XFiles: “Scientific facts”

(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, chapter 14.)

There’s a famous quote from the movie The Princess Bride in which Inigo Montoya tells Fezzig Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” See if you can see why today’s installment from I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST reminds me of that quote:

When asked if divorce was acceptable, Jesus cited a scientific fact out of Genesis. … (Matt. 19:4-6). In other words, the nature of marriage is bound up in the scientific fact that Adam and Eve were created for a purpose.

Geisler and Turek are trying to make the argument that the Bible must be scientifically accurate because Jesus treated it as though it were scientifically accurate. Apparently, the Garden of Eden story must be a “scientific fact” because otherwise Jesus’ argument would fail. And we can’t have that now, can we!

In making this argument, Geisler and Turek tell us a lot about how Christian apologists define what “scientific facts” are. In the world of Christian apologetics, the phrase “scientific fact” does not mean “that which can be objectively verified either by direct observation or by the distinctive, verifiable consequences it produces.” No, the term “scientific fact” means only “you can’t argue with it.” Christian dogma is based on authority, and by calling something a scientific fact, all Geisler and Turek are really doing is trying to establish a claim of unquestionable authority to declare the truth.

To Geisler and Turek, the Garden of Eden is a “scientific fact” simply because Jesus appealed to it as though it had the unquestionable authority to declare the truth about marriage. Unlike genuine scientific facts, which encourage further investigation and deeper understanding, the Christianized “scientific fact” is intended to end the discussion and eliminate any further questions. God said it, I believe it, that settles it, end of story. To even ask for some kind of verification that Eden ever existed would be to admit a fatal weakness in one’s personal faith.

The end result, of course, is that Geisler and Turek turn the phrase “scientific fact” into a synonym for “dogma,” and give it a meaning that is the exact opposite of what a genuine scientific fact would actually be. Instead of verifying whether any objective, real-world evidence actually exists for the events described in Genesis 3, Geisler and Turek want us to take their word for it that we can take the Bible’s word for it that we can take Jesus’ word for it that we can take the Bible’s word for it. That, according to G&T, constitutes “scientific fact.”

Perhaps to atone for the shoddy quality of this argument, Geisler and Turek follow up with some of the most clear and logical writing in the entire book.

Jesus taught that if the Bible does not speak truthfully about the physical world that you can see, then it cannot be trusted when it speaks about the spiritual world that you cannot see…  Truth about the universe cannot be contradictory. Since all truth is God’s truth, religious beliefs must agree with scientific facts. If they do not, then either there is an error in our scientific understanding, or our religious beliefs are wrong.

Ok, I did elide a bit in the middle there where they insist that “yes of course Christianity is based on fact.” But that bit of revisionist propaganda aside, the argument they are making here is possibly the most rational and clear-headed thinking in the entire book. It is somewhat ironic that they intend this as a kind of spiritual blackmail to be used against wishy-washy Christians tempted by genuine scientific facts. But the threat is clear: “You must defend the scientific accuracy of the Bible, or else deny the Bible entirely!”

It’s not that belief in the Bible must be contingent on its scientific accuracy, it’s that the scientific accuracy of the Bible is contingent on one’s faith in it. We’ve seen that time and again in the book up to now. Geisler and Turek reject evolution because Darwin’s theory does not provide an answer to the question “What caused the Big Bang?” As we saw before, that’s a common but nonsensical question to even ask, and it has nothing to do with the mechanisms that cause the evolution of biological species. Yet Geisler and Turek find that quibble a sufficient pretext to discard pretty much all of the scientific evidence which supports evolution.

Conversely, when examining the evidence relating to the historical accuracy of the New Testament, they were satisfied that everything Luke wrote must be literal, historical truth just because he happened to mention a few people and places that actually existed. Imagine if I were to swap those two standards of evidence and insist that evolution must be true because Darwin mentioned the Galapagos Islands, and lo and behold, those islands actually exist! Would that be enough to convince them? Or if I point out that the resurrection story fails to give a complete and detailed explanation of the mechanics of reanimating dead and decaying flesh, you think that would be enough to get them to abandon the Gospel as eagerly as they discarded evolutionary theory?

