Squaring the Culture

"...and I will make justice the plumb line, and righteousness the level;
then hail will sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters will overflow the secret place."
Isaiah 28:17

02/12/2009 (3:54 pm)

Newton Day in America

Feb 12 used to be celebrated in America as Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, but that’s become passé. In its place, some schools and communities have designated Feb 12 as, in their description, “a global celebration of science and reason.” Amen, say I; science is a good thing, and reason a better one. I’m a Christian; to me, both science and reason reflect the glory of God, and I have a personal commitment to improve my grasp of both.

So, encouraged by the sentiment and recognizing the positive impact science has made on Western civilization, I drew on my knowledge of science history and selected a few of the true founders of Western science whom we really should celebrate.

Nicolaus Copernicus was probably the earliest of the scientists I selected, being the author of the heliocentric theory of the solar system — the first notion that the earth was not, in fact, at the center of the universe. I suppose I could have mentioned early, influential Western logicians, like St. Augustine (4th century) who was probably first to develop an objective point of view outside of himself, or Thomas Aquinas (13th century) who is widely regarded as the father of modern philosophy, but since logic and philosophy are not so uniquely Western as science, I’ll let it pass.

The real giant of modern Western science, in my mind, is Sir Isaac Newton, whose articulation of the laws of gravitation and motion, and subsequent derivation of Kepler’s laws of planetary motion from those laws, demonstrated that the heavens and the earth all obeyed the same physical laws. While we’re celebrating his contribution, though, we should probably remember Kepler who went before him, and also Galileo Galilei, whose painstaking observation Stephen Hawking believes contributed more to the creation of the modern, natural sciences than anybody else.

So, why are we not celebrating Newton Day, Galileo Day, Kepler Day, Copernicus Day, or Augustine Day?

It’s because the day we’re being told to celebrate is actually a religious observance by a non-theistic religion, and what they’re celebrating is neither science nor reason. What they’re celebrating, in fact, is what they perceive as a victory over other religions, and the event that finally allowed them to get the upper hand in a cultural battle in which they had formerly been regarded (correctly, in my view) as backwards, irrational, untrustworthy, and fighting against the preponderance of rational thought. That event was the publication of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin.

Darwin, as a scientist, is problematic. There’s no question that he began a branch of inquiry into which a great deal of research has been committed since the publication of his seminal work in 1859. There’s likewise no question that his work was considered a landmark in biology and philosophy. However, I think it was microbiologist Michael Behe, in his book Darwin’s Black Box, who observed that while most biology textbooks name Darwin’s work as the very basis of modern biology, in actual fact after naming Darwin the rest of the topics in those textbooks contain nothing that relies on Darwin’s work in any meaningful way. (Sadly, my copy of Darwin’s Black Box is in Pittsburgh, 650 miles away, so I cannot verify the quotation.) Behe’s own field of microbiology is more the result of improved microscopy, and these days draws most heavily on fields like electrical and mechanical engineering to describe what they’re finding inside the cell, and on the pioneering work of Crick and Watson regarding DNA, than it is the result of anything Darwin wrote. More often, Darwin gets used outside the narrow field of evolutionary biology when science popularizers take the painstaking findings of laboratory technicians and apply Darwinian notions to them, using high-flown phrases to speculate about what sorts of forces caused this immensely complex system to evolve.

Back in June of 2008, I posted Prof. John West’s slide show from last year’s Darwin Day celebration, showing the clear link between Darwin’s Descent of Man and all subsequent implementations of Eugenics as a science, up to and including Hitler’s Master Race policies, and even beyond that to modern declarations of the meaninglessness and worthlessness of Man as a species. Darwin’s work, unfortunately, was the foundation of more than just a branch of inquiry; it may be regarded as the source from which sprang some of the most dehumanizing acts in history.

However, it is Darwin that makes it possible for atheists to claim the imprimatur of the god named Science, and calling on that god, they anoint themselves the High Priests of Reason. Thus, they not only bypass the true founding giants of Western science (nearly all of whom were devout and practicing theists, by the bye,) but they shuffle the more embarrassing applications of Darwin’s work under the carpet, and express genuine outrage, even contempt, if one dares to bring them up.

This is why the organizations sponsoring Darwin Day events are not the local science geeks that do clever science fair projects for the American Junior Academy of Sciences, nor major scientific research laboratories, but rather organizations like the American Humanist Association (which hosts the Darwin Day Celebration web site) and the Stanford Humanists (who, along with the Humanist Community, held the first Darwin Day celebration in 1995.) And this is why they celebrate the problematic Darwin, and not the inarguably great Newton, Galileo, or Copernicus.

One dead giveaway is that their mission statement commits them to celebrating “Science and Humanity.” While I object to neither science nor humanity, the formulation that celebrates this pair is not science, but a particular dogmatic philosophy that likes to call itself “science,” appropriating a term that means something else to mask their clearly religious orientation. They claim that science and reason have lifted humanity from the degradation of ignorance and religion (a redundant phrase in their view) and enabled them to make of themselves whatever they choose. They insist that they’re not religious because they don’t believe in a god of any kind, but “theism” is not a useful definition of religion: there are major, recognized world religions that contain both many gods (Hinduism, Shintoism, Buddhism) and no gods (Confucianism and Taoism.) A better definition of religion would be “a dogmatic set of cohesive ideas purporting to explain the nature and purpose of the universe, and from that to derive how Man should live.” By that robust definition, Humanism is clearly a religion, as are versions of Strong Atheism (the positive belief that there is no god or gods, as opposed to weak atheism, which just ignores the god question altogether) and many major philosophical schools, like Rationalism, Existentialism, Nihilism, etc.

Now, I have no objection to Humanists declaring a holiday to celebrate their religion. I encourage it, in fact; a lot of issues would become clearer if these folks would drop their disingenuous obfuscations and acknowledge that they really are as much a religion as the Christianity they despise. It would become immediately apparent, for example, that it’s impossible to formulate a theory of education without some recourse to religion, and dispel that utter, intellectually dishonest horse hockey that the “separation of church and state” requires that secularism become the default philosophy of public schools. By all means, let them celebrate.

However, I’ll be damned if I’m going to celebrate their religion with them. I’m a Christian. I regard their religion as one of the world’s major sources of violence and dehumanization. And I’ll be damned even deeper in hell if I stand by idly while they foist their religious nonsense on public schools in the name of “science.”

Newton Day. I don’t know if it’s a good replacement for Lincoln’s Birthday, but it’s not a bad idea. Augustine Day. All Scientists Day. Heck, yeah, I’m all for it. But not Darwin Day. Darwin was a smart man, but there are far better scientists to recognize, and let’s speak the truth plainly: the people who claim that Darwin Day is a celebration of science, and not a celebration of the philosophy of Scientific Materialism or the religion of Humanism, are lying through their damned teeth.

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