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Monday, January 30, 2006
PIERRE LAPLACE did'nt do science any favors when he let Napoleon provoke him. After reading the French mathematician's opus on celestial mechanics -- the movements of planets -- the emperor asked him why the treatise made no mention of God. Laplace replied, in a huff, that he had no need of that hypothesis.

Ever since, science has been saddled with the canard that it arbitrarily and a priori rules out the existenceof deity. But those who attack science as anti-God are fighting a mirage, say secular and religious scholars.

"It is a serious error to arbitratily insert God or the supernatural mysteries" says Richard Colling, a biologist and life long Christian at the fundamentalist Oliver Nazarene University, Bourbonais, Illinois. "But it is just as unjustified to claim science excludes God". As Barbara Forrest, a philosopher of science at Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond, explains, "Science does'nt rule out anything a priori. Saying it does it false, and makes science look dogmatic."

Even to those who have never heard of Laplace, it's easy to get the idea that science startw with an atheistic, or at least agnostic, presumption. The quasigovernmental National Academy of Sciences says science "is limited to explaining the natural world through natural causes."The Natural Center for Science Education, a private group that defends the teaching of evolution, adds that science "cannot use supernatural causation in its explanations".

Although both definitions make it sound as though science rules out the supernatural from the get-go, what actually happens is that working scientists simply find that entertaining a supernatural explanation does'nt get them very far. In that sense, argues Thomas Clark, director of the Center for Naturalism, a nonprofit educational grpup in Somerville, Massachusetts, "Science doen't presume the natural-supernatural distinction; it generates it" by dividing what works from what doesnt'.

THE SUPERNATURAL is a dead end because science strives for testable explanation and predicitons: The sun will rise in the east because Earth spins west to east, not because "God wanted it that way". Because only the most arrogant would claim the ability to predict what He will do next, supernatural explanations fails as science. It isn't that they don't fit science's preconceptions, but that they don't get you anywhere in either deeper undersatinding or predictive power.

"What science is is settled methodically", says Prof. Forrest. "It's not that science rules out the supernatural as a precondition. But scientists want to apprehend the world, and there is no procedure for studying the supernatural. God is not a controlled variable."

Although science can consider any hypothesis, natural or supernatural, a scientist who entertained the possibility of the supernatural would quickly reach a dead end. Consider the hypothesis, "Angry gods make volcanoes erupt". It does'nt get you anywhere not positively (how do you know when God will be mad?) and not mechanically (how does the angry God make lava explode, out of the volcano?). Including unspecifiable processes does'nt advance understanding.

"Unless you specify the agent and its purposes and plans and characteristics, it's an explanatory dodge," says Mr. Clark. "Agents have to be described spefically enough to be verified".

THAT INCLUDES specifying when and how a supernatural agent intervenes in nature. If you want to credit the supernatural with designing human beings, for instance, you have to specify why it built in autoimmune diseases, spliced in repetitive breakage-prone DNA that causes awful diseases, and took away onr enzyme in the biochemical pathway that makes Vitamin C but left the rest to hang around uselessly. "Working in mysterious ways" falls short. A scientific explanation must account for why one thing happens and another does'nt.

If scientists do manage to tame the supernatural by specifying how it works and predicting wha tit will do next, the result may not be to the liking of those pushing for science to include God. The supernatural "will then generate reliable, predictive knowledge", notes Mr. Clark and become just another explicable, predictable force of nature, stripped of its awe and mystery.

Prof. Colling recommends another approach. Let science "explore the wonders of the natural world" he says. "God's existence does not require scientific evaluation".

(Source: Asia Edition/ Wall Street Jorunal/ Science Journal by: Sharon Begley or u can email her at sciencejournal@wsj.com)
posted by infraternam meam @ 10:09 PM  
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Name: infraternam meam
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About Me: I am now at the prime of my life and have been married for the past 25 years. Sickly at times, but wants to see the elixir vita, so that I will be able to see my grandchildren from my two boys.
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