Nancy Pearcey

Anti-Scientific Curriculum

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I have just skimmed through an Answers for Kids Bible Curriculum, published by Answers in Genesis, and I am very alarmed. Earlier I wrote a post based on John Lennox’s book Seven Days that Divide the World. I have been trying to put together a summary of evidence and reasoning for my belief in an old universe. I won’t do that now (I definitely will soon), but I want to identify some very destructive teaching. Sorry if this stirs some controversy with my friends.

Based on my previous post, it is clear from history that the church has interpreted scripture wrong: the Earth was never the center of the solar system even though theologians believed it so. Copernicus knew the universe was “wrought for us by a supremely good and orderly Creator” and revealed the heliocentricity of the solar system. As a devout Christian, his goal was to observe the natural world and elucidate God’s order. In fact, Loren Eiseley, anthropologist, educator, philosopher and natural science writer, has said that “in one of those strange permutations of which history yields occasional rare examples, it is the Christian world which finally gave birth in a clear, articulate fashion to the experimental method of science itself.” Theologian Thomas Derr expressed, “As the creation of a trustworthy God, nature exhibited regularity, dependability, and orderliness. It was intelligible and could be studied. It displayed a knowable order.”

The above quotes were taken from The Soul of Science by Nancy Pearcey, which details the rise of the scientific method as linked exclusively to Christian thought through the Middle Ages. Copernicus, Kepler, Gilbert, Paracelsus, Van Helmont, Galileo, Descartes,Newton, Leibniz, Boyle, Ray, Linnaeus, Cuvier—modern science was built on Christian men like these. So, it pains me to read in this Answers in Genesis book that,

 “even though we can study the earth and the universe today, we can’t use our scientific findings to figure out what happened in the past—or how long ago it happened—since we weren’t there.”

At first sight, this appears to be the most ridiculous anti-scientific statement I have ever read. After reading a bit on their website, I found this observation confirmed. It is not that I simply disagree with their position, it is the patronizing statements used to endorse their opinions and the lack of citations for their data. You are simply presented with an opinion with a thinly veiled implication that to believe otherwise is unbiblical. Please, present your argument, but give me some evidence. As a scientist, I found unsupported assumptions peppered through their discussions. It is no wonder these people are dismissed by real scientists.

After reading this, I struggle to make any other conclusion than this: Answers in Genesis are enemies of science, and I doubt very seriously the men who laid the foundations of modern science would accept it.

We are called to love God with all our hearts, souls and minds. Too often “faith is…seen as being a ‘blind leap’ in the dark, not based on evidence, logic, or testing. People frequently think faith means believing in something even when common sense tells us not to. But is this position really what the Bible says? Does God expect us to believe in Him without any evidence?”

I believe our observations of the natural world demonstrate God’s wonder and science should influence our interpretation of the Bible. Just as was the case with Copernicus, popular biblical interpretation can be wrong, but does nothing to undermine God’s truth.

NOTE: I did some research on the internet, and this curriculum at Reasons to Believe is something I would advocate:

This course is designed to encourage individuals, homeschool co-ops, and Christian high schools to explore the harmony between the Bible and the record of nature. The course’s overarching goals are two-fold: present a (1) BIBLICALLY FAITHFUL approach to interpreting Genesis 1 as being the error free Word of God; and (2) SCIENTIFICALLY RESPONSIBLE understanding of the record of nature. A key foundational assumption for this entire course is that the discoveries of modern science will always be in harmony with the Word of God.

Investing in Family Education

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I am very excited about some purchases I have made or am considering. I would say it is a worthy way to spend part of my yearly bonus.

