Tuesday, August 21, 2007

What Science Does That Religion Doesn't

I recently read an article on new research findings regarding homo habilis and homo erectus that had supposedly negative implications regarding evolutionary theory—at least that's the way the story was presented in the media. Fearing, I presume, that research she was a party to might be latched onto by creationist-types, one of the researchers, Susan Anton (not that Susan Anton), launched a preemptive strike,

"This is a great example of what science does and religion doesn't do. It's a continous self-testing process."

This post is not in the least about the scientific findings or its implications. What I want to know is what does she mean when she says self-testing is something science does but religion doesn't (if that's what she's saying). It seems so broad a statement as to be practically meaningless. Am I missing something? I've heard the same line used almost verbatim recently in a blog conversation (before this article appeared) so I'm wondering if it's a currently fashionable anti-religion blurb. In any case I'm hoping someone can shed some light on what this put-down of religion is supposedly putting down.

In case you're interested, here's an instance of the article: Fossils Challenge Old Evolution Theory

08/28 Edit: I have updated the link. Hopefully this one will be functional for a while.


Laughing Boy said...

Well, it seems nobody else can make sense of her statement, either. I think that's a good sign, but it means I didn't get to critique Ms. Anton's fuller quote:

"This is not questioning the idea at all of evolution; it is refining some of the specific points," Anton said. "This is a great example of what science does and religion doesn't do. It's a continous self-testing process."

So science's continuous self-testing process most emphatically does not question the idea of evolution. Insightful. Ironic, even.

theologix said...

What science does these days...

Is posit speculation that can change in the twinkling of an eye to explain any data presented.

"The theory that can explain anything explains nothing..."

Keep up the good word, LB!

CyberKitten said...

Is not God the Ultimate Theory that explains everything..... and therefore Nothing?

theologix said...

There's a difference between everything and anything.

CyberKitten said...

theologix said: There's a difference between everything and anything.

That's a *very* fine hair you're splitting there..........

theologix said...

I don't think so. If God exists, then He is the reason for everything we see and experience. We should expect to find nothing that would disprove Him.

The Bible's claims are 2000 years old and remain unchanged. Thus, it can't explain "anything" in the sense that if something is conclusively proven that contradicts its claims, it can't really go changing its story like the evolutionists quoted here.

CyberKitten said...

theologix said: it can't really go changing its story like the evolutionists quoted here.

I think it's called finding new stuff out & updating our understanding accordingly. It's what Science *does* and how it works. Progress I think they call it...... [grin].

Laughing Boy said...

I think we all agree it is progress. Theologix and I contend that that 'progress' is providing evidence contrary to predictions made by evolutionary theory.

In science, when new evidence is contrary to a theory, it calls that theory in doubt. Further research is undertaken to confirm if that 'flaw' in the theory is real or not. If the flaw is real, science does not adjust the theory to accomodate it—unless, it seems by Anton's statement, that science is related to evolutionary biology. Such a policy turns the theory into a theory of ANYthing. Any scientific theory worthy of the name must make falsifiable predictions. The Grand Evolutionary Myth has made many predictions, and many of them have been wrong. This is just one more example. When this hppens in other scientific disciplines they attack their theory to make sure it is holding up. If it doesn't it means they have missed something and the scientist who confirms that flaw is a hero. Then He goes to look for a better explanation. That is what's called progress.

CyberKitten said...

laughing boy said: The Grand Evolutionary Myth...

You *do* have a problem with Evolution don't you! [rotflmao]

Laughing Boy said...

Capital 'E' evolution, yes, I do. BTW: The Grand Evolutionary Myth is a phrase I copped from Alvin Plantinga. I also have a problem with mindless institutional allegiance to Microsoft. And for pretty much the same reasons.

P3T3RK3Y5 said...

i wonder if she was referring to the regular revisions to truth (newton -> einstein) that science gives us, that religion appears not to give us.

although, i do think religion revises itself (e.g. polygamy, burnings, stonings), it just always seems to find itself so behind societal norms (music, modesty, sexuality).

this quote speaks to this idea:

Ethical axioms are found and tested not very differently from the axioms of science. Truth is what stands the test of experience.
Albert Einstein

Laughing Boy said...

Welcome p3t3r. I'm eager to get a wider variety of opinion going here—no disrespect to theologix and cyberkitten who are both very thoughtful and articulate and whose input I greatly appreciate. I'm thinking of spinning off a second blog that is more for Christians that deals less, perhaps not at all with apologetic-type issues, and more with topics of interest to those of u seeking to move along in the Christian life. I'd appreciate your input there very much since we come from different places (but geographically, very close), so please check back every now and then.

Regarding religion and self-testing I think the statement is so amorphous as to be meaningless. Neither science nor religion are monolithic entities. Nonetheless, as individual Christians we are specifically and repeatedly commanded to test the teachings we receive. The Reformation is just one quite well-known example of this. Acts and the Epistles are full of examples.

Einstein said...Truth is what stands the test of experience.

Truth indeed does stand the test of experience, but is that what makes it true? Or does truth stand the test because it is true and experience eventually bears that out. I think there are truths of which I am completely unaware, which I have not yet and may never experience. Such truths are no less true than ones of which I have all possible certainty. So says I.

wunelle said...

Hi, laughing boy.

I'll take my shot at this, if I can. (If I write simply, I mean no insult; I'm only trying to suss out my own "first principles.")

I think it's a maxim of science--a responsibility, even--that there is no argument from authority. No theory, and certainly no theorist, is immune from attempts to topple or modify their findings. It's a welcome and absolutely necessary component of the scientific method. As evidence is acquired, intentionally or accidentally, it is applied theoretically or experimentally to the current working body of knowledge of a subject, and when disagreements and weaknesses are found, new theories are formed to accommodate the new data. Thus, knowledge moves forward.

There is no analogous structure in religion. On the contrary, the very idea of dogma is that questioning is harmful and cheeky and verboten. There are exceptions to every rule, but I think the self-testing she refers to is this integral part of science: there are no sacred cows here.

The difficulty with the changing of conclusions, even a little, comes from thinking that anything as complex and inscrutable as the evolution of life is KNOWN and FINITE. All knowledge in science is provisional, waiting for better information.

Laughing Boy said...

Welcome, wunelle. I think you may be close to the best answer. Science, in theory anyway, should have no sacred cows. Religion (at least monotheistic ones) lays claim to certain revealed truths.

But many scientists do have their sacred cows. Dr. Anton reinforces that notion in my mind when she states that she will "in no way question" her committment to evolutionary theory despite this new evidence. That sounds like a dogma to me.

On the other hand, if 'religion' never questioned or tested itself, would the Reformation have happened? Sure, the Church resisted Galileo—as did the scientific community—but didn't the Church soon discard it's Aristotelian-inspired interpretation of Scripture when the evidence became clear?

Dogmas are not bad per se; only when they get in the way of an honest consideration of evidence. The non-religious are no less guilty of this than the religious.

In a world that accorded perfectly with definitions, science and religion might be as you say. But science has taken on religiosity and religion is necessarily open to interpretation.

wunelle said...

It's an excellent point: neither discipline is pure, and in their impurity they mix their water.

I think any time one hears a scientist (like Dr. Anton) making absolute statements one should be wary.

But then again, I'm ALWAYS wary!


theologix said...


It's been my personal delight to read your perspective from the side of science. It's actually quite rare in my humble opinion to see those defending science and admitting *any* dogmatism therein.

We need go only as deep as the naturalistic presuppositions of modern science to find that dogmatism. :D

Take care.