There is a consistent and pervasive pattern in Geisler and Turek’s apologetic, in that they persistently define “fact” in terms of what does or does not support the conclusion they want to reach, based on how badly they want to reach it. We see that here in their argument that the Bible must be “scientifically accurate.” Their argument has nothing to do with providing objective verification of the various significant and unrealistic elements of the story, and everything to do with how the Christian reader feels about the likely consequences of a given claim being true or false. “The Bible must be consistent with science, or else you must suffer the painful, soul-shattering loss of your most cherished beliefs. We report, you decide.”

This is the worst possible approach a sincere seeker of truth could take. It guarantees that one will remain forever enslaved to their own preconceived ideas, to social pressures, to superstitions, and to gullibility. As Geisler and Turek themselves wrote, “Truth about the universe cannot be contradictory.” To discover and understand the truth, therefore, we must adopt a consistent approach to seeking the truth, and must insist that our conclusions be consistent both with themselves and with objective reality. Paying hollow and deceptive lip-service to “scientific accuracy” is not part of the equation.

 
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Posted in IDHEFTBA, Science, Unapologetics, XFiles. 5 Comments »

5 Responses to “XFiles: “Scientific facts””

  1. mike Says:

    Jesus taught that if the Bible does not speak truthfully about the physical world that you can see, then it cannot be trusted when it speaks about the spiritual world that you cannot see.

    Is there a concise Bible verse of Jesus saying this? Seems like some pretty reasonable words of wisdom from the J-man.

  2. Deacon Duncan Says:

    The passage that Geisler and Turek actually quote in their book says, “I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” I didn’t bother quoting that part because (a) Jesus isn’t exactly expressing the idea that Geisler and Turek ascribe to him and (b) Geisler and Turek’s point is actually a lot more cogent than the one John attributes to Jesus. The Bible has an obligation to be consistent with the facts we can verify (G&T’s point) before the rest of us are under any obligation to believe what it tells us about things that cannot be known (Jesus’ point). After all, why should we put our trust in a book with a documented history of inconsistency with the truth?

  3. David D.G. Says:

    One slight quibble, DD: That quote from The Princess Bride is Inigo Montoya, but he is not addressing Fezzig; he is addressing Vizzini the Sicilian (who keeps saying “Inconceivable!”).

    Otherwise, GREAT post! I especially liked this gem of a paragraph:

    The end result, of course, is that Geisler and Turek turn the phrase “scientific fact” into a synonym for “dogma,” and give it a meaning that is the exact opposite of what a genuine scientific fact would actually be. Instead of verifying whether any objective, real-world evidence actually exists for the events described in Genesis 3, Geisler and Turek want us to take their word for it that we can take the Bible’s word for it that we can take Jesus’ word for it that we can take the Bible’s word for it. That, according to G&T, constitutes “scientific fact.”

    You, sir, are a heck of a good writer!

    ~David D.G.

  4. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Fixed, thanks.

  5. Tony Hoffman Says:

    I enjoy reading your stuff, which I’ve only discovered recently. You have a talent for exposing bad arguments in fresh and innovative ways; I read here and think, “I wish I’d used that when I heard the same argument before.” I imagine version of many of your insights here will filter out into the little pools of arguments happening everywhere, and apologists everywhere are going to have to devise another, deeper layer of ad hoc arguments.

    In particular, I liked this quite a bit:

    Imagine if I were to swap those two standards of evidence and insist that evolution must be true because Darwin mentioned the Galapagos Islands, and lo and behold, those islands actually exist! Would that be enough to convince them? Or if I point out that the resurrection story fails to give a complete and detailed explanation of the mechanics of reanimating dead and decaying flesh, you think that would be enough to get them to abandon the Gospel as eagerly as they discarded evolutionary theory?