The Wedge: A Mini Manifesto

guest blog by Justin Wishart

“Christianity was bad for science. It put a stop to scientific progress for a thousand years, and even after that is made science’s recovery difficult, painful, and slow.”[1]

There have been a few notable successes by Atheists and I would have to say that a major one has been to drive a wedge between science and Christianity. It is claimed that the rigors of scientific inquiry is fundamentally opposed to the faith of Christianity. That science is based on evidence that brings one to the conclusions that reflect reality and the Christianity is an irrational faith that is purely subjective. This supposed truth seems to have become common knowledge in most academic circles. Many accept this without much thought. It has become increasingly obvious that this view must be addressed by Christians for Christianity to receive a fair hearing. However, addressing this directly is not the purpose of my article. This Manifesto is not to propose a positive, or defensive, position but to propose a negative, or offensive, position. I would like to propose that we learn from this and create a wedge for ourselves.

There is a philosophical position commonly called Scientism.[2] If I was to give a succinct definition for this position I would say that it is the belief that the only valid source for knowledge is derived by the scientific method. The only way we can know something is if science demonstrates the truth of a claim. People who hold this view might concede that there could be reality outside of what is testable to science but we can never be sure of what that may be. Proponents of this epistemology will naturally claim that their view is a natural fit with science, that science and Scientism fit like a glove. Is this the actual case? Can we not place a wedge between science and Scientism?

Let us first look closely at Scientism’s claim: That you can only have knowledge through the scientific method. Sure, we have learned many things about our universe through the scientific method, but can we draw a conclusion that it is the only valid way to discover truth? I would like to challenge anyone out there to devise a scientific experiment that could scientifically test this claim. Is there a scientific test that proves that science is the only valid way to find truth? If not, then followers of Scientism are caught in a contradiction. If Scientism is true, yet you cannot prove Scientism through the scientific method, it makes Scientism unknowable or false. By its own reasoning (that you can know truth only through the scientific method) one must throw out Scientism itself because it cannot be proved by the scientific method. This alone creates and adequate wedge unless such an experiment is devised. I have yet to see one.

Even outside of this contradiction there are problems. Let us investigate the claim itself. Is the scientific method even a valid means to discover truth? At this point I am using the term “valid” in a technical sense. That is, is the scientific method even logical? Unfortunately for the followers of Scientism the answer is no. To begin with, the scientific method commits the fallacy of Affirming the Consequence.[3]  

I will give you first an informal example of how the scientific method has “worked” even though we did so by a lack of knowledge.

“How science can be useful though false is illustrated in a delightful textbook on inductive logic.[4] Milk fever, the illustration goes, until the late ninetieth century, was a disease frequently fatal to cows. A veterinarian proposed the theory that it was caused by bacteria in the cows udder. The cure, therefore, was to disinfect the cow, which the veterinarian proceeded to do by injecting Lugol solution in each teat. The mortality under this treatment fell from a previous ninety percent to thirty. Does not this successful treatment prove that the bacteria were killed and that Lugol cured the disease? Unfortunately, another veterinarian was caught without the Lugol solution one day, and he injected plain boiled water. The cow recovered. Had water killed the bacteria? What is worst, it was found later that air could be pumped into the cows’ udders with equally beneficial results. The original science was wrong, but it cured the cow nonetheless.”[5]

According to Scientism, if there wasn’t for the accident of the bumbling veterinarian, the scientific method would have proved that Lugol cured mild fever. Yet, due to an accident, we know that this conclusion was false. How many “discoveries” through the scientific method we have today, which is repeatable, is actually a misunderstanding? How are we to know? Remember that veterinarians/scientists could have preformed this experiment a million times with similar results and not moved a centimetre closer to the truth. Let me demonstrate this fallacy in a formal manner.

1. If (a), then (b)

2. (b)

3. Therefore, (a)

If you are new to formal logic what you just read might not make much sense. But, it is very easy to understand. The letters represent a value, and in this case we only have two values, (a) & (b). The neat thing about formal logic is that we can now substitute any values for (a) & (b) and see if the argument makes sense. Here is the scientific method.

1. If Lugol cures milk fever (a), then when I inject Lugol the milk fever will be cured (b)

2. The milk fever went away when I injected Lugol (b)

3. Therefore, Lugol cures milk fever (a)[6]

But as we can see from the example above, it was not Lugol that cured the milk fever, it was something else. Therefore, the conclusion that we get from the scientific method (3) is false. This shows that the scientific method is a logical fallacy, and it seems obvious that we should not trust the scientific method with the devotion that Scientism demands. Just to beat the dead horse, I will substitute the values again with something else and this all might become clearer.

!. If it is raining outside (a), then the streets will be wet (b)

2. The streets are wet (b)

3. Therefore, it is raining outside (a)

Well, what if a water mane burst outside, would that make the streets wet? What if it rained 10 minutes ago and the streets are still wet? What if there was a flood caused by a breached hydro-dam? What if there was a massive community wide water fight? Obviously, the conclusion here cannot be fully trusted. Yet, Scientism asks us to trust the findings from this fallacious logic blindly, with unwavering trust.

Another problem with this epistemology is the changing nature and formulations within scientific theory. To me, the fact that scientific theories change is a great strength of the scientific method. Yet, this fact poses a major difficulty for Scientism. Any theory that scientists work from is but one discovery away from being thrown away. The science of yesterday had to make way for the science of today, and the science of today will have to make way for the science of tomorrow. The question followers of Scientism must answer is: How can you base your epistemology on “facts” found through the scientific method today, when it is very possible it will be “proven” wrong tomorrow? At one time the majority of scientists believed in spontaneous generation[7], and if you based your theories on this “fact” then you would
have been very embarrassed when Louis Pasteur demonstrated that life only arises from life. If one is to hold to Scientism, one can be expected to be embarrassed by their theory formulations most of their lives. Particularly since scientific discoveries seem to be more and more frequent.

I will conclude here by saying that I am not a “science denier”. I am thankful for and use things that were a result of science every day. However, regardless of the successes of science, there is nothing within science that makes it an acceptable epistemology on its own. Science cannot be the foundation to knowledge because science cannot demonstrate that it is the foundation to knowledge. Thus, I think it is fair and reasonable to place a wedge between science and Scientism. We must be active in demonstrating these truths so the people we share our faith with will not be able to create the boundaries of the conversation. If we are forced to explain things found in the Bible in purely scientific terms, we will see that we are in a losing discussion. But, since it is obvious that such boundaries are not warranted, that science cannot rightly bring one to Scientism, this will open up the conversation to allow for the possibility of the supernatural. That is, of course, if your dialog is with someone who is honestly searching for the truth.

[1] Richard Carrier as quoted by John W. Loftus, Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, 2008, Prometheus Books, PG. 116

[2] Another common philosophy is called Logical Positivism.

[3] When I say something is a fallacy, I am not saying that everything derived from the scientific method is wrong. What a logical fallacy means is that there is no way to guarantee that information derived from the argument is correct.

[4] Harold Larrabee, Reliable Knowledge, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1945, PG. 191

[5] Gordon H Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things, The Trinity Foundation, Third Edition 1998, pg. 140

[6] To those more familiar to the scientific process as opposed to the logical process I would say that 1 equals the theory and hypothesis, while 2 equals the experiment with observations, and 3 is the conclusion.

[7] That life arises out of inanimate objects.

The Poached Egg Apologetics