I hope that those of you who are reading these posts are storing up some questions. When I’m done, I’d love to hear them. For now, I’d like to address another aspect of the natural law appeal: the appeal to “science.”
In the contemporary world, appeals to science are a tricky thing, for two reasons. First, most people, educated as they are in government schools, have a deep, almost sub-conscious faith in scientific truth. Appeals to science (unlike the Bible) still carry weight. But, secondly, science, properly understood, is a subordinate authority. It never exists independently of the people practicing it, and they are shot through with all manner of biases, presuppositions, and ideologies.
Now, of course, not all biases are bad. I’m biased in favor of the gospel, liberty, and dark beer. So also, biases are unavoidable and inescapable. Even if we were able to achieve the “God’s-eye view” of things, we would discover that biases still exists. After all, God loves righteousness and hates wickedness. So the fact of bias is not the problem; but the nature of the bias may be.
Science, when properly understood as the attempt to explore the world God made, is a glorious thing and a gift from God. Rodney Stark, in his book For the Glory of God, argues that it was Christianity that gave rise to science (Modern secular scientists chafe at the thought). So appeals to scientific truth are right and good in their proper place.
But in the contemporary world, we rarely encounter this type of scientific inquiry. Rather, science is hijacked by various ideologies, all of them idolatrous. In this light, science is used as a way to escape the world God made. Seeking to divest themselves of his rule, they use science to serve whatever idols folks are setting up these days.
In the article Anderson appeals to “scientific fact” to argue for the humanity of the unborn, “social science” to show the harmful social effects of abortion, and “studies” to demonstrate the harmful results of the breakdown of traditional families on children.
Now, in principle again, I am perfectly happy to use such arguments to make a case for the dignity of the unborn and the rightness of the traditional family. But, in urging us to make such appeals, I wonder if there is something else at work, something that is seeking to supplant biblical authority with a rationalistic, scientistic authority.
Don’t misunderstand; I’m not accusing Anderson of sneaking around, flirting with secular idols. I’m just raising the question as to whether, by limiting our appeals to nature and science, we are giving away the game. And, happily enough, I have a simple way to test whether science is being used in the service of false ideologies.
Ask yourself this question: Are certain appeals to nature and science ruled out of bounds by the contemporary political and cultural milieu? For example, suppose that someone said that homosexuality (not just marriage, but homosexuality itself) was “contrary to nature.” Then suppose they set out to prove that such was the case “from science.” I’m no biologist, but I do know a little anatomy, and I think there’s a case to be made by appealing to nature. Something like, “The parts just don’t fit.”
Now suppose someone took that hypothesis, did a scientific study evaluating the harmful effects of homosexual behavior and a social scientific study demonstrating increased levels of depression and suicide among the homosexual community. Would Anderson say, as he does in the article, that “their results need to be publicized?” Does he think that the politician who brings that study up has any chance of getting elected? Or would this be an example of another political road not to take?
My point is that I can discover from nature that homosexual behavior is unnatural, just like Paul said (Romans 1:26-28). I can do studies showing that no-fault divorce has disastrous effects on children, that one of the greatest predictors of the academic and emotional achievement of kids is whether they are raised in a two-parent, heterosexual family (I’ll even add, where the father assumes godly leadership as the head of his family). I can seek to publicize them in sophisticated journals and national newspapers.
And people would go right on ignoring “science” and “nature.” Or, more accurately, they would react against these arguments in the same way that they do against direct biblical ones–with shock and outrage. Just ask Larry Summers, the former president of Harvard who was forced to resign when he simply suggested that there were intrinsic reasons why more men than women sought high-end positions in science and engineering. The mere suggestion of differences between sexes was enough to spark a firestorm.
My simple point in this post is that appealing to science and nature is legitimate, provided that we recognize the limitations of such appeals. These authorities are lesser authorities. We do science in the service of the triune God, who created heaven and earth, just as unbelievers do science in the service of their gods.
So if the reason that people reject biblical teaching is because they are at war with God (Romans 8:7), because they don’t want to acknowledge him or submit to his law, and because they are darkened in their understanding, alienate from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to their hardness of heart (Ephesians 4:18), then why would we expect scientific appeals to have any greater effect than biblical appeals? If they don’t want to hear his voice when He speaks clearly in Scripture, what makes us think they will want to listen when He speaks in nature?