Thursday, April 14, 2005

The end of skepticism: the AAAS

It has been my belief that certain, specific scientific journals and organizations have been flying under false colors. Scientific American, the Smithsonian, the National Academy of Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (not to mention popular science magazines and TV shows) have been using science as a stalking horse for philosophical materialism. Now, the AAAS has published an editorial that appears to let the cat out of the bag as to how they perceive their role.

The Blinne Blog links to an article in the AAAS's journal, Science, complaining of a religious assault on the Enlightenment value of reason. Since membership is required, I will quote from the Blinne Blog:

For much of their existence over the past two centuries, Europe and the United States have been societies of questioners: nations in which skepticism has been accepted and even welcomed, and where the culture has been characterized by confidence in science and in rational methods of thought. We owe this tradition in part to the birth of the Scottish Enlightenment of the early 18th century, when the practice of executing religious heretics ended, to be gradually replaced by a developing conviction that substituted faith in experiment for reliance on inherited dogma.

That new tradition, prominently represented by the Scottish philosopher David Hume, supplied important roots for the growth of modernity, and it has served U.S. society well, as it has Europe's. The results of serious, careful experimentation and analysis became a standard for the entry of a discovery or theory into the common culture of citizens and the policies of their governments. Thus, scientific determinations of the age of Earth and the theories of gravity, biological evolution, and the conservation of matter and energy became meaningful scientific anchors of our common understanding.

There is a problem with this account. The scientific approach did not in fact come from Hume; otherwise how do we explain a Galileo or a Newton who lived 100-200 years earlier? Indeed, as Pearcey and Thaxton demonstrate in The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy, the philosophical underpinnings of science were developed in the Middle Ages by Christians. Skeptical? Get the book!

Where does Hume come in then? Hume's contribution to Western thought is logical positivism, the idea that nothing should be believed until it can be proven. Positivism is a philosophical basis for atheistic materialism: the spirit world isn't seen so we shouldn't believe in it. In connecting science with Hume, the Science article suggests that the AAAS sees science as an essentially atheistic enterprise.

Of course, not all scientists are atheists; not by a long shot. But there is a vast difference between science and Scientific Truth for the Masses. Science is about a search for knowledge, not indignant certitude. Its approach to claims is one of skepticism, true; but the article seems to suggest that skepticism ought to be reserved for religion, the ostensible enemy and opposite of science, but not exercised toward the minority philosophical position of atheistic materialism (aka "science"). Science is descriptive, telling us provisionally how things are; not prescriptive, telling us what we ought to believe. Science is the opposite of dogma, because dogma is a definitive answer that may not be questioned, but when questions end so does learning. Yet, in Orwellian fashion, the Science article tells us that evangelical Christianity is a threat to skeptical science because it is skeptical of that which ought not be questioned.

Science operates on the principle of methodological materialism, which means that science can only study the physical universe. Popularly though, science is often misappropriated and misrepresented to promote philosophical materialism, the unverified belief that the physical world is all that exists. Skeptic, heal thyself!