On Science & Religion

Ancient religions and modern sciences rely on fundamentally different ways of seeing the world.  Their respective worldviews are so different partly because they implicitly rely on very different controlling metaphors for picturing and interpreting our environments.  So a religious fundamentalist and a scientific materialist can experience a great deal of difficulty understanding each other because their mindsets are generally oriented around different metaphors that deeply inform the way they perceive and explain the nature of reality.  It’s almost as if they are living in different worlds.

Ancient religions traditionally see our environment as an ontological-ethical “hierarchy,” often referred to as “the great chain of being.”  Modern science traditionally sees our environment as a “machine,” sometimes called a “world-machine”  or the “clockwork universe.”

The longstanding conflict between religion and science is partly a conflict between competing metaphorical visions of reality which often vie for exclusive supremacy of the human mind and imagination.  The fundamental metaphors of both worldviews tend to be deeply assumed and insufficiently articulated, since they operate at paradigmatic levels of the mind that are generally taken for granted.  Certain key implications and applications of these deep metaphors deserve to be understood, since they profoundly inform two very different ways of seeing the world.

On Ancient Religion

The great chain of being pictures the world as a hierarchy of value.  Jonathan Pageau describes this as a kind of “sacred geography,” which should not be confused with spatial geography, since the sacred is not a discrete, material object in time and space.  The great chain is oriented around Absolute Being, or God, which is the pinnacle of the hierarchy.  Absolute Being is also the source and standard of Absolute Goodness, and so the hierarchy has both ontological and ethical implications and applications in the traditional scheme of things.

Great_Chain_of_Being

This ancient, traditional outlook is an essentially ethical, meaningful, qualitative worldview that pictures reality as a multi-story, multi-level universe spanning from the absolute heights of Being and Goodness down to the absolute depths of Nonbeing and Evil, with human beings uncomfortably occupying levels in between.  According to this ancient scheme of things, all finite forms of being are supported and inhered by Absolute Being.  So everything, properly perceived, is a pointer to God.  And everything, properly oriented, is aiming towards God.  Because everything has a place in relationship to God, Absolute Being, in this ancient view of reality.

In traditional language, created entities tend to be understood in terms of their “formal” and “final” causes: the purpose of an acorn is to become an oak tree; the purpose of a human is to know and pursue God, the highest Good.  Notice also that ontology and ethics are tightly correlated and ultimately undifferentiated in this continuum of being.  Accordingly, the primary concern of ancient people was ethical.  Ancient, prescientific, religious people were instinctively preoccupied with the question, How should we live?  How should we live in order to survive and thrive and flourish?  And so their essentially ethical concerns are evidenced in their essentially ethical worldview.

Religion’s controlling metaphor of reality as a hierarchy of being and goodness is an incredibly powerful way to productively order, orient, and unify the ethical strivings of individuals and groups towards an ultimately desired end.  This worldview also offers psychosocial benefits to adherents.  Today we still speak of mental health problems in terms of “disorders,” “disorientation,” and “disintegration.”  We intuitively know humans need identities and ends that order, orient, and unify their lives, without which they become disordered, disoriented, and disintegrated, among other potentially terrible things.  Now this is not to suggest that our imperfect, humanmade religious traditions have always got the ethical evaluations right all the time.  Nor have imperfect human beings, past or present, always lived up to their own ideals.  The point is simply that this ancient hierarchical worldview is an essentially ethical continuum that obligates its participants to see and act accountably within a pervasively ethical environment.

This worldview is variously pictured with vertical hierarchies, levels, chains, spectrums, trees, mountains, and ladders that can span from the highest heavens down to the lowest hells.  Symbols related to “height” and “depth” easily map onto this worldview.  These include the skies, clouds, stars, horizons, and heavens above, which are associated with upward movements of ascending, elevating, climbing, lifting, and rising, as well as the grounds, valleys, pits, ditches, chasms, waters, and underworlds below, which are associated with downward movements of descending, lowering, stumbling, declining, sinking, and falling.

Vertical metaphors and hierarchies of ethical value still deeply permeate our everyday thinking and evaluations.  In the face of various problems, we say things like, “Best to take the high road,” or “You’re above that,” or “Don’t get dragged down into the gutter,” or “He’s hit rock-bottom.”  We describe our moods in terms of feeling “uplifted” or “downcast.”  If a friend is feeling low, we try to cheer them up.  And we make wise decisions by considering the upsides and downsides.  Hangovers of the great chain of being remain everywhere in our modern lives.

Hustom Smith has offered the following visual model for understanding the three primary dimensions of this ancient world view in his book, Forgotten Truth.

cross

Smith explains, “The supreme plane from which the vertical axis descends is the Infinite: Being exempt from every mode of limitation and restriction. From this pinnacle all lesser being derives. We can picture the vertical axis as a line which, tapping into the infinite reservoir of Being at its summit, transmits a portion of its store to the subordinate planes.”  Smith adds, “If it be asked, ‘But what did the nonscientific approach to man and the world give us?’ the answer is: ‘Meaning, purpose, and a vision in which everything coheres’… The belief, normal to mankind, that meaning inheres in everything that exists and everything that happens derives at depth from the fact that the Ultimate, or Infinite as we are calling it, is omnipresent.”

On Modern Science

The scientific revolution created such dramatic, historical shifts partly because it offered a new paradigm for interpreting our environment with new controlling metaphors.  Arguably the most dominant metaphor was to picture nature as a “machine.”  This world-picture is sometimes referred to as the Newtonian “world-machine” and the “clockwork universe.”

Early scientists embraced and promulgated these machine metaphors because they fit exceedingly well with their new scientific methodologies and programs.  The first scientists were intentionally interested in carefully examining the “efficient” and “material” causes of nature, apart from any “formal” causes or “final” ends.  They generally did not deny the existence of formal or final causes.  They simply chose to exclude these factors from their consideration to examine our environment in a largely unprecedented way.  And the results were revolutionary!

