Apologetics & Your Kids: Part 6 - Do Facts Speak for Themselves?

Read the series so far.

Facing the Evidence

I want to move forward a bit now to the subject of evidence. Probably many of you have heard the old dictum that scientists “follow the evidence wherever it leads.” Often scientists themselves promote this idea, and others catch on and parrot it. It sounds very dignified—almost pious. And, as philosophers of science like Thomas Kuhn and Michael Polanyi have shown, it is almost totally false.

Several years ago, a well known, oft-published physicist named Robert V. Gentry published a book entitled Creation’s Tiny Mystery, which cataloged his research on Polonium 218 radiohalos. The book makes fascinating reading, and it has never been gainsaid. All the same, Gentry’s researched has been shunted to the side by evolutionists because, well, it provides compelling data for the assertion that the earth is young.

Gentry had a Seventh-Day Adventist upbringing, but was a committed evolutionist and believed in an old earth. He began his research into Polonium Halos to prove an old earth, believing these radiohalos were formed by secondary radioactivity. But his experiments proved they were not secondary, but were actually formed rapidly in the earth’s crust without any outside interference or cross-contamination. This showed that the granite rocks in which these halos were found were extremely young. The research has been caricatured and even lampooned by old-earthers of all persuasions, but never scientifically refuted. Instead, Dr. Gentry has been ostracized by the scientific establishment.

Gentry’s story is nothing new. The President of Ball State University, which has actively promoted atheism, has banned her professors from even discussing intelligent design with their students. There’s nothing like free speech! Ben Stein’s film “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed” and the Discovery Institute in Seattle document many other cases of suppression of scientists who demur from the party line.

Meanwhile, more problems surface. For example, evolutionists have found soft tissue in a T-Rex skeleton supposedly 65 million years old. How can soft tissue survive for so long? Answer: it can’t. But there it is. Does this evidence persuade dinosaur experts that dinosaurs lived in recent times? That would be where the evidence led, right? But of course not. No more than ancient drawings of dinosaurs detailing even the patterns on the skin found all over the world influence them. Worldviews get in the way!

The Facts & the Interpretations Attached to Them

Think about it. Finding rapidly decaying (i.e. in 3 minutes) polonium halos in the foundational granite of the earth, which displays no traces of interference from outside sources, is a challenge to the standard models of geological formation. If Gentry is right these halos were made at the very time when the granite was formed—very very quickly! Hence, the age of the earth cannot be dated via any of the usual radiometric methods. It couldn’t be anyway, since these methods give notoriously varied dates. Moreover, fresh lava flows which have been subjected to radiometric dating produced results dating them as millions of years old!

What one does with this data depends upon the framework of interpretation permitted by the scientist. So evolutionary scientists ignore data which points away from their theories. Likewise with the dinosaur tissue, or the lack of fossil evidence for intermediate forms; or the fact that the early development of cells is “locked in” and is not amenable to mutation.

Should a scientist start with the assumption that T-Rex died out 65 million years ago? If he does, he will be looking at animal soft tissue though lenses which automatically discount recent dating. The facts are in front of him, but his interpretation of the facts, which is determined by his worldview paradigm, force the evidence into an old age scenario which is never allowed to be questioned.

“Junk” DNA?

For many years biologists have been saying that there has to be a large amount of DNA which is “junk” DNA. Because they believe in the Neo-Darwinian model of evolution through natural selection and mutation, that system absolutely requires trial and error in cell formation, and hence a lot of useless DNA. By contrast, for over a decade, intelligent design theorists, using their information and engineering models, have been saying that since engineers design things from the top down, they build in to their designs only those things they need. This means that if DNA had a Designer, one would not expect to find junk DNA. The projection of the I. D. proponents has been shown to be right. There is no “junk” DNA (although this is still being taught in the classroom).

Saying this does not mean we must buy into everything I. D. theorists are saying. But they deserve a hearing: a hearing they are struggling to get.

The Facts Are Mute

Yes, we’ve all heard the phrase “the facts speak for themselves.” But I hope you are beginning to see that it is not so. Evidence “lays around” waiting for an interpretation to be affixed to it. Sometimes that interpretation is right, and sometimes it is wrong. In the Christian worldview the interpretation is right if it matches what God the Creator says about His world.

If God says, for example, that there was a worldwide flood, one would expect vestiges of truth to be handed down through many flood stories. And indeed, there are well over fifty such flood stories from the ancient world, or from people groups whose history goes back to ancient times. And the geological evidence for a catastrophic deluge is enormous—though unfortunately hidden from most students! No, the facts do not speak for themselves. They require interpretation. But interpretation can be an awkward thing if the interpreter is wearing the wrong lenses.

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There are 9 Comments

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Agree w/the main premise, and I'm convinced of the power of presuppositions.

But how far can we take the idea that facts don't say much? I'm uncomfortable with unclear boundaries on that. While facts can be interpreted multiple ways, there is a finite number of possible interpretations. And the more clear and numerous the facts, the fewer the number of interpretations that are possible.

If we believe logic is functional at all, we have to believe that facts do point us toward particular sets of conclusions, though they do still frequently come short of proving one particular interpretation.

I just think there is danger of overstating the ambiguity of facts, and doing that has implications none of us would want to embrace.

M. Osborne's picture

'Paul Henebury' wrote:

The Facts Are Mute

Yes, we’ve all heard the phrase “the facts speak for themselves.” But I hope you are beginning to see that it is not so. Evidence “lays around” waiting for an interpretation to be affixed to it. Sometimes that interpretation is right, and sometimes it is wrong. In the Christian worldview the interpretation is right if it matches what God the Creator says about His world.

