Friday, January 24, 2014

Exploring the Cosmic Sandbox

This time we have a guest post by W. R. Miller, who has a few words for a fundy atheist out there whose cartoon associations are his best scholarship.


How nice it is to promote science. Astronomer Phil Plait has posted a comic strip online to entice budding young minds, called, “You’re Gonna Like It Here.” It evokes the wonders of nature, emphasizes the joy of discovery. It poo-poos quackery and the occult, and rightfully so.

But Plait, being atheist, might be surprised to learn that modern science was pioneered by Christians. Or if he does know, he doesn’t give credit where it’s due. There’s an implication that theism is not a motivating factor in the pursuit of knowledge.

Plait remarks, "No psychic, despite their claims, has ever helped the police solve a crime. But forensic scientists have, all the time."

Who was the founder of forensic medicine? German physician Johannes Bohn, a Lutheran. And Christianity forbids involvement with the occult.

Plait claims, "It wasn't someone who practices homeopathy who found a cure for smallpox, or polio."

There is no cure for polio. It can only be prevented. If Plait means to extol the virtues of science, an error like this is hardly exemplary.

The American Journal of Public Health credits William McDowall Hammon of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health as leading "the first major breakthrough in prevention of the disease [Poliomyelitis] by using passive immunization in one of the earliest double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials. This study provided the first evidence that antibodies to poliovirus could prevent the disease in humans." He is also an ordained Methodist minister.

As for smallpox, English physician Edward Jenner introduced vaccination against smallpox and thus laid the foundation of modern concepts of immunology. He invented the term "virus." He is credited with the ultimate eradication of smallpox. And he was a Christian.

Dr. William Foege, according to UNICEF, “has played a key role in many of the major important public health advances of the 20th century, including the eradication of smallpox, successful attacks on Guinea worm disease and river blindness, and the creation of a model for improving nutrition in developing countries.” He is Lutheran. See also here.

One panel misleads with the statement, "No creationist ever cracked the genetic code. Chemists did. Molecular biologists did."

Austrian botanist Gregor Johann Mendel is credited as the founder of modern genetics. He was an Augustinian monk.

Of Mendel, the Encyclopedia of Science and Religion, 2003, states, “Although some leading scientists in the late nineteenth century considered religion to be an impediment to progress in science, the life of the monk Gregor Mendel serves as an important counter-example. The fact that a monk initiated one of the greatest advances in biology demonstrates the poverty of the notion of there being a perpetual war between science and religion. In Mendel's case, rather than hindering science, religious institutions promoted scientific knowledge, experimentation, and progress.”

The Encyclopedia notes, “Probably the most significant connection between Mendelian genetics and religion was the use of Mendelian genetics by creationists. Many creationists hailed Mendel's theory of heredity as a proof for biological stasis. The variations that Mendel (and de Vries) observed only involved the reshuffling of hereditary characters (genes) that were already present, not the introduction of new traits. They rejected the neo-Darwinian synthesis, which argued that micro-mutations could accumulate to produce speciation.” (Weikart, Richard C. “Gregor Mendel.” Encyclopedia of Science and Religion. Ed. J. Wentzel Vrede van Huyssteen. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2003.)

Creationist “code-crackers” include Dr. André Eggen of France, Dr. Robert H. Eckel of the University of Colorado, Franklin D. Enfield of the University of Minnesota and others that can be found here.

Plait boasts, “I know a place where life began, billions of years ago.” How does he know? He doesn’t. No one on this world has lived that long for empirical observation. Conjecture is not proof.

The strip ends with a girl gazing at the stars through a telescope. “You’re gonna like it here,” Plait says. It’s a sentiment shared by Christians over the centuries. God’s universe exists to be explored! And so the cause of astronomy was advanced with such notable Christians as Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Laurentius Gothus, Pierre Gassendi, Anton Maria of Rheita, Juan Lobkowitz, Seth Ward and many others acknowledged by The Galileo Project.
Of Kepler, Encyclopedia of World Biography notes that, “he published two important works while he was in Linz. One was the Harmonice mundi (1618), in which his third law was announced. According to it the squares of the sidereal periods of any two planets are to each other as the cubes of their mean distances from the sun. The law was, however, derived not from celestial mechanics (Newton's Principia was still 6 decades away) but from Kepler's conviction that nature had to be patterned along quantitative relationships since God created it according to ‘weight, measure and number.’ Shortly after his first book appeared, he wrote in a letter: "Since God established everything in the universe along quantitative norms, he endowed man with a mind to comprehend them. For just as the eye is fitted for the perception of colors, the ear for sounds, so is man's mind created not for anything but for the grasping of quantities." In the Harmonice mundi he wrote merely a variation on the same theme as he spoke of geometry which ‘supplied God with a model for the creation of the world. Geometry was implanted into human nature along with God's image and not through man's visual perception and experience.’ (“Johannes Kepler.” Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd ed. 17 Vols. Gale Research, 1998.)

