“Expell-ed”(ing) Religion from Science

Due to my agoraphobic and miserly inclinations I did not see “Expelled” in the movie theatres as I had hoped (perhaps it is the former tendency that accounts for the weirdness of the title of this post as well). But I recently rented the documentary from Blockbuster.

Let me first make a ‘plug’ for the movie. It is very clever. I do not say that because I think the producers are cunning for having tricked their audience. Rather I laughed at several points. In others words it was as entertaining as it was educational. This undoubtedly makes me a sycophant but I will just have to live with that label (Please read a review of the documentary here to make sense of this last sentence). Enjoy the movie for what it is worth and let it be a means to talk about these issues with your co-workers, friends, family members etc.

However I should note that neither I nor our congregation endorses everything in it. Furthermore it is by no means a ‘Christian’ movie, nor does it support creationist ideals such as a profession that the scriptures are God’s inspired Word. We will also not pretend that the movie has no flaws or inaccuracies and always represents the truth as best as it could (though I am not saying that it does either). Many critics have pointed out what they believe to be inaccurate and though I do not wish to interact with these arguments (for it is not the purpose of this post) and it is certainly plausible that some of their points are valid.

I would not want you, however, to forgo seeing it for those reasons. Indeed the movie is not intended to be a propaganda piece (as some have accused the producers) but rather a way to open an conversation. And since “Expelled” has been trashed by notables such as Richard Dawkins, an outspoken atheist and a virulent exponent of Darwinian evolution (who is interviewed in the movie), it obviously has turned some heads.

I won’t say much more than that lest I give away the ‘plot’. Furthermore there are many solid reviews online in case you want to understand the gist of what is put forth in the documentary. As for previous posts on our blog concerning “Expelled” go here.

But I do want to discuss an issue that comes up in the movie, namely the relationship between science and religion. The problem I believe, in part, is about definitions. For example a number of those who are interviewed in “Expelled” rightly qualify the term evolution to mean change within species. The scientific term for this is micro-evolution. And this is a perfectly acceptable definition for anyone who believes that God created all things according to their kind. (see Genesis 1:11ff.)

However the popular definition of evolution usually includes the idea that evolution means change/adaption over time from one species into another. The scientific term for this is macro-evolution and would be rejected by all who call themselves biblical creationists.

So depending on the definition, a religious person could find themselves at variance with some scientific views or the scientific view/theory of the day. Hence the so called conflict between science and religion. And this conflict is shown in “Expelled” to be of such an extent that some who hold to Intelligent Design are being hounded and castigated for blurring the lines between religion and science and not, therefore, doing real science and being real scientists. (For a definition of Intelligent Design click here).

But let us now throw a wrench in the gears. When one is accused of being religious or giving a religious argument in support of their scientific theory it is immediately dismissed as a non sequitur or simply irrelevant. All well and good until someone asks: why is a religious argument invalid here? Obviously if a proper definition of science de facto excludes religion then it is thrust out of the picture, but one may still ask why? Why is science defined as being contrary to religion? Are religious arguments out of the sphere of respectable and intelligent discourse? If so, why? Why is it assumed that religious arguments are not based on fact or reason?

One somewhat cynical response is that every time creationists or adherents to the Intelligent Design movement can’t explain something in the natural world their answer will be: God did it and thus avoid all attempts or desire to do research. Or since it has all been done (i.e. created) already so there is nothing new to discover and therefore we would be better off reading the Bible than going to the laboratory.

But this is incredibly naive and does not take into account the work that is being done by those who adhere to these positions no does it take into account what scientists have been doing for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Let us take a few historical examples. The first would be the Royal Society. It was founded in London in 1660. According to the website the original purpose was to found a “Colledge for the Promoting of Physico-Mathematicall Experimentall Learning…” “to meet weekly to witness experiments and discuss what we would now call scientific topics.” According to the first charter of the society the first president of the Society, William Brouncker took an oath to

deal faithfully and honestly in all things belonging to the trust committed to me as President of this Royal Society, during my employment in this capacity, so help me God(emphasis mine).

Indeed the pursuit of scientific discovery was with the goal to be recognized “as the universal lover of and patron of every kind of truth” in addition to being “the Defender of the Faith” an obvious reference to the Christian religion.

Notable presidents and members have included such notable and recognized: Christopher Wren, Samuel Pepys, Isaac Newton, and William Thomson (also known as Lord Kelvin). Though we will not maintain that every one of these men were creationists it is evident from their writings and research that they saw, at the very least, a commitment to theism as the basis for their scientific work and did not necessarily, if at all, try to separate religion or their religious beliefs from science. (I will leave it to the reader themselves to establish these connections I have noted from the evidence that is widely available).

