Are the Scientific Elite, Really Elite?


Is science at war with faith?  Many seem to think so.  I have just finished reading the book The Devil’s Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions by David Berlinski.  Berlinski is a mathematician with a Ph.D. from Princeton University, who has written a book dealing with the attitudes and philosophies of the scientific ruling elite.  The book is brilliantly written.  At times hard to follow, as he delves deep into the details of quantum physics and string theory.  But there is always a coherent narrative running through each chapter that will hold the reader in place.  It has been a while since I have read a book this thoughtful.  It is 225 pages; I blasted through it in about two days. 

Berlinski states in the preface that he is writing this book for the general public who feel that the scientific community often holds them in contempt: like so many intellectually dim children who have never received proper parenting.  In other words, he is bringing to light a type of  arrogance that runs through certain scientific circles which seems to say "we are smarter than you are, and we like it that way."  I have often perceived this while watching talks or debates, when a biologist (or some other type of scientist) smiles wryly after chastising his opponent about evolution or the scientific method.  The condescending tone is often palpable.  But Berlinski goes further than this.  He says that not only is there a degree of schoolyard bullying that is alive and well, but that this attitude is often buttressed by an atheistic worldview.  Now I must pause here briefly, because I don’t want anyone reading this blog post to think that I am so naive as to forget that haughty attitudes don't come only from non-believers.  I have known many people who attend church regularly for whom I would gladly avoid completely.  There is arrogance and immaturity in the religious community as well.  What Berlinski is saying here (I think) is that the problem occurs when these worldviews exercise undue influence upon the scientific data – hence affecting the way in which said scientist interprets the scientific conclusions themselves.  They are atheists first, and scientists second.  The former doesn't just influence the latter, it helps guide it.

Berlinski makes one more point at the end of chapter one.  He compares much of the elite scientific community to a type of church.  He writes, “And like any militant church, this one places a familiar demand before all others:  Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”    In other words, only non-theistic theories and conclusions are welcome.  None of that god stuff, thank you very much.  And unfortunately there are many cases where scientists were dismissed (or lost their tenure) after publishing papers which mention the possibility of intelligent design.

What am I to think of this?  Are we at war?  Is it the Faithful vs. the Scientist?  Well, I don’t think so.  I think that the struggle about teaching Creationism in the classroom has colored many people’s perception of science and faith.  Only a small portion of the religious crowd are actually creationists.  I myself do not believe that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, for example.  Christianity does not hold this as a necessary core concept.  There are many scientists that are Christians and Muslims.  The people that Berlinski is picking on here are the folks who consider themselves much smarter than everyone else, and often hide behind string theory or oscillating universes in order to latently insert their atheistic worldview.  And to this point, Berlinski pulls no punches.  He spends multiple chapters breaking down the work that Einstein, Gödel, Bohr, and Schrodinger have put forth.  They are all brilliant theories: but none of them advance the slightest notion that God can be disproved.  They simply don’t go there, they were never meant to.  He also notes that many of the modern scientific models and “mega-theories”  - when compared side by side – point to very different conclusions about the Universe.  Alas, we can take no shelter under the tent of science, at least as it pertains to avoiding God. 

I have a feeling that the heart of the matter reflects a battle between worldviews, not science and faith. It is a battle about how belief systems color how we interpret our surroundings.  These views speak to us in terms of how to live our lives, how to function on a daily basis, and how to raise our kids.  C.S. Lewis warns us to beware the “inner circle.”  The inner circle is composed of those in any occupation, that believe they are the final word on any given subject.  Lewis reminds us that it is better to simply go about our day making sure we do a competent job, than to pretend that we are kings within our own particular discipline.  Because you see, the inner circle is self-regulating.  There is often no one policing what they say or do … so correction never comes (and believe me, the human race often needs correction)!  Science may be self-correcting; but people often are not.  A group of people who believe they are never wrong, are quite unlikely to ever see a need to re-examine their worldview.  Why would they?  After all, they are the elite!

I am afraid we must look to the words that Jesus uttered 2,000 years ago, recorded in the Gospel of John:  “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.”  As people who believe in God we will often be persecuted, laughed at, disdained, and yes … even hated.  This has nothing to do whatsoever with science and the theory of special relativity.  I think the holocaust was the ultimate, modern expression of this hate against an entire population of people who believed in God (the Jewish nation).  Jesus warned us about this.  But He also says this, “… but take heart, for I have overcome the world.”  People may persecute you from time to time, but if you turn away from God, what else is there?  Do we then pray to evolutionary psychology?

If you ever get the chance to watch a documentary or read a scientific paper that simply presents the scientific facts without a worldview slipped in, I suggest you enjoy it while it lasts.  These presentations are few and far between.  More often you may hear someone from an inner circle make statements in this order: first atheism, then conviction, and finally the science.  The war is not between science and faith, it is between worldviews.  Telling people that evolution is a vehicle to promote change in organisms is a fine thing.  Telling them that this means God doesn't exist is ludicrous.   May God forgive the mistakes that we are making, on either side of the fence.  

 


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