The fact that Christians pioneered modern science has been thoroughly documented by

Dr. Jonathan Sarfati, “The Biblical Roots of Modern Science,” September 29, 2009.
Michael Bumbulis, Ph.D. "Christianity and the Birth of Science."
H. F. Cohen. The Scientific Revolution: A Historiographical Inquiry, University of Chicago Press, 1994.
Pierre Duhem, Le système du monde; histoire des doctrines cosmologiques de Platon à Copernic. Paris, Librairie Scientifique Hermann, 1954-1959.
Dr. Loren Eiseley, Darwin's Centenary: Evolution and the Men who Discovered it, Doubleday: New York, 1961.
Reijer Hooykaas, Religion and the Rise of Modern Science, Regent College Publishing, 2000.
Ian H. Hutchinson, Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Monopolizing Knowledge. Various talks and essays on the relationship between science and Christianity.
Stanley Jaki, The Origin of Science and the Science of Its Origin. South Bend, IN: Regnery/Gateway, 1978.
Stanley Jaki, The Savior of Science, Washington, DC: Regnery Gateway, 1988.
Eugene Marion Klaaren, Religious Origins of Modern, Science: Belief in Creation in Seventeenth-Century Thought, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977.
W. R. Miller, “Scientists of the Christian Faith: A Presentation of the Pioneers, Practitioners and Supporters of Modern Science.”
James Hannam, God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science, Icon Books, Ltd., 2007.
James Hannam, The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution, Regnery Publishing, 2011.
Robert K. Merton, "Science, Technology and Society in Seventeenth Century England," Osiris, Vol. 4, 1938, pp. 360-632.

“I think there's a common assumption that you cannot both be a rigorous, show-me-the-data scientist and a person who believes in a personal God,” says Francis S. Collins, former Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute at the National Institute of Health. “I would like to say that from my perspective that assumption is incorrect; that, in fact, these two areas are entirely compatible and not only can exist within the same person, but can exist in a very synthetic way, and not in a compartmentalized way. I have no reason to see a discordance between what I know as a scientist who spends all day studying the genome of humans and what I believe as somebody who pays a lot of attention to what the Bible has taught me about God and about Jesus Christ. Those are entirely compatible views. "Science is the way -- a powerful way, indeed -- to study the natural world. Science is not particularly effective -- in fact, it's rather ineffective -- in making commentary about the supernatural world. Both worlds, for me, are quite real and quite important. They are investigated in different ways. They coexist. They illuminate each other. And it is a great joy to be in a position of being able to bring both of those points of view to bear in any given day of the week. The notion that you have to sort of choose one or the other is a terrible myth that has been put forward, and which many people have bought into without really having a chance to examine the evidence. I came to my faith not, actually, in a circumstance where it was drummed into me as a child, which people tend to assume of any scientist who still has a personal faith in God; but actually by a series of compelling, logical arguments, many of them put forward by C. S. Lewis, that got me to the precipice of saying, 'Faith is actually plausible.' You still have to make that step. You will still have to decide for yourself whether to believe. But you can get very close to that by intellect alone," Collins says.

Some scientists, like George Washington Carver, abound in enthusiasm in exploring what God has created. “My beloved friend, I do not feel capable of writing a single word of counsel to those dear young people, more than to say that my heart goes out to every one of them, regardless of the fact that I have never seen them and may never do so,” he says. “I want them to find Jesus, and make Him a daily, hourly, and momently part of themselves. O how I want them to get the fullest measure of happiness and success out of life. I want them to see the Great Creator in the smallest and apparently the most insignificant things about them. How I long for each one to walk and talk with the Great Creator through the things he has created." (Gary R. Kremer, editor. George Washington Carver in his Own Words. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1987, p. 135.) “I love to think of nature as unlimited broadcasting stations, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in and remain so." (p. 143.)

Should science be the be-all and end-all in the pursuit of knowledge?

Not according to lexicographer Noah Webster. “Literature & scientific attainments have never prevented the corruption of government. Knowledge derived from experience & from the evils of bad measures may produce a change of measures to correct a particular evil. But learning & sciences have no material effect in subduing ambition & selfishness, reconciling parties or subjecting private interest to the influence of a ruling preference of public good." (Noah Webster Papers. Writings on Politics and History. On Sufferage. Unpublished, undated. Source document: New York Public Library.)
In Reply to a Letter of David McClure, Esq. on the Subject of the Proper Course of Study in the Girard College, Philadelphia. New Haven, October 25, 1836, Webster wrote, "Any system of education, therefore, which limits instruction to the arts and sciences, and rejects the aids of religion in forming the characters of citizens, is essentially defective."

Dr. Simon Greenleaf, Royall Professor of Law at Harvard University, wrote, “The experience of all ages has taught us that republican institutions can have no permanent basis but in the moral virtue of the people. Intelligence alone has proved insufficient for this purpose. ‘Intellect without principle’ is the attribute of the worst of beings. Despotism may exist independent of morality; but republics soon perish when the people become corrupt.” (Correspondence to American Bible Society, Cambridge, November 6, 1852. Harvard University - Harvard Law School Library / Simon Greenleaf Papers, 1792-1853. Published in Testimony of Distinguished Laymen to the Value of the Sacred Scriptures: Particularly in Their Bearing on Civil and Social Life. American Bible Society, 1854.)

Even Charles Darwin recognized the value of Christianity on the improvement of culture. “From seeing the present state, it is impossible not to look forward with high expectations to the future progress of nearly an entire hemisphere. The march of improvement, consequent on the introduction of Christianity throughout the South Seas, probably stands by itself in the records of history." (Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited During the Voyage of H. M. S. Beagle Round the World. London: 1852, p. 505.)

“You’re gonna like it here,” Plait says of the cosmic sandbox, and so we should. The application of science enables us to understand our surroundings, and ourselves. We learn this universe has rules of logic, function and design. Christians recognize that God created this cosmic sandbox, that there is Moral Law in addition to Natural Law.

Or to put it another way:  Science is good.  Science, coupled with moral principles, is even better.  Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?