Should Christians Trust Scientific Experts?

A critique of Biologos’ aim for deference to the majority scientific community while ignoring atheistic and anti-biblical assumptions in scientific studies

by Troy Lacey on June 15, 2021
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BioLogos has written a curriculum named “Integrate” and has been republishing articles on their website in support of and in defense of it. An article in this series asked the question, “Should Christians Trust Scientific Experts?”.1 It was thought provoking and had some good practical points but missed the mark widely in the area of worldviews and presuppositions. The author, Dr. Josh Reeves, also too readily accepts scientific consensus as a measure of reliability when it is well known that scientific consensus changes frequently in almost every field and that many of the greatest scientific achievements have been produced by the “mavericks” who did not accept the status quo.

Our twice-weekly news program Answers News has a “forget everything you thought you knew” news item on almost every show. If scientific consensus were a reliable measure of accuracy, then science wouldn’t be structured and constantly engaged in a running series of one-upmanship exchanges between scientists and scientific disciplines. The format of this article will mirror the sections in the BioLogos article and critique some of the points mentioned.

If scientific consensus were a reliable measure of accuracy, then science wouldn’t be structured and constantly engaged in a running series of one-upmanship exchanges between scientists and scientific disciplines.

Introductory Section

Leading with “most Christians evaluate the compatibility of evolution and Christian faith . . . ” the author is assuming that the two are compatible, when in fact they are not. Why not at least mention the opposing (and biblical) view of recent creation as detailed in Genesis 1–2 and mentioned several times throughout Scripture?2 In fact, it is the incompatibility of evolution with Scripture which causes many high school and college students to doubt the Bible and walk away from the Christian faith as detailed in the Already Gone and Already Compromised books.

Dr. Reeves paints a picture of Christians doubting the expertise or knowledge of scientific experts, and while there is merit to admonishing Christians to not dismiss scientific expertise out of hand and that prideful trust in one's own intelligence is not a proper Christian attitude, even here the author seems to over-reach. But that is usually not the issue, and it is certainly not the issue with Creation scientists in any given field. Rather it is the interpretation of the evidence by the experts. Creationists don’t doubt (for example) when a secular biologist has shown that multicellular yeast grow larger in non-oxygen or high-oxygen environments compared to those grown in low-oxygen environments. What we do doubt is that this lab example of artificial selection is proof of molecules-to-man evolution or that it explains “why so little apparent evolutionary innovation was happening in the world of multicellular organisms in the billion years after the Great Oxygenation Event,” as this study asserted. The scientists are taking an observational science data set and then attempting to explain the ramifications of that with historical science. In addition, they are assuming both deep time and biological evolution to be fact, and then using their data in support of that preconceived assumption.

Principle 1: We are not intellectually defenseless against experts.

Reeves gives sound advice but again does not go far enough. After putting to bed the bifurcation fallacy of only two choices being offered (trusting blindly or not trusting scientific experts), he shows that there is a better-reasoned third option: we should use our God-given reason to help make judgments about which experts to trust and to parse what aspects of their expertise to trust. Are they speaking strictly in terms of observation/operational science? If so, barring any information to the contrary, we can easily trust their measurements, data sets, and methodologies. It is when they then try to extrapolate that data back to historical science, based on their naturalistic and evolutionary worldview, that we then use our God-given reason to decide that we cannot trust their expertise in that particular area.

Principle 2: Expertise is a skill.

Dr. Reeves makes one good point here: that experts are able to apply their knowledge to solve problems. Then he flounders in the second paragraph of this section with his claim about “portraying all scientists as united in believing in a single, naturalistic worldview.” There are really only two worldviews when everything is boiled down to its basics. Either God supernaturally created everything, or everything came into being via naturalistic processes. Pigeonholing God into the creative spark for the big bang who then bows out for the rest of deep time history is not a third position: it is a thin theistic veneer on an otherwise completely atheistic/naturalistic framework. Furthermore it does nothing to “reconcile science and Scripture.” Instead, it mocks Scripture and naturalistic science mocks the need for such a weak and ultimately unnecessary deity.

