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Wide White: When science challenges our beliefs

Monday, December 13, 2010

When science challenges our beliefs

MinnPost ran a story back in July titled, "When their world view is challenged by scientific data, some doubt science itself."

The article shows that when someone's beliefs are challenged with scientific evidence, they not only maintain their beliefs and reject the scientific evidence, they also question all other scientific conclusions.

I've thought a lot about this subject, especially in terms of creation vs. evolution. I'll post more on that tomorrow.

For now, I'm curious: If science challenges a belief that you hold, do you maintain your belief or do you change your belief in light of the new evidence? What's an example of a belief you hold to that scientific evidence couldn't possibly change?

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23 Comments:

Anonymous Bill Roehl declared,

While I hail from a different belief system I do believe that scientific discovery needs to be weighed with other scientific evidence. Just because one peer reviewed study says X doesn't mean that another peer reviewe study won't reach a completely different conclusion.

Sibelius researching the topic you must weigh the evidence and sources carefully to make a determination as to the validity of the science or what middle ground you can reach yourself. This is what makes science wonderful and should shed light on the issues raised when it comes into conflict with one absolute truth source which provides little to no basis for review.

12/13/2010 7:59 AM  
Anonymous Bill Roehl declared,

Typing on a phone apparently creates spelling issues. Sibelius for "while" really?

12/13/2010 8:01 AM  
Blogger -V- declared,

Hugh Ross, author of 'Creation and Time' and 'The Creator and the Cosmos' has an excellent 'bottom line' on this. That if God is the author of both the Bible (from which comes a Christian's core beliefs) AND of creation (an important part of God's revelation), AND the Lord our God is ONE God... Then, seeming contradictions between the Bible and creation are the result of my own limited understanding - not a sign of inconsistency in God, the author, or in His revelation. That makes true science (study of God's creation revelation) my friend and partner - not a mortal enemy.

Since beginning to consider in this way during college, apparent contradictions between the Bible and science bring me to the simple conclusion that I am not yet fully understanding something; not that science is (as Jay Kesler would say) 'trying to jump out from behind a rock and get God'. In these cases, I am feeling the limitations of human perspective and interpretation.

Still, when science (better, scientists) claims that Christ could not have risen, or that His body has been found, or that miracles are impossible, I would consider that flawed science - or science that's over-reaching its bounds. Those are about the only issues I'd 'hang my hat on' though...

12/13/2010 8:48 AM  
Blogger Joey declared,

To add to these two comments, I agree, one scientific conclusion alone shouldn't be used to create an entirely new worldview or viewpoint on a specific subject. I'm thinking more in terms of conclusions that have been tested and accepted widely as scientifically-sound reasoning. I know, opponents of this way of thinking will talk about past cases where such science was proven wrong, such as the world being flat. However, I think it's important to note that science is what proved the world was not flat. Science typically gets better and more accurate over time, not less accurate.

V, I totally agree. That's the conclusion I've come to. If I'm to believe the Bible to be true, that doesn't mean I can't believe science to be true when they seem to contradict. I either have to work out the contradiction by way of explanation or ignore the contradiction and chalk it up to ignorance on my part. I suppose I do a bit of both, but I typically try to work out the contradictions. I guess it's in my nature...

12/13/2010 9:39 AM  
Blogger watchman declared,

More and more, I am led to believe that science and faith are colleagues that work in different departments. I have been influenced on this by the theologian BB Warfield.

Now, Warfield was no liberal. He was a conservative Calvinist who invented the word 'inerrancy'.

Warfield worked during the time Darwin was just coming into vogue amidst academia.

Warfield thought that dating the Earth had 'of itself
no theological significance. It is to theology a matter of
entire indifference how long man has existed on earth'

In other words, Warfield shrugged his shoulders and so do I.

Another little Warfield gem: 'I do not think that there is any general statement in the Bible or any part of the account of creation, either as given in Genesis 1 and 2 or elsewhere alluded to, that need be opposed to evolution'

In response to -V-:
When scientists prove that Christ could not rise from the dead, they are merely doing their job. A scientist analyzes data and makes certain extrapolations. There is no scientific proof of life after death, so it is a legitimate extrapolation to say that accounts of resurrection are likely hogwash.

Does that affect my faith in the Resurrection? Not in the slightest.

12/13/2010 9:46 AM  
Blogger Reuben declared,

I've seen the situation you're describing here, but I feel like I've seen the opposite reaction more often.

I regularly meet individuals who have learned of scientific evidence that challenges some of their religious beliefs, and end up throwing out their faith entirely. They feel like if their church or theology taught them one thing that science has demonstrated isn't true, then everything they've ever been taught at church must also not be true. They feel burned over or duped by religion, they feel foolish for believing some of the things they used to believe, and they feel atheism is the only way they can avoid making the same mistake in the future.

