Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Christianity is an Impediment to Success in Engineering and the Sciences

Dr. Dewey H. Hodges, a Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, likes to wear his faith on his sleeves. For example, in the Powerpoint slides of the introductory lecture of his graduate class on advanced dynamics, Dr. Hodges reveals that the "most important person in [his] life is Jesus Christ", that the "most important aspect of [his] life is that he is [Christ's] servant" and that any aspect of his course is praiseworthy "because of Christ" [1]. Dr. Hodges continues to indicate anyone who believes that "a Christian cannot possibly be a knowledgeable engineer or scientist" is "misinformed". He then goes on to cite Sir Isaac Newton and the famous Renaissance mathematician Leonhard Euler as prime examples of practicing Christians who were monumentally successful in the sciences. Dr. Hodges then informs the class that out of the "56 universally acknowledged fathers of modern science, all but two professed faith in Jesus Christ."

Leaving the discussion of the appropriateness of this content for a graduate course in aerospace engineering aside, one must recognize that the claim that one cannot be a good Christian and a good scientist/engineer is very misleading. To whatever small extent this may be true, this message misses the more important point that taking Christianity seriously is a major impediment to being a good scientist or a successful engineer. When consistently practiced, Christianity demands a complete rejection of all that makes advancements in the science and engineering disciplines possible. The philosophical essence of religious faith demands the blind embrace of ideas in absence of evidence or proof. This is in stark contrast to a proper foundation for sound science, which requires that truths be corroborated with sensory evidence or logical inference from such evidence. In other words, good science mandates an uncompromising adherence to reason.

Christianity in particular has furiously opposed any form of scientific progress that challenges perceived Biblical truths. These include the violent persecution of astronomers who advanced a heliocentric view of the universe, to the criticism of the use of geological techniques to determine the age of the Earth, to the opposition of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection and to the modern objections to the morality of therapeutic cloning. In fact, it is when Christianity was most prevalent in the Western World that the West saw the fewest advances in science, medicine and technology [2].

Thus, while there are certainly many practicing Christians who are successful scientists and engineers, we must recognize that their success derives from their commitment to reason and is in spite of their Christian faith. No achievement of the human intellect has ever stemmed from religious devotion and any claim that Christianity is not diametrically opposed to reason is outrageous.

[1] The full lecture, including the Powerpoint slides, can be viewed in its entirety here: http://dcrs.video.gatech.edu/tools/viewer.php?media=dcrs&id=28360
[2] For more on this important history, see: http://www.theobjectivestandard.com/issues/2006-winter/tragedy-of-theology.asp


Adam Reed said...

In the United States, the most generally recognized honor bestowed for scientific achievement is membership in the National Academy of Sciences. While more than 85% of all Americans believe in God, only 7% of NAS mebers do, according to a 1998 survey. Biological scientists had the lowest level of belief in a personal god - 5.5% as compared to 7.5% among physicists and astronomers. (Larson and Witham, Nature, Vol. 394, No. 6691, 23 July 1998, p. 313.)

Burgess Laughlin said...

Doug, thank you for writing this article.

I would like to raise two related points that are beyond the scope of your article:

1. Compartmentalization. A particular individual can, as I have seen, compartmentalize his religion--even his faith as an activity--to wall it off from his work. Eventually, given enough time, the contradictions will "out," but this condition can survive for a long time.

Ayn Rand discusses compartmentalization but I cannot find the source.

2. Cafeteria religionists--those who look at the hodge-podge of elements that comprise each monotheistic religion, and then pick those that "sound like" they support an implicitly objective worldview--can use religion as a justification (socially) or rationalization (psychologically) for otherwise objective actions.

E.g., a particular scientist might say that God is manifest in Nature, and therefore studying Nature--using the faculty of reason that God gave us--is a way of studying God (through His effects) and a way of showing reverence for God.

These processes enable religious cultures to "adapt" to reality and survive, though in a hobbled condition.

Anonymous said...

I normally just read these posts and then go quietly on my way - so what's different about this article ? Maybe the best way to say it is it's sheer arrogance, not to metion it's intellectual cowardice. This is not the author's fault. It is merely another glaring example of the total bankruptcy of the western scientific world-view.

What constitutes 'empirical proof?' When's the last time you took a good look at a snowflake ? Are you one of these fools who believes an infinately large room full of monkeys, each sitting at his own typwriter, 'eventually' produced the human genome ? If so, then you've taken quite well to the 'training' and are likely quite 'successfull' in your chosen field of endeavor.