Pigeonholing God into the creative spark for the Big Bang who bows out for the rest of deep time history is not a third position: it is a thin theistic veneer on an otherwise completely atheistic/naturalistic framework.

Principle 3: There are different types of expertise.

Reeves next gives a generally helpful discussion on the types of expertise: physical, conceptual, and spiritual. Physical skills are easy to visualize as we can readily conceive of someone who can lift heavy objects or throw a 100-mph fastball (and measure these quantities). Conceptual skills, the ability to apply one’s knowledge to solve problems, may be harder to quantitatively measure. Some are easier to judge competency: a good example would be a language decoder. Reeves’ definition of spiritual skills is “the ability to integrate information into a whole, to see the big picture”. A pastor or grief counselor might come to mind when thinking of actual “spiritual skills.” Reeves makes the valid point that although one “can learn conceptual skills through reading books or taking a class, physical and spiritual skills cannot be acquired in this way”.

Principle 4: Institutions are essential for seeking truth.

Gaining conceptual skills requires education, and honing those conceptual skills into spiritual skills requires experience and peer or mentor interaction. He uses the example that one becomes a physicist not just by knowing formulae but by “learning how to identify forces, masses, and accelerations in a number of different contexts.” Reeves correctly points out that many people accept beliefs for bad reasons, accept too many answers that fit biases, and accept easy answers when they should keep seeking to expand their knowledge. Then Reeves acknowledges that the same sin can infect institutions.

Dr. Reeves states that colleges and universities are organizations that allow scientific inquiry to proceed in a systematic and orderly manner (which by the way is because God is a God of order, who created an orderly universe: Jeremiah 31:35; 1 Corinthians 14:33). But he then makes the assertion that he believes “institutions are essential for finding truths because they allow a place for the evaluation of competing views.”

Unfortunately though, except for a handful of Creation Colleges, institutions do not allow for competing views but teach everything through a lens of naturalism, evolution, and humanism. Any dissent from these three tenets is almost immediately squashed. And given the current state of affairs, you have to add the consequences of those three tenets into another set of “inalienable laws” taught on most college campuses: many sexual, gender, and social issues that are completely at odds with biblical principles. Is there freedom to “evaluate the competing views” on these issues at college campuses? No, there is not. In fact in many countries, including most Western ones, you can be arrested for even expressing your belief that there are only two genders, that marriage is between one man and one woman for life, or that any sexual activity outside of marriage is a sin.

Reeves then states that “scientific institutions allow theories to compete with each other using norms that govern the process before a jury of scientific peers” and that “they remain our best tool for discovering truths about the natural world”. Considering peer review in this idealistic manner is naïve and myopic. Much of peer review in secular journals is done to further the status quo of evolutionary naturalism and is stifling to any other paradigm. Even journals on sexuality have seen a stifling of anything referring to transgender in a negative light, and this coming from scientists who are evolutionary biologists, physicians, and neuroscientists.

And as far as institutions being tools for discovering truths about the natural world, we would have to ask what “truths” Reeves is talking about. Perhaps he means that man is the product of naturalistic processes (basically evolved pond scum) and that human life is an arguably happy accident that can be snuffed out, particularly in early and late stages, for the benefit of some without compunction. Maybe he wouldn’t agree with the radical atheist conclusions that belief in God is a mental illness or a sign of delusion, but would Dr. Reeves be surprised to know that if you decide to tackle the subject of religion and mental health favorably in a peer-reviewed psychiatric journal, it will likely be retracted?

Principle 5: There are limits to scientific expertise.

In this section, Reeves acknowledges that sometimes our culture often attributes too much authority to scientists. But Reeves here also fails to see the importance of worldview in certain areas. While mentioning that there are many areas where scientists are able to skillfully manipulate and measure the world, he claims those abilities “are not affected by holding to a particular religious viewpoint.” But when does a scientist stop at measuring things in reality? Does an anthropologist who finds a set of bones belonging to what he considers a hominid merely write up a paper detailing the length of the mandible, femur, tibia, and other bones he found? No, he always then interprets that find through his own worldview (in this case biological evolution) and pontificates on how this newly-found fossil was a human ancestor, was able to grip tools, was likely bipedal, etc.

