Guest post: Is science more infallible than the Pope?

From Neil: Some of the many terrific commenters here don’t have blogs of their own, so I welcome guest posts from time to time to get other views and generate discussion.    Welcome to a guest post by LCB.  Usual caveat — if I disagree with something in a guest post and care enough to write about it, I’ll do so in the comments section. 

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Those that don’t know I am a staunch Roman Catholic generally figure it out pretty quickly, between citing the Popes and Aquinas, to my extensive posts on the importance of liturgy no matter the denomination. I even have a Catholic bumper sticker. My Catholicism stands out.

In the last few days Neil has had some great posts on Liberal Christianity, the mis-interpretation of Scripture, and proselytization. This is a topic that Neil and I have chatter about quite seriously in the comment sections. An excellent book on the topic is J. Gresham Machen’s “Christianity and Liberalism.” Almost a century old, it remains a seminal work. Its essential premise is this: Liberal Christians use the same words as Orthodox Christians, but they use them in fundamentally different ways and assign to them fundamentally different meanings. Neil has previously linked to an excellent podcast on this book (and I hope he inserts it here, I don’t have the link). [From Neil: Couldn’t find the link.  I recall that it was from an Apologetics.com Podcast.]

In our conversations I have expressed (and I suspect that Neil agrees) that Roman Catholicism has had an epic internal struggle against liberal Christianity. Though we have strong disagreements on the topic of Roman Catholicism, this is something that almost all persons can agree upon. At one point we even had an anti-modernism/liberalism oath that people were required to take. This struggle is similar to the struggle that the oldline/mainline/deadline Protestant branches have had. It has played out on a worldwide stage, and the most formidable Catholic minds of the last century have been involved in our internal debate. This debate has raged across Protestantism too. From Schweitzer’s conversion and African journey to Bonhoffer’s final prayer on the floor of Flossenburg, the best of men have risked everything over this.

It’s also important that we consider the stakes of the battle with Liberal Christianity, no matter the denomination. Hundreds of millions of souls, billions of souls, are at stake. Western Civilization itself, and it’s ability to stand against Islam on theological and philosophical grounds without surrendering, is at stake. That’s kind of a big deal.

Yet, the battle is really a 3-way battle. Orthodox Christianity vs. Liberal Christianity allied closely with Secular Liberalism.

We Orthodox Christians (broadly speaking, those that will assert that Jesus is Lord and that we depend on Him alone for salvation) make various claims of infallibility. All agree upon the infallibility of Scripture. We Catholics make some additional claims, but the best known is a claim that “The Pope is Infallible.” Those that have studied apologetics or Catholicism even a bit know that this is a limited claim. If the Pope says “Sure is a nice day” it doesn’t mean the day is nice. If he says “Cats are the best pets” we know he certainly is in grave error on that matter.

The classic definition is “Infallible on matters of faith and morals.” And even then, only when he is trying to be infallible does it count. The classic way that a Pope exercises this authority is when he speaks on behalf of all the world’s Bishops (he is “first among equals” of the Bishops, based on the principle that Peter was “First among equals” of the Apostles). To claim infallibility is a serious claim. When the Pope has clarified, on behalf of all the world’s Bishops and through the teaching authority of the Church, that abortion is always and everywhere wrong, he is saying “It is impossible for me to be wrong on this matter because this truth is revealed by God through the Apostles since the earliest days of the Church.” You may agree or disagree partially or fully, but all can certainly agree that to make such a claim of infallibility is a tremendously serious matter that should be evaluated with equal seriousness.

At this juncture one may think, “What is he leading up to? Why all this laying of groundwork to talk about science?” And those are excellent questions. I have laid this groundwork so as to make clear what the ally of Liberal Christianity– Secular Liberalism– is claiming. Liberal Christianity often uses the claims of its ally to bolster their own case.

They are claiming the infallibility of science. That science can not be in error and is a source of revealed truth.