But that might just be the case in my own niche corner of the internet full of disgruntled mormons.... (for the record, I am currently an active mormon, though many of my friends and online acquaintances are ex- or post-mormons).

12/13/2010 11:04 AM  
Blogger Joey declared,

Reuben, it's not just your corner. I've seen it too among Christians (or in a number of cases, now former Christians). I understand why people reject their faith in these circumstances but I don't exactly follow the line of reasoning myself.

We're all trying to learn, understand, and in some cases teach our faith. It doesn't generally bother me to come to the conclusion that something I was taught 15 years ago may have been wrong. Just about the only situation in which it bothers me is when there's been some sort of abuse or other negative impact caused by the teaching.

12/13/2010 12:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous declared,

You can not prove or disprove "beliefs" with scientific fact. I wish I could, then everyone would be a christian!

To me, my daughter's birth is proof that God is real and incredible, to the next guy it is proof that we came from a mud hole. Both of these are based on beliefs. I've heard all the scientific facts about how we came from a mud hole with just the right amount of nutrients in it, the right temperature, and the right amount of dinosaur poop, but I don't believe it. Just like an atheist has heard everything about God from the best of the best preachers and still doesn't believe in God or a god.

That is why everyone should read Romans chapter 8 & 9, it isn't up to us!! There is something out there much bigger than you or I or any little "scientific fact" our pathetic brains can come up with. If you love God, be thankful for that, because you didn't do it.

If you are married, have a girlfriend, or have kids just try to scientifically prove your love for them. To think you can scientifically prove beliefs (or feelings) is complete ignorance.

Dstew

12/13/2010 1:13 PM  
Blogger Reuben declared,

lol. thanks to me your google ads are now promoting the "I'm a mormon" campaign. lol.

12/13/2010 1:17 PM  
Blogger Joey declared,

Ha, I forget about those stupid ads...I should just take them down, I put them up as an experiment but Blogger's automated ad placement features are garbage. I really need to move this blog to WordPress...

Dstew, you can't scientifically prove some beliefs, but I think you can prove others. For example, I believe that if I jump, I will come back down due to gravity. That's scientifically provable. That's obviously an elementary example, but I don't think science and beliefs are two separate, non-related entities.

Now, to watchman's point, we don't have to base all of our beliefs on science. We can't believe that Jesus rose from the dead if we are to take a strictly scientific view of things. So in that sense, I agree with you.

12/13/2010 1:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous declared,

Joey - Great topic!

So do you believe in the FACT of gravity or the BELIEF of gravity? Why? Then apply it to other beliefs.

Dstew

12/13/2010 4:03 PM  
Anonymous Daniel declared,

have you ever seen the film "Expelled" by Ben Stein? it's fascinating and relevant to the topic, narrowing in on "what happens when the scientific community censors ideas they don't like?" I would highly recommend it.

I think there's an assumption that often goes unstated, which is that Religion comes to the table with a certain faith-tainted bias, whereas Science has a neutral lens that can arbitrarily deal with the data and come to true and unbiased conclusions. I reject this assumption.

also interesting is the fact that questions of origins and other past events are really questions of History not of Science. there is some overlap, but you can't recreate the universe to test your hypothesis as to how it was created. what's going on is observations of the present extrapolated onto the past based on your assumptions. this is more historical research than science.

this plays out in the question of creationism. what's your lens? Catastrophism or Uniformitarianism? this will determine how you view things like the Grand Canyon, and how you conclude it must have come to be.

I personally take my scientific premises (assumptions) from the Bible, where as the next guy takes them from what the mainstream scientific community currently believes.

12/13/2010 4:29 PM  
Anonymous Bill Roehl declared,

"I personally take my scientific premises (assumptions) from the Bible, where as the next guy takes them from what the mainstream scientific community currently believes."

You can't take scientific premises from the Bible plain and simple. What you can most definitely do is take ideas presented in the Bible and use the scientific method on them to prove whether they are true or not. Whether you personally believe the results of those experiments is another story.

12/13/2010 6:25 PM  
Blogger Joey declared,

Dstew, I believe the fact of gravity because experience tells me it's so. I believe in how it works and that it will continue to work because science tells me so. Could science be wrong? Sure, but science doesn't necessarily prove definitively what is true. It does say, "Given these facts and observations, I can arrive at this conclusion."

Daniel, I have not seen "Expelled." I'd be happy to watch it though. I have no doubt that there are science communities that censor ideas they don't like just as there are religious communities censor ideas they don't like.

The assumption you mention of science being fully neutral is probably more idealistic than realistic. However, I think that people would idealistically arrive at their religious conclusions after viewing the world through a neutral lens and we know that's not the case. Nobody is truly neutral about anything.