Using mechanistic metaphors of “machines” was entirely appropriate and helpful in guiding their endeavours, since these metaphors picture nature as a law-abiding machine that functions much like a clock.  At the time, clocks were machines that operated without the constant supervision or intervention of a clockmaker.  A clock’s mechanisms and materials, its inner workings and outer designs, could be examined and described without reference to any clockmaker, or the purposes for which a clockmaker made the clock for that matter.  Hence the rise of theological deism followed by atheism over the course of modern history.

clockwork_universe

Science’s metaphors offer an incredibly powerful way to interpret natural phenomena in ways that allow us to increasingly understand, predict, and control our environment for our own nonscientific ends.  Gaining mastery over nature was indeed a primary motivations from the early stages of the scientific revolution.  The results of history attest to this.  Even though the machine metaphors of science have been increasingly appearing to be inadequate models for comprehensively representing nature in light of more recents advancements in fields like quantum physics, the machine-based paradigm of science still largely possesses the popular scientific imagination, not unlike a religious and ethical worldview.

For scientists, this way of picturing nature was a huge breakthrough that permitted humans to interpret and interact with the world in new and productive ways.  Many overlooked features of nature became increasingly noticed and known as scientists were guided in their efforts by these new machine metaphors.  Initially these metaphors informed the methodological program of early scientists to exclude all qualities, values, ethics, purposes, and ends from their field of concern, so scientists could exclusively attend to the publicly observable and verifiable features of human experience.

Smith writes, “The [traditional] view of reality as consisting of graded levels of being dominated man’s outlook until the rise of modern science…  There may be no better way to summarize the scientific view of things than to say that reality is a stupendous spatial hierarchy, a hierarchy of size.”  By design, modern science operates with an essentially nonethical, meaningless, quantitative worldview that intentionally excludes ethical values and meanings from its field of concern—or at least that’s the methodological goal.

Science’s mechanistic philosophy effectively flattened reality to one level of being: matter.  The material world functionally replaced God as that which is “most real” and simultaneously levelled the great chain of being in the process.  What began as a methodological proscription gradually evolved for some into its own religio-ethical materialist worldview, as the implicit metaphors informing the scientific movement were to assumed to fully reflect our ultimate environment.  Over time, science’s metaphors came to be accepted as comprehensive representations of ontological reality, leading to the mechanization of nature and the modern rise of the scientific materialist worldview.

In contrast to the ancient paradigm, the scientific paradigm looks out to a one-story, single-level universe consisting of valueless material objects.  “Itself occupying no more than a single ontological plane, science challenged by implication the notion that other planes exist.”  Smith further explains, “As its challenge was not effectively met, it swept the field and gave the modern world its soul.”

On Religion & Science

So in what ways does the ancient religious worldview endure and how does it relate with the modern scientific worldview?  Jordan Peterson has offered the following relevant contrasts of the ancient and modern worldviews:

“The world can be validly construed as forum for action, or as place of things.

The former manner of interpretation—more primordial, and less clearly understood—finds its expression in the arts or humanities, in ritual, drama, literature, and mythology. The world as forum for action is a place of value, a place where all things have meaning. This meaning, which is shaped as a consequence of social interaction, is implication for action, or—at a higher level of analysis—implication for the configuration of the interpretive schema that produces or guides action.

The latter manner of interpretation—the world as place of things—finds its formal expression in the methods and theories of science. Science allows for increasingly precise determination of the consensually-validatable properties of things, and for efficient utilization of precisely-determined things as tools…

No complete world-picture can be generated without use of both modes of construal. The fact that one mode is generally set at odds with the other means only that the nature of their respective domains remains insufficiently discriminated.”

The controlling metaphors of religion and science are often thought to be mutually exclusive.  Hence their longstanding conflict.  But each worldview privileges and prioritizes certain aspects of the totality of our human experience for different purposes.  The traditional religious outlook sees an inherently ethical, meaningful world as a sacred hierarchy of Being and Goodness that orients and obligates the moral action of human beings.  The modern scientific outlook, by design, sees a meaningless world of valueless objects in time and space by excluding non-empirical purposes or ends from its field of concern.  Religion and science can therefore be compatible if we recognize their dominant, controlling metaphors are both useful, necessary, and complimentary ways of seeing and interacting with the world.  Each are specialized modes of inquiry and being.

Not only that, scientific inquiry necessarily operates within pre-empirical, prescientific ethical evaluations that are assumed.  One of the most common, prescientific evaluations is that developing more advanced scientific technologies is good, because they can be used to preserve and improve our quality of life.  Another common evaluation is that our scientific pursuits of truth are good, because knowing the truth will em from harmful illusions and falsehoods that diminish our quality of life.

As powerful and helpful as it is, seeing and thinking scientifically also happens to be very unnatural for human beings.  We like to see ourselves as highly “scientific.”  But we’re really not, or at least not most of the time.  The most common and natural way we perceive our environment is to instinctively evaluate everything we see in terms of how useful or good or irrelevant things are to us in relation to our desired goals.  It is essentially a pragmatic, ethical, nonscientific way of perceiving the world.  This worldview so profoundly informs our perceptions that we almost always—if not always—take it for granted.  And generally we should.

If we were constantly devoting conscious energy towards evaluating our environment, we be far less efficient and productive in doing activities, including basic ones needed for our survival.  Better if a lion is chasing me to instinctively run instead of pausing to scientifically examine the situation.  But this motivated, evaluative perceiving operates even when the immediate stakes aren’t life or death.  When I’m hungry my perceptions and desires instinctively order themselves around eating.  I see my environment in terms of food that will satisfy my appetite, and objects that either facilitate (useful tools) or inhibit (annoying obstacles) my pursuit of eating food, while everything else becomes functionally irrelevant and ignored.  This kind of motivated, goal-oriented perceiving and thinking informs the vast majority of our human activities.  Scientific thinking actually occupies a very, very small portion of our thinking in general.

We do not naturally look out onto a world of value-less objects.  Just the opposite: we are constantly, instinctively evaluating our environments in order to act productively and morally within them.  Perceiving and thinking scientifically is such an unnatural way to view and examine our environment that it generally requires a great amount of education, training, and practice to become a competent scientist.  And research scientists still participate in a community of scientists who constantly peer-review one another’s work, partly because no single person can achieve a purely neutral, objective, God’s-eye-view of things, so scientists must constantly check and challenge one another.