We might also remember the words of Johann Kepler, (1571-1630) the noted German scientist who supported  Copernicus’ view that the earth revolved around the sun. He is famously quoted as saying that he was striving to think God’s thoughts after Him. In other words science or scientific discovery was not a means of making religious arguments or evangelism so much as it was religious in its very basis. The reason why Kepler observed, studied and measured was because he had a goal in mind: to discover the revelation of God and to know his creator. (For more evidence of this kind see this article).

But some will say: yes but science has changed since then. ‘That was then this is now’. In addition one could argue that the environment they lived in was generally supportive of the Christian faith with flourishing churches and a universal religious mindset. In a sense then we as a society have ‘evolved’ or matured beyond such primitive notions.

We could, at the very least, recognize such changes in society but we would also want to ask: why? Why this change? And if science is by definition different now then it was then, certainly we could change it back (again) to be a discovery of God’s creation by means of gathering empirical data. In other words this change could be arbitrary or it could be purposeful but in either case the definition would then exclude atheism or agnosticism which undoubtedly would raise the hackles of not a few of those who embrace the scientific discipline.

The original change or view of science, we would maintain is or was a philosophical commitment to atheism. Yes we know that many religious people have embraced macro-evolution but that is beside the point. In a candid interview in the movie, Dawkins ‘confesses’ that Darwin’s views lead to atheism and anything less than a denial of God undermines the main tenets of Darwinism or natural selection. For those who teach and propagate the doctrine of evolution are no less dogmatic, short sighted and aggressive in their effort to get their message across to the world (especially judging by the vitriolic responses to “Expelled”). And that ladies and gentlemen is about as religious as one can get.

For again we don’t know why and are given no compelling argument that we must believe that science itself (regardless of evolution) must exclude religious discourse or arguments either than the fact that it is stupid, irrational, unreasonable or downright insane (as some calumniators of creationism would say). We must bow to their collective wisdom and insight. Apparently we may not even think for ourselves or try different avenues of explanation that may contradict Darwinian evolution for that is ruled out of order (as some scientists and others have discovered – again this is explored in “Expelled).

So like the issue of abortion it has less to do with the law, reason, or any other human endeavour through which we reflect the glory and majesty of God, the creator and sustainer of all things. It has to do with power (and to whet your appetite for “Expelled” we see this very clearly). It is a battle or contest of worldviews, one that tries to exclude God (which is very unwise – kind of like Jonah trying to get away from God) and one that includes the Creator in the conversation. (Of course for Christians we would state that it is God that is including us in the conversation but that is the subject of another blog post).

In other words this whole controversy is a study of human behaviour, of human nature, and thus how such nature and behaviour does or does not grant the truths of revelation i.e. to what, or if I may be bold, to Whom creation testifies. Surpressing the truth in unrighteousness, as Paul notes, is a losing proposition. (Romans 1:18ff). One may continue in their own wisdom and strength wilfully ignore the witness of the universe to the glory of God, but such foolishness cannot continue forever.

Of course none of what I have said above proves the Intelligent Design or creationist philosophies. Nor was that the point of this post. Rather it is to challenge the gullible if not arrogant assumption that some are above presuppositions in their scientific research because they ‘expell’ their religious biases in their work or have entirely banished such assumptions from the discipline. All of us come to the evidence with certain thoughts as to what is right, what is true, what can be proven, what is rational and what is logical.

The question remains: how do we know what is true, what can be proven, what is rational and what is logical without first assuming that these categories are even real and that the scientific enterprise has some worth.  The creationist says I know because all his pursuits assume a created universe by the God who Himself is eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, immutable, infinite, almighty, perfectly wise, just, good, and the overflowing fountain of all good. (See Belgic Confession, Article 1) And the universe He has made, despite the fall and corruption that man has brought upon it (see Romans 8:20-22), was ordered in such a way that when we go out and do our research we know that empirical data and the results that flow from that data can be arranged or explained in such a way that we, being intelligent creatures, understand and appreciate beauty, design and ultimately glorify God.

This is not religion vs. science, or religion falsely understood, but this is truth. Truth assumed because it is unavoidable and inescapable. Truth built into the fabric of our lives and displayed in every thought, word and action of man demonstrating that we are moral creatures who, even when we live immorally, cannot but testify of our God.

For it is the rebellion of many in denying the Creator that we see the need for redemption. A redemption that cannot be discovered through scientific theory or research but can only be found in the Word of God. For though we have a common cause with those who oppose Darwinism, we are not so naive to think that the next step for them is Christian theism or a true and saving faith in Jesus Christ.

One after all cannot build Christian faith from or with other assumptions as if we merely add new information to a basic conception of God. For it was not just the Creator who spoke peace to man after his fall but the gracious Saviour who promised that the seed of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent. The Father purposed that His Son, by whom He made all things (see John 1:3) would be the salvation of all who put their trust in Him. And then, looking at that world, acknowledge that their part is to do all that He has commanded for in His hands has been placed all authority in heaven and on earth.

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