Monday, November 5, 2007

science vs. faith on things "seen" and "unseen"

Digging into my files a little bit (I've been falling behind during this busy Fall season), a letter to the editor of the C-J from a U of L chemistry professor (emeritus) a few weeks back, trying to take Cal Thomas to task...

Religion and science

Cal Thomas should really stay away from science-based topics ("Conservatives' opportunity," Oct. 16). Doesn't he have "handlers" who could advise him on this?

In the first part of his column, he can't distinguish between religion, based on faith ("Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen." Hebrews 11:1), and science, based upon reasoning derived from observation. (Equating actions based on scientific evidence to those based on faith allows Thomas, a religious man, to write what he wants about such actions because he has faith that what he writes is true.)

Because of the inanity of the first part of this piece, credibility is lost for the second part, about reducing dependence on foreign oil. I return to my initial point: Thomas doesn't appear to be intellectually equipped to write about science.


Dr. Taylor is a little punchy here-- especially for an academic and a scientist. But excusing the style issues, let's focus on the substance of his complaint.

What was Cal Thomas' offense? Here's the sentence that set off Dr. Taylor...

Despite evidence from NASA and other scientific sources, which rebut Gore’s claims of pending climate disaster, CGW [what Thomas labels the "Church of Global Warming"] members have the kind of blind faith displayed at a Benny Hinn healing service.

In a word, Thomas has the audacity to question the extent of the evidences on global warming-- and beyond that, to point out that many of those concerned about global warming have no clue about the evidences. Although over-stated if applied to many scientists in that field, Thomas' (valid) point is that "believers" in the CGW don't really care about or know the evidences-- or the arguments of the other side-- which reduces to what Thomas properly labeled "blind faith".

Interestingly, Dr. Taylor started quoting Scripture (leaving his readers the impression that Thomas' essay did the same). Moreover, in quoting Hebrews 11:1 on faith as "the evidence of things unseen", Dr. Taylor seeks a dichotomy between religious faith which does not see and science which always sees. Of course, these are gross over-generalizations of both arenas. Religious faith is based on varying degrees of evidence. (As the old quip puts it: given the evidences, I don't have enough faith to be an atheist.) And what is sold as science often relies on what it does not see-- whether scientific inferences on unobservable phenomena or speculations about historical evidences such as the claims of evolution as an explanation for the development of life.

To borrow Dr. Taylor's final phrase: it's Dr. Taylor who "doesn't appear to be intellectually equipped to write about science" or religion.


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