Over at the alternative news Website alternet.org, freelance writer and secular advocate Dan Arel has recently published an article criticizing the Discovery Institute’s coverage of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos series. Arel’s article, which bears the sensationalized title, Neil deGrasse Tyson Praises Scientist Who Knew to Check His Religion at the Door; Creationists Go Apoplectic, takes aim at a recent post by David Klinghoffer over at Evolution News and Views, criticizing the “whitewash” by Cosmos, which concealed the religious sources of scientific inspiration for Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell. Leaving aside the polemical remarks directed at Klinghoffer, the gist of Arel’s argument can be summarized in the following excerpts from his article (emphases mine – VJT):
Creationists want religion out of Cosmos, unless of course it favors them. Each week Neil deGrasse Tyson has been attacked by creationists and the religious right for anything he says that makes religion look bad. In this week’s episode about electricity, Tyson discussed a Christian scientist, brushing off the importance of religious belief while engaging in scientific inquiry. Naturally, creationists don’t like that.
Michael Faraday was introduced this week to millions around the globe for his contributions to science, many of which benefit us all today in our everyday lives. Faraday was a devout Christian, and Tyson mentioned this, but … Faraday was [also] a great scientist who knew how to check his faith at the lab door and study the actual data in front of him…
Faraday’s discoveries would not change based on his belief or the validity of his personal faith. Faraday calls them nature’s laws; he just happens to believe a God created them…
A scientist like Faraday can exist today and indeed does. Scientists around the world hold their own religious views. The ones who are successful at science are the ones who are able to check their faith at the door and can work in the lab using the scientific method, not fairy tales…
Organizations such as the Discovery Institute highlight why there is such a divide between religion and science. The fact that they take offense at a scientist having religious beliefs that do not influence his discoveries in the lab shows once again that truth is not their goal.
In laying out his case that Faraday’s faith didn’t influence the way he practiced his science, Arel completely misconstrues the nature of the Intelligent Design research project, confusing its methodology with that of creation science. He falsely imagines that scientists who believe in Intelligent Design use the Bible as a guide in their scientific research. To make matters worse, Arel omits an embarrassing quote from a biographical essay on Michael Faraday by Ian H. Hutchinson, professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, which shows that Faraday’s faith exercised a profound influence on his scientific research. Finally, Arel appears blissfully unaware of Faraday’s role in the nineteenth century Declaration of Students of the Natural and Physical Sciences, with which he warmly sympathized, and which he refused to sign only because of his opposition to Anglican clergymen influencing the course of scientific research. The Declaration itself affirms that science can never contradict Scripture. No secular scientist would say that. Faraday belonged to a very small Christian community known as the Sandemanians, an off-shoot from the Church of Scotland, who interpreted the Bible in a very literal fashion, and who would have therefore totally rejected Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Why Intelligent Design isn’t the same thing as creationism, and how ID differs from creation science
Before I continue, I’d like to direct Arel’s attention to a 2002 essay by Dr. John West, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, titled, Intelligent Design and Creationism just aren’t the same. In his essay, Dr. West elucidates the central difference between Intelligent Design and creationism:
2. Unlike creationism, intelligent design is based on science, not sacred texts.
Creationism is focused on defending a literal reading of the Genesis account, usually including the creation of the earth by the Biblical God a few thousand years ago. Unlike creationism, the scientific theory of intelligent design is agnostic regarding the source of design and has no commitment to defending Genesis, the Bible or any other sacred text. Instead, intelligent design theory is an effort to empirically detect whether the “apparent design” in nature observed by biologists is genuine design (the product of an organizing intelligence) or is simply the product of chance and mechanical natural laws. This effort to detect design in nature is being adopted by a growing number of biologists, biochemists, physicists, mathematicians, and philosophers of science at American colleges and universities. Scholars who adopt a design approach include biochemist Michael Behe of Lehigh University, microbiologist Scott Minnich at the University of Idaho, and mathematician William Dembski at Baylor University.
Dr. West adds that the Intelligent Design movement has even been sharply criticized by creationist organizations such as Answers in Genesis (AIG) and the Institute for Creation Research (ICR), for refusing to explicitly identify the Designer with the God of the Bible:
3. Creationists know that intelligent design theory is not creationism.
The two most prominent creationist groups, Answers in Genesis Ministries (AIG) and Institute for Creation Research (ICR) have criticized the intelligent design movement (IDM) because design theory, unlike creationism, does not seek to defend the Biblical account of creation. AIG specifically complained about IDM’s “refusal to identify the Designer with the Biblical God” and noted that “philosophically and theologically the leading lights of the ID movement form an eclectic group.” Indeed, according to AIG, “many prominent figures in the IDM reject or are hostile to Biblical creation, especially the notion of recent creation….” (4) Likewise, ICR has criticized ID for not employing “the Biblical method,” concluding that “Design is not enough!” (5) Creationist groups like AIG and ICR clearly understand that intelligent design is not the same thing as creationism.
