|Science and Society|
By Dan Vis
November 05, 2018
This week I have something a little different for you--a reflection on the twisted relationship between science and society and it's implications for believers. There's even a few thoughts on politics--just in time for tomorrow's election! :)
This weekend I had an opportunity to preach in one of the area churches near where I live and I decided to talk about a topic that has interested me for years. You see, when I was in graduate school I did a fair bit of research into the history of science--in fact, at one point I had decided to get my PhD in this somewhat specialized field. What drew me was the fascinating interplay between science and society, and how that impacted Christianity.
It wasn't just those theories that seem to directly contradict the Bible, like evolution. That has been debunked by believers for decades, and is increasingly coming under attack by non-believers as an indefensible hypothesis. More on that another time.
What caught my attention instead, was how scientific theories tended to shape culture in ways that were completely unwarranted: that were neither logical nor scientific. Few seemed to notice the pattern, and yet thousands, millions actually, have been drawn away from the Gospel over the centuries by these subtle influences.
So I decided to expose them. In my sermon, I gave four examples:
Isaac Newton was a 17th century mathemtician and physicist who developed a remarkably simple formula to describe gravity that was able to successfully account for a wide range of astronomical and terrestrial phenomenon. His book, the Principia Mathematica was such a masterpiece, many historians consider it the starting point of modern science.
But it had an unintended consequence, Newton never expected. It led to a kind of hyper rationalism in his day, that led many to conclude science could solve all the problems of humanity. The entire universe was perceived as mathematical--like a giant complex clock, constructed by a master clockmaker. It led to a period known today as the Enlightenment. And the effort to solve all problems through human reason became know as social humanism.
The problem is, not everything can be reduced to mathematics, and not every problem can be solved by science. Technology is powerful indeed, but it certainly hasn't solved all our problems today. There is still poverty, addiction, depression, injustice and more.
The point is, taking what Newton did with gravity and superimposing it upon society at large, didn't really work. Mathematics may describe gravity exceptionally well, but that's hardly a guarantee every problem can be boiled down to numbers.
The 1800's was marked by another massively impactful scientific theory. A young biologist by the name of Charles Darwin speculated that the various species we know today came into existence through a process he called evolution. The inevitable survival of the fittest would cause certain traits in the gene pool to be passed down to the next generation. And over time, this process would result in entirely new features. Or so his theory went.
We know today, this theory is not supported by the basic laws of genetics. Each organism inherits a mixture of traits from their parents, and over time some traits can become more prominent. But no new traits are introduced. It's like drawing a hand from a deck of cards. You can draw a different hand each time, but you will never draw a card that's not already in the deck.
Regardless, what was primarily a biological theory soon had a huge impact on society. Social Darwinism was the belief the marketplace should be allowed to interact with no interference, allowing the survival of the fittest to rise to prosperity, and allowing the rest to die out. It promoted an unfettered capitalism.
It was a powerful driver for the industrial revolution, but it encouraged a harsh cut-throat economic jungle that resulted in dark times for the common worker. It left little room for compassion, altruism, or social services. And it took a major economic depression to correct some of those excesses.
Again, the point that strikes me is how a theory about biology came to influence views on economics, though logically there is little connection between the two disciplines. It was an irrational but powerful influence. Somehow science bled over into culture.
Perhaps the most influential scientist of the next century was Albert Einstein. He developed what has come to be known as the theory of relativity. It largely consisted of some innovative ideas about how light works in our universe.
Some of the implications were that the speed at which an object moves is not absolute, but relative to the speed and position of the viewer. Time and space were no longer fixed but expanded and imploded based on various factors like speed and mass. There was no absolute framework for measurement. Everything depended on perspective.
While Einstein was only attempting to explain various physical phenomenon, it wasn't long before his ideas percolated over into culture once again. This time, in the area of morality and ethics. The idea of an absolute right and wrong became replaced with the belief everything was situational, dependent on circumstances and perspective. And it led to decades of massive social upheaval.
Absolute truth was replaced with moral relativism, the idea right and wrong hinged on personal perspective and opinion only. Few questioned whether a physics theory about the speed of light should have the impact on ethics it did. The connection was illogical. But once again, the science strangely and imperceptibly permeated the thinking of multitudes.
If I were to identify the scientific theory that seems to be shaping our day, I'd have to go with the collective work of Neils Bohr and various other scientists who laid the foundation for modern quantum physics.
Quantum physics (also called Quantum Mechanics) is that really strange world of subatomic physics, where normal physical laws seem to break down. Google described it this way:
Quantum mechanics is the body of scientific laws that describe the wacky behavior of photons, electrons and the other particles that make up the universe.