So what are the implications of all this?  Simply put, the ancient religious worldview and modern scientific worldview, properly understood, are both useful and complimentary ways of seeing the world.  In fact, scientific inquiry is nested within and built upon deeply religious, ethical evaluations.  Science cannot operate outside of some prescientific, ethical tradition.  And humans cannot live in an exclusively scientific manner, for our most basic mindsets that aid our survival are nonscientific, evaluative modes of living.  Religion and science can therefore be compatible if we recognize their dominant, controlling metaphors are useful, necessary, and complimentary ways of seeing and engaging with the world.  Because when religion and science are seen in proper perspective, there is no inherent conflict.

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On Science & Religion

It certainly should be no surprise that the scientific revolution emerged within a religious culture that so highly values seeking and speaking the truth to the best of one’s ability.  Or that science emerged within a religious culture that assumes history is progressing towards an ideal end and humankind is meant to participate in its unfolding.  Or that science, with its immutable laws of nature, emerged within a religious culture that believes in the existence of an immutable Lawgiver who governs and orders being.  The simple yet often overlooked fact is that science does not stand on its own.  Science, in fact, is necessarily supported by moral, mythological, and metaphysical assumptions about the nature of human life, history, and reality.  In other words, science is grounded in ancient religious assumptions.
science

The scientific method is a highly specialized mode of inquiry that is necessarily nested within moral inquiry, which is nested within mythological inquiry, which is nested within metaphysics.  Science, in principle, does not and cannot define morals or myths or metaphysics by its methods, and yet it necessarily relies on certain moral, mythological, and metaphysical assumptions.

Science assumes, for example, that knowing about the nature of the objective world is morally better than not knowing—that it is better to shine the light of knowledge into the darkness of ignorance, and that collectively pursuing and speaking the truth about our observations of nature, no matter how presently inconvenient or disruptive this may be, is better than twisting our words and theories to protect comfortable illusions of the status quo.  If this moral strikes you as ridiculously obvious, your reaction is evidence of how deeply you’ve internalized it.  Indeed, this moral deeply underlies the scientific approach.  And modern science assumes the process of truthfully observing, documenting, and peer-reviewing our findings about natural phenomena, to the best of our individual and collective abilities, is a morally better mode of being than intentionally bending the truth with lies and illusions that fit our preferred view of things.  Science also assumes that however discomforting and destabilizing the process of researching the truth can be, its discoveries and outcomes will be ultimately good, indeed, better than the alternatives.  Otherwise, why on earth would we engage in the process?

Even though the scientific method, in principle, is strictly concerned with describing what is, applying scientific methods in research and technological development involves making countless implicit value/moral decisions about what should be our present priorities, what should be our future goals, and what should be done with the findings and technologies we accumulate.  These essentially amount to moral judgments between good and bad.  Science has also deeply depended on the myth (meaning narrative) of progress, the story that history has a linear plot that is developing and moving towards a ever-perfect state, if we could only advance our scientific technologies and theories enough to reach our common destiny.  Science also assumes nature has and will always behave according to certain eternal, immutable, predictable “laws,” and that rational human beings have the capacity to accurately observe and describe the behaviour and makeup of nature.  Kept in proper persecutive, science is seen to be supported by a complex matrix of morals, myths, and metaphysics.

Science and mythology are necessarily opposed according to popular misconceptions.  The truth is science cannot operate outside of mythological assumptions about the nature of human activity within history.  The development of foundational morals and myths has been absolutely crucial for humanity’s maturation.  Once we have established some commonly held moral, mythological, metaphysical beliefs which provide order, coherence, stability, and guidance for our common life, we can pursue more specialized and privileged scientific interests.  This has been science’s developmental heritage and pathway.  Without basic morals and myths (which protect us from the chaotic disorder of the unpredictable and threatening unknown) we would necessarily be preoccupied with fulfilling basic survival and social needs by first negotiating how we can live well with one another without prematurely dying or needlessly killing each other.

The fact that we even believe we can discard mythology and metaphysics in exchange for modern science is partly indicative of how deeply we’ve internalized and acclimatized ourselves to certain myths and metaphysics that inextricably support science.  We take them so much for granted that we actually believe we no longer believe them.  When we foolishly try to pry science out from its grounding morals, myths, and metaphysics, or when ignore the traditions of knowledge it has developed in, we are at risk of becoming unstable, disintegrated, fragmented, and disordered.  Just as a child is at risk of becoming disordered and unstable when he denies the formative and enduring influence of his parents or ancestors, so science is at risk of becoming disordered and unstable when it denies the formative and enduring influence of religion.

 

On Science & Religion

The relationship between science and religion is somewhat complicated and usually confused for modern people.  Science and religion are each complex, multifaceted forms of human inquiry in their own rights.  And yet there are some fundamental differences between the two spheres of human knowledge that are frequently, if not sometimes willfully, misunderstood.  Put simply, science is fundamentally concerned with describing what is, whereas religion is fundamentally concerned with prescribing how we should live.  Understanding their unique yet complimentary concerns resolves any inherent conflict between the two forms of human inquiry, even though there still may be periodic skirmishes between their borders.

Much of the confusion between the difference between science and religion comes from a failure of scientists and religionists to adequately understand the aims and applications of their knowledge: scientists sometimes construe scientific truth claims as ethical and metaphysical wisdom, and religionists sometimes construe religious truth claims as objective facts about nature.  But science and religion have distinct yet complimentary fields of concern and, as a result, knowledge.  Jordan Peterson has offered the following relevant distinction of ancient and modern worldviews:

“The world can be validly construed as forum for action, or as place of things.

The former manner of interpretation—more primordial, and less clearly understood—finds its expression in the arts or humanities, in ritual, drama, literature, and mythology. The world as forum for action is a place of value, a place where all things have meaning.  This meaning, which is shaped as a consequence of social interaction, is implication for action, or—at a higher level of analysis—implication for the configuration of the interpretive schema that produces or guides action.

The latter manner of interpretation—the world as place of things—finds its formal expression in the methods and theories of science. Science allows for increasingly precise determination of the consensually-validatable properties of things, and for efficient utilization of precisely-determined things as tools (once the direction such use is to take has been determined, through application of more fundamental narrative processes).

