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Timor Domini Principium Scientiae (Snoke and Mirrors, part 4)

February 27, 2007

Professor David Snoke, in his recent book A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, makes appeal not only to the Scriptures, but also to science. What to understand from the word science, however, in our society, not always clear. I suggest six perspectives from which we may consider the concept of science.

1. Science is a method for distinguishing truth from non-truth through observation and reason. This method optimizes the relevance of observation by manipulating conditions so as to focus uniquely on the phenomenon under investigation, in order to evaluate a particular hypothesis about it. Done properly, the set up of the conditions serves to eliminate or control for any factors liable to confuse the issue or render interpretation of observed phenomena ambiguous. “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out. ” (Proverbs 25:2) Good use of the human intellect is God-glorifying and reflects the imago Dei, always remembering human depravity and man’s uncanny ability to reason logically to a wrong conclusion.

2. Science is also the body of knowledge already acquired on a subject, particularly about the physical universe. Because of human frailty, a certain percentage of necessarily this contains error, as shown by the fact that this body of knowledge is constantly being corrected. For a believer, the authority of Scripture, inerrant, is far above any product of mere man.

3. Frequently science is used to refer to the physical cosmos itself. An example is when people say that the Bible teaches some things about “science.” As a shorthand way of speaking, this is understandable, but this tends to suggest that the physical universe, creation, belongs in some sense to the discipline of science. In reality, may I suggest, science (as (1) above) is only one way to approach creation.

4. The scientific method, (1) above, is associated with a certain purity of motive, an “objectivity” to the extent that this may be achieved by man. At some point, another feature has crept into the actual practice of science in our society: the explicit commitment to admitting only “natural processes” in its findings. Science, of course, is limited in that it is only competent to observe natural phenomena, but it is a frightful leap in logic to conclude from science’s limitations that nothing beyond the “natural” cosmos exists. With a system like this, disproving the existence of a creator is easy: since the only admissible cause for the universe are natural processes, no divinity need apply. If it is in fact true that God created the universe, science (4) is honor-bound to promote a lie. Instead of eliminating bias, it embraces it to its very core, a formula for folly. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ ” (Psalm 14:1)

5. Science, is also a sort of secular magisterium, which makes pronouncements with authority. As such it is made up of the current consensus or majority view of “scientists” and “scholars,” powerful titles. If science (1) boasts a purity of method, its cousin of the same name is every bit as pure as the human heart: politics, ideology personal ambition, wishful thinking are frequently well represented in the mix.

6. Finally, science is also an idol, worshipped by masses complete with temples, priesthood, and mythology. Prominent in that mythology is its cosmogony, and modern secular religion is a vast improvement over man’s earlier efforts to flee from God (Romans 1). Polytheistic idolatry was some help, making for gods we could at least try to manipulate. Deism freed us from everything about God but his creative power, but it never really succeeded, never caught on with the masses. With the advent of Darwin, however, the endless human quest found its greatest technological breakthrough. The idea of human descent from animals can be traced as far back as the ancient Greeks, with Darwin the times were right in terms of popular willingness, and Darwin’s presentation that gave it a “truthy” quality. Darwinism does not require atheism; it just makes the world safe for atheism. For diehards it’s still possible to fit God in anywhere there is a little extra room. He just doesn’t have that much to do anymore, a lame duck deity.

It is surprising that Snoke criticises his young-earth opponents for a cynical view of “science” and scientists (whether a conspiracy theory or a shared world-view), when he daily swims in the waters of a system with a radical commitment to deep falsehood. Some of his statements suggest that the intelligent design argument will triumph given enough time. Perhaps he would be right, if evidence and logic were really what mattered.

There is even authorized mythology for what might be thought of as our realm as Christians. An entire alternative history for the development of Judaism and Christianity as well as for the origin of the Scriptures is fashioned for us from the stuff of evolution, and it is touted as what educated people believe. Acceptance of these constructions in preference to the Bible’s own account is a large part of what we mean by theological liberalism.

Snoke is absolutely right to point out that an old earth view is not equal to evolution, but mind-numbing antiquity is essential to the evolutionary system. What is essentially none other than spontaneous generation and other absurdities have plenty of room to hide in eons past. Given enough time, who can say what might not happen? Maybe Professor Snoke can tease out a thread of pure science (1) from this tangled mess, but it is more than I can say with confidence. Guilt by association? Admittedly.