However, Reeves sums up this section with some good guidelines regarding the limits to scientific expertise. He mentions that a scientist speaking on areas outside his/her discipline should be regarded as a layman in those areas. He also mentions that spiritual and life implication questions like, “How should I live?” and “How do theology and science integrate together?” cannot be answered without presuming a view about the nature of our universe. It’s too bad he didn’t factor that into some of the previous principles.

Principle 6: We should take scientific expertise seriously.

Dr. Reeves admonishes that to “take scientific expertise seriously is to approach a scientific theory with an open-mind and awareness of your own lack of knowledge and competence on an issue.” Humility, listening to both sides of an issue, and a willingness to learn are all biblical principles (Colossians 3:12; Proverbs 18:13).

Scientific consensus is often used as a bludgeon against creation scientists and also against any non-conforming secular scientist.

But Reeves then offers advice on how to evaluate scientific claims and when to trust them, his foremost criteria seeming to be whether the scientific claim is backed by scientific consensus or is it in the minority. As mentioned earlier, while this is one criterion (and not a very good one at that), it is not, nor should be, the deciding factor. Scientific consensus is often used as a bludgeon against creation scientists and also against any non-conforming secular scientist, such as Alan Feduccia, an evolutionary paleornithologist who is critical of the hypothesis that birds originated from theropod dinosaurs. A pertinent example from almost fifty years ago would be when Eldredge and Gould postulated their punctuated equilibrium hypothesis, which, though strongly rejected when it first came out, has become at least co-equal with (if not more accepted) than gradualism in paleontology paradigms. The point being (as we would not accept any form of molecules-to-man evolution) that even in staunchly evolutionary scientific circles, consensus is a standard with a mediocre track record.

By far the most troubling section of Reeves’ article is his concluding paragraph, the bulk of which is quoted below.

In matters where there are significant ramifications for the Christian faith, it is usually best for the Christian community to seek the judgment and advice of Christian scientists who display both scientific skill and spiritual wisdom. Or on issues that involve multiple disciplines, that we bring scholars together in teams that display these traits. This is the value of organizations like BioLogos: they have the resources and people to help Christians see what parts of biology are backed by scientific consensus and help laypersons to make informed choices about where experts disagree. Without faithful scholars who understand science from the inside, the Christian community would be lost.

As detailed in several of our books, including Already Compromised, when Christians, Christian colleges, and churches abandon the plain sense of Scripture, reject the history recorded in the Bible, and accept the scientific consensus of evolutionary hypotheses, they seriously undermine the Christian faith and depart from spiritual wisdom, seeking instead the wisdom of this world, which is folly to God (1 Corinthians 1:19–21, 3:18–19).

Why should any Christian “trust organizations” that reject biblical authority and seek to convince people that they are nothing more than evolved animals, living on a world with hundreds of millions of years of bloodshed and death before sin, supposedly kick-started by God and then left to languish? Is that the message of Scripture? No! From Genesis to Revelation, we see that God created a perfect world in six literal days just over 6,000 years ago, Adam sinned and messed up that perfect world (and we continue to sin and mess it up), and the entire universe is groaning, waiting for God to restore it (Genesis 1:31; Romans 5:12–19; 8:19–23; 1 Corinthians 15:21–26, Revelation 21:1–4, 22:3). And Christians that have imbibed evolutionary ideas have no basis even for what this restoration is going to be: back to animal death, violence, and disease . . . and more evolution?

We should not place our trust in any organization, except as they follow Christ, stand firm on biblical authority and inerrancy and seek to honor God in all that they do. The Apostles Peter and Paul warned Christians not to follow after false teachers (2 Peter 2:1–3; 1 Corinthians 11:4). But Paul also said to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1) and Hebrews 13:7 tells us to imitate the faith of our spiritual leaders as we consider their (godly) conduct.