No complete world-picture can be generated without use of both modes of construal. The fact that one mode is generally set at odds with the other means only that the nature of their respective domains remains insufficiently discriminated. Adherents of the mythological world-view tend to regard the statements of their creeds as indistinguishable from empirical “fact,” even though such statements were generally formulated long before the notion of objective reality emerged. Those who, by contrast, accept the scientific perspective—who assume that it is, or might become, complete—forget that an impassable gulf currently divides what is from what should be.”

 

Some might ask, doesn’t religion attempt to provide objective descriptions of nature?  There are multiple potential issues with how this question is typically approached.  First, there are presuppositional issues.  If we’re not careful, it is incredibly easy to anachronistically assume ancient people saw the world in more or less the same way we do.  But they didn’t.  As Peterson points out, ancient people viewed the world primarily as a forum for action, whereas we primarily view the world as a place of dead objects (at least as far as metaphysical materialism is concerned).  Ancient people certainly did not see existence as essentially dead, like an orthodox materialist would today.  Just the opposite, in fact: ancients were much more fascinated with the strange and uncontrollable power of life that seemed virtually omnipresent, animating nature, animals, and human beings.

A good scientist, for the sake of “objectivity,” aims to entirely divest his vision and theories of nature of evaluations.  This kind of value-less view of things would have been utterly unthinkable for an ancient person.  Everything was full of value, positive or negative, to the ancient observer.  And the truth is, even for us moderns, our ordinary, everyday perceptions of the world are totally laden with evaluations.  We wouldn’t do or pursue anything without first making some value judgement.  The scientific revolution was unleashed partly from strictly separating ontological and ethical concerns in investigating nature.  Ethical and evaluative concerns were intentionally ignored by the pioneers of modern science.  But ancient people did not make such a hard distinction: ontology and ethics were intimately related, if not indistinguishable, qualities of reality in their eyes.

Religious myths illustrate this quite well.  It would be a serious mistake to assume that the ancient writers of the creation stories of Genesis were concerned with providing an objective, scientific description of natural history.  For them, existence is everywhere bursting with value.  And ancient tribes were primarily concerned with learning how to live, how to act, how to thrive together justly and mercifully.  Their inquiries into the nature of things were always motivated by ethical concerns.  If the creation stories of Genesis were only literally true, they would be rendered essentially irrelevant to the daily concerns of both ancients and moderns.  But even today’s biblical literalists intuitively understands the stories dramatize theological and ethical visions of existence that present wisdom which extends beyond strictly literal meanings.  Obviously the writings were more than just literally meaningful for their original audience.  They wouldn’t have been written and preserved if they weren’t.  Which begs the question, what is their meaning?  The literal details are in fact pregnant with archetypal and symbolic truth.  The modern assumption that ancient peoples were just dumb scientists completely misunderstands and misrepresents the underlying concerns of religious narratives.

Genesis opens with a picture of a formless and empty world shrouded in darkness, with the Spirit of God “hovering over the waters.”  For ancients, water was representative of chaos and unmanifest potential.  So it is an image of the creative power of life bringing order out of chaos.  John Walton points out that the first three “days” in the opening poetic account of creation describe the establishment of “three great functions” that “are the foundation of life,” which are frequently featured in ancient cosmologies.  Walton says “on day one God created the basis for time; day two the basis for weather; day three the basis for food.”  According to Walton, a creative shift develops over days four to sixth where the focus of the story moves from the establishment of functions to the establishment of functionaries.  This shift highlights the fact that the story has an underlying ethical purpose.  Most significantly, God creates humankind in the divine image, and blesses humanity with the tasks of being fruitful and caring for the natural world.

Some significant archetypical images appear in the followup story in chapter two.  Adam—which means “humankind”—is created out of the dust of the earth and the breath of God.  His odd mixture of dirt and divinity attests to the fragility and glory of the human condition.  Adam’s serves as an archetypal figure for the curious makeup of all human beings.  The formation of Eve out of the side of Adam is another archetypal image that depicts the intimate bond that is to exist between mankind and womankind as friends and partners in life.  A great deal is absent from such a brief exegesis like this one.  But the point is that the creation stories are best understood as dramatizations of ethical visions of reality.  And they liberally make use of story, symbol, and metaphor as creative forms of communication.  “The attempt to find scientific information in Genesis,” in Ian Barbour’s view, “is dubious theology as well as dubious science.”

Saint Augustine’s comments on biblical hermeneutics remain as relevant in our times—when Young Earth Creationists fight against evolutionists—as they were in his:

Now keeping always our respect for moderation in grave piety, we ought not to believe anything inadvisedly on a dubious point, lest in favor of our error we conceive a prejudice against something that truth hereafter may reveal to be not contrary in any way to the sacred books of either the Old or the New Testament…

In points that are obscure, or far from clear, if we should read anything in the Bible that may allow of several constructions consistently with the faith to be taught, let us not commit ourselves to any one of these with such precipitous obstinancy that when, perhaps, the truth is more diligently searched into, this may fall to the ground, and we with it. Then we would indeed be seen to have contended not for the sense of divine Scripture, but for our own ideas by wanting something of ours to be the sense of Scripture when we should rather want the meaning of Scripture to be ours.

But what about science?  Isn’t science capable of providing us with morals as some claim?  The short answer is no: in principle and practice, science is not concerned with values or ethics whatsoever.  But there is a longer answer to this issue.  Centuries ago, Aristotle developed a fourfold taxonomy of causations: material, efficient, formal, and final.  Though this terminology is rarely used today, Aristotelian philosophy has deeply influenced our understanding of causation.  Quite simply, the pioneers of modern science intentionally limited the scope of their research to examining material and efficient causes in nature.  But what began as a methodological proscription gradually became construed somehow as proof of metaphysical materialism.  In other words, methodology became mistaken for ontology.

