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Friday, July 07, 2006

A priori

Regular readers of this blog know that I am something of a fan of science. Okay, really, that's an understatement. When I was a kid, my favorite magazine was Popular Science. My favorite Star Trek character? Why Spock, the science officer. My favorite classes in high school and college? Science courses. Hell, in college I took a course titled "Cognitive Neuroscience" for fun.* My occupational choice? A science. My current magazine subscriptions? Scientific American, Analog Science Fiction & Fact, and the Skeptical Inquirer. My obsession is so severe that one of my Sainted Girlfriend's associates has actually asserted that science is my religion.** So, yes, it's safe to say that I "like" science.

That said, I am keenly interested in things that are happening to, and in, science. This explains my interest in "Intelligent Design," which has the unpleasant distinction of being a convenient label for individuals who want to try to ram creationism into the school system. It also explains my interest in a recent post by Sconnie blogger Sir Edwin Pegasus. Eddie is discussing a fellowship program*** called the "Harvey Fellows" for graduate students in top-five ranked departments in a variety of different fields. The Harvey website summarizes their main areas of interest as:

Government, corporate, and university sponsored research;

International economics and finance in public and private sectors;

International diplomacy;

Journalism and media;

Film production and visual and performing arts;

Public policy and federal, state, and major city government;

