Tag Archives: John Lennox

Science, religion and respect for meaning

Religious apologists seem to be obsessed with the relationship between religion and science. Not so much for scientists who generally just want to get on with their job of understanding reality and helping humanity make use of the resulting knowledge.

But in retirement I have had more opportunity to come across the argument’s used by apologists to explain away the differences between scientific and religious knowledge, or to deny scientific knowledge. The overwhelming impression I have is one of bafflegab, mental gymnastics, strawmannery and jelly wrestling. Certainly not honesty.

One thing that gets up my nose is the lack of respect for language, for the meaning of words. Particularly important words like “truth” and “knowledge.” An example is this comment in a review of  apologist John Lennox‘s new book at Christian News (see Can Science, Creationism Coexist? One Christian Author Says Yes):

“In his recently published book, Seven Days that Divide the World, Lennox sets out to prove that Christians can believe in the theories of science and maintain the truth of Scripture.”

These people use the word “truth,” or very often “Truth,” to describe a collection of bronze age myths, parables and mysticism!  As for science – well that’s only “theory” – and you know what meaning they usually give to that word. No, not the scientific understanding of theory as “a set of facts, propositions, or principles analysed in their relation to one another and used, especially in science, to explain phenomena.” No, more the vague popular use of “theory” as “an idea of or belief about something arrived at through speculation or conjecture.”

This always strikes me as the height of arrogance – an arrogance that often leads to problems. One has only to think of Galileo’s treatment because his persecuters thought he was daring to question the “Truth” of scripture.

Not that scientists usually use the word “truth”, and especially not “Truth” to describe scientific knowledge. We are well aware of the provisional, but progressive, nature of scientific knowledge. Always amenable to improvement and change as it is checked against reality.

Scientific knowledge is relative  – not absolute, not “Truth”, but it’s the best we have. If science cannot give us specific knowledge about reality one can be sure no other method can.

That’s the other thing that get’s up my nose. The arrogance of some apologists who will seriously suggest they have higher standards. Because while scientific knowledge is amenable to change and improvement religious knowledge is not. It is the “Truth.”

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This is a word I had never heard before – but instantly understood its meaning, and usefulness, when I did come across it. It leapt off the page while reading Steven Pinker’s book  How the Mind Works. Talking about  religious food taboos  Pinker describes the ingenious justifications rabbis offer for Jewish dietary laws. He refers to elders cloaking them “in talmudic sophistry and bafflegab.”

I had been looking for a word to describe the gobbledegook that aggressive religious apologists often come out with to justify their claims. Some of these religious spokespersons seem to have training in philosophy, logic, debating and presentation and put these all to use in justifying the unjustifiable. Plenty of form but horrible content.

Anyone following the religion vs science debates will be familiar with the justifications of Alister McGrath (usually preceded by “I would argue that ..”) and John Lennox (especially in ustifying his belief in miracles). I don’t know whether their fellow religious thinkers can understand and agree with these justifications but they certainly cause my eyes to glaze over.

It’s all bafflegab to me. Continue reading