Consider, if you will, the way a Catholic (like myself) would present an argument from authority on certain religious matters. “XYZ is true.” And you ask, “Why is that? How do you know” and I reply with firmness “Because the POPE says so.” It’s not a circular argument, I’m not proving what I assume. Rather, I’m simply assuming the Pope has the authority to make such claims. Arguments like this are a special type of “argument from authority” because I am claiming that this authority can never, under any circumstances be wrong. An argument from Scripture works the same way, especially among those that describe themselves as Bible Believing Christians. “XYZ is true” “Why is that” “Because SCRIPTURE says so.”

But, whereas Scripture is written, the Pope is a man. What is written in Scripture will stay written in Scripture and won’t be changing anytime ever. The Pope can speak anew. And once he clarifies what is in Sacred Tradition, it can’t be un-clarified.

Now consider how the Liberal Christian and the Secular Liberal attacks with a similar argument from authority. “XYZ is true” “Why is that?” “Because SCIENCE says so. There is a SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS.”

That is an astounding claim. When the Catholic Church holds an ecumenical council (which, when it chooses to be infallible, is also infallible) it must at least take an actual vote of all the Bishops in attendance. And those Bishops (rather you agree or not) are at least claiming to have a special ability by virtue of their ordination as Bishops to teach on matters of faith and morals. I know of no scientist that claims holding a Ph.D provides a special grace endowed by God to avoid error when teaching.

Yet, taken as a collective, SCIENCE is invoked as if it is infallible. And even more astonishingly, a field that has nothing to do with faith and morals claims infallibility of matters of faith and morals. The Pope’s claim is at least understandable (in that it makes sense that a Pope might claim such authority in matters of faith and morals, but not in geography or math). But what claim does science have over faith and morals? How can a field unrelated to faith and morals possess expertise, infallible expertise, on those matters? It strains logic and reason past the breaking point.

Let’s be clear here. The Liberal Christians and Secular Liberals are claiming a greater level of infallibility than the Pope. Whereas the Pope may speak anew only on matters of faith and morals, Science is claiming the ability to speak anew on all matters of all sorts, unrestricted by expertise or competence in the area.

Even the Catholic claims of infallibility are tempered and restrained. They are restrained by Scripture (and can not be contrary to Scripture), they are restrained by Sacred Tradition, they are restrained by Ecumenical Councils, and they are restrained by the many Bishops. But the Liberal Christians and Secular Liberals are claiming absolutely unrestrained infallibility in the name of Science. Whereas the Catholic teachings are bound by previous teachings, the Liberal Christians and Secular Liberals are free to overturn any of their previous teachings at any time in favor of new teachings. How? Science.

Why is abortion acceptable? Science. Why can Scripture be ignored? Science. Why don’t miracles happen? Science says so. Even though data doesn’t exist, how do we know the globe is warming? Science. How is the globe warming and cooling at the same time? Science. How is contradictory evidence for the same thing always proof of the pre-determined conclusion? Science. Why is it wrong to proselytize? Science. Why is morality whatever we want it to be? Science.

When we consider this matter carefully, we even see who the targets of this attack are. The targets are anyone who makes truth claims that aren’t based on Holy Science. Orthodox Christianity? Unacceptable. Liberal Christianity where everything is just a metaphor and Holy Science is allowed to be the final source of all truth? Acceptable. Philosophy? Stupid and ignorant, unless it places Science first. Political conservativism that allows people to worship something other than science? Trash, ignorant people that ignore science. Secular Liberal politics? Scientifically acceptable, since science is placed first.

Consider some of the most common criticisms of Orthodox Christianity in general. “They are anti-Science.” And what was a common criticism against Bush? “He was anti-Science.” Catholicism- “They are against abortion, and thus against science. They even persecuted a scientist!” Those that make moral claims about homosexuality? “Science disagrees.” When a serious reply is pressed on these matters what are some of the common replies? “You are just a flat earther” “You probably think the earth is the center of the solar system” “What next, demons cause sickness instead of germs?” Even in the face of a challenge to their premise, they simply return and reassert the premise louder and add more ridicule.

