Our Father Which Art in a Lab Coat

by Sep 24, 2010Culture, Theology

CaptureI was driving to church Sunday and passing through downtown Greenville, hoping to avoid traffic created by a poorly placed bike race, when I glanced over at the car next to me. I saw a decal on its bumper that I hadn’t seen before. It’s a fish (reminiscent of a rocket) with an all-caps message inside: “SCIENCE.”

A customer review of the decal at Amazon describes its purpose succinctly:

Great way to express your love for science and disgust for religion.

But there’s a problem with this comment, and I’m not yet tired of pointing it out: when you start advertising science on your bumper like this, science is your religion.

Let’s think of some parallels:

  • Science has a canon, books and journals which are generally accepted as accurate and authoritative.
  • Science has a priesthood which mediates sacred truths to the populous—namely credentialed scientists who explain to the rest of us what matter and energy are telling us.
  • Science has various denominations, because not all the priesthood agrees on every point.
  • Science, as Neil Postman has pointed out, creates miracles—iPads, GPS, etc. etc. ad infinitum.
  • Science has a liturgy, the scientific method.
  • Science has an origin story, the Big Bang.
  • Science offers an eschatological hope, the eternal upward progress of humankind.
  • I suppose science does lack a recognizable musical tradition, but at least there are approved vestments—the white lab coat. (If that coat didn’t carry the authority of the priesthood, people on infomercials wouldn’t be wearing it.)

I’m not anti-science if I get to define science. I use science every day. But that’s just it: I use science to get to Christian ends. Christianity is still my criterion. People who make science their criterion for truth have turned it into an end in itself, as if scientific or evolutionary progress is our purpose in this world.

Now, to be fair, not everyone who slaps a snarky decal on their Subaru takes their scientism to this extreme. Some would call themselves Christians (and some might even be [confused but genuine] Christians!). But if you use this decal you are placing an exaggerated faith in the power of a limited human discipline. You are placing faith—faith! Most of these decal users do not have the credentials to question their priests’ conclusions. And even the priests rely on faith-based assumptions to do their work. (For more on that, read ch. 6 in this book.)

Even if a SCIENCE-fish-rocket-decal sporter finds my parallels hokey (ok, the liturgy one’s a stretch), he ought to be willing to recognize that he has not arrived at all of his knowledge/belief through the unbiased scientific method.

And Christians shouldn’t be afraid of fish with legs, even if some people believe in them.

Darwin Fish lapel badge.

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