Here are a couple examples to show how wacky it can be. Quantum entanglement is the strange phenomenon where two particles become linked in some way, so that any change in one particle results in an instantaneous change in the other--even if they are separated by vast distances. Yet no one can really explain just how they are connected.
Another strange phenomenon is called superposition, where particles can be shown to have two opposite states at the same time (top and down, positive and negative, clockwise and counterclockwise), and they only "collapse" down to one state or the other when observed. Again, no one quite knows what is happening.
Strange as they are, these points have been verified in countless experiments, and they are leading to all kinds of major technological developments in communication, cryptography, and computing to name just a few areas.
In many ways, this parallels what is happening in the world of politics today. We're seeing an endless barrage of strange, almost wacky headlines. Well established rules of civil discourse are breaking down. Our world is strangely entangled such that events in every distant corner of the globe instantly shows up in our newsfeed. Political parties are completely superimposed, having fully separate worldviews, all at the same time, but as soon as a person steps into one worldview or the other, everything collapses down so completely they see nothing but that which reinforces their own perspective.
The parallels between contemporary politics and quantum physics is pretty striking. And it's leading to bizarre headlines, a fully entangled globe, and severely myopic perspectives. This explains our current breakdown in communication and empathy, and it has created unfortunate dogmatism, anger, and vitriol.
But the connection between quantum physics and politics is no more rational, than the connection between the speed of light and moral relativism, biology and economics, gravity and social humanism. It's just one more example of how important scientific theories shape society. They seep into our thinking without us even realizing it. They affect our thinking subconsciously.
Now the problem is not really the science. Generally speaking, bad scientific theories only need one repeatable experiment to contradict them and they quickly fall into disrepute. Apart from evolution, which hangs on only because the alternative (creation) is inadmissible in the minds of many secular thinkers, each of these theories has led to powerful technological breakthroughs and developments.
The cultural influence of these theories, however, has proven much more problematic. And that's where we should be paying more attention!
Here's the pattern I note: In each of these cases, the scientific theories were hijacked, and used to lead society away from God! Newton's mathematical description of gravity resulted in a widespread shift from a personal God, to an absent, impersonal God. Darwin's theory about the origin of species led to a shift away from a creator God. Einstein's theory of relativity, led society away from an absolute God, and an absolute standard of right and wrong. And now the work of Neils Bohr and the rest are leading us away from a God of love, empathy, and understanding.
It's a powerful big picture, progression. It seems clear to me, the enemy is behind this. He's used every major scientific theory to steadily lead people further and further away from God!
And it's a huge challenge for us as believers, because reaching people requires us to understand their thinking. And society in general is being swept farther and farther away from the Gospel by these massive currents. It's time we learn to identify this pattern and seek new ways to reach a lost and dying world.
Perhaps this is what Paul referred to in his warning to Timothy:
I Timothy 6:20-2120 O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: 21 Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen.
O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith.
We need a personal God. Nothing else will satisfy the soul. We need a creator God. Our hearts must be fashioned anew. We need an absolute God. Our inner moral compass is broken. And we need a loving God that reaches through to us. There is nothing in us that naturally seek after God.
And we need to introduce this God to a world that has largely lost sight of Him...
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What do you think of the strange connection between science and society? Can you see the enemy's had at work? What can we do as believers to help call people back to a true knowledge of God?
|Posted by Dan Vis on 11/23/18||MEMBER|
Some good thoughts John. Darwin for example, initially studied to become a priest--but reacted strongly to the idea a loving God could torment people through eternity. Especially since his father and brother were known atheists! And his work perhaps helped us understand better how micro-evolution works in the world, helping species to better adapt to their environment. But like you said, sometimes a pendulum swings to far...
And I really liked your conclusion: the play and interplay of science, culture and religion are complex. But our knowledge of God and His truth can help us sort it all out. :)
|Posted by John Gilmore on 11/23/18||MEMBER|
Reading this, I'm reminded of pendulums and ditches. Too often we humans stray from the truth, swinging to one extreme or the other. Thinking of Newton's mathematics, on the good side, his work countered the misunderstanding of God as One who works capriciously. But as you said, some took the principles of reason way too far in the other direction.
Eistein worked in an age when mankind's understanding of the universe showed exponential increase. We are still learning. I see your point that relativity cannot fully fit into morality. Yet God, from His perspective of omniscience, judges based on what we know or don't know of His law (Acts 17:30And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:). I also appreciate that his theory may have helped to counter another extreme as we sometimes are myopically judgmental of others (Proverbs 21:2Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts.).
