Is Religion “Poisoning” Science?

On January 27, 2011, in philosophy, by Jonathan Whitcomb

When I tried Google with “religion poisoning science” (quotes used) Google said “no results found,” even though I thought that was a topic of discussion on an Amazon.com forum. Let’s dig to the foundation. Do origin philosophies influence how we interpret scientific ideas? How much they do!

After many years investigating eyewitness accounts of living pterosaurs, and many years of reading what critics say about me and my associates (mostly criticisms related to differences in religious beliefs), the phrase “religion poisons science” may not have come up in those exact words, but the meaning is clear: At least a few vocal critics, who believe “science” supports their own philosophies, strongly object to Biblical foundations of thinking, when it influences ideas about science. I suspect that many of those critics have been unaware of the religious or pseudo-religious nature of their own basic assumptions: They fail to realize that they also form opinions based upon philosophical foundations.

Let’s briefly consider the two extremes of one conflict of belief: billions of years of the evolution of life on this planet versus six thousand years of the existence of the universe. What do those two points of view have in common? Both opinions are based upon layers of assumptions; both come from deep-seated beliefs that are not subject to scientific proof or disproof, for those are basic world views, philosophical foundations of belief. (Neither is at the base of philosophical foundations, but that is too deep a subject for this post.)

While critics blast my suggestions about Marfa Lights of Texas (bioluminescent flying predators, possibly related to the ropen of Papua New Guinea) and my literal acceptance of reports of living pterosaurs flying in modern times (in many areas of the world), I continue to promote literal interpretation of particular Bible scriptures, including the worldwide Flood of Genesis and the hand of God in the divine introduction of basic life forms to the divinely molded earth environment that allows life to thrive. And I continue to accept the label of “creationist,” although I do not think of myself as a Young Earth Creationist in the usual sense: I do not believe that the universe is six thousand years old.

I believe that God placed a variety of life onto this planet, according to Genesis, but I do not insist that those first few chapters in that book must make the universe six thousand years old, as if God would never place any life on any other world, at any time, for any purpose.

“Poisoning science” is a phrase available to both YEC Bible believers and “Darwinists.” But all normal adult humans (regardless of the philosophies chosen) make assumptions, layering assumptions over the basic philosophical foundations; that leaves much room for human error, even when we think we are defending a basic truth and even when we are indeed defending a basic truth. How much more productive to avoid judging persons, judging specific parts of ideas instead! How much we need more clear thinking and less accusations!

Why not consider the obvious: extreme conflicts of opinion may involve assumptions on both sides, and both sides may have been holding dogmatically to ideas containing both truth and error? Let’s avoid accusing a person or group of person of poisoning science, instead looking for the truth and error in ideas. Let’s consider the counsel of C. S. Lewis: “Well, let’s go on disagreeing but don’t let us judge.”

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Is it Really “Science Versus Religion?”

On June 1, 2010, in philosophy, by Jonathan Whitcomb

How common this misconception! The philosophy of Charles Darwin has now been labeled “science,” and any contradiction has been portrayed as religious interference with objective reasoning. The idea that all organisms now living on earth have one common ancestory—that philosophy cannot be proven, for it is against the nature of philosophies to be open to scientific proof or disproof.

What some people call “science versus religion” is actually a conflict involving two or more philosophical systems, and one of those systems is usually strict Naturalism philosophy. For example, when two persons have polar-opposite concepts of the Bible (in particular, 100% human-document versus God-inspired scripture), many conflicts of opinion should be expected, when there is a discussion regarding concepts taught in the Bible. I recommend avoiding disputations, for they normally produce a negative outcome. I do recommend that everyone try to better understand the foundations of human controversay, for this can help us all to come to more agreement in supporting truths we know in common.

Regarding reports of modern living pterosuars, why summarily dismiss them all? The official discovery of extant pterosaurs does not, in itself, force any person to abandon religious or philosophical beliefs, so personal agency is not really threatened. For those who are open minded to comparing contradictory philosophies, however, it will become apparent that literal interpretations of some verses in Genesis harmonize better with modern pterosaurs than the philosophy of Charles Darwin does.

More: “Science and Clear Thinking

Modern Pterosaurs and the Survival of the Fetish

On May 15, 2010, in philosophy, by Jonathan Whitcomb

“An object regarded with awe as being the embodiment or habitation of a potent spirit or as having magical potency”—that definition of “fetish” almost applies to the philosopohy of strict Naturalism, including the idea of Natural Selection. But the object of that pseudo-religious worship is not a physical object but an idea, including the dogma that all life came into existence without any help from God. Where is the magic? It’s in the belief that small simple life, through “survival of the fittest,” evolved into large complex humans.

Pterosaurs living (though mostly hidden) in modern times—that should cause reevaluation of the foundation of Darwin’s philosophy, for Darwin himself would have thrown out his idea of unlimited common ancestry if he had known what we now know. Over a century after his death, our knowledge of life, including the complexity of even the simplest organisms, surpasses even the wildest imaginations of nineteen-century biologists. But the higher qualities of modern human accomplishment exceed any reasonable naturalistic explanation within the limits of Darwin’s philosophy.