Western science is a bill of goods we've all been forced to swallow since early childhood. Remember Galileo ? How about Tesla ? We westerners are all where we are today either by accident, or by deliberate progression. Which view one takes depends only on whether one is a 'conspiracy theorist' or it's required polar opposite, the dreaded 'coincidence theorist.'

Get real ! Face the stark and terrifying fact that we humans are 96% chimpanzee and here on this primitive, war-like planet we still live in the stone-age !!

Andrew Dalton said...

"anonymous" -

So what position are you advocating, exactly?

Since your computer is a product of the dreaded "western scientific world-view," then does that mean that you are going to smash it to pieces, and never come back here and bother us again?

We can only hope.

Andrew said...

To Burgess and Doug,...

My thoughts exactly. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it's my understanding that scientists like Newton and Galileo were of the "god-is-manifest-in-nature" variety, and likely certain enlightenment era thinkers as well, Thomas Paine comes to mind.

Though they may have been Deists, for someone to try and conclude that they were doing the work they did literally "as servants for Jesus Christ," is a ridiculous notion, equal to the assumption that the U.S. was founded as a "Christian nation," or of the U.S. constitution being founded on the ten commandments.

As to "Anonymous'" comment...
"..bankruptcy of the western scientific world-view." Please elaborate, as you curiously seemed to have forgotten to justify this statement with an explanation.

"Are you one of these fools who believes an infinately large room full of monkeys, each sitting at his own typwriter, 'eventually' produced the human genome ?"

First, it's "infinitely." Second, no I don't believe such nonsense nor is that how evolutionary science views the matter either. Chance plays a role, but so does adaptation over time. Further, if new and better evidence is ever discovered, it will replace and/or refine the old ideas. In the meantime, if the ultimate answer isn't here yet, it's perfectly acceptable to say, 'we don't yet know,' which is not at all synonymous with 'We will never know.'
This is how the tool of science functions, and also why it is our best tool for understanding our universe as opposed to say, religious proclamation in which there is no scientific truth, only religious decree, ie: you believe not because it's true, but because you are *told* to believe and you *want* to believe in the face of contradictory evidence.

The rest of your comment, unfortunately, degrades into something I cannot make heads or tails of.

I can't tell if you're of the creationist variety or of the aliens-planted-humans-on-earth-as-an-experiment variety. Either way, I believe you've stumbled upon the wrong website.

shahnawaz said...

the important thing to ask is whether a scientist ever made his discoveries because of his faith?
To the extent that they discover something is the extent to which they throw aside their "faith" and rely on its antipode i.e; reason.

secondly, historical mindedness is needed.what the religionists take as fail safe proof of the religiosity of newton et al can be seen as a stage in the atrophy of reason.they couldn't be expected to throw away the historical baggage in one sweep and even if they could, given the faith centered ethos of the days, they couldn't be expected to openly declare their apostacy.

Michael Smith said...

So Dr. Hodges wants to keep one foot planted firmly in the dark ages while he lives off the achievements made possible by the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution. And he wants to make sure we know that faith and science can work together.

Note to Dr. Hodges: we don't need any additional demonstrations of what the mixture of modern engineering and religious faith can accomplish -- the use of jet airliners to commit mass murder was ample display of the potential of such a mixture. What‘s more, Dr. Hodges, since the faith that told those 19 terrorists that their act was a virtuous fulfillment of Allah's wishes is every bit as valid as your faith in Christ, your promotion of faith amounts to an invitation for more demonstrations of the same sort. But I’m sure your walled-off mind allows you to evade that knowledge.

How sad that such a creature has to exist at Georgia Tech. He's a "ramblin' wreck" all right -- a wreck of a mind.


Please can you explain for me how the eyes of a girl punctured by her sister was opened when I prayed for her in Jesus name? Can you explain how a withered hand is immediately restored, how a deaf ear is immediately opened, how someone born with a SS gene suddenly has it turned into AA in Jesus name. Can you explain how someone who had an evil spirit saw two Angels with me and after I commanded the evil spirit to come out of him he becomes free and he cannot see the angels anymore. His bad character immediately changes to good and his mother testifies to it. I have a programme again on November 28th 2015 and I will be praying for the sick again. I will consciously have it on camera so I can send to you if the need arises. I am waiting for your response. I hope you allow it get to the public view.
Evangelist Oghogho I (Ph.D in Telecommunications Engineering)