And if you continue to dare challenge Holy Science, you are promptly informed “Well, you aren’t a scientist” (often by a non-Scientist). Unless you are repeating the claims of scientists, you aren’t even allowed to have an opinion on a matter that Scientists have decided the truth on. Non-adherents are not permitted to question the truth, adherants are not permitted to question the truth. The truth is unchanging, until Scientists change it, and then the new truth remains unquestionable.

Notice the constant appeal– to Holy Science. And what is the insult– “You are ignorant of science!” Why science? because science is more infallible than the Pope.

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0 thoughts on “Guest post: Is science more infallible than the Pope?”

  1. They are claiming the infallibility of science. That science can not be in error and is a source of revealed truth.

    Perhaps you could provide some examples of people making such claims?

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  2. “Yet, taken as a collective, SCIENCE is invoked as if it is infallible. And even more astonishingly, a field that has nothing to do with faith and morals claims infallibility of matters of faith and morals”

    I think the solution to this is to know more about the science and to show where moral prescriptions are being introduced from a bare state of affairs.

    I think the problem is that they think our moral arguments are based on premises that the progress of science has falsified. For example – they think that opposition to abortion is based on belief in God. Darwin disproved God (they say) so therefore the progress science has disproved opposition to abortion. They think that our stances are all faith-based. And now that atheism has been shown to be true by the progress of science, all faith-based opposition is unwarranted.

    The solution is to show that:

    1) Faith is supported by arguments from science, such as the big bang creation, cosmic fine-tuning, origin of life, Cambrian explosion and habitability. Therefore, it is not to be ruled out of court a priori.

    2) That our positions on moral issues have appeal because arguments can be made that do not invoke religion, but instead are based on facts and shared moral intuitions.

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    1. 1) Science makes no claims about faith and morals.
      2) No scientist says that Darwin “disproved” God. He merely researched the lineage of animals, and proposed a theory of evolution.
      3) Science has not showed atheism to be true – nobody says that. Science has just given us alternative ideas about how we came to be, and through time, evidence has shown those ideas to be increasingly probable.
      4) The Big Bang does not support “faith”
      5) The Cambrian explosion took 70 million years, and the events that happened are completely consistent with our current knowledge of evolutionary and geological history.

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      1. 4) The Big Bang does not support “faith”

        That’s not a very scientific opinion.

        Thank you for illustrating my point to show how science is abused to reach theological conclusions.

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      2. What’s not scientific is to say that the big bang supports “faith”. A theory does not support anything, nor should it. Evidence (such as an expanding universe and residual radiation) support the big bang.

        Thank you for illustrating my point to show how science is abused to reach theological conclusions.

        It most certainly is abused.

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      3. The Big Bang is literally the death knell of atheism. Once you conjoin the creation of all time, matter, energy and space with the fine-tuning for life and habitability, it’s over. This is not even to bring in the origin of life and Cambrian, which make it beyond all reasonable doubt.

        Kalam cosmological argument

        Fine-tuning of cosmological constants

        Galactic, stellar and planetary fine-tuning

        Origin of the building blocks in the simplest replicating cell

        Origin of biological information in the simplest replicating cell

        Sudden origins of all major body plans in the 3-5 million year Cambrian explosion(Stephen C. Meyer, Jonathan Wells)

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      4. I’m perfectly comfortable admitting that there are elusive explanations for some things, but this is just an oddity in an extremely well tested theory. There are numerous good explanations for the “explosion” of life in that period. This paper is actually really interesting, and got a good review by the “militant atheist” PZ Myers. It has some really interesting ideas about the changes during the Cambrian Era, but does not prove evolution wrong by a long shot.

        Is it your view that finding one problem in a theory somehow proves an alternate theory? Have you examined the problems with your theory?

