Imagine you baked two dozen cookies and your secret ingredient was cashew nut oil. You know you put cashew nut oil into the batter. You bought it, you tasted it, and you poured it in. If someone else comes along and says, "oh no ... there's no cashew nut oil in these cookies," how would you respond? Laughter perhaps? Wouldn’t that seem arrogant?
That is how a geologist feels when someone tries to explain why the earth is six thousand years old. Her knowledge about the real age of the earth has been measured by her personally—many different ways. She confirmed it through many findings, corroborated it with many published papers, and has never been confronted with any reasonable evidence to the contrary. She feels certain about the age of the earth. So when someone concocts a very unscientific theory about the age of the earth, a scientist may appear smug or arrogant.
Of course it’s fallacious to say that if a scientist is arrogant she is therefore incorrect. But this misconception is used by religious people in that manner. They use it to vilify the group they perceive as their enemy. After all, science consistently disproves truths that they hold dear. They’ve been doing it for centuries, and will probably continue to do so.
If scientists are arrogant, it does not mean they are wrong. But the second part of the misconception is a much trickier one. Religious leaders try to discredit science by saying “it can’t explain everything.” In so doing, they are implying that religion transcends science.
The people who use this argument are muddying the waters by incorrectly defining the word “knowledge.” A leading purveyor of this notion is Dr. William Lane Craig, who said in an interview on his “Reasonable Faith” website:
“I think the major obstacle today is religious pluralism or relativism. Students don’t think that religious beliefs are knowledge. They don’t think that they are expressions of facts, and they don’t think that they are things that can be known. And so they think that religious beliefs are mere expressions of personal taste or opinion. As a result, when Christians claim that they know the truth about these matters, people are deeply offended and think of Christians as bigoted, dogmatic, and even immoral people.”
By dallying with definitions, Craig goes on to seemingly confound non-theists in debates when proclaiming that science cannot explain why we “know” certain moral things--like why Nazi experimenters were bad, but Western medicine is good.
The Truth: Belief is not knowledge.
The fact is, we don’t know that Nazi experimentation was wrong. We believe it. Beliefs are based on emotions, not facts. Let’s refer to the dictionary definition for “know”:
1. To perceive or understand as fact or truth; to apprehend clearly and with certainty.
2. To be cognizant or aware of.
When using the word under definition 1, nothing can be known outside of science. There is still much to be believed under definition 2. Beliefs, however, are not the purview of science.
By saying that science can’t explain why we know certain atrocious actions are wrong, Craig implies that science is inadequate in some way. Craig is conveniently using the second definition for “know,” then applying this conclusion to science, which only uses the first definition. That his opponents are dumbfounded by this appears a victory only to people who are also caught in Craig’s tomfoolery. Should math also be discounted because it cannot explain ethics? No, because math has nothing to do with ethics. Neither does science.
Craig’s ideas are even more dangerous than that. He reveals in the lengthy quote above that he thinks belief equals knowledge, that ideas believed on faith are facts. His credibility as a scientist plummets with that statement, and he justifies the same level of cognition that leads faithful followers to stockpile guns and secretly plan terrorist uprisings. (http://hutaree.com/)
The Truth: Science has no problem saying “we don’t know.”
They say it all the time, in fact. Science begins with a question, not a conclusion. A scientist will form a hypothesis, which is really an admission of ignorance regarding a given potentiality, and an attempt to determine the answer to a question. If scientists thought they knew all the answers, there would be no scientists employed.
Saying “I don’t know” is also the morally responsible position when there is no certainty. Convincing others to taking a “leap of faith” (whether or not you pretend it is a rational leap) is arguably immoral because you presume certainty where there is none. Craig clearly commits this immoral act by presenting himself as a scientist, then using sophistry to present faith as fact.
Consider this: A religious position is an arrogant one.
According to dictionary.com, there’s only one definition for arrogance: offensive display of superiority or self-importance; overbearing pride. Now let’s compare the scientific and religious positions on a few issues:
Scientists say “we don’t know” when there is no certainty.
Religious leaders have certainty when there is no certainty.
Scientific evidence indicates that we are an accidental product of the universe.
Religious leaders believe they are created by and chosen by God for a purpose.
Scientific viewpoints and theories are constantly being refined and improved,
Religions rarely abandon or change their doctrine even when confronted with compelling, contradictory evidence. They also presume to know all the answers, and are often willing to kill other people to enforce and defend those answers.
On Our Relationship to Earth
Science indicates that we are consuming resources that are finite, and that we should be mindful to manage those resources in order to preserve our well-being.
Religious people believe they are “not of this world,” and are more willing to squander resources because they believe earth is temporary and that the next life is more important.
So which of the two take a more arrogant position?
Recent Posts 10
Homosexuality and Christianity: Unnatural?December 8, 2009 at 5:15pm UTC
I recently became involved in an ongoing email conversation regarding homosexuality and religion with the Assistant Superintendent of the Christian High School I attended. Is homosexuality a choice? Does it occur in nature? It can't lead to procreation
Homosexuality and Christianity: The Cost of CondemnationDecember 8, 2009 at 5:30pm UTC
Much of Christianity condemns homosexuality. Is this righteous stand bearing the fruit of good works? Sure. If you cons.
No Transitional Fossils?December 8, 2009 at 9:56am UTC
Homosexuality and Christianity: The Theology of HypocrisyDecember 12, 2009 at 9:28am UTC
Most modern Christians allow women to speak in church. Some of them even go out to Red Lobster for Sunday dinner! Isn't it about time we got back to Biblical principles... like punishing this abomination by death?
What I Was Taught In Science ClassDecember 12, 2009 at 10:36am UTC
I went to a Christian High School where I was taught young-earth creationism in science class. Here's what I learned then and what I know now
The wordDecember 20, 2009 at 1:40pm UTC
In January of 1954, the following letter was written by Albert Einstein to philosopher Erik Gutkind after reading his book, 'Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt'.
Do scientists pray, and if so what they pray for?December 21, 2009 at 2:20am UTC
A child in the sixth grade in a Sunday School in New York City, with the encouragement of her teacher, wrote to this question to Einstein in Princeton on 19 January I936.
A Student Seeks the Meaning of LifeDecember 21, 2009 at 2:30am UTC
This excerpt is a letter written by Einstein in response to a 19-year-old Rutger's University student, who had written to Einstein of his despair at seeing no visible purpose to life and no help from religion.
Science and ReligionDecember 21, 2009 at 7:50am UTC
Everything that the human race has done and thought is concerned with the satisfaction of deeply felt needs and the assuagement of pain. One has to keep this constantly in mind if one wishes to understand spiritual movements and their
Science and Religion, Part IDecember 21, 2009 at 8:01am UTC
During the last century, and part of the one before, it was widely held that there was an unreconcilable conflict between knowledge and belief. The opinion prevailed among advanced minds that it was time that belief should be replaced