From its inception, science has principally concerned itself with investigating “efficient” and “material” causes, not “formal” or “final” causes.  Its massive success is partly due to its narrow scope of inquiry.  Pioneers of the scientific method didn’t deny the existence of formal or final causes.  They simply focused on studying efficient and material causation in nature alone.  Francis Bacon, for instance, wrote “as we divided natural philosophy in general into the inquiry of causes and productions of effects, so that part which concerneth the inquiry of causes we do subdivide according to the received and sound division of causes.  The one part, which is physic [or the realm of the natural sciences], inquireth and handleth the material and efficient causes; and the other, which is metaphysic, handleth the formal and final causes.”  Albert Einstein acknowledged the inherent limitations the scientific method many years later with the following comments:

“For the scientific method can teach us nothing else beyond how facts are related to, and conditioned by, each other. The aspiration toward such objective knowledge belongs to the highest of which man is capabIe, and you will certainly not suspect me of wishing to belittle the achievements and the heroic efforts of man in this sphere. Yet it is equally clear that knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be. One can have the clearest and most complete knowledge of what is, and yet not be able to deduct from that what should be the goal of our human aspirations. Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends, but the ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source. And it is hardly necessary to argue for the view that our existence and our activity acquire meaning only by the setting up of such a goal and of corresponding values. The knowledge of truth as such is wonderful, but it is so little capable of acting as a guide that it cannot prove even the justification and the value of the aspiration toward that very knowledge of truth. Here we face, therefore, the limits of the purely rational conception of our existence.”

This fundamental difference between the concerns of science and religion leads to an important contrast: science seeks knowledge, whereas religion seeks wisdom.  But what’s the difference?  Scientific inquiry, in its strictest sense, is concerned with discovering knowledge about the natural would as it is.  Its scope is intentionally limited: a scientist is concerned with gaining knowledge about nature as such through experiments that are public, repeatable, and controllable.  Religion, in contrast, is concerned with discovering a special kind of knowledge—namely, wisdom—which can be understood as ethical knowledge for how to live well in relation to others and the world.  Wisdom is concerned with how we should act.  Science, in principle and method, is not concerned with discovering how we should live, even though knowledge of what nature is can valuably inform our decisions for how we should live.  Should-ness, goodness, evil, and ethics are not categories or concepts that belong to the modern scientific tradition.  Wisdom is knowledge for action, knowledge for living.  Wisdom is knowledge that is applied to acting well in the world.  It is not merely information of facts.

“It is true,” Thomas Merton wrote, “that neither the ancient wisdoms nor the modern sciences are complete in themselves. They do not stand alone. They call for one another. Wisdom without science is unable to penetrate the full sapiential meaning of the created and the material cosmos. Science without wisdom leaves man enslaved to a world of unrelated objects in which there is no way of discovering (or creating) order and deep significance in man’s own pointless existence.”  Assuming science and religion are inherently in conflict is a tragic error that often obscures the purposes of both.  They can and should coexist.  Hopefully their longstanding conflict will evolve into a more mutually beneficial relationship in the near future.  This mostly involves carefully clearly up misconceptions regarding their unique yet complimentary domains in human life and history.

On Science & Religion

This is an essay I did on the origins debate for a past course, Issues in Science and Religion. I decided to post it to the blog since there is often a lot of heated polarization surrounding the relationship between evolutionary and biblical accounts of the origins of life, and integrative approaches tend to get little attention in the media. The view I present in the essay is perhaps best described as “evolutionary creationism.” That said, I mostly explore some of the interpretive issues involved in integrating the Genesis creation stories with evolutionary science.


Controversy has become commonplace in contemporary debates surrounding the origins and development of human life. The question is, can the biblical story of creation be legitimately reconciled with the scientific story of the evolution? The late Christopher Hitchens wrote that “religious faith … wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos.”[1] Richard Dawkins said that “religion, as a scientific explanation—it is a competing scientific explanation—it’s so dull, it’s so boring, it’s so petty, and it’s also wrong… If we can get people to believe that, it should be easy to convince people that evolution is true because the evidence is so strong.”[2] Both of their statements imply that the biblical and scientific explanations of origins are fundamentally in conflict. Their comments capture the basic assumption held by many today, including both atheists and theists, that it is only possible for either evolutionary science or biblical creation to be true.

While the “conflict thesis” has gained widespread popularity, there are other ways of understanding the broad relationship between religion and science, as well as the specific relationship between the biblical teachings on creation and biological evolution.[3] A great number of religious individuals and groups see no necessary or legitimate conflict between religion and science, or the Bible and evolution. Members of “Reform and Conservative Judaism, the Catholic church, and most of the mainline Protestant denominations,” generally consider “the Big Bang and subsequent evolution as God’s way of creating.”[4] This begs the question: can the creation stories in the opening chapters of Genesis legitimately be reconciled with evolutionary science? Evangelicals who hold a high view of the Bible are often the Christians who insist that a literal interpretation of Genesis does conflict with biological evolution. However, John Walton, an evangelical Old Testament scholar, persuasively argues that a literal reading of Genesis—including its teachings on the status and purpose of human beings—does not actually conflict with evolutionary science. I will henceforth outline the broad strokes of Walton’s position on this issue and its implications for the meaning of the creation stories in Genesis. First, I will present some relevant principles of biblical hermeneutics as well as explore the nature of ancient cosmology. Second, I will argue that Genesis 1 is broadly telling a story of the functional, not material, creation of the universe as a cosmic temple. Third, I will argue that the forming accounts of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 have archetypal, not material, significance that concerns the nature of the universal human condition.

Some essential principles of biblical hermeneutics need to be established in order to understand the literal meaning of the Genesis creation accounts. First and foremost, it must be established that even if the “Old Testament was written for us,” we should nevertheless recognize that “it was not written to us.”[5] The books contained in the Hebrew Bible were first “written to Israel.”4 Accordingly, those who would affirm that the Bible’s message is inspired and timeless must nevertheless acknowledge “the Holy Spirit inspired the biblical authors at a specific point in ancient history, using their languages, literary conventions, and ideas, including their conception of the natural world.”[6] This is absolutely crucial. It is also evident that the biblical writings contain Old World science and ancient worldviews.[7] So “if we are going to interpret the text according to its face value, we need to read it as the author would have intended and as the ancient audience would have heard it.”[8] Otherwise modern interpreters risk subjecting the Bible’s message to “cultural imperialism” by anachronistically reading their particular assumptions and concerns into its texts.[9] Moreover, if the goal of biblical interpretation is exegesis, not eisegesis, then the interpreter must carefully attempt to understand the intended meaning of biblical writings within their ancient settings. Indeed, despite widespread misconceptions, understanding the intended message in a piece of writing, while also respecting the unique literary genres, conventions, and devices used by its author, is what constitutes a “literal” interpretation in biblical hermeneutics.

