The Just Can’t Help Themselves

This past week as hurricane Sandy bore down on New York City and battered the East Coast for hundreds of miles the following article appeared in the news, Even Scientists Unwittingly See Purpose in Nature.  I read it with interest and was reminded that scientists, while brilliant in their various disciplines, are not English grammarians.

The article stated that when we as humans contemplate catastrophic events like hurricanes, earthquakes, and famines, etcetera, we are inclined to dismiss them with clichés like “Everything happens for a reason.”  Such platitudes the article claimed “irks scientists.”  They disdain purpose-based remarks.  Such remarks infer a transcendent intelligence controlling natural events, which the average scientist rejects.  But a recent survey revealed this may be humans “default way of thinking.”

Boston University had a team of psychology researchers ask various scientists to evaluate explanations for natural phenomena.  When these geologists, physicists, and chemists from schools such as Yale, MIT, and Harvard were asked to explain natural processes they received the following type of responses.  “The Earth has an ozone layer in order to protect it from UV light” or “Trees produce oxygen so that animals can breathe.”

These kind of teleological or purpose-based answers indicate there is “a bias for purpose-based reasoning that even scientists can’t escape.”  Associate professor of psychology at BU Deborah Kelemen stated, “Even though advanced scientific training can reduce acceptance of scientifically inaccurate teleological explanations, it cannot erase a tenacious early-emerging human tendency to find purpose in nature.  It seems that our minds may be naturally more geared to religion than science.”

The findings of this study which appeared in the online October edition of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General can be added to similar results in previous research.  The cumulative findings of these studies indicate humans, even non-believing scientists, are hardwired to give a supernatural explanation for natural events.  Kelemen said “It is quite surprising what these studies show.”  While she may be surprised, I am not and here’s why.

In the first chapter of Romans the apostle Paul writes about “men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (v. 18).”  In the next two verses he explains “because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

Here is a paraphrase of what Paul was getting at when he wrote these words in Romans 1:18-20.  “It is not right to obscure the truth about God since He gave us the internal ability to reason regarding the things we can clearly observe.  And since the beginning of the universe, which is immense and as far as we can tell infinite, is an effect that the only reasonable cause could be an all-knowing, all-powerful God, we cannot excuse His existence and we will be held accountable for what we know and have observed.”

Paul has summed the situation up nicely when he explains the issue is not that men do not know the truth about God, they know about God but choose to suppress the knowledge of God.  They do so because to admit there is a God would be to admit the need to conform to His moral dictates and that is something they simply will not do.  They refuse to surrender their autonomy to His sovereignty.  It is not man’s ignorance of God that will be his downfall but man’s stubborn rebellion to conform to His will.

That being said, Sandy’s advent is not the first time scientists have gotten tongue-tied in trying to explain their position.  Back in 1999 they tried to explain their view of evolution in the publication Science and Creationism; A View from the National Academy of Sciences, Second Edition.  On page seven they wrote, “Of course, even if a living cell were to be made in the laboratory, it would not prove nature followed the same pathway billions of years ago.”  Such language personifies nature giving it the ability to choose which pathway to follow.  When you consider the scope of that choice is the beginning of life and the method of how it will become diverse and complex, they have done much more than personify nature; they have deified it.

This apotheosizing of nature is ironic.  Scientists reject the God of nature, and then give to nature god-like qualities.  Thanks to the research conducted by Deborah Kelemen and her colleagues we now know the truth.  They just can’t help themselves.

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