I suspect that the contributions of Darwin and Bohr similarly, if rightly understood, may counter some previously held errors, just as they provided supposed justification for other wanderings from truth. The effects of science on other parts of life are certainly complex. Similarly, to the degree that we know God and His truth, that knowledge corrects our world view, finances, social interactions, and every other part of life.
|Posted by Dan Vis on 11/09/18||MEMBER|
|Glad you found this helpful Dinah. Having a correct concept of God is so vital! :)|
|Posted by Dinah Robles on 11/08/18||MEMBER|
|You're right! It is very subtle and many and many are falling into this trap. Thanks for this info, making us aware of the wiles of the enemy. May God help us through the Holy Spirit armed us with the sword of the Spirit just like what we are engaging in now.|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 11/06/18||MEMBER|
|So true Colleen . We don't want to over focus on what he does, but it is important to expose some of his strategies every once in a while! Looking forward to sharing part 2 next week. :)|
|Posted by Colleen Assavapisitkul on 11/06/18||MEMBER|
|Facinating article! Satan will use everything he can to draw people away from the truth.|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 11/06/18||MEMBER|
|Amen Valerie! I too can't wait for heaven and all the amazing lines of investigation we'll be able to pursue. Here, apart from God, we're far too prone to twist discoveries in ways that lead to misery and unhappiness. But there, every discover will lead only to blessing and still greater joy!|
|Posted by Valerie Wise Burrell on 11/06/18||MEMBER|
|Dan Vis, this post was so interesting. As a lover of science, I can only agree with all that you have said. Man seems to always be trying to be God without understanding the impossibility of that quest and tries to use science to do so. |
One of the exciting things I learned as a new believer is that true science only proves the existence of a loving, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent God. I look forward to studying science more in the new earth especially the science of salvation!
|Posted by Dan Vis on 11/05/18||MEMBER|
|Thanks Ann, Carole. We do need the Holy Spirit to guide our words, and we do need the Scriptures to guide our thoughts. Great points both!|
|Posted by Ann Lavenburg on 11/05/18||MEMBER|
|Yes indeed satan is very subtil. It is only as we depend on Christ every day that we can be “ kept” from making those mistakes in our witnessing. I can look back at times when I knew God put the correct thoughts AND words into my mouth at just the right time.|
|Posted by Carole Bliss on 11/05/18||MEMBER|
|Your message makes it clear the connection between science and God.|
They left out the Holy Scriptures and they reasoned using their minds and left their hearts and relationship with God put. The end result is emptyness and confusion.
|Posted by Dan Vis on 11/05/18||MEMBER|
The point I was making Susan, was not that capitalism is good or bad, but that the application of a biological theory (evolution) to economics in the early 1900's, was not entirely logical, and it led to some harsh consequences. Marx, took the same theory and explicitly argued for the "evolution" of a worker class--resulting in even more extreme consequences.
As for the proper role of government in the economy, my only point is that our view of what that role is should be rooted in something other than a failed biology theory.
The problem historically has been taking a scientific theory from one field and applying it carelessly, even unconsciously, to some other largely unrelated field. And even more important, that our tendency to do this has consistently over time led people away from God. That seems to be the real underlying strategy of the enemy. :)
|Posted by Susan on 11/05/18||MEMBER|
|This is a great analysis of where those ideas were distorted. Just one correction the problem is not capitalism but the problem is crony capitalism, look it up, that is exactly the system we have today which is very unfair.|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 11/05/18||MEMBER|
It's true Ann, there are some good people doing some good work combating the theory of evolution, and has been for some time. And historically Adventists have actually been at the forefront in defending creation.
But the point of this article was not these obvious "oppositions" of science, but rather the more subtle influences. I think it highlights how deceptive the enemy can be, and how easily people can be led astray without realizing it.
How important that we properly reflect the character of God, and show people a personal, creative, absolute and loving God. Seems like ultimately, that is what the enemy is working against...
|Posted by Ann Lavenburg on 11/05/18||MEMBER|
|The godless element in our society looks for any excuse to denigrate God and so many, although professing not to believe in a god, make the religion of evolution their god but call it science. I remember the very hostile reaction I got one time when I told a public school science teacher that evolution was just another religion. He made his distain for me very evident from that point on. Prayer is our best offensive and defensive weapon. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to convict and convince because "he who is convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." The Christian world has some great things going on with Ken Ham's Creation museum, the Ark Encounter and Answers in Genesis. I also subscribe to "Creation Moments" and get an email everyday and a scrambled scriptures word search every weekend. There are lots of Christians, particularly Christians scientists, out there who truly love God. The SDA church just isn't ready for them yet. We need to keep on praying and preparing to witness when ever and where ever God gives us the oportunity.|
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