  1. Teaching the Classics” – I have been wanting to get this for awhile. I think this will help with understanding and getting the most from reading the classics, not only for my kids but for my wife and I as well. Right now I am focusing on a lot of science material, but I am still aching to read more Austen and Dickens.
  2. Teaching the Classics: Worldview Supplement” – I have been wanting to get this supplement for a while as well. I have read Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey and am realizing how little I understand that word “worldview,” yet it is so important to understand my own worldview and decipher that of these great minds of literature. I would count the subject of worldview as the biggest concept I have stumbled upon within the last year.
  3. How to Write a Story” – This is mainly for my middle daughter at 10 years old, who has developed a desire to write her own stories. I told her about getting this and her eyes brightened!
  4. A Guide to Writing Your Novel” – This is mainly for my oldest daughter at 15 years old now, who has about 10 story lines going but with no end product. She is extremely creative and I would describe “generously non-linear.” I think she needs help with structure and flow in her stories, and I think this will help a lot.
  5. Foundations of Western Civilization” – I recieved “junk mail” from this company, but I might be very very glad I did. It has a lot of courses I am myself am interested in, but this could also be used as the main course for home schooling. (Not just Western Civilization, but American History, philosophy, etc.) All the courses are “up to 80% off.” I am usually skeptical about these claims, knowing the original price is probably obscenely inflated. I decided to purchase this course as a trial run. It is taught by university professors, so I am thinking the instruction will be excellent, but may be too dry or advanced for the kids. Another advantage, though, is that the lectures may contain secular and humanistic themes which can be addressed and discussed in the home. If my kids are able to think critically of a college level course, separating fact from philosophy, I think they will be far better prepared to (1) develop their own beliefs and convictions and (2) defend them.
  6. Rosetta Stone Spanish Lvls 1-4 (Latin America) – We have not purchased this yet, but I saw this at Costco for $315. A quick search on Amazon showed the levels 1-3 at $399, and 1-5 at $499. Why only 1-4? Perhaps it is discontinued, as people either go 1-3 or 1-5, and Costco got a good price on it. I think there are potential drawbacks to this software, though: (1) it may not really teach as it claims. After level 4, how proficient are we (yes, I want to use it too!) going to be? That is a lot of money to just throw away on good marketing. But I did the level 1 German a while back, and liked it. (2) if we want to go the level 5, we can’t do it, to my knowledge. You have to buy them as a set. I have considered this software for some time now, and I think I am going to move this deal.

ID mischaracterized as Ignorance

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http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-102519600994873365&hl=en&fs=true

I was directed to this video of Neil deGrasse Tyson from a post on Jerry Coyne’s blog (which I read from time to time), and was curious… Would I learn anything? Is it just an atheist rant? Time is very precious to me, so I debated on whether I should spend (or waste) the 39 minutes on this guy. The obvious implication from Coyne’s quote below is that the more advanced and educated a scientist becomes, the more silly religion would become. All the serious scientists should be atheists.

“The “strident” part starts at 10:30, when Tyson contrasts the pervasive religiosity of the American public with the pervasive atheism of scientists, showing that more than 90% of the former believe in God but that just 15% of members of the National Academy of Sciences accept the notion of a personal God (actually, I think the figure is closer to 2%).  Referring to the latter figure, though, Tyson says that everyone missed the big story about this disparity: why isn’t the percentage of scientist-believers zero(He mentions this later in the talk, too.) Tyson clearly thinks that science promotes unbelief.”

So, I decided to watch it, and I learn quite a bit—about Tyson and straw men, anyway.

Newton Made of Straw

Tyson uses the examples of Ptolemy, Galileo, Newton, and Huygens as superb scientists who, at some point reached their capacity discover, basically threw up their hands and invoked God (intelligent design). Tyson emphasizes that these were all brilliant men, especially with Newton, and so their use of (or invocation of) intelligent design cannot be just “swept under the rug.” This fact, he says, needs to be acknowledged and dealt with. But the problem is, Tyson mischaracterized them and builds them into straw men.

He portrays them as essentially irreligious during their scientific discoveries, but when it comes to confronting the unknown, then, and seemingly only then, do they give up to “only God knows.” Based on this false presentation, Tyson makes the claim, “Science is a philosophy of discovery; intelligent design is a philosophy of ignorance.”

This is simply not true. As Nancy Pearcey clearly shows in her book The Soul of Science, the flowering of modern science depended upon the Judeo-Christian worldview. Their belief in God drove their discovery, not hindered it. These men may have spoken of the miracle of God concerning the unknown, but that does not mean that their belief in God’s order and design was not interwoven throughout their life of discovery.

For Newton, intelligent design drove him, not hindered him. He was constantly trying to fit God into the universe he observed. For instance, Newton’s discovery and characterization of gravity was described by the Cartesians as being “an occult concept.” To Newton, he had “discovered a new active principle through which God acts through his creation.” Even Wikipedia admits he was highly religious and wrote more on religion than he did on science and mathematics. Sometimes we was wrong—like thinking God needed to tinker with the universe to stabilize it. That certainly does not imply because he “had God on the brain” he couldn’t figure out the stability of the solar system (which Laplace later did). Every person does have their intellectual limit (even Newton) and should not be faulted for it.