So when Dan Arel implies in his essay that the Discovery Institute advocates doing lab work based on “fairy tales” rather than “the scientific method,” he couldn’t be more mistaken. Leaving aside the perjorative reference to Genesis as a fairy tale, the fact of the matter is that the Intelligent Design movement recognizes only one way of doing science, and that’s the scientific method. To be sure, Intelligent Design advocates have a somewhat different conception of that method from the majority of contemporary scientists: ID proponents contend that since science is an open-ended enterprise, “God-talk” should not be excluded from the scope of science at the outset, whereas most modern scientists would maintain that any mention of “supernatural agents” should be banned from science books. However, the actual method of formulating and testing hypotheses will be exactly the same for an Intelligent Design scientist as it would be for any other scientist.
The quote that Dan Arel omitted
In the course of his article, Dan Arel acknowledges Faraday’s belief that the laws of Nature were the laws of God, and he even quotes part of a biographical essay by MIT Professor Ian H. Hutchinson, which was cited by Klinghoffer in his post:
“One example of the influence of [Faraday’s] theological perspective on his science is Faraday’s preoccupation with nature’s laws. ‘God has been pleased to work in his material creation by laws,’ he remarked, and ‘the Creator governs his material works by definite laws resulting from the forces impressed on matter.'”
Curiously, Arel omits the following passage from Professor Hutchinson’s essay, which completely undermines his secularist depiction of Faraday as a scientist who checked his faith at the laboratory door:
This is part of the designer’s art: ‘How wonderful is to me the simplicity of nature when we rightly interpret her laws’. But, as [Geoffrey] Cantor points out [in his book Michael Faraday: Sandemanian and Scientist], ‘the consistency and simplicity of nature were not only conclusions that Faraday drew from his scientific work but they were also metaphysical presuppositions that directed his research.’ He sought the unifying laws relating the forces of the world, and was highly successful in respect of electricity, magnetism, and light.
How Faraday’s faith in God influenced his science
Colin Russell, in his highly readable biography, Michael Faraday: Physics and Faith (Oxford University Press, 2000), describes the influence that Faraday’s theological beliefs had on the formulation of his scientific theory of fields:
All the time that Faraday had been pursuing his inquiries into current electricity and into magnetism, he had been dogged by questions as to how the influences, electrical or magnetic, were actually transmitted. In Faraday’s time there were two fairly common explanations for the transmission of electrical and magnetic influences, and he rejected both theories. One was that of material atoms like those proposed by the chemist John Dalton. The other was the old doctrine of action-at-a-distance: that bodies were attracted to one another without any intermediate bodies to pass on the effects. That was one reason why Faraday came to his theory of fields, which were mechanical agencies to transport energy across a distance…
In the late 1960s, a private memorandum written by Faraday was discovered in a library. This document clarified his ideas on atoms and fields. Unlike his published papers, it contains several references to God, one of which wondered whether God could not as easily put “power” round point centers as he could about material nuclei. His belief in an all-powerful God led him to the idea of point centers, and thus of fields around them. Professor Trevor Levere of Toronto, who discovered this document, remarked that these new ideas “fitted in with the world picture imposed by his religion.” Thereafter, as one writer put it, “Faraday was, quite literally, at play in the fields of the Lord” (Russell, 2000, pp. 99-100). [Emphasis mine – VJT. Acknowledgements to Dr. Jerry Bergman for the above quote.]
There’s more. Brian Bowers, in his book, Michael Faraday and Electricity (Priory Press, Hove, Sussex, 1974) concludes that “it seems likely that his religious belief in a single Creator encouraged his scientific belief in the ‘unity of forces’, the idea that magnetism, electricity and the other forces have a common origin” (p. 34). Think about that, and ponder: would Faraday have made the discoveries that he did, if he had not believed that the universe had One Creator?
In other words, Faraday’s faith directly influenced the way in which he pursued his scientific research. To secularists like Dan Arel, that fact must be deeply galling. No wonder they do everything they can to sweep it under the rug.
What did Faraday think of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection?
Being a man with a great curiosity about the natural world, Faraday was delighted to receive a copy of Darwin’s Origin of Species from a friend of his in 1859. He wrote:
“I am exceedingly obliged by your kindness in sending me Mr. Darwin’s remarkable book. I have received it at Brighton where it arrived before me & shall read it with great attention.”
[Faraday to John Murray, 2 December 1859 (letter 3869) in The Correspondence of Michael Faraday, Volume 5, 1855-1860, ed. Frank A. J. L. James, (London: Institute of Electrical Engineers, 2008), p. 607.]
(Quoted in What about Darwin?: All Species of Opinion from Scientists, Sages, Friends and Enemies Who Met, Read and Discussed the Naturalist Who Changed the World by Thomas F. Glick, John Hopkins University Press, 2010, p. 115.)
However, the Anglican theologian and scientist John Polkinghorne observes in his book, Science & Theology (Fortress Press, 1998) that Faraday was privately critical of Darwin’s theory:
“The great British physicists of the nineteenth century, such as Faraday, Maxwell and Stokes, were silent in public but privately had doubts about the unaided adequacy of natural selection to explain the development of life on the timescale available.”
