Baptizing the Devil, Part 1

Clifford Goldstein’s latest book has hit the shelves of your local Adventist Book Center, provocatively entitled “Baptizing the Devil: Evolution and the Seduction of Christianity.”  Goldstein’s thesis is that even though the Darwinian narrative of origins by natural processes over millions of years blatantly contradicts the Bible’s narrative of creation in one week in the relatively recent past—and thus is deeply corrosive of faith in the truth of Scripture, the foundation of biblical Christianity—too many Christians are blithely accepting Darwinism. 

They are accepting it, Goldstein believes, “because it is science” and science has a tremendous reputation in the Western world.  Science is so universally respected that Christians tend to believe what scientists say in preference to the Bible they are supposed to believe is the revealed word of God. 

Goldstein thinks that science—or at least science’s gaudy reputation as the sole source of truth—needs to be taken down a peg.  As Cliff writes, “Baptizing the Devil hopes to free people from the knee-jerk reaction that the only logical, rational reaction to the phrase, It’s science! is to surrender one’s beliefs, even religious ones.”

Goldstein has assigned himself the task of explaining the oft disappointing reality of science that lies behind its self-created popular myth.  He seeks to expose what science actually is, and the reality of science is that it is a human institution subject to all the weaknesses of humanity.


Science is subject to the whims of fashion

Goldstein has noticed that “science” frequently changes its findings and conclusions.  He has marshalled many quotations from the literature to underline this important fact, e.g., this one: “If the historical landscape is littered with discarded theological ideas,” writes Gary Ferngren in Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction, “it is equally littered with discarded scientific ones.” 

Scientists freely admit that the history of science is littered with discarded factual findings, and even entire paradigms entirely defenestrated, but they argue that this is because all scientific findings are tentative: “All facts in science are provisional and subject to challenge and change,” writes Michael Shermer, “therefore science is not a thing per se; rather it is a method of discovery that leads to provisional conclusions.”

That sounds reasonable, but the history of science indicates (1) that scientists often cling to their pet theories with a zealous tenacity that is anything but objective and dispassionate, and (2) the “facts” and conclusions of science often change not for any “scientific” reason having to do with method but rather for the same reason the width of men’s ties once regularly oscillated: fashion.  Science, like all other human endeavors, is influenced by the intellectual and ideological fashions of the day. 

“What science says the world is like at a certain time is affected by the human ideas, choices, expectations, prejudices, beliefs, and assumptions holding at that time,” write the philosophers of science Machamer, Pera, and Baltus in their work, Scientific Controversies: Philosophical and Historical Perspectives.

“Science, like any other human affair, is indeed shot through with prejudice and partisanship, not to mention ungrounded assumptions, unconscious biases, taken-for-granted truths . . . Like religion, science is a culture and not just a set of procedures and hypotheses,” notes Terry Eagleton. 

As I’ve noted in my own writing, the great pioneers of science, working in the 17th through the mid-19th Centuries, saw no contradiction between science and a robust faith in God.  “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world,” wrote Johannes Kepler, “should be to discover the rational order and harmony that has been imposed upon it by God, and which He has revealed to us in the language of mathematics.”  Robert Boyle said that science is a religious task, “the disclosure of the admirable workmanship which God displayed in the universe.”  Newton intended that his great systematic work on physics, Principia, demonstrating the mathematical order in the universe, should cause men to believe in a deity, “and nothing can rejoice me more then to find it useful for that purpose.”

The greatest names in science once glorified God with their investigations, but today we find scientists arguing against the existence of God.  What changed?  In a word, fashion.  The intellectual and ideological fashions changed, and belief in God is currently out of fashion.  The culture of science changed, and now science and religion are said to be at war. 

As explored in greater depth here, this myth seems to have originated with two late-19th Century writers, J. William Draper and Andrew Dickson White.  Draper penned, “A History of the Conflict between Religion and Science” (1874) and White produced a two-volume tome called, “A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom” (1896). 

Whenever anyone propagandizes the myth of a conflict between science and Christianity, he turns immediately to the Galileo affair, saying “See, the church persecuted Galileo for correctly teaching that the earth orbits the sun.”  But this is an argument made by those living two or three centuries later; it was not viewed in that light in Galileo’s day.  Johannes Kepler was a contemporary and correspondent of Galileo, and we’ve already seen what Kepler wrote about God and science.  Rather than a conflict between science and Biblical Christianity, the Galileo Affair shows a conflict between science and the Roman Catholic Church’s unholy amalgamation of Christianity with pagan Greek philosophy.  The Catholic Church in Italy did not want Galileo debunking Aristotle and Ptolemy’s geocentrism, but the authorities in Protestant Germany, who were much more committed to biblical religion, had no problem with Kepler teaching that the earth orbited the sun.

A more pointed example of changing scientific fashion concerns race.  In the 19th Century, scientists argued that certain races were inferior, a phenomenon that increased after the acceptance of Darwinism.  “Biological arguments for racism,” wrote Stephen Jay Gould, “increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory.” Darwinists saw racial diversification as a precursor of speciation: some races would become reproductively isolated from the larger gene pool, and eventually evolve into a new species. Hence, one race of humans might be closer than another to becoming a “higher” species.

And in the 19th Century, there was no question which race was higher and which lower; scientists viewed the African race as being closer to our putative simian ancestors, whereas they viewed the white race as being more advanced. Darwin believed that humanity had originated near the baboon, then evolved into something like the gorilla, then into the Negro, and finally into the Caucasian. Darwin even predicted racial genocide: “At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world. At the same time, the anthropomorphous apes . . . will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as a baboon, instead of as now between the Negro or [aborigine] and the gorilla."

Scientific racism of this type persisted into the 1920s. Henry Fairfield Osborn wrote in 1926: “The Negroid stock is even more ancient than the Caucasian and Mongolians, as may be proved by an examination not only of the brain, of the hair, of the bodily characteristics . . . but of the instincts, the intelligence. The standard of intelligence of the average adult Negro is similar to that of the eleven-year-old-youth of the species Homo Sapiens.”

Today, you will not find scientists making such assertions.  They still believe that human beings evolved from apes, but you will hear no speculation regarding racial diversification as part of that process.  Why not?  Because intellectual and ideological fashions have changed.  The larger culture has changed.  In today’s culture, racism is viewed as an evil that is dangerous to society and should not be tolerated.  Whoever makes a racially derogatory remark almost instantly becomes a non-person, and is forced to resign from any responsible position in any walk of life (recent examples include comedienne Rosanne Barr and Papa John's Pizza founder John Schnatter).  The sub-culture of science has changed with the larger culture.  In fact, the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction that you will find many scientists arguing that race has no biological reality whatsoever, that it is entirely a social construct.    

In summary, science is mutable and ever-changing.  It is just as subject to changing cultural, intellectual, and ideological fashions as any other human activity, and not exempt from any human foible. 

Not so the word of God.  “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” Mat. 24:35.  “All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” 1 Peter 1:34-25; Isa. 40:8.  “Long ago I learned from your statutes that you established them to last forever.” Psalm 119:152. “Your word is the essence of truth, and all Your righteous judgments endure.” Psalm 119:160.

Friend, are you placing your faith in the changing fashions of human wisdom, or in the eternal word of God?