Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Science is Reductionistic

In our world of electronic gadgets, an Internet era of smartphones and social media, we elevate science and technology through the latest and the greatest paradigm. What's new today will be old tomorrow. Tomorrow will be outlived by the day after tomorrow. Technology when we look forward is poised to turn our present existence and possessions into an artifact, relegated to a small memory in history.

As I was reading the late Chuck Colson's daily devotional (Week 17, Tuesday, p101) in A Dangerous Grace, I was struck by how reductionistic science can be. Colson was reflecting on an article in the Boston Globe that was trying to explain tragedy from the standpoint of science.

  • Presumption: The bloodbath in Bosnia is because of something in our genes
  • In biopolitics, politics can be explained by the scientific branch of biology
  • Since biology can explain politics, it must be able to explain evolution.
  • Biopolitics justify the need to exist, by ethnic conflict and aggression (natural selection)
  • Aggression is actually an "evolutionary advantage."
Colson was apparently appalled at the way the journalist tries to explain violence and aggression through evolution in a manner that is distant, impassioned, and impersonal. No moral dimension was discussed. People become victims due to their genes. What is right or wrong is simply blamed on natural phenomenon. By linking warfare, violence, and ethnic cleansing to something as normal as our natural food chain and evolution, the whole idea tries to reduce man into a helpless pawn in the universe of human selection.

One of the basic tenets of science is the law of thermodynamics. In the second law, it states:

"Heat does not flow spontaneously from a colder region to a hotter region, or, equivalently, heat at a given temperature cannot be converted entirely into work." (Reference:

In other words, there is a reduction of heat from a hot to a cold region. There is no such thing as an increase of 'cold' for cold is simply a loss of heat. Trying to use science and evolution to explain human behaviour or morality is simply not using science correctly. Science after all depends on assumptions. It does an excellent job in explaining how things work, but is like a fish out of water when it attempts to explain morality, philosophy, and even the arts. My point is, science and morality are completely different domains of understanding. While morality can be used to explain the use of science, science cannot be used to explain the human morality. Is there an evil gene? Is there a happy gene? When such things happen, the homosapiens species will have been reduced to a gene or a scientific piece of data. Not only is it reductionistic, science when used this way will eventually reduce the human being into a zero, just like the person who dies, and the body decays and ultimately perishes into the ground. It is appealing but the whole idea is downright deceiving.

Is there a "freedom" gene? Is there a "criminal" gene? By identifying and subsequently blaming one's behaviour on genetics, one faces even greater questions of life. What then controls these genes? What is the intelligence behind the genes? If the reductionistic feature of science is extrapolated to the intelligence arena, man will be somewhat less and less intelligent over time!

The logic is mindboggling. Colson then brings up his alternative. Call the violence and aggression as sin. Call the overall purpose of living as not reducing the whole explanation into a theoretical premise, but to see it as an opportunity for redemption of mankind. Science reduces matter to the lowest entity, like the half-life constant decline of chemicals. Science reduces a machine into its parts. Science when used on human behaviour is ultimately reductionistic.

Christ came to earth to redeem the world. He comes to give us life and life abundantly (John 10:10). Science is reductionistic. Christianity is redemptive. If one uses science to interpret human behaviour, the goal is eventually an atom, a molecule, a gene or a DNA. If one looks from the eyes of faith, and from Creation of God, the human person is not only redeemed, the human person is free to achieve his/her highest potential, as God has made us to be.


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