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Science and Credulity

The Center for Science & Culture’s John West did an interesting interview with the Australian-based commentary/news site Mercator, commenting on the recent Discovery Institute Press book The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society (“Exposing scientism“). The interviewer asked about a seeming paradox in Lewis’s thought:

MercatorNet: C.S. Lewis claimed that science has made us more gullible. But how can this happen if science is based on empirical facts?
West: Lewis observed that many non-scientists simply checked their critical faculties at the door when they heard claims made in the name of science. People who didn’t think we could know anything with confidence about historical figures like Julius Caesar or Napoleon because they lived such a long time ago had no problem accepting the most outlandish claims made about “pre-historic” man, because the latter claims were dressed up as science. Lewis was concerned that this kind of blind deference to scientific authority opened the door to tyranny. That’s one of the reasons it’s so concerning today when people are routinely attacked as “anti-science” just for raising thoughtful questions about claims made in the name of science. If we want to avoid the abuse of science, we need to encourage that kind of questioning, not suppress it.

This reminded me of a comment I came across by Harvard geneticist George Church, about whom, on reflection, I think I was probably too harsh and quick to judgment the other day when he was in the news on the subject of cloning Neanderthals (see here, here, and here). For which, if so, I apologize. Church has done a lot of important work that we’ve highlighted at ENV — in fact, we do so in our current cover story (“Demonstrating, Once Again, the Fantastic Information-Storage Capacity of DNA“).
Church has tangled honorably and creditably with Jerry Coyne — see his response to Coyne’s criticism at the end of this post from Why Evolution Is True. Among other things he remarks on the different ways that a “considerable amount of faith drives everyday science.”
Incidentally, a noteworthy aspect of Coyne v. Church is that George Church has said things that make Coyne wonder if he’s “somewhat of a creationist, or at least sympathetic to intelligent design.” Coyne demands from his more distinguished colleague, yes, a statement of faith in Darwinian evolution: “If he’s not [an ID sympathizer], and firmly adheres to the naturalistic theory of evolution, let him state that.”
Church’s reply is intriguing:

I like the theory of evolution — I even harness it industrially to make practical materials. Perhaps, another less-than-ideal dichotomy here is between “naturalistic” and “supernaturalistic.” “Natural” is what is known to science at the moment. If we discover next year quantum computing and/or aliens capable of transferring bits of information to minds or DNA, then we might reconsider past “naturalism.” I like a simple Occam’s razor, but not if it gets in the way of a revolution.

He “likes” evolution — microevolution, he means, since that’s the only kind you’ll ever have a chance of observing at work.
As I say, that’s very interesting, coming form a Harvard geneticist. Note the smart deconstruction of “natural” v. “supernatural.” This line is a keeper: “‘Natural’ is what is known to science at the moment.” So for science to continue insisting on “naturalistic” explanations of everything guarantees that knowledge can’t advance further than it already has done. True.