@Aaron Blumer: Given what I know of Dr. Henebury's thinking (based on a skimmed article here and there), I'm a little surprised to hear the argument phrased this way.

The typical presuppostionalist line is that brute facts are mute facts, but there are no brute facts.

But Van Til et al get there not by Thomas Kuhn, that "we all have our interpretive paradigms," but by Romans 1, that the data of the universe is part of general revelation. The "facts" and the "interpretations" are both arranged by God to point to His existence, His sovereignty, His right to judge, and our own worthiness of death.

It's useful to point out the unbelievers' contortionist efforts to interpret the "facts" to fit their own paradigm: this point undermines their claim to neutrality, objectivity, etc. But we're not just pulling them down to square 0 alongside ourselves, as if "I've got my paradigm, and you've got yours, so now lets engage honestly." Instead, we're showing them that they are re-interpreting facts that already say something, which they are making every effort to suppress.

@Dr. Henebury: If you're reading...please chime in. I'm curious for your response.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Yes I think this is what PH means to say. So there is important context he has not restated here... The facts are mute unless you are disposed already to hear them.
"He who has ears, let him hear?..."

M. Osborne's picture

Romans 1 describes the fact that revelation gets through ("is clearly seen"). The unbeliever rebels against knowledge that he actually has. It's not that he's refusing to open his eyes and see the knowledge that is offered. "God has shown it to them" means God has succeeded in making His message clear.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'd have to go back to that text but does it necessarily mean the meaning is perceived or simply that it is "there" to be perceived? But the line between "hearing" (or seeing, etc.) and "apprehending" is important as well. We often say "You're not listening" to someone who is hearing what we're saying but not really hearing... as in, not letting it in.

I feel like I'm overthinking it and this is really very simple!

Paul Henebury's picture

Thanks for your comment(s).  While I think I understand where you are coming from, I must dig my heels in a little.  Allowing for what you have said about the facts only permitting a circumscribed number of possible interpretations this doesn't bring us close to the correct interpretation, which, as I said in the second-to-last paragraph, must agree with God's pre-interpretation.

You write,

"If we believe logic is functional at all, we have to believe that facts do point us toward particular sets of conclusions, though they do still frequently come short of proving one particular interpretation.

I just think there is danger of overstating the ambiguity of facts, and doing that has implications none of us would want to embrace."

Well, the problem here is not with the laws of logic, but with those using them.  Van Til says, and I agree, that the unbeliever employs reasoning incorrectly as a means to escape from the truth.  Hence, the set of interpretations agreeable to the non-believer will not deliver to him God's interpretation.  This is because faith must guide reason.  But the essence of sin is independence from God and His Word.  It is not just interpretation per se we are talking about, but the possibility of accepting the right interpretation given the unbeliever's starting point.

As for the "ambiguity of the facts", I would not put it like that.  Facts qualify as "evidence" only after they have passed through a particular worldview; a worldview which will determine to a great extent what the facts can and cannot say.  Van Til denied the legitimacy of non-biblical approaches to "the facts" because there is no coherent worldview to make sense of them within a true system.

My illustrations were meant to convey this in a more understandable way.  Another example would be the way archeologists assume the Egyptian Chronology is accurate even though it creates time-gaps in all the other chronologies of the ANE.  It also (not so coincidentally) allows them to ignore very clear evidence for the early date of the Exodus and Joshua's campaigns.  They are looking at the relevant facts through the wrong lenses and coming out with the wrong interpretation.

As Polanyi said, "evidence" does not come labeled as such.  It becomes evidence once it has been accepted and interpreted within a certain point of view.

Finally, Romans 1 declares that the meaning is, to an extent, available, but the observer is not in a proper relation to the facts to see the right interpretation - which is Christian-theistic.        

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Paul Henebury's picture

Michael, thanks for your comment.

I think you have misunderstood my aims in the post.  I am not trying to commend a Kuhnian approach to apologetics.  i am challenging the dictum that "the facts speak for themselves" - a motto which should be disqualified because it is untrue,  Fact and interpretation go together, but they are not the same thing.  This means that one's interpretation, which is affected by one's lenses or "worldview paradigm", is the "voice" of the facts.  

However, Kuhn is useful because he does tear away the veneer from the vaunted ideal of the detached observer.  There is no such thing.  I don't think i have to run to Van Til for every statement I make.  The fact that CVT was ahead of the game makes the contribution of people like Thomas Kuhn more helpful because he (as I) point to Scripture as the touchstone for interpretation of the facts.

There is much that you say with which I am in agreement.  We must beware that we do not confine ourselves only to VanTillians.  While Van Til is the best exponent of the concept of presuppositions, others have also helped the cause.  I was simply utilizing them a bit. 

I believe Michael Polanyi's work is even more helpful than Kuhn in its critique of the slogan under discussion.  In that he clearly articulated an inseparable division of knowing into "tacit" or subsidiary knowledge and focused knowledge he shows the truth of Romans 1 from a different but complimentary angle than Van Til.

Hope that addresses your concern.

 

God bless,

 

Paul H     

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder of Telos Ministries, and Senior Pastor at Agape Bible Church in N. Ca.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Great article and fine discussion!  Thanks, all.

"The Midrash Detective"

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Well, the problem here is not with the laws of logic, but with those using them.  Van Til says, and I agree, that the unbeliever employs reasoning incorrectly as a means to escape from the truth.

Agreed. I think we're on the same page on this, just putting it a bit differently. If the problem isn't with logic, it isn't with "the facts" either. They are "mute" from the point of view of the natural man's commitment to not hear them.

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