Dr. Jerry Bergman recently authored a highly informative article on Faraday which appeared in the February 2011 issue of Dialogue magazine, a publication of the Creation Science Association of Alberta. In the article, which is titled, Michael Faraday: Christian and Scientist, Dr. Bergman explores Faraday’s attitudes to Darwin’s theory of evolution:
Faraday was a member of a small conservative Christian church that separated from the Church of Scotland. Its members believed the truth of the Bible must be understood to mean as literal a reading of the text as possible. His church had no established clergy, and members were a fellowship that stressed the Bible was central to their beliefs and life conduct. Thus Bible study was central to their teaching…
Actually, Faraday said much about his religious beliefs, and Darwinism was directly contrary to his core beliefs, a fact that Faraday was no doubt keenly aware of. As one who interpreted the Bible as literally as possible, many students of science conclude that Faraday could not accept Darwinism. The teachings of his small fundamentalist church included a strong
emphasis on God’s creation as purposeful and harmonious, designed for man’s well-being. He had an abiding faith in the Bible and in prayer. Unlike Newton, however, he made little attempt to “harmonize” his science with his Biblical faith, supremely confident that the two were both based on divine truth and were necessarily in agreement. … He fully believed in the official doctrine of his church, which said: “The Bible, and it alone, with nothing added to it nor taken away from it by man, is the sole and sufficient guide for each individual, at all times and in all circumstances” (Morris, Henry. 1988. Men of Science Men of God: Great Scientists Who Believed the Bible. Master Books. p. 37).
The smoking gun that proves Faraday was no secularist
Finally, Dan Arel seems to be unaware of the role played by Michael Faraday in encouraging W. H. Brock and R. M. Macleod, the two young chemists who co-authored the 1864 Declaration of Students of the Natural and Physical Sciences, a manifesto signed by 717 scientists, including 86 members of the Royal Society, who affirmed their confidence in the scientific integrity of the Holy Scriptures:
We, the undersigned Students of the Natural Sciences, desire to express our sincere regret, that researches into scientific truth are perverted by some in our own times into occasion for casting doubt upon the Truth and Authenticity of the Holy Scriptures. We conceive that it is impossible for the Word of God, as written in the book of nature, and God’s Word written in Holy Scripture, to contradict one another, however much they may appear to differ. We are not forgetful that Physical Science is not complete, but is only in a condition of progress, and that at present our finite reason enables us only to see as through a glass darkly, and we confidently believe, that a time will come when the two records will be seen to agree in every particular. We cannot but deplore that Natural Science should be looked upon with suspicion by many who do not make a study of it, merely on account of the unadvised manner in which some are placing it in opposition to Holy Writ. We believe that it is the duty of every Scientific Student to investigate nature simply for the purpose of elucidating truth, and that if he finds that some of his results appear to be in contradiction to the Written Word, or rather to his own interpretations of it, which may be erroneous, he should not presumptuously affirm that his own conclusions must be right, and the statements of Scripture wrong; but rather, leave the two side by side till it shall please God to allow us to see the manner in which they may be reconciled; and, instead of insisting upon the seeming differences between Science and the Scriptures, it would be as well to rest in faith upon the points in which they agree. (Emphases mine – VJT.)
I would invite readers to ask themselves: could any scientist who “checked his religion at the door of his lab” have endorsed this document? As we’ll see, Faraday did endorse it, even though he never signed it.
In its original form, the Declaration also included the following final paragraph:
We therefore pray, that the Bishops and Clergy in Convocation assembled, and of the Church of England, will do all in their power to maintain a harmonious alliance between Physical Science and Revealed Religion.
The final paragraph was later deleted when it was found that it offended many potential signatories.
In an essay titled, “‘The Declaration of Students of the Natural and Physical Sciences’, revisited” (in Religion and the Challenges of Science, edited by William Sweet and, Richard Feist, Ashgate Publishing, 2007), Hannah Gay discusses Faraday’s reaction to the document, and the assistance he gave to its young authors:
“Faraday encouraged McLeod, but he himself refused to sign. He wished to distance himself from the Anglican Church ‘being a dissenter’ and ‘did not think the clergy had any right to interfere in the matter [of science]’. The view that the clergy should not have any say in science was commonly expressed by those who refused to science. For example, John Herschel and the Duke of Argyll agreed with Faraday on this point. However, Faraday continued to take a sympathetic interest in the Declaration and later, learning of the many signatories, wrote, ‘I am glad to see the names of so many who are to a certain degree like-minded.'” (2007, p. 23.)
Given Faraday’s sympathetic interest in the Declaration, which was written five years after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, we may fairly conclude that Faraday believed that science, in the long run, could never contradict the Bible, and that any difficulties for Christian belief created by scientific discoveries were merely temporary.
The picture of Faraday which emerges from the evidence I have presented here stands in stark contrast to the depiction of the scientist in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos series. It also contradicts Dan Arel’s portrayal of Faraday as “a scientist having religious beliefs that do not influence his discoveries in the lab.” Summing up, I think it is fair to conclude that Faraday did not keep his faith and his science in two separate compartments, but that the former exerted a very profound influence over the latter.