But wait, you said religion was a bad thing…

A very interesting example Tyson used was the period of Islam between 800-1100 AD. This was a period of high learning, and Baghdad was its center. I am not very familiar with this period, quite frankly, but according to Tyson it was Imam Hamid al-Ghazali who destroyed it. He taught that math was from the devil–scholarship faltered, declined, and the region never recovered it’s excellence to this day.

Perhaps I missed the point on this one. Isn’t Tyson making a case against religion? How exactly did this period occur within the confines of the religion of Islam? And if we extrapolate to the modern age, is he saying the intelligent design movement is saying math (or science or evolutionary biology) is of the devil? Or just those scoundrel Republicans are saying it? Newton’s theory of gravity was described as of the devil…did science come to a screeching halt then?

Tyson is trying to connect intelligent design to intellectual resignation and the destruction of science itself. If I researched this period in Islam, would I find that the Muslims did not believe God created the universe? Would I really? I just don’t think I would. Was Imam Hamid al-Ghazali an ID advocate? No, he wasn’t. He was a religious zealot.

So, if anything, religious fanaticism is a “show stopper,” not intelligent design.

Stupid Design (a Fast Tirade)

To drive the hammer home and in rapid fire mode, Tyson mocks intelligent design, or I should say the Designer. He goes on and on about how imperfect the universe is, the inefficiency of star formation, etc. He references intelligent design’s insistence that the universe is set up for life (is that just ID or do non-religious people observe that as well?).

No, Tyson says, it set up to kill you (chuckle, chuckle).

Yes, the universe is inhospitable–that’s what is so amazing about the earth. That’s the point. Yep, you got it. (Chuckle, chuckle). In an inhospitable universe, the universal constants, the earth, it is all set up in balance (here on earth) for life.

Tyson also presents a list of imperfections of the earth and human life: extinctions, 3.5 billion years to make multi-cellular life, diseases, birth defects (paused slide for effect), eating/breathing from the same hole (guaranteeing a certain percentage of people will choke to death), etc, etc.

This similar to the claim by Francisco Ayala, insisting to Stephen Meyer that Christians shouldn’t claim intelligent design because we are attributing all this observed imperfection to a perfect God. So, did God screw up? It is a legitimate, hard question.

A patient with multiple sclerosis recently visited my workplace to give a talk, and one of the things that struck me about her was how reflective she was. She did not claim any religion at all, but it was obvious that she preferred Eastern philosophy and yoga. She said, throughout the course of dealing with the disease, she had a lot of dark nights and had to “talk herself off the ledge” at times/ Having MS has helped her to slow down her Type A Go-Go-Go lifestyle and let go of many of her personal milestones. The disease has made her more reflective, gotten her in touch with life, true life, more and more. She said it has brought her to humility and compassion.

So the hard question (for me) is this: can we be spiritual in a perfect world? If we had everything, would we learn anything? Without imperfection, would we understand love and compassion? I am not saying I like adversity or disease or death, or want more of it, or delight in it, but I am saying I believe we need it for our spirits to grow. For the Christian, this life is just temporary and our hope is set on God’s preparations for our eternal home. These questions, I think, fall outside of an atheistic mindset.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4

Watch that last step…

Tyson concludes his presentation saying he doesn’t want someone in the lab who believes in intelligent design, because they will give up on trying to find cures for disease like cancer and Alzheimer’s. Here he extrapolated his “philosophy of ignorance” into a realm of absolute fantasy. There is not a Christian alive who believes this or practices it, who would throw up their hands and give up. That is complete hogwash and Tyson should be ashamed of himself for even stating it.

By the way…

Intelligent design is not a god of the gaps theory…this is from Bonhoeffer:

“…how wrong it is to use God as a stop-gap for the incompleteness of our knowledge. If in fact the frontiers of knowledge are being pushed further and further back (and that is bound to be the case), then God is being pushed back with them, and is therefore continually in retreat. We are to find God in what we know, not in what we don’t know; God wants us to realize his presence, not in unsolved problems but in those that are solved.”

Intelligent design proponents look at the evidence. DNA is code-like. Evolution provides not mechanism for the generation of this code (let alone the actual assemblage of it sans information). The only known cause for codes or information is intelligence. Therefore, an intelligence agent produced the DNA code. It is a way to interpret the evidence. No one is throwing up their hands and embracing ignorance. You may disagree with intelligent design, but you cannot say it is a god of the gaps theory.