The Danger of Knowledge Without Character

Knowledge without character is dangerous. Here are a few examples:

  1. “One of the weaknesses of the scientific method is it assumes the integrity of all participants involved” (John Grant, Corrupted Science). When scientists lie, science fails. See Grant for numerous examples.
  2. Hitler had a college education.
  3. Dr. Mengele was highly educated and committed intelligent abominations.
  4. Young men joining ISIS have college degrees from Western universities.
  5. Osama bin Laden had a bookshelf full of books.

Science Matters: A Review

Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy by Hazen and Trefil is an excellent one-volume overview of science. I will summarize the strengths and weaknesses and then elaborate each point further.

Strengths
Science Matters claims that:
1) Science rests on a foundation of philosophical assumptions.
2) The Second Law of Thermodynamics is bad news.
3) The Cosmos and living things are full of wonder and beauty.

Weaknesses
Science Matters:
4) Presents inconsistent statements about evolution.
5) Adopts the error of Immanuel Kant.
6) Propagates a popular misunderstanding about the Scope’s Monkey Trial.

Explanation

1) Hazen and Trefil (to whom I will refer as H&T throughout) wisely point out where science touches philosophy. Science is only possible if three philosophical assumptions are true:

A) Nature is uniform.
B) The human mind is orderly and can know the world.
C) There are such things as natural laws.

They also add an additional point D), that all phenomena can be explained by natural causes, but that is an assumption of materialist philosophy, one not necessary for science. Isaac Newton believed A-C, but would have rejected D: he was not only one of the most brilliant scientific minds who ever lived, but also a supernaturalist philosopher and Christian. We live in an extremely interesting time in history. Christians and modernist atheists hold A-C in common, but some postmodern atheists deny the ability of the human mind to know anything, which renders science impossible. Christians and modernist atheists have to team up to defend science against the philosophical attacks of postmodern atheists.

2) The Second Law of Thermodynamics is really bad news. H&T point out that increasing disorder in the universe leads to a “gloomy” view of the universe. This is true, and I wish more materialist philosophers would take the Second Law more seriously. Consider the following:

If,
A) The universe is a closed system, and
B) The Second Law of Thermodynamics is true,
Then
C) Entropy will destroy everything, including the greatest human achievements;
Therefore,
D) Work is ultimately meaningless.

The Second Law is really bad news if the universe is a closed system. If work has meaning, the universe can’t be a closed system. Christianity comes along and says, “Yes, that’s why Paul connects the resurrection of Jesus at the beginning of 1 Corinthians 15 to work at the end of 1 Corinthians 15.” The resurrection is true; so work hard for the Lord, knowing your labor is not in vain. In the Gospels, Jesus says to dead Lazarus, “Lazarus, come out,” and Lazarus obeys. Christ’s authoritative word has the power to undo entropy. He is Lord of the Cosmos, and the Cosmos obeys.

3) From cosmic cataclysms to the complex inner workings of the cell, H&T are incredibly enjoyable to read.

4) Unfortunately, H&T present inconsistent statements about evolution. In the beginning of the book, H&T insist the fossil record is incredible evidence for evolution. Later in the book, H&T say that the fossil record is weak since there are so few finds and since one or a few bones are extrapolated to make a whole animal. Which is it, strong or weak?

5) H&T unfortunately buy into the error of Immanuel Kant, namely that of separating religion and reason. I hope to write a post about it someday. American and European cultures do not fully understand and have not repaired the damage that Kant has done to our thinking, and therefore to our lives.

6) Also unfortunately, H&T propagate a common misunderstanding about the conflict of creationism and evolutionism in America. They mention “legal battles,” undoubtedly a reference to the Scope’s Monkey Trial. The typical secular narrative about the Scope’s Monkey Trial (maybe you remember a guy named William Jennings Bryan from your U.S. history class) is that the Christians were the dumb, uneducated bad guys, and the evolutionists were the intelligent, educated good guys, but this narrative ignores a crucial fact: the textbook in question (Hunter’s A Civic Biology) had an argument for eugenics. Christians were absolutely right to oppose eugenics and its being taught in public schools. Modern secularists are embarrassed by the pro-eugenic views of older secularists and have done a face-lift on history to ignore the unpleasantries. (Darwin too wrote an argument for eugenics in The Descent of Man.) H&T propagate the view that the secularists were the good guys, when the reality was much more dirty. The secularists in the Scope’s Monkey Trial were arguing for something evil in the name of science.

Overall, a solid introduction to science as a whole and enjoyable to read.

Review: Democracy in America

Americans boast in democracy, but we are unaware of the ways it has biased and prejudiced our thinking in negative ways. Enter de Tocqueville, the Frenchmen who visited the United States in the 1830s. His reflections contained in Democracy in America give Americans a fresh, piercing perspective about our way of life. The benefits of democracy are obvious, but the dangers are subtle and often work themselves out over many years. De Tocqueville was something of a seer. By looking at the seed of equality, he was able to see the fruits, good and bad, that would develop even hundreds of years later.

What are the dangers of democracy today?

  • The tyranny of the majority. Many people are unaware that America is a democratic republic and not a pure democracy. In other words, a government should pass and enforce just laws. When the majority passes unjust laws and enforces them through a powerful government, like in the French Revolution, the result is ugly: carnage, death, and the debasement of people. Hobbes says, “Man has a right to everything, including [to harm] another person’s body.” Against Hobbes, de Tocqueville says, “I hold it to be an impious and detestable maxim, that, politically speaking, the people have a right to do anything…The rights of every people [ought to be] confined within the limits of what is just.”
  • Choosing comfort over freedom. Since the government is so powerful, Americans will increasingly rely on government to make them happy. But we need to learn the lesson of Greece quickly: while a government can protect everyone’s right to pursue happiness, it cannot make everyone happy. Notice I said cannot, and not should not. A government can try to make everyone happy, but it will always fail. Since human desires are so great, a government, like Greece, that tries to do the impossible—to make everyone happy—will bankrupt itself. A government should enforce justice equally. A government should not artificially enforce equal outcomes.
  • Self as epistemological authority. De Tocqueville wisely points out that every epistemology has an authority. For example, modernists and Enlightenment thinkers choose Reason (capital R) as the authority. Protestants choose God speaking through the Bible as the authority. Catholics choose the Roman Catholic Church as the authority. Americans choose Self as the epistemological authority. This results in narcissism, disrespect for all authority, subjectivity, sometimes a denial of reality, and an antisupernaturalistic bias. Remember Skully from the X-files? She was an unknowing disciple of Descartes—de Tocqueville might have been talking about her: “Americans readily conclude that everything in the world may be explained and that nothing in it transcends the limits of the understanding. Thus they fall to denying what they cannot comprehend; which leaves them but little faith for whatever is extraordinary, and an almost insurmountable distaste for whatever is supernatural.”
  • Pride. In aristocratic ages, pride expresses itself as the desire to be everyone’s superior. In democratic ages, pride expresses itself as the desire to be no one’s inferior.
  • Uniformity of thought. “I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America…In America, the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion: within these barriers, an author may write what he pleases; but woe to him if he goes beyond them.”
  • An interest in science not as something true and beautiful and good, but as something useful. When we feel justified murdering children with advanced technology and hiding people in freezers (because science), we know scientific research got off track somewhere. We go off track, because like Nazi Germany, we encourage scientists to pursue what is possible and useful instead of what is true, good, and beautiful.

Here is De Tocqueville’s overall warning: “It is therefore most especially in the present democratic times, that the true friends of the liberty…ought constantly to be on the alert, to prevent the power of government from lightly sacrificing the private rights of individuals to the general execution of its designs.”