With these interpretative guidelines in mind, it is quite clear and even unsurprising that “Genesis 1 is ancient cosmology.”[10]  This simple but significant truth implies that the text “does not attempt to describe cosmology in modern terms or address modern questions.”9 On the contrary, “if we accept Genesis 1 as ancient cosmology, then we need to interpret it as ancient cosmology rather than translate it into modern cosmology.”[11] This raises the question, what is the nature of ancient cosmology? Of the numerous features that could be mentioned, one of the most important qualities of ancient cosmology is that it predominantly has a functional orientation, not a material orientation.[12] Grasping and appreciating this difference requires nothing less than a mental paradigm shift in science and ontology. As modern people who have been profoundly influenced by the standards and assumptions of modern science, we typically hold a material ontology of existence, and thus naturally assume that something or someone “exists” by simply possessing material properties. However, “in a functional ontology, to bring something into existence would require giving it a function or a role in an ordered system, rather than giving it material properties.”[13] For an ancient person, it is therefore possible for something to have material properties and yet still not “exist,” in the fullest sense, if it does not have a functional purpose. The implications of this for interpreting the creation accounts in Genesis are tremendous. Though what is most essential is, in ancient cosmology, “creation thus constituted bringing order to the cosmos from an originally nonfunctional condition… Consequently, to create something (cause it to exist) in the ancient world means to give it a function, not material properties.”[14]

What kind of story, then, does Genesis 1 convey? In the context of ancient cosmology, it tells the story of the functional creation and inauguration of the universe as a cosmic temple.[15] The pre-creation state is accordingly nonfunctional, not nonmaterial.[16] As such, the story describes God creatively forming the cosmos and everything within it by establishing its functions and installing its functionaries.[17] Many interpretive issues are resolved when the text is read with a functional orientation towards creation. For instance, day three of the story is puzzling to some interpreters because God apparently does not create any new material things on this day.[18] But this is not puzzling from a functional perspective since God still establishes functions. Indeed, from a functional orientation it becomes apparent that “on day one God created the basis for time; day two the basis for weather; day three the basis for food”—the “three great functions” that “are the foundation of life,” which also happen to frequently appear in ancient cosmologies.[19]

A creative shift develops over days four through six in the story. The difference is that “God is not setting up functions as much as he is installing functionaries.”[20] The creation of human beings has special significance in the account. Humans are given multiple important functions: they are to “be fruitful and increase in number,” they are to “fill the earth and subdue it,” and they are to share intimate social relationships as male and female.[21] Human are also created “in the image of God,” and thus given a significant function in relation to God.20 Moreover, humans are “delegated a godlike role” on earth: they are given the task of being priests who represent and mediate God’s presence to everyone and everything around them, and the task of being “vice regents” who responsibly rule over, care for, and cultivate the created order.20 Again, the primary focus throughout the creation of human beings is evidently on establishing functions, not making new materials. As significant as day six is, day seven is the powerful climax in the story. In the ancient world, “deity rests in a temple, and only in a temple.”[22] The significance of God “resting” on the seventh day, then, would have been obvious to the ancient reader: by resting, God has made the cosmos his place of residence, his temple, thus establishing it as sacred space.[23] “In a material account day seven would have little role, but in a functional account … it is the true climax without which nothing else would make any sense or having any meaning.”[24]

The seven-day layout of the story resembles a cultic program of an ancient temple inauguration ceremony.[25] It is even possible that the Israelites used the story as a creation liturgy, perhaps on an annual basis, though there is no clear historical evidence that confirms this.[26] Regardless, the story of Genesis 1 is pregnant with theological meaning when it is read as the functional creation of the universe as a cosmic temple. “The most central truth to the creation account is that this world is a place for God’s presence.”[27] It is sacred space wherein humans live and work with one another and with God. Human beings are given a special status and role within the world as God’s priests and caretakers of creation. They live in a place where all things are sacramental. Sin and evil are not just arbitrary acts of disobedience in this context either, but rather anything that brings disorder and dysfunction into the world. This reading also completely removes any apparent conflict between the creation story in Genesis 1 and biological evolutionary accounts of human origins. Simply put, “Genesis 1 is affirming nothing about the material world,” because it is “not an account of material origins.”[28]

Do the forming accounts of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2, however, conflict with the science of human evolution? These stories do not either, because they make “archetypal claims” that concern the universal human condition, “not claims of material origins.”[29] On the surface it may appear that God, in an instantaneous creative act, made Adam’s physical body “from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” If this passage were read as a biological account of the material origins of Adam, then it would indeed conflict with evolutionary human origins. But it is possible to determine whether the author intended to make material claims or archetypal claims by considering “a simple question: is the text describing something that is uniquely true of Adam or is it describing something that is true of all of us?”[30] According to other passages in the Bible, it is clear that the account is teaching something that is true of us all: every human being is “formed from dust” (and will “return to dust”), and every human being has received the “breath of life” from God.[31] As an archetype, Adam represents our human frailty, mortality, and dependence on God. Upon a careful reading of the formation of Eve in Genesis 2, it is apparent that her creation account also has archetypal meaning: being formed “from the side” of Adam signifies the close bond, the profoundly intimate relationship, that is meant to exist between mankind and womankind.[32] The archetypal meanings of the creation stories in Genesis 2 therefore do not conflict with evolutionary science, because they do not focus on making “definitive claims about the material origins of either Adam or Eve.”[33]

