‘The editor said no [sic], I’m afraid…’

(Or: Sour grapes ?)

I’m keeping an eye on the nature of the pieces the Leicester Mercury is publishing in its ‘First Person’ column this ‘Holy Week’. Is it my timing that renders the following pithy re-working of my recent critique of ‘scientific apologetics’ inappropriate for publication? Is it inappropriately written for the particular readership? (You should see some of ecclesiastical burblings that go in there.) Or is it just crap? I don’t know, because the editor doesn’t have to justify. So, having spent time and effort on it…

Be sceptical of the merging of faith and science

We are all, to some extent, ‘philosophers’, in that we tend to advocate our view of life and the world. However, most of us have neither studied philosophy, nor do we spend much time critically examining our own reasoning. We thus tend not to consider that much of the information in our minds is false, and highly susceptible to our culture and belief system. Everybody likes to have their beliefs, their opinions, their prejudices confirmed, and is inclined to reject arguments against them.

Yet we are often impressed when supposed pearls of wisdom emanate from public figures. Notorious Premier League footballer Joey Barton seems to have partly restored his reputation in the eyes of a fickle public on account of his propensity to quote the occasional profound lyric, or the odd philosopher. But is he any more ludicrous than those who adopt the theological tactic known as apologetics?

Deriving from the Greek apologia, meaning ‘reasoned defence’, apologetics is that branch of theology concerned with the defence and proof of Christianity. It becomes problematic when science gets called as witness.

Christian apologists like to argue, often with cherry-picked philosophical quotations, the metaphysical significance of the discoveries and formulations of great (religious) scientists, such as Newton. Science is glorified for its triumphant revealing of the workings of God’s universe – the undisprovable is deemed scientifically rational. Those areligious scientists who argue the contrary are hypocritically reminded of the naturalistic limitations of (their) science. It seems the capacity of science depends on the beliefs of those doing it.

This line of ‘reasoning’ holds that all scientists are, wittingly or unwittingly, investigating not merely the natural world, but ’God’s plan’. This leads to unscientific pronouncements, which are potentially highly misleading. Whilst it has to be acknowledged that belief in God was a driver for modern science, the indisputability of the faith of those who pioneered the mathematical explanation of the universe does not constitute retrospective evidence for ‘God’ (or any deity). Quite right to recognise Newton’s brilliance as a scientist/mathematician. But appealing to the faith of great scientists does not a scientific argument make.

If you believe you are researching God’s handiwork, it is God’s handiwork you will see. But misappropriation of scientific laws as ‘evidence’ for the existence of an agent who set those laws in place is a scientific non sequitur. As an academic pursuit, this faith-based syncretism becomes ‘philosophy’. Or theology.

Philosophical quotes, whether from pseudo-intellectuals or serious intellectual scholars, often draw admiring gasps, or approving nods of faux sagacity. But they do not always convey ‘truth’. Barton’s street philosophy makes for an occasionally refreshing change from the robotic, cliché-regurgitating football interviewee. But scholarly pseudoscientism is the laziest philosophy – a cardinal sin for any scientist.

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