Science and Origins: Part 1 Subjectivity in Science

Christians are regularly accused of being Anti-Science. Some Christians, rightly or wrongly approach this in different ways, many claim this is due to Young Earth Creationists (commonly abbreviated YEC), but the truth is, when one reads an atheist like Richard Dawkins or other major figures in the movement, they have no more respect for Old Earth Creationists (commonly abbreviated OEC) or Theistic evolutionists; Dawkins argues all approaches to a teleological argument for God are examples of “God in the gaps” (as if his “Darwin in the gaps” approach is something different in kind[1]). The truth is that young earth creationists and old earth Creationist models work from premises of systematic theology that are outside of an unbeliever’s paradigm, and the older I get, the more I become convinced the debate between models when brought before unbelievers is somewhat pointless.

The real issues between believers and unbelievers are more arcane to most people. Ken Ham is often criticized about his discussion of “operational science” versus “philosophical science,” but to be fair, this is not an inaccurate (though perhaps simplistic) representation of the differences between a philosopher of science such as Karl Popper on the one hand, and approaches advocated by Thomas Kuhn, who combines worldview discussions into scientific theories on the other. This of course, is precisely one of the issues with science that are rarely discussed outside of philosophical classrooms – how do we define science? What are the limits of scientific inquiry? Does science allow us to know something, or is it limited to falsifying theories? These are very important discussions but they are discussions that most moderns, especially many atheistic scientists; but they should be because these things influence the way data is interpreted. One of the big issues, one of the few things post modernists get right, is that scientists treat science as if it were wholly objective and they fail to take into account the influence of human interpreters – the true “subjective” element in science in explaining what the results of a given experiment mean.

These are muddy waters to swim in, but let me demonstrate a problem that the modern science has abysmally failed: modern forensics. Often evolutionists use forensics as an example of how science correctly interprets the past, and Americans are wowed by shows like CSI where scientists solve the crimes in 60 minutes that traditional detectives find impossible to solve. This being the case, one might be surprised to find out that forensics are the second most common factor in wrongful convictions overturned by the work of the innocence project. This includes among many other cases, Ronald Williamson (made more famous by John Grisham’s The Innocent Man) when part of the key testimony that put Mr Williamson on death row was the testimony of an expert in hair microscopy.

Does this mean that science is useless in crime scene investigation? No, it was also a scientific analysis, DNA comparison, that proved Williamson to be innocent of the crime. But scientific testimony in a trial bears similar issues to eyewitness identification, what the innocence project lists as their number one issue.[2] Eyewitness identification gets altered as the investigation inevitably influences someone, and often the identification is presented as being far more conclusive than it is. The same is true of forensics, scientists in a crime scene unit may be influenced in how they interpret their results by comments other police professionals make about eyewitnesses, or argue a test is more conclusive than it really is.

Science, like all fields on endeavor, is a human enterprise, and therefore it is not an infallible guide to knowledge. Science is influenced by people’s presuppositions (as a forensic scientist might be influenced by other elements of police investigations); therefore science is not wholly objective or infallible. Atheists who are scientists assume Christians come to science with an agenda or preconceived notions, this is ultimately true, but like most charges of bias it is equally true of the atheist. We will see soon how this can influence one of the major points of discussion in the intelligent design debate – next time.

[1]This is not a simplistic answer, though I have not written on it extensively. Dawkin’s book, The God Delusion is notable for being so out of date when it comes to the philosophies of which he seems to approve. In general, he seems to work from a largely abandoned approach to epistemology (the philosophy of knowledge) known as “Strong Foundationalism,” largely connected to an approach known as “Logical Positivism,” and as such he assumes that atheism is the default position; God requires special proof, atheism requires no argumentation. This position, however, is no longer tenable.

                  [2]Many people will compare this to the eyewitness testimony of the gospels, arguing that eyewitness testimony is unreliable. The problem is that the this is a poor comparison to the historical work involved with the gospels because the circumstances are different. Watching an accident happen in six seconds is different from eating a meal with someone over a period of several hours (John 21). There are a number of historical criterion that indicate that the Gospel accounts are generally historically reliable, such as the criteria of embarrassment, no one is going to make up a story of James growing up in the household of Jesus and not believe Jesus is God, nor would one suggest that Peter would deny the Lord so readily.