A careful study of the meaning of the biblical creation stories within their ancient settings reveals that they do not make claims that conflict with evolutionary origins of human life. Indeed, ancient cosmology exhibits a functional orientation and ontology, not a material one. Bearing this paradigm in mind, it becomes evident that Genesis 1 tells the story of the functional creation of the universe as a cosmic temple. The forming accounts of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 primarily focus on these figures as representative archetypes of the universal human condition. As such, “the attempt to find scientific information in Genesis is dubious theology as well as dubious science.”[34] When we try to force the literature to concord with modern scientific categories and concerns, “we tend to neglect both the human experiences that lie behind it and the theological affirmations it makes.”32 The intent of the biblical creation stories is not to provide a detailed description of the natural evolutionary development of life and the cosmos. Rather, their intent is to “locate present human experience in a framework of larger significance” by revealing “the essential structure of reality and our place in it.”[35] Given their distinct yet related claims, I personally think that the theology and anthropology of the biblical creation stories is compatible with the science of biological evolution. Integrating their respective accounts does result in a teleological (meaning purposeful and goal-oriented) view of evolution, instead of a dysteleological (meaning purposeless and accidental) view of evolution. This, of course, constitutes a metaphysical difference, not a scientific conflict.[36] Indeed, even Charles Darwin thought it would be “absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent Theist and an evolutionist.”[37]

 



[1]
Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2007), 4

[2] Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss, The Unbelievers, directed by Gus Holwerda, (United States: Black Chalk, 2013), Netflix, 3:19-4:49.

[3] Ian G. Barbour, Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1997), 71-105.

[4] Ibid., 203.

[5] John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 7.

[6] Denis O. Lamoureux, “Evolutionary Creation: Moving Beyond the Evolution Versus Creation Debate,” Christian Higher Education 9, no. 1 (2009): 34.

[7] John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 17.; Denis O. Lamoureux, “Evolutionary Creation: Moving Beyond the Evolution Versus Creation Debate,” Christian Higher Education 9, no. 1 (2009): 36-38.

[8] John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 102.

[9] Ibid., 19.

[10] Ibid., 14.

[11] Ibid., 15.

[12] Ibid., 21-35.

[13] Ibid., 24.

[14] Ibid., 33.

[15] Ibid., 84.

[16] Gen 1:1-2; cf. John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 52.

[17] Ibid., 53-70.

[18] Gen 1:9-13; cf. John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 57.

[19] Ibid., 58-61.

[20] Ibid., 62.

[21] Gen 1:26-31; cf. John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 67.

[22] Ibid., 71.

[23] Ibid., 71-84.

[24] Ibid., 71.

[25] Ibid., 86-91; cf. 1 Kgs 8:65, 2 Chron 7:9

[26] John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 90.

[27] Ibid., 84.

[28] Ibid., 56.

[29] John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 70.

[30] Ibid., 75.

[31] Ps 103:14; Ecc 3:20; Job 27:3, 32:8, 33:4, 34:14-15; Is 42:5; cf. John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 76.

[32] Gen 2:22; cf. John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 80-81

[33] John H. Walton, The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 81

[34] Ian G. Barbour, Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues (San Francisco: HarperOne, 1997), 202

[35] Ibid., 214

[36] Denis O. Lamoureux, “Evolutionary Creation: Moving Beyond the Evolution Versus Creation Debate,” Christian Higher Education 9, no. 1 (2009): 28.; John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 115-117.

[37] Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 12041,” accessed on 16 March 2016, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/DCP-LETT-12041.

 

On Science & Religion

It is commonly claimed that science can provide us with morality.  That the only morals which we need for our collective flourishing can be solidly justified by science and science alone.  ‘Science,’ here, is often invoked loosely, without much explanation of what sort of specific scientific evidence or method or philosophy or ideology provides adequate ‘scientific’ support for some form of morality—for how we should live.

What’s often missed here is that science is concerned with what is, whereas morality is concerned with what should be.  I have found no better brief explanation of this essential, yet often overlooked, difference than in Albert Einstein’s following comments (italics original):

“For the scientific method can teach us nothing else beyond how facts are related to, and conditioned by, each other. The aspiration toward such objective knowledge belongs to the highest of which man is capabIe, and you will certainly not suspect me of wishing to belittle the achievements and the heroic efforts of man in this sphere. Yet it is equally clear that knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be. One can have the clearest and most complete knowledge of what is, and yet not be able to deduct from that what should be the goal of our human aspirations. Objective knowledge provides us with powerful instruments for the achievements of certain ends, but the ultimate goal itself and the longing to reach it must come from another source.”

On Science & Religion

The vast majority of scientific knowledge is taught, shared, learned, and believed on some basis of authority.  This practice of passing on scientific knowledge on some basis of authority occurs in many ways, in many places.  It occurs within the formal domains of researchers and students of the sciences.  It occurs within the informal domains of armchair science enthusiasts, promoters, and TedTalk lovers.  Yet this epistemological convention is often overlooked, even ignored sometimes.  Likely because the sciences have—to a great extent, deservedly—gained such a high reputation because their knowledge is supposed to be supported by the observation and experience of at least someone, somewhere, at sometime.  And I’m certainly not suggesting that we should always mistrust the findings of research scientists who might speak as authorities, especially if we determine that they are trustworthy through our own careful scrutiny and crosschecking.  But what we should notice, at the very least, is how much scientific knowledge is shared and accepted on some basis of authority.

If this surprises you, just think about the ways a science student accumulates knowledge over the course of their studies: they’ll have the odd lab, the odd research assignment, maybe they’ll even go on to specialize and perform some new research of their own, accompanied by a thesis.  But at every stage, the vast majority of knowledge that they gain in school doesn’t come through their own direct observation and experience, but through some other source—perhaps in the form of a textbook, an article, a professor, a peer, a supervisor, a literature review, and so on.  Likewise, even a research scientist will have gained a very slim percentage of their total scientific knowledge through their own direct observation and experience over the course of their career.

In the natural sciences, like in many human endeavours, we depend on the work of others to an astounding degree.  One reason we depend on the work of others in life is we can accomplish greater things together than we can separately, all on our own.  This is one of the great stories of human civilization.  So, like many of our communal endeavours, scientists strive to work together so they can progress and advance and build on the work of their predecessors and peers, in the shared hope that what they achieve will be a benefit to humanity.  Accordingly, researchers will share their work through books, journals, lectures, conferences, conversations, and so on.  When we (scientists and armchair enthusiasts, included) unreservedly accept knowledge from sources like these, we do so under the impression that they are trustworthy sources, and thus trustworthy authorities.