        The problems you point out with the big bang exist with the God hypothesis as well.

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  3. Liberal Christians and secular humanists who use science as a kind of Pope are misleading themselves as well as their audience. Science is always contingent on the observations available and its conclusions may change with new observations. There are many scientists who are Bible believing Christians and many frauds among scientists. Science does not have a persona – it is merely a method of examining phenomena. Predicting the future and explaining the past do not take well to the scientific method, but in the field of current observation it has its merits.

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  4. I don’t expect everyone to understand the scientific process, but for someone who presumes to be a master of logic and reason, your bastardization of science and the views of scientists is unacceptable.

    Science, given that its only goal is increased knowledge, could be used to show anything, given evidence. Since there is little evidence for much of what you believe, you reject science.

    Science never claims to be infallible. In fact, proving fallibility in any scientific theory is the whole idea of science.

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    1. You may find rereading my post helpful, especially paying attention to the subjects. Secular Atheists/Secular Liberals =/= Scientists.

      Rarely are scientists the ones making the claims I discuss. I am discussing persons of a specific ideology, that I explicitly identify repeatedly

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      1. I am discussing persons of a specific ideology, that I explicitly identify repeatedly.

        You don’t identify them at all. You provide no instances of this at all, cite no specific individuals and didn’t provide any examples when I asked in the first comment. So perhaps you’d do us all the favour of providing some now?

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      2. I fail to see how that will help when you don’t identify anybody specifically at all. A couple of references – books, lectures, papers, articles – would do. If the view is so prevalent, why wouldn’t you want to provide such references?

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      3. I’ve reread the post several times now, and nowhere do you give any explicit examples of any “Liberal Christians” making these specific claims. I realise that this is a piece of rhetoric rather than a philosophical argument, but even rhetoric needs some substance.

        So I’ll ask again – in order that we might educate ourselves, could you please provide some links to people actually making the claims that you here assert they make.

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    2. He’s not rejecting science Ryan, just putting it in its proper place in the Vatican’s toolbox. As yet another source of “revealed truth” he can conveniently slot it into the hierachy of such truths. Notice he doesn’t discount evolution, just as long as God, Scripture and the Pope are still ok with it.

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      1. I just don’t think he has any basis to bring up science at all, given the unscientific things on which his faith is based. If miracles happen, then science is false. There’s no way around that.

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      2. “If miracles happen, then science is false. There’s no way around that.”

        Really? No way around that? At all?

        So the very existence of science disproves miracles?

        Thank you, again, for making my point for me.

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      3. My point is that if you believe God can make a stone statue cry blood, then what is the point of science? Science depends on things being repeatable and testable. Miracles necessarily throw a wrench into this idea.

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      4. That’s a good question.

        When we consider the incredible role Christians, especially clergy, have played in science through the centuries, maybe they perceived something you did not?

        Is it possible you’ve painted a false dichotomy?

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  5. Ryan, I agree that the pure forms of science promoted to the average Joe are unlikely to produce claims of infallibility. The scientific method errs on the side of caution to reasonable and justifiable extent and each new scientific finding is only considered true until something else is found to disprove the formerly held truth.

    However, the practical application of science in our society and culture very much presents at least a claim of infallibility.

    Regardless of your or my beliefs on the matter, consider the entirety of the Global Warming idea. In media and pop-culture Global Warming is presented as fact beyond contradiction. Wouldn’t that be the same as a claim of infallibility?

    The ego of the scientist, as the ego of any other person on earth, yearns for significance and meaning, and the construct of science tends to bend the ego of the scientist towards the goal of developing “The Theory”. The idea that cannot be countermanded, disproved, or otherwise dethroned.

    In many cases, it is not even a beginning of science that creates the infallibility claim. Many people subscribing most vociferously to Global Warming as infallible science have no foundation in science and only recognize the vast potential of the idea of Global Warming to create strong rationalization for massive government seizure of private industry and property. In this case science is a stooge, a tool of those with ideas beyond those of the meterologist reading the rising temperatures.

