?  I do not see any.

Based on this reasoning I believe that premise 2 is valid and the conclusion of the deductive argument stands – abortion is morally wrong.

What about the rights of the woman?  Does she not have the rights over her own body?  The right to have control over one’s own body is one that is common in our society.  From eating to smoking to drinking to getting a tattoo, the rights over one’s own body is not infringed except for determining an appropriate age for one to participate in these actions.  Limits on these actions can be allowed when these rights might infringe on another person’s rights.  We have laws regarding second hand smoke and drunk driving to protect the innocent.  Likewise, I would submit that the woman’s right over her body may be infringed upon when there exists the possibility that it conflicts with the rights of another.  In such a situation we must determine which right is more fundamental.  In this case it may be infringing on the life of an innocent person.  Life is the most valuable property a person could ever have.  It is the most basic right anyone could have.  Without it no other rights could exist.  So, it seems to me that we have a logical reason to support the right to life in this case over the right of control over one’s own body.

Is this unfair to the woman?  What if it is a pregnancy she did not want?  What if she wasn’t even a willing participant?  What if the life in the womb is a danger to the woman’s life?

Some argue that the unborn in the womb is nothing more than a trespasser.  Personally, I think this is an argument from desperation.  The unborn in the womb didn’t choose to be there.  Why is it that in the pro-choice argument not everyone gets a choice?  Also, in my country at least, trespassing is not a capital crime and those accused of trespassing have the right to due process.  Abortion robs the right of due process.

Many on the pro-life side will often allow two exceptions: rape and if the pregnancy endangers the life of the mother.

Let’s look at rape first.  Rape is a horrific crime and the emotional damage caused by it could only be fully understood by those that have experienced it.  A pregnancy caused by a rape could potentially leave the victimized woman in emotional trauma for 9 months or more.  We cannot ignore or minimize this but as I said in my opening paragraph I am removing emotion from this discussion.  Given my deductive argument above, how would rape affect it?  It wouldn’t.  Rape is a crime with a victim.  Murder is a crime with a victim.  Rape leaves the victim with emotional and possibly physical damage.  Murder leaves the victim dead.  Abortion in the case of rape would be two crimes with unequal consequences for the victims.  If I am correct that life is the most basic right we have then it takes precedence over life that is free of emotional or physical damage.  We should work with, minister and do what we can to help the healing of those placed into a position of a pregnancy they had no choice in but still we should not rob a person of the most basic right of life.

What about an exception in cases where the life of the woman is in danger?  This could present quite a dilemma in that here we have the life of one person conflicting with the life of another person – how could a decision be made on which person should be allowed to live?  I could be a hardliner and say that given the deductive argument presented above that abortion would still be murder so the thing to do is just let nature take its course but instead, what I would passively argue is that if we strive towards saving both lives and only when there is no other option do we do otherwise we are still striving to secure life, that most basic right.  I believe that passive argument may be unnecessary though.  What I really want to ask about this scenario is if it is real or simply a red herring.  Does the situation really exist where an abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother?  In abortion the delivery of the baby is still necessary – it just isn’t alive when delivered.  So, how would an abortion help?  Typically the mother can receive other treatments that will preserve both the life of the mother and the unborn1.  Another point to consider is that abortions cannot be done immediately but can take up to 36 hours to prepare the womb.2 That would seem to make the idea of an abortion as an emergency procedure to save the mother a false dilemma.

So, I find the argument against abortion to be the most logical conclusion to this moral question. I don’t find any of the arguments in favor of abortion to be logically consistent or genuine.

What about scripture?  As a Christian I should always look to the Bible for guidance.  There are scriptures used by both sides of the argument.   Let’s take a quick look at some of these scriptures.

Biblical Analysis
Scriptures used for the Pro-Choice argument
Exodus 21:22-23  This passage presents a scenario where two men are fighting and a pregnant woman is accidentally struck.  The woman is not hurt but depending on the translation the baby is either the victim of a miscarriage or born premature but alive.  The Hebrew word in question here is yasa and means to go or come out.3  Frequently, yasa is used in the Old Testament to render a live birth.  This may be irrelevant to this argument since this scripture is not referring to an intentional act of killing the unborn.  Those that use this scripture to support a pro-choice argument usually say that verse 23 shows that the unborn are not given the same rights as those outside of the womb.  This understanding would require the translation of yasa as a miscarriage or abortion but since verse 22 clearly depicts an accident it wouldn’t be a murder but simply an accident or an equivalent of involuntary manslaughter which doesn’t carry the same penalty as murder.  It is not a statement on the value or rights of a person but instead a statement on the intentions of those that caused the event.
Jeremiah 20:14-18 In this passage Jeremiah is lamenting that he was ever born.  He expresses a wish that he had been aborted, having his mother’s womb as his grave.  The error in using this as scripture for pro-choice is that it assumes that an expression desiring that one had been aborted is declaration that abortion is morally permitted but this text doesn’t go that far.  He wonders why he was born just to end his life in shame but we know that Jeremiah’s life did not end in shame.  His reason for desiring that he had been aborted was shown to be wrong.  What this scripture does do, though, is speak of the unborn as a person. 
Ecclesiastes 6:3-5  and Job 3:16-19 Like the passage from Jeremiah we have an account of a person lamenting life and questioning if it is better to never have been born.  This does not promote or support abortion but questions whether or not it can be better to never have been born than to not be able to enjoy the fruits of life or find rest and security from the wicked.

Scriptures used for the Pro-Life argument
Psalm 22:10, Luke 1:15 and Luke 1:41 These verses are used by some pro-life advocates to show the personhood of the unborn in the womb.  I do not think that is the intent the Psalmist or Luke had.  These verses seem to me to be figurative and\or hyperbolic speech.
Exodus 20:13  This is the command from the 10 commandments against murder.  I do believe abortion is murder but I do not believe this verse can be used as an argument against abortion unless the personhood of the unborn in the womb is established first to establish the act as murder.

Although I do not believe we have scripture that directly addresses abortion I do believe we can find the views of the earliest Christian church by writings outside of the Bible.  For example, The Didache, a Christian writing dated to the 1st century states “you shall not murder a child by abortion”.4

Abortion is possibly the greatest tragedy in modern history but we should not demonize the women that have found themselves in a crisis pregnancy and have chosen an abortion.  Often they were not presented with the information and options that are available.  We must provide support to these women or to agencies that have experience in ministering to the women in the crisis pregnancy and providing support to the women that are experiencing post abortion trauma.5

Bill Clute is the Greenville, SC chapter director for Reasonable Faith.  He works as an IT professional with a degree in Computer Systems from the University of North Carolina-Asheville where he was also a member of the basketball team.  He has also been a professional airshow pilot and now flies a plane which was built from scratch by he and his father.

1.      Dr. Anthony Levatino Addresses Congress: (4:20 mark addresses abortion to save the life of the mother)
2.      Ibid
5.      In my area the Piedmont Women’s Center is an agency providing this type of assistance.