Hopefully we take the time and effort to determine that authoritative sources of knowledge are worthy of our trust through carefully crosschecking the knowledge they share against our own  reason and experience, and against other authorities.  But often we don’t.  Because it’s possible, even easier, to not bother with these sorts of rigours.  And realistically, if we thoroughly assessed the sources of every single bit of knowledge we’ve embraced, we wouldn’t get much done—at least quickly.  Because it would take multiple lifetimes to do this exhaustively.  So we exercise measures of trust in many ways and places in life, by necessity.

When we are presented with some scientific knowledge, we have a series of choices for who and what we will place our trust in, and how much trust we will exercise.  Hopefully we do some honest digging and thinking and crosschecking before exercising our trust—but it’s surprisingly easy to skip over this, because it’s not like sloppy-learning-alarms will immediately begin to blare, giving us away, if we don’t.  So for instance, we might choose to immediately trust the findings we’re presented with at face value, no questions asked.  Or we might inquire about the researcher and then we might choose to trust in their impartiality, in their guiding assumptions and hypothesis, in their critical capacities, in their analysis of their findings.  Or we might choose to trust them because of their academic credentials or because of the reputation of their institution (which are often enough to elicit the average person’s trust, these days).  Or we might press further and then choose to trust in the reliability empirical methods, and trust that such methods were applied in a careful, controlled manner.  Or we might choose to trust the findings because we trust the people who participated in the peer-review process.  Or we might choose trust in all of the people, assumptions, methods, analysis, and selective publishing that’s involved, perhaps even imagining that such a finely-tuned-research-machine will guarantee that the knowledge it produces will be without error.

Many who like to think of themselves as ‘scientific’ cringe at words like ‘trust’ and ‘believe’ and ‘faith,’ usually because they seemingly assume they are beyond such silliness.  But trust is, to varying extents, what we functionally exercise even when we accept experience-based, empirically-tested knowledge that we did not personally experience and test ourselves.  And an authority is not automatically bad, as some seem to assume.  It is possible for an authority to be good or bad, trustworthy or untrustworthy.  But it remains authority, either way.  And this is what needs to be noticed more often and more readily.

At this point, some object.  Some object because they believe that scientific knowledge is guaranteed to be free from errors and mistakes; that scientific knowledge is strictly hard facts with no unnecessary fat or filler.  Because isn’t there a rigorous, peer-review process performed within the scientific community that ensures that ‘scientific knowledge’ shared on authority is totally true and trustworthy?  Yes, the peer-review process aims to reduce errors.  It aims to do this through subjecting a project’s hypothesis, methods, findings, analysis, and so forth, to additional checks.  And it is a good system of scrutiny.  But we would be naively optimistic to think that our scientific assumptions, methods, knowledge, theories, and paradigms are guaranteed to be infallible since they are the products of fallible human beings—like it or not.  What’s more, it would be sloppy of us to not see the amount of interpretation, imagination, conjecture, hypothesizing, metaphor, and even story-telling that goes into our—supposedly rigorous—scientific endeavours.

The bottom line is, we trust in the work and findings of others in many, many ways, even in the sciences.  When we do this, the person or group or textbook or article or TedTalk video or whatever else becomes an authoritative source of knowledge for us.  It is incredibly important to notice the pervasiveness of this convention of knowledge sharing since ‘science’ is often treated with a deep kind of piety these days.  Accordingly, scientists are often functionally revered as our current high priests; as holy people who are possessors of holy knowledge that is wholly perfect and beyond questioning.  It should be emphasized that honest, hard-working scientists do deserve a great deal of respect.  The work they do is incredibly valuable and they deserve to be esteemed for it.  But they should not be treated as infallible authorities since they, like us all, are limited, fallible, complicated human beings.  But somehow ‘science’ has often gained a powerful ethos that does not always matchup with the way things actually are.  What’s more, it is ironic when we treat scientists like a holy order since scientific methods and sensibilities are supposed to guard against piously revering people in positions of prestige and power.

What’s needed is for science to be seen for what it is: the systematic study and accumulation of knowledge about nature undertaken by groups of fallible humans who greatly rely on the cumulative work performed by their predecessors and peers.

On Science & Religion

Science is often conceived of as an ‘it’; as a perfectly-tuned knowledge-machine.  But it’s not.  It is a collective endeavour, a method of inquiry, a pursuit of knowledge, that is performed by people.  The notion that ‘science’ is an entirely objective source of entirely objective knowledge is one of our most cherished modern myths.  We like to imagine that science gives us a perfectly objective understanding of ourselves and the world; a real God’s-eye-view of things.  This belief can even provide comfort to those who find mystery, confusion, and uncertainty to be uncomfortable—maybe even unbearable.  And like a mythological deity, science has accordingly become the great Comforter and Saviour of many.  But, to be blunt, we’d be deluding ourselves if we believe that our scientific work is absolutely objective, free of even the smallest shreds of subjectivity.

To be sure, objectivity is the aim of science, in principle.  But it is highly questionable that we have ever or will ever achieve this in our scientific practices.  Because our scientific work is saturated with subjectivities at every stage since it is done by subjects, not objects; it is done by human beings, not truth-seeking-robots.  (And even if science could be done by such robots, we’d require someone who knew the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, to properly program these machines so they’d know what to seek.  But I digress…)

Now, I should emphasize, science is certainly a valuable, worthwhile human endeavour through which we continue to learn many valuable, worthwhile things.  What’s more, I’m not suggesting that our scientific work should always be scrutinized in the spirit of some ridiculously radical skepticism.  But, it is ironic when people who pride themselves on being ‘scientific’ aren’t the least bit skeptical, or even just curious, about the nature and limits of our scientific pursuits of knowledge.  And there is an unrealistic view that science is perfectly objective even in practice that is surprisingly widespread—and this view deserves some skeptical pushback.  Because, in its absolute forms, it is a belief that is not based in reality.