Does his view tend toward liberalism? Not by logical necessity, surely, but I cannot confidently say that it does not in practice. Many of those who have found themselves in the day-age camp, and, even more to the point, in the local flood camp hold their positions because they just cannot bring themselves to believe the more traditional interpretations, no matter what they see the text as teaching. Snoke differs from them in finding a way to harmonize these with a text that at first blush appears to suggest something else. However, it is here that lies the justification for my “smoke and mirrors” word play, as I think his treatment of the text will simply not fly. This, of course, is a matter for another post.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Anonymous permalink
    February 28, 2007 8:53 am

    Marv,

    You say, “Maybe Professor Snoke can tease out a thread of pure science (1) from this tangled mess, but it is more than I can say with confidence. Guilt by association? Admittedly.”

    Fair observation, but then you keep going down that road. Next paragraph:

    “Does his view tend toward liberalism? Not by logical necessity, surely, but I cannot confidently say that it does not in practice.”

    What if his view tends toward the truth? You seem just as dismissive of that possibility as you claim he is dismissive of yours. Evidence: You say in Def. #5 of science:

    5. Science, is also a sort of secular magisterium, which makes pronouncements with authority. As such it is made up of the current consensus or majority view of “scientists” and “scholars,” powerful titles. If science (1) boasts a purity of method, its cousin of the same name is every bit as pure as the human heart: politics, ideology personal ambition, wishful thinking are frequently well represented in the mix.”

    Just for fun, add the word “Christian” before the word “science” and see how it reads. I’m not sure the difference in bias is all that different between “Christian” and “secular.”

    I still don’t see the smoke and mirrors.

    TJ

  2. February 28, 2007 10:42 am

    I’m not sure whether you are making a point about Christian Science, a la Mary Baker Eddy, which, of course, gives us another use for “science.”The point of this post is that in discussing the influence of “science” on exegesis, we need to define our terms and to disabuse ourselves of a notion of objectivity that forms a part of our idealized picture of the scientist as noble seeker of the truth. I am not by this claiming objectivity for myself or other Christians. Only we have to take pronouncements from the ocacle of science with an enormous grain of salt. I am not dismissive of science per se, and I did not mean by my reference that I know Snoke to be wrong. It is just that if you are looking for “wiggle room,” there is far more in establishment “science.” than I think you or he may be acknowledging, and perhaps more than in the Genesis 1 text (to which I shall turn soon for the smoke and mirrors). Snoke looks at the book of nature and suggests I may be misreading Genesis. I look at the book of Genesis and suggests Snoke may be misreading nature. Well, he is, I well understand, an accomplished scientist, and I have no doubt he knows his stuff. By the same token he may be too close to the subject to hold it at arm’s length and consider just how tentatively today’s assured opinions need to be received. He is in the thick of the game–in the academic game–and undoubtedly he cannot afford to take the kind of position I do. Although he advocates “concordantist science” I think he has underestimated the degree to which on the one hand God’s “eternal power and divine nature” has to mess with our assumptions, particularly in regard to origins, and on the other hand the extent to which science as practiced today is built on the assumption that no creation ever happened.

  3. Anonymous permalink
    February 28, 2007 12:06 pm

    Marv,

    “He is in the thick of the game–in the academic game–and undoubtedly he cannot afford to take the kind of position I do.”

    Really? May I sugggest that comment is essentialy moral, and not acedemic? Do you know Dr. Snoke well enough to say that morally he is undoubtedly incapable of taking your positon?

    Would you have any objection to his saying, ” Marv is in the thick of the game–in the academic language game–and undoubtedly he cannot afford to take the kind of position I do.”

    Why not just say, “Dr. Snoke, who holds to the same view of the inerrancy and authority of scripture as I do, is in the thick of the science game and doesn’t hold to my positon because he doesn’t believe it. Nor can I demonstrate that either his interpretation of scripture or science is necessarily wrong, and therefore, being a man of integrity, I wish to retract any enuendo that Dr. Snoke is using mirrors or smoke. I simply do not hold to the same position.”

    TJ

  4. February 28, 2007 2:35 pm

    Not at all! I have made no moral assertions about Prof. Snoke at all. Indeed, I have nothing but the highest regard for his integrity. How you get “morally…incapable” from “cannot afford to take the kind of position…” is beyond me.By “position” I am not referring to old-earth/young-earth but to what I have said about the the science establishment. It is the nature of his professional calling to pronounce and publish on the specifics of physics and astronomy. I, on the other hand, have the advantage of ignorance, let us say, and can afford a skeptical or agnostic point of view. Ignorance of astrophysics let me say, I have seen a fair amount of academia and of science, enough to know it is not the basket I care to put too many of my eggs in. I think the wiggle room is more to be found on the “science” side. But I wouldn’t expect an assistant professor of astronomy and physics to have this attitude. As for myself, I am certainly not in academia in any way, being but an erstwhile linguist and translator. As for the suggestion that his interpretation of Scripture is wrong, I do assert this, and I intend to demonstrate it. This is what I have been leading up to.

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