August 25, 2018

Cliff's Edge-Anti-Science, Eh?

An Adventist minister, upset with the church, resigned his pastorate and found employment with the health system. One reason for bolting, he complained, was that the denomination was “anti-science.”

Yours truly has been smeared with the same brush, actually. In response to one of my columns, a reader wrote that Goldstein was on another one of his “post-modern anti-science tirades,” or something to that effect.

Anti-science, eh? Let’s parse this charge because, well, it’s very serious.

For starters, the charge wasn’t “anti-myth,” “anti-superstition,” “anti-fable,” but “anti-science.” The implication being that science exists as some higher, even inviolable, path to knowledge, and thus to be anti-science is to be anti-truth itself. This Adventist pastor’s accusation, and the default calumny attached to the label “anti-science,” show that what is perhaps the most meta- of our era’s myths—i.e., that scientific knowledge trumps all other knowledge (even revealed knowledge), has touched the remnant church as well.

I assume that the charge “anti-science” doesn’t mean we’re anti- the “scientific method,” or the practice of science itself. Rather, that we are against some claim (or claims) promulgated by the scientific community at specific times.

Big deal. The scientific community once believed in a static universe, in the luminiferous ether (this substance was an absolute given), in non-drifting continents (And, man, did the community make life miserable for the poor schnook who said that the continents were drifting!), and in the absolute nature of space and time. Scientific answers don’t often have long shelf-lives; they tend to expire. All these theories, backed by empirical evidence, as well as experiment and accurate prediction—and once held with the dogmatic certainty at present reserved for evolution—are now in the same class as the Martian canals, spontaneous generation, and the phlogiston theory of heat.

Sure, the common retort is that these changes reveal that science is self-correcting, that it learns from its mistakes. There’s some truth to that claim. But “some truth” no more makes something true than the fact that there’s some truth to the claim that economics plays a role in history makes Marxist-Leninism true.

The Guardian of London ran an article about the 2016 Word of the Year, “post-truth,” defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

The title of the Guardian article? “Science Has Always Been a Bit ‘Post-truth.’”

Science? Post-truth?

Precisely the theme of my recent book, Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity, which is why I found this article in the Guardian, hardly a bastion of conservative Christian values, hilarious. The article talked about one of the most influential texts of the twentieth century, Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which Kuhn sought to debunk the notion of science as this rational and continually progressive march toward truth.

“Kuhn argued,” said the article, “that the way that both scientists and the general public need to understand the history of science is Orwellian. He is alluding to the George Orwell’s novel 1984, in which the protagonist’s job is to rewrite newspapers from the past so as to make it seem as though the government’s current policy is where it had been heading all along. In this perpetually airbrushed version of history, the public never sees the U-turns, switches of allegiance, and errors of judgement that might cause them to question the state’s progressive narrative. Confidence in the status quo is maintained and new recruits are inspired to follow in its lead. Kuhn claimed that what applies to totalitarian 1984 also applies to science united under the spell of a paradigm.”

In other words, just because science says it’s so doesn’t make it so.

Now pointing out that science is not this über-objective pursuit of raw unfiltered truth by non-blinkered scientists hardly makes the Guardian “anti-science,” any more than mine and the Adventist church’s rejection of evolution mean that we’re “anti-science,” either. To be anti-evolution doesn’t make one anti-science any more than to be against praying to Mary makes one anti-prayer.

The minister who left church employ should have accused the church of being anti-evolution, not anti-science. But to have done that would have exposed his real views, which—if he believed in evolution—meant that he never should have had an Adventist pulpit to begin with. We are Seventh-day Adventists, the “seventh-day” in the name degenerating into farce and lie if life on earth evolved over billions of years as opposed to being supernaturally created in six days.

Is it too much to ask those who take the name Seventh-day Adventist, and who work for the organization, especially who preach from its pulpits, to believe the name they take for themselves?

For some, apparently so.

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide.