Science Bloggers Play Rough

Many of today’s most contentious issues are framed as conflicts between scientific objectivity on one side, and irrational belief on the other. Whether it’s embryonic stem-cell research, genetic engineering, or global warming, the argument is the same: People who raise objections are “anti-science,”driven by ideology, while those on the other side are disinterested seekers of truth.

Well, this is far from the truth, as the New York Times recently reminded us. Columnist Virginia Heffernan described the contents of a website that fancies itself as “the most influential science blogging network in the world.”

What she found was that instead of “graduate students, researchers, [and] doctors” going to science websites to “interpret data or review experiments,” they actually more often than not go to, as she says, “chip off one-liners, promote their books, and jeer at smokers, fat people, and churchgoers.”

Heffernan says that science writers often “play rough”: whether they dismiss their opponents as captives of religious ideology and “nonsense,” or portray religious leaders as idiots or worse. Such as the blogger who depicted Mohammed as a pig-cow hybrid. And even worse things for Christians.

But what bothered Heffernan more than the incivility was that it was all being done under the “banner of science.” Instead of “science by scientists,” she says some science writers are pursuing “agendas . . . charged with bigotry.” Even worse, these agendas are pursued “under [the] cover of intellectual rigor.” She calls it all “misleading.”

Heffernan shouldn’t be surprised. The entire “science versus religion” debate is misleading at its core, beginning with the contention that Christianity is “anti-science.” Nonsense!

Science, properly understood, is one of Christianity’s great gifts to the world. As writers like Rodney Stark have shown, it was Christians who believed they could understand and explore the universe, precisely because they believed it was created and its laws were ordered by a rational God.

Heffernan has learned what many Christians already knew: Much of what is framed as “science versus religion” is really a clash of world views. One of these world views is scientism, the idea all questions about human life, including ethics and morals, should be the domain of science.

In this worldview, “science” has nothing to learn from religion or philosophy – in fact, the opposite is true: theologians and philosophers are urged to incorporate the “insights” provided by the latest “scientific” research.

Thus, issues slike embryonic stem cell research and genetic engineering are purely scientific concerns. Introducing non-scientific considerations, like morality, “interferes” with “science.” Once “science” has spoken – our job is to obey and fund the research.

Yes, we Christians are jeered at because we insist that scientists’ actions should be constrained by moral considerations, and because we deny that scientific expertise alone qualifies people to answer the big question: “How now shall we live?”

But above all, maybe we are the object of scorn because we insist that just because we can do something is never a sufficient justification —whether it’s being done by a tyrant or a man in a lab coat.

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  • Is Mr. Colson Catholic? Science is one of the Catholic Church’s great contributions, and calling it a gift of “Christianity” is unnecessarily vague. St. Albert the Great, Gregor Mendel, and Louis Pasteur were, I believe, all Catholic. The Church needs to take credit where credit is due.