Is seeking to instruct people in accepting evolutionary ideas to be considered godly conduct? BioLogos says to trust in scientific consensus, yet in a 2007 study conducted in the US, 62% of 2,198 scientists from a variety of disciplines admitted to being atheist or agnostic. I would be willing to go out on a limb and say that number would be higher today. A 2009 Pew Poll found that 87% of scientists in the US believe in unguided naturalistic evolution, with only 8% believing in theistic evolution and less than 2% believing in biblical recent divine creation. That being the case, BioLogos seems like they are themselves rejecting scientific consensus regarding a completely naturalistic origin for life yet telling Christians that scientific consensus is the standard of standards. And have these “faithful scholars” that Reeves mentions helped the younger Christian community, those attending institutions with evolutionary indoctrination, “to avoid getting lost”? Well, let’s hear from a former leader of BioLogos, Dr. Karl Giberson.

For a quarter century I taught scientific theories of origins—evolution and the Big Bang Theory—under a cloud of suspicion that waxed and waned but never totally disappeared. With few exceptions, my mostly evangelical students accepted these ideas. I took informal polls indicating that most of the 50 percent of my students who rejected evolution at the beginning of my course accepted it by the end. My colleagues at other evangelical colleges report similar experiences. We were hopeful that these evangelical students would become leaders of their faith communities and gradually persuade their fellow evangelicals that evolution was not a lie from hell—which was what many of them had been taught in Sunday school. But instead scientifically informed young evangelicals became so alienated from their home churches that they walked away, taking their enlightenment with them… Many of my most talented former students no longer attend any church, and some have completely abandoned their faith traditions.

Those of us teaching evolution at evangelical colleges are made to feel as if we have this subversive secret we must whisper quietly in our students’ ears: “Hey, did you know that Adam and Eve were not the first humans and never even existed? And that you can still be a Christian and believe that?” Such an approach works surprisingly well, at least in persuading young people that evolution is true and compatible with their faith, as long as it occurs in the quiet intellectual confines of the classroom, where the subversive message is delivered by caring and thoughtful Christian professors..3

That’s a rather sobering look at the effect of teaching young people evolution while simultaneously tearing down biblical authority.

That’s a rather sobering look at the effect of teaching young people evolution while simultaneously tearing down biblical authority. The students in these institutions see no reason for Christianity because they realize that if there’s no literal Adam and Eve, then the Bible is wrong about the origin of sin. And if mankind didn’t cause sin and death to enter the world, then death is natural, there is no sin nature nor penalty for sin, and there is no need for a Savior. And if the Bible is wrong right from the very beginning, why should they trust any of the rest of it? Yet for all that witnessing of a mass exodus from Christian colleges and Christianity itself, did Dr. Giberson ever realize that his own work and that of BioLogos was undermining and counterproductive to the Christian faith? No, incredulously he blamed creationists for those students walking away from the faith! It appears that Reeves has the same blinders on. While he gives good practical advice in certain areas, his belief that indoctrinating young people with evolution, coupled with BioLogos’ undermining of biblical authority, will help students and other lay Christians is dangerously wrong. It will continue to fuel the mass exodus of younger generations from the church.

The solution to helping Christians properly understand these issues (by the power of the Holy Spirit) is Scripture, biblical authority, and strong apologetics. Organizations like AiG believe it is essential to equip people with clear biblical answers to affirm their faith and help them effectively stand on God’s Word and boldly proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and the trustworthiness of God’s Word from the first verse.

Footnotes

  1. Josh Reeves, “Should Christians Trust Scientific Experts,” BioLogos website, last modified August 13, 2018, https://biologos.org/articles/should-christians-trust-scientific-experts/.
  2. See, for instance, Jesus’ own referring back to a literal creation in the New Testament as outlined in Ken Ham, “Did Jesus Say He Created in Six Literal Days?” The New Answers Book 1 (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2006), https://answersingenesis.org/days-of-creation/did-jesus-say-he-created-in-six-literal-days/.
  3. Karl Giberson, “2013 Was a Terrible Year for Evolution,” Daily Beast website, last modified April 14, 2017, https://www.thedailybeast.com/2013-was-a-terrible-year-for-evolution.

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