    Either way, there are plenty of cases where, rightly or not, science makes an implied, inferred, or even a bald faced claim to infallibility.

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    1. I think you’re right about the general public viewing science as “claiming to be infallible”, but this is not the view (as you point out) in the science community. I think this has to do with how regular people view opinions. When you write a scientific paper, you never say you are absolutely certain of anything. You may have math that can determine accuracy to 99.999 percent, but you present it with those numbers. When the news of a new discover gets to the news organizations, what you are usually left with is words like “near certain”, and the public views that as somewhat infallible.

      You have good points on the general public’s views towards climate change.

      When it comes to things like global warming or climate change, the scientists studying it, despite what many people think, are pretty close to certain about the fact that it is occurring. One of the leading scientists in the world on this issue gets his coffee from the same cafe as me, and I’ve heard it from his mouth. The difference is that even though he is quite certain, new data would change his mind in an instant. That’s the essence of science. This is not true with the general public, most of whom will stick to their views.

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    2. I’m genuinely curious about this whole Global Warming denial issue. Are you guys denying that global warming is occuring, or are you denying that the causes of the warming are man made? Or both?

      As a keen mountaineer I have been following this issue very closely in relation to how approaches to and mountain routes themselves have been changed by the melting of both glacial and water-ice in the European Alps. Guidebooks for the region have had to be changed dramatically in recent years to accommodate the changes. Sections of climbs that were previously ice are now bare, crumbling granite or limestone, changing the nature of the climb completely.

      I see it happening in my world, even if you don’t see it in yours.

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      1. I think the term anthropogenic global warming, or AGW, refers to the man-made bit. Glaciers melting in Europe provide data that glaciers in Europe are melting. At the same time, glaciers in Iceland that are growing provide data that glaciers in Iceland are growing. I think that it is supremely difficult to project global temperatures based on computer models 100 years from now when the forecasters can’t get the facts right 2 weeks from now. The idea that we should sink trillions of dollars in capital expenditures to fix the world (when we don’t even know what is wrong with it) is ludicrous, especially when simply using DDT to kill mosquitos in Africa would save 2 million lives per year.

        I’m all for conservation. I’ve planted over 800,000 trees myself. The fact is that the global climate is the most complex system on the planet, and a computer model that pre-supposes the role of a trace gas in that climate is almost guaranteed to be wrong. I cite the average global temperature of 2008 as evidence (almost the coolest year on record).

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      2. Excellent points, Adam, and thanks for planting all those trees! AGW proponents present a typical false dichotomy fallacy used by so many politicians: Go with our plan of unlimited, permanent control or you hate the environment.

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  6. I believe, Racing Boo, that the real debate is over the causes of warming. When someone dumps on the idea of Global Warming, they are generally speaking against the AlGore “man-made” causes. Most people understand the earth warms and cools in cycles, with natural causes, such as sun spot activity being the actual suspects and man having only a tiny percent of the blame, if any at all.

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    1. His characterization of William Jennings Bryan was off, but what’s new? http://tinyurl.com/yhaqv8b Even people on the side of truth don’t realize how much society has been influenced by the reprehensible and dishonest movie “Intherit the Wind,” which had one premeditated lie after another designed to put Christians in the worst possible light and to make the atheists appear to be the nice, reasoned people. The movie makers “forgot” to note how much social Darwinism influenced eugenics. http://4simpsons.wordpress.com/2009/04/16/lights-camera-blasphemy/

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    2. In place of Genesis we now have scientism-the idea that science alone can speak truth about man and his world.

      That is a common but fallacious view. They can’t use science to prove that we can only use science to understand man and his world. They can’t go 10 minutes without relying on other forms of evidence (historical, testimony of others). They just use scientism to live out Romans 1.

      Like

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