Should Christians Trust Scientific Experts?


(system) #1

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/archive/should-christians-trust-scientific-experts

#2

The answer is “yes”.


(Bill Wald) #3

The answer is “depends.” Ernst Mach, one of the greatest scientists at the end of the last century missed out on participating in “atomic” discoveries because he didn’t “believe in” anything he could not see with his eyes. Some OPC Christians don’t “believe” in scientists who are not OPC scientists.

We should trust people on the basis of verifiable credentials and recommendations of those who one trusts.

Decades ago when the “Christian Yellow Pages” were invented, I vowed to never trust a business on the basis of their ad.


#4

That’s true, I guess. I was thinking the question more of in terms “Should Christians Trust Scientific Experts when it comes to the scientific evidence for scientific theories”. If we’re talking about more ideological questions, such as religion, then the opinion of a scientist must be demoted to the level of anyone elses opinion without further compelling evidence for their claims.


#5

I really enjoyed the article, especially the parts about experts being able to apply their knowledge. I have said for a long time that science is an activity, it is something scientists do. It is nice to see others who are able to communicate that idea to a larger audience.

The only thing that I might add to the article is the idea of independence. What type of stake, financial or otherwise, does a scientist have in what they are saying? The most obvious example would be the scientists who worked for tobacco companies saying that smoking doesn’t increase your chances of getting cancer. In the biomedical research world, potential conflicts of interest and independence have become a very hot topic given the potential financial rewards of a drug.


(Phil) #6

The problem of distrust of science by Christians is not unique, and cannot be entirely blamed on biblical interpretations but perhaps is just rationalized by them. Such attitudes are prevalent in society in general. Here is an interesting review of a book addressing that subject:
https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/the-death-of-expertise/


(Chris) #7

What’s OPC?


(Christy Hemphill) #8

My guess would be Orthodox Presbyterian Church.


(Chris) #9

Should Christians Trust Scientific Experts?

Why just Christians? Should People Trust Scientific Experts? I think we should all exercise an appropriate amount of trust/distrust depending an the subject and the expert.

I would generally trust, say, a chemist describing how to produce nylon. I trust the science that produces bridges and cell phones. On the other hand I would distrust a cosmologist saying positively that dark matter or the multiverse exist.

I generally trust the theory of anthropogenic climate change but could distrust specific predictions. On the other hand I generally trust Dr Jay Wile who is a climate change skeptic, but I would be wary about anything said by Neil deGrasse Tyson.


(Phil) #10

Chris, the book review article I referenced above talks a little about how science handles it when science gets it wrong as well as who to trust. There is certainly a lot to be said regarding critical thinking and knowing whose opinion is worth listening to in this day where anyone with internet access can hold themselves out to be an expert. I think that is where wisdom comes in as well.
There is an interesting parallel in the church, where some do not trust theologically trained experts also. It is ironic in a sense that those who have devoted the most study to a subject are disparaged. Often times, the same ones who disregard scientific experts also disregard studied theologians.


(Brad Kramer) #11

Chris, I’d be interested to hear how you make each of these trust decisions. Why is the chemist more trustworthy than the cosmologist?


#12

There is an interesting history of anti-intellectualism in the American evangelical community, and even in historically rural communities. That’s not to say that all christians in America are anti-intellectualists, but the correlation has been noted in the past:

" Hofstadter argued that both anti-intellectualism and utilitarianism were consequences, in part, of the democratization of knowledge. Moreover, he saw these themes as historically embedded in America’s national fabric, an outcome of its colonial European and evangelical Protestant heritage. He contended that the American Protestantism’s anti-intellectual tradition valued the spirit over intellectual rigour.[1] Furthermore, he also went on to note that Catholicism could have been expected to add a distinctive leaven to the intellectual dialogue, but American Catholicism lacked intellectual culture, due to its failure in developing an intellectual tradition or produce its own strong class of intellectuals."
Anti-intellectualism in American Life

It is worth noting that Hofstadter wrote that book in the 1960’s, so this isn’t something new.

When you start discounting scientific experts because of the subject it starts to get a bit iffy.


(Phil) #13

Perhaps what you are saying is that the strength of evidence differs in different cases, and we should judge on the strength of evidence rather than an individuals popularity. Certainly, I could agree with you if that is what is meant. I think the examples given are not very easily compared. A chemist describing how to make nylon is giving a technical description of a well known process, and really is not doing science in that example. A cosmologist saying that a multiverse exists is (at least for now) just speculating and injecting opinion, and is not doing science either. Now, a cosmologist saying her study leads her to conclude that a multiverse is possible may well be doing science, and whether you believe her or not depends a lot on her past work and how other cosmologists regard it, which is consistent with your statement above.


(Chris Falter) #14

I agree with skepticism about the multiverse hypothesis; cosmologists themselves readily concede their lack of evidence to evaluate it.

On the other hand, there’s a whole lot of astrophysical evidence for dark matter. So why the skepticism? It could be a lack of familiarity with the evidence; this branch of science gets a lot less press coverage than debates over the Manafort trial or complementarianism vs. egalitarianism. Or maybe it just seems strange, like the double-slit experiment.