I'm not sure about your statement about making your scientific assumptions based on the premise of the Bible. Are you saying that if something you observe in your scientific research seems to contradict the Bible, you will ignore the results and side with the Bible, presuming the results to be in error?

12/13/2010 11:54 PM  
Anonymous Daniel declared,

Joey - let me flesh out what I meant by my assumptions statement (the 2nd to last paragraph was a skeleton example of what I meant.)

take the Grand Canyon. we see tons of rock layers piled on top of each other, with a river at the bottom. that's the data. what are your starting assumptions? 1) it must be the result of relatively uniform processes working over the course of a looooooong time (uniformitarianism). 2) several thousand years ago there was a flood that covered the entire world with water (catastrophism, as informed from the Bible.) 3) the earth is actually like a "tree" that's nourished from outer space by aliens. every so often it grows a new ring, depending on how much nutrition it gets.

none of these can be proven or disproven. they're assumptions from which you interpret the evidence. you might view one as more likely, more reasonable, more Biblical, more whatever, but they are scientifically unprovable, because they are a matter of history, not repeatable science.

I start with the historical record found in the Bible, and this is the basis of my assumptions when I go to interpret the data.

we can look at how modern day canyons are formed (catastrophically), and extrapolate that this is a more likely scenario than the others, but then again, the next guy might be so attached to his old-age view of things that he'll stretch every possible explanation to keep from accepting the Biblical view.

12/14/2010 5:56 PM  
Anonymous Daniel declared,

Joey - another example. take radioimetric dating. the isotopes of certain elements found in rock layers are found to decay at certain rates today. assumption: these rates have always been the same, therefore we can extrapolate into the past and discover how old this particular rock is. 2) there was a certain earth changing event (a global flood) that affected the earths magnetism, how these isotopes behave under enormous amounts of water pressure, the atmosphere, etc, therefore we can't just assume these rates have always been the same.

how you conclude depends on your assumptions. though, you'd think they would have come up with a better system after having failed to accurately date rocks of known age. (Mount St. Helens, Mount Ngauruhoe).

hope that explains what I meant. to answer your other question, though, I haven't yet found a contradiction to what I read in the Bible that couldn't be explained satisfactorily using scientific arguments. I haven't yet had to "ignore the results" in order to side with the Bible.

12/14/2010 6:05 PM  
Anonymous Bill Roehl declared,

the next guy might be so attached to his old-age view of things that he'll stretch every possible explanation to keep from accepting the Biblical view.

I'd prefer to have this discussion with both a Young Earth Creationist geologist and a standard geologist instead of arguing endlessly from talking points memos provided to textbooks which favor your world view.

Have you actually thought what you are saying through or are you just regurgitating, almost word for word in fact--ala Good Will Hunting--from the "Modern Flood Geologists"?

12/14/2010 8:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous declared,

Bill~

I'd like to think I've "actually" thought about the subject. in college I my roommates who were taking evolutionary biology, so I read their textbooks and asked them questions. it rather seemed like they were regurgitating the talking points they were being fed from their teachers, but never had substantive answers to my questions.

I really like the "modern flood geologists." I find their ideas and research stimulating, interesting, and in line with the Bible.

but you're right, I'd much rather enjoy listening to professionals duke it out rather than engage in pointless arguments...

12/14/2010 10:06 PM  
Anonymous Bill Roehl declared,

I find their ideas and research stimulating, interesting, and in line with the Bible.

I'm glad you are comfortable in believing what is told to you which fits with the Bible. Anyone can make statements which align with a particular viewpoint but it doesn't mean it should be considered the truth.

While accounts from antiquity offer some insight into the population of our ancestors, it doesn't provide any truly accurate basis for scientific research. There are many items which influence this including oral tradition, political and religious agenda, and simply differences of opinion on interpretation of events which occurred thousands of years before.

The problem with relying on the Bible as the base of your factual evidence which you then set out to prove is that the logic is purposefully circular. The Bible drives the individual to a conclusion and the conclusion is backed up by the Bible which is something that just is not generally acceptable to anyone except those in the religious community. While that may be a fine explanation for those who believe the Bible to be a single source of truth (even with many different interpretations of that single source), it doesn't mean that it should be good enough for the rest of us.

12/15/2010 9:22 AM  
Anonymous Chet declared,

Bill, I don't know you personally or have any clue about what you believe. I do know what I believe though, and I think it wouldn't be wrong for me to say I think I have a pretty good idea what Daniel believes.

I am not going to try to persuade you to believe anything, or try to explain logically how the earth was formed, or what the age of anything is.

When it comes to scientific evidence vs. the Bible, I will always side with what the Bible says, even if that means I have to "throw out" perfectly reasonable scientific evidence, such as the point raised about whether human beings can be risen from the dead (as I listen to Newsong's "Arise" right now, lol).

The reason why I will defend the Bible is because God tells me He is truth, and God is the author and creator of the Bible, which He wrote using men of His choosing. I will take God at His word, and be at peace with that. I will never understand completely all of the amazing attributes of God, but if He allowed for something to be written in His book, I'm going to believe it, because I believe that He is truth.

I'm not going to argue that there is most likely a discrepancy or two in most translations, since they are not the original copy, but I trust that most of the men and women that have translated the Word have taken great care and responsibility, especially considering the warning given in Revelation 22:18-19, where it says, "I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book."

You may think that I am stupid to have blind faith in a God who I have never personally seen. You might also think that I am not wise to take His Word at face value, but His Word tells me that I am to believe in Him, not question Him, so that is what I am going to do.

12/16/2010 11:30 AM  
Anonymous Bill Roehl declared,

I don't think you're stupid. I just find using the Bible to verify "scientific" research is faulty and purposefully deceptive logic.

If you want to believe what the Bible says is true based on your belief in God so be it and I am quite happy that you have the conviction and faith you do. But please do not confuse that faith and belief as science when you use the Bible to verify the claims purporting to be science. They're not the same thing and purposefully confusing the two so that you can further The Message in a deceptive manner is not a very Christian thing to do at all in my opinion.

12/16/2010 1:04 PM  
Anonymous Daniel declared,

I had some concluding thoughts, and then I'll leave this one alone.

I think Bill's claim that those of us who start with the belief that the Bible is true are engaging in "purposely deceptive logic" and "furthering the Message in a deceptive manner" is totally unfounded and untrue. Most all of the "modern flood geologists" and Creationist organizations are very upfront about the fact that they believe the Bible and start from a certain set of Biblical assumptions.

The deception is on the part of those who won't be upfront with their assumptions, or can't be because they've never really thought about them. they assume that whatever they heard in science class (read in Science magazine, watch on the Science channel, etc...) came from a "neutral" perspective.

Creationists are engaging legitimate scientific research, and doing so in areas that most scientists have closed minds to. this isn't deception, or faith trying to masquerade as science, this is simply the scientific method being explored with the Hypothesis step being informed from a Biblical view.

I'm not really trying to convince anyone that they have to believe the earth is pretty young. my whole point is simply that there is no contradiction between science and the Bible, to have to choose one over the other is a false dichotomy.

I won't even ask (or force) you to fund the research of these scientists! (kind of wish I could get the same courtesy...)

so yeah, feel free to believe what you want, but just realize that rejecting the Bible in favor of what goes for the current consensus in scientific circles involves a choice of what you want to believe. both sides are using the same evidence.

12/16/2010 9:00 PM  
Blogger Joey declared,

I've been meaning to respond here for a while and just haven't had a chance.

Daniel, when you say you "start with the historical record of the Bible" as your scientific presumption, you're indicating that you believe the Bible is intended to be used as a literal, chronological account of the history of the earth, starting from day one through the first 4,000 years. I don't think the Bible was intended as a world history or a science book, because if it's supposed to be that then I think it would have a whole lot more detail than it does and would be much more clear than it is.

So when I see a modern canyon, I accept the fact that it could have been created catastrophically, but I don't necessarily think that it was and I don't see how the answer either way impacts the effect of the Bible on my life.

As for radiometric dating, I'm not convinced that it's any more accurate than it's inaccurate. It's not my line of work and isn't something I've studied in depth. I've heard people on both sides give reasons they're absolutely convinced of their positions.

From a scientific point of view, I think we can only go on what we know to be true today. In that sense, it doesn't surprise me that a scientist would conclude that the earth is millions of years old. Based on the evidence in the existing conditions, that's a natural conclusion. Once the assumption of a literal 6-day creation 6,000 years ago is introduced, the conclusion has to change, so the reason for the evidence has to change.

Chet had a statement that I think is interesting where he mentioned "scientific evidence vs. the Bible." As long as we see this as a contest, there will be divisiveness. I don't think we have an issue of science vs. the Bible. My post was related to science vs. beliefs. I was thinking of beliefs in general, though some of those certainly are generated from the Bible. That doesn't, however, mean those beliefs are biblical, if that makes sense. For example, a strong argument can be made that the Bible does not teach a literal 6-day creation, yet many will say this view is biblical. In these cases, debates will be framed as "scientific evidence vs. the Bible."

I can understand "the Koran vs. the Bible," "Buddha vs. the Bible," etc. I don't quite understand "scientific evidence vs. the Bible."

And for the record, I don't think someone who rejects scientific evidence in favor of the Bible is stupid. People who are that rooted in their religious beliefs are proven to be happier as they're able to lay a definitive claim and say, "This is what I believe and I know it is true." The fact that they're happier doesn't mean they're right, but it doesn't mean they're stupid either.

12/19/2010 1:52 AM  

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