Wednesday, December 2, 2009


One of the hot topics of the last week or so has been what's called "Climategate" or "Climaquiddick" after past scandals. People are arguing over the significance of the leaked material, but a cursory reading of the emails certainly does look like certain scientists have played fast and loose with both the data and with the historic ethics of modern science. And quite frankly, I was not all that surprised by the revelations now coming to light.

Those who have read a lot of my blogging, and people who have known me well over the years, are aware that I have had two favorite Christian authors for many years: C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer. I have often said that I read Lewis for his understanding and expression of Christianity and Schaeffer for his understanding and expression of our culture. (In the last couple of years, as I acquired Schaeffer's "Complete Works" set and read the books I had not been able to access before I increased my appreciation of his more specifically Christian material, but that has cropped up in other posts and may again.)

If Schaeffer were still alive (he died in 1984) he would not be surprised by these recent events either. While he had serious criticisms about the way the environment had been treated by our society, and even by those who were supposed to be Christians, he was also one of the first to notice that the "environmental movement" had been taken over by leftists as a tool to gain influence in society and government. And if you look at the actions being promoted to combat "global warming" many of them are top-down, coercive, government-imposed answers that will increase the control of a few over many.

The second thing I was reminded of was Schaeffer's discussion of the likely direction of science, in his book "How Should We Then Live" from 1979. He brought up the writings of Alfred North Whitehead(1861-1947), who had written that modern science had arisen because of the teaching of Christianity that God was rational and created an orderly universe. This belief made it possible for the early scientists to work out the things that became the basis of modern science. And Whitehead was not a Christian writer; he was a mathematician and philosopher but not even known to be a Christian at all. Yet he admitted that modern science grew out of the Christian view of the world.

But later in the book Schaeffer made a prediction. He declared that as science got farther and farther from the Christian worldview that made it possible, it would decline and tend toward two things: a high level of technology, and sociological manipulation. We certainly have the high level of technology; the computer I am writing this on and the Internet that carries it to whoever may read it are proof of that. But there are more and more signs that we have the efforts to use science to manipulate society as well.

And that is what is at the root of "Climategate": an effort to make the "science" give the desired answer rather than searching the data and seeing what the data actually means. These emails talk about "tricks" and adjusting data to reflect the desired outcome, and about refusing to share the original data so that someone else can verify your results (one of the basic traditions of the hard sciences), and even trying to discredit and silence any critics or skeptics. And one of the latest revelations is that the original, unaltered "raw" data was thrown out and all that remains is the fudged "data", which was doctored to match the theory, where a real scientist would doctor the theory to match the data! These are not real scientists; they are political hacks.

This one "Climategate" incident is bad enough. But there have been plenty of lesser scandals in recent years. A few years ago someone was claiming to have achieved nuclear fusion-"cold fusion" in his lab; it was later label a hoax, because no one else could duplicate the experiment successfully. A South Korean researcher claimed to have cloned multiple animals; he is now facing fraud charges, from what I heard a couple of weeks ago. The continuing emphasis and grant money for embryonic stem cell research, in spite of the failures in that area and the successes in adult stem cell research, are another case of ideology controlling science.

This last point is my own thinking. I am not a scientist, but I went through a pretty decent science program in my schooling many years ago. There was one assumption that underpinned all the scientific advances, all the work of the last few hundred years: trust. Scientists must be able to trust each other to work objectively and honestly. That is the real basis for duplicating experiments and peer-reviews of results, to make sure no one violates the trust of his co-workers. (Those early scientists who started the whole enterprise had grown up with the Christian view that people are flawed and may not be totally trustworthy at all times, so they went for, in Ronald Reagan's words, "Trust, but verify.") And that "Trust" component is exactly what is at stake here. The "Climategate" emails seem to indicate that these " scientists" have doctored data to fit their theory, ignored data that did not fit, thrown away the original data so no one else can check their work, and abused the peer-review process to silence anyone who might call them to account. This is no longer a scientific problem; it is a morals problem.

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