I am sympathetic with either variant of the skepticism–dark matter seems strange to me, too, and I am hardly in a position to evaluate the evidence! The math is intense, and the observations are arcane. But when I read a well-written article like the one I linked to in the previous paragraph, I get the impression that astrophysicists are making a really good case for dark matter. So I am willing to accept their expert opinion. Unlike the case for the multiverse, which does not make testable predictions, the dark matter hypothesis makes plenty of such predictions, and they are successful.

My $.02,
Chris


(Randy) #15

I agree that we need to trust science. However, if we don’t have the education or background, it can be very daunting to encounter those who know more than us. To many, the scientific method is ruthless and Darwinian, casting aside the faith that alone advocates for justice in their difficult, poverty-stricken situation. For example, it’s been said that evidence-based medicine (based on the scientific method), is like a priesthood of a mystery cult, with the initiated in white coats and muttering in Latin, with sacred texts and tools. And in the halls of education, the neophytes bow and scrape before those godlike individuals who oversee research (the jokes about medical student scut monkeys are also rife in medicine). Darwinian evolution seems to have gone beyond the arms race and strength alone to intelligence. Some look at it like an Orwellian dystopia, and try to make up their own false science of cult or herbal medications which don’t require testing; and avoid appropriate medications and vaccines.

BBC posted an article about the new prejudice of those who are more learned than others http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20171219-the-hidden-judgements-holding-people-back

Christ does indeed urge us to be the least among the greatest. Paul said that 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 1Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. 2Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. 3But whoever loves God is known by God.

Christians have a unique example to explain the knowledge well to those who don’t understand, and empower them in this way. My father used to say that it takes brains to grasp a concept, but real talent to explain it to others compassionately and clearly.

It seems that many folks here who know more than I are good at kindly explaining things in this manner.

Pete Enns wrote the following prayer: https://peteenns.com/zacchaeus-story-get-saved-every-day/

Deliver me, O Lord. Save me…

from not knowing
from the need to know
from the need to be right
from this horrid and subtle self-centeredness
from looking down on any other human being
from feeling misunderstood and undervalued…
from manipulating my neighbor with clever words
from feeling not enough
from what I cling to
from all my failings
from all my accomplishments.

Not later. Not at some point in time. But now…

Thus, by Christlike communication of knowledge, we can free those who come from backgrounds that don’t understand and fear it.


(Phil) #16

Good points, Randy. The BBC article reminded me of the book Hillbilly Elegy, which goes into the social situation and culture of the Appalachian people, and their descendents. As my family is only a couple of generations removed, and still share many of the characteristics described in the book, it was especially interesting. The distrust of authority is noted as one of those characteristics.
The Bible is rich with verses (http://topverses.com/about/knowledge) about the desirability of knowledge, but also rich with warnings about pride, and the need for humility. As to trust of scientists, we should beware placing individuals above the truth of what they are saying. Just because they have done good work in the past does not necessarily mean they cannot fall short in other areas. Linus Pauling and vitamin C being a prime example.


(Matthew Pevarnik) #17

Check out this AiG article on Dark Matter. It gives a good overview of why modern Cosmology proposes its existence and encourages YEC to accept established (historical) science:

Danny Faulkner explains what evidence there is for Dark Matter. Granted the light that provides evidence for dark matter took millions to billions of years to get to us, AiG accepts it as legitimate science.

Furthermore, there is even stronger evidence for Dark Matter (if you want details I can go in to it) than even the AiG article outlines in this discovery:

Let’s leave such to the experts here @aarceng :sunglasses:


(Randy) #18

Phil, you’re right!. And I should have said that the Bible values knowledge much more. A “geek” verse comes to mind–to Paul, in Acts 26:24 “Your great learning has driven you insane!”

The verse I quoted, perhaps a bit out of context, was directed to Gnostics–folks who thought that occult knowledge of the divine made them free of sin. This point of view helped them look down on others. He was much against that.

I am really very appreciative of this article quoted above. It clarifies the point made by Dr Jeanson in a debate with Dr Venema at Southeast Baptist Theological Seminary http://intersectproject.org/faith-and-culture/nathaniel-jeanson-debate-evolution-genetics-historical-adam-part-1/. He, Brad Kramer and Jim Stump had discussed earlier about how we put our faith in those who we trust, when we don’t know their field. I’ve been mulling this over on and off since I listened to the debate last year. As much as I’d like to reason everything out, I can’t. However, I don’t want to just accept any figurehead, as you said. This paper is a good outline of important rules for checking out what is true. We are, first of all, looking for truth; not what we want to be true, whether it’s the Bible or our own cultural beliefs.

I think we all have a bit of the hillbilly in us. My family still say something like “I hung my clothes under the roof till I could warsh them in the crick.”


(Randy) #19

Good point–especially for medicine.


(Randy) #20

I remember a quote from Paul Harvey about his dad’s sayings. One of them was, “If a salesman comes to your door and under one of his arms he holds a Bible, throw him out.”

It’s probably not the case for everyone, and most of those on the Yellow Pages were likely honest. However, I think that he was referring to the misuse of the Bible to try to get money.