Objective reasoning, for the devout atheist, results in severe problems, including the problem of explaining the higher qualities inherent in modern humans. We have built space vehicles to travel to the moon; humans have walked on the moon. Can anyone justify believing that particles in a puddle of mud would accidentally bump into each other in a way that would eventually create beings that would fly to the moon? How could such beings be completely unlike any gods? (Remember what it says in the New Testament about humans: “Have I not said ‘ye are gods?'”) The higher qualities of modern human intelligence cannot be ignored, for something god-like resides within us.

And what about modern humans preserving endangered species? How similar is that to God preserving species on the Ark of Noah! One problem for atheism is how to acknowledge the noblest human behaviors and still disbelieve that those qualities may exist in a personage more advanced than modern humans. The devout atheist cannot dispute the existence of the head of NASA, just because he has not shaken hands with that person; why dispute the existence of a higher authority?

But how can so many Westerners remain ignorant of the existence of God? They have been blinded by “survival of the fittest.” Where does the truth lie? The general concept of Natural Selection is hardly disputable. The fallacy is in believing it accounts for the existence of humans. Why? Simple organisms survive better than complex ones, therefore more complex ones would have become extinct, replaced by the simpler forms, according to the definition of Natural Selection.

Looking at it from a broad perspective, a planet with its early history including tiny simple microorganisms, over billions of years, would result in a world devoid of any life, for the non-living substances of the planet (sand, water, and rock) survive much better than any form of life. Larger, more-compex organisms would never have competed well with the simpler ones, and so would never have even begun to be established.

Natural Selection, in a universe without any God, does more than make human life impossible: Over billions of years, on a planet that started with some form of life, all life would have become extinct. Because he never looked deeply enough into the ramifications of his philosophy, Darwin never realized that our wonderful planet of life could not exist without the enormous protective efforts of someone with super-human intelligence and power: God

Acknowledgement of extant pterosaurs does not refute general ideas about biological evolution, those limited changes that are obvious. But Darwin himself acknowledged the challenge of “living fossils” to the credibility of his ideas, and we would be wise to encourage a reevaluation of the philosophical foundations of those ideas, in particular how “survival of the fittest” cannot account for the life we now find on this earth.

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Do live pterosaurs “disprove evolution?”

On March 29, 2010, in philosophy, by Jonathan Whitcomb

I sometimes encounter a criticism such as this: “A living pterosaur would not disprove evolution. It would just be another example of an ancient species that survived.” That appears simple and airtight, appearently proving me and my associates to be fools to think that an extant pterosaur would relate to the conflict between “religion and science.” One problem with that reasoning is with the word “evolution.” That word some people assume to precisely refer to gradual shifting of biological forms; few people know that the word itself is a shape-shifter. Another problem relates to “disprove,” a word appropriate to mathematics or to science (not to the popularity of a philosophy). In addition, the “conflict between religion and science” is a phrase referring to a conflict between two extremely conflicting philosophies (1); but a conflict between a general belief in God and a belief in the efficacy of sound scientific principles for making discoveries—that is nonexistent: There is no conflict.

In a conversation about biology, “evolution” may refer to different concepts. Unfortunately, those engaged in conversation often fail to realize or distinguish the differences, or fail to appreciate the significance. The limited changes in sizes, shapes, and colors for the same basic kind of organism, commonly observed changes—that kind of evolution has been observed by Darwin and many others. But that is not the kind of change needed to cause one organism to have a future descendant that will be a completely different kind of organism, for example, a mammal with a liver having an ancestor that did not have a liver.

For those who insist that a general definition of “evolution,” a definition like “gradual change over time,” is sufficient in a conversation about biology, consider Professor Peter Beach (2). Over a period of time, the opinion held by this biologist, about Darwin’s ideas about Common Descent, changed dramatically, for his original confidence in Darwin’s philosophy of unlimited common ancestry decreased until it had evaporated. His opinion gradually changed over time, and that process of thinking involved biological brain functions. But how far removed is that kind of evolution from the usual concepts! The real problem is with the vagueness of “evolution.” I suggest, to those who would communicate about the conflict between life-origin philosophies, that we be precise: Use “unlimited common ancestry” when appropriate and other phrases for other concepts. Never converse with the word “evolution” without prior agreement on what is meant by that word.

What is the problem with the word “disprove?” When this word comes up regarding extant pterosaurs (3), their relationship to unlimited common ancestry, the true subject is not scientific but philosophical. Darwin’s idea that there is no limit to common ancestors (as we trace back family trees into the past)–that is a philosophy, and a philosophy cannot be proven or disproven. How serious here is the problem in reasoning! What a problem! Those who think that they are talking about something scientific are blind to the nature of what they are trying to protect: their philosophy.

I will not dwell upon the “conflict between religion and science.” There is no such thing. What some people sometimes refer to is a conflict between strict Naturalism philosophy and the Genesis-account of Creation and the Flood of Noah, especially the philosophy of the “Young Earth Creationist” (YEC). Contrary to the declarations of some of my critics, extant pterosaurs do relate to such conficts, for those who have not already settled their hearts into a philosophy will find that modern pterosaurs fit better with literal concepts in Genesis than with universal common ancestry.

1 Opposing philosophies

2 Brave biologist: Peter Beach

3 Extant Pterosaurs in an issue of Creation Research Society Quarterly

See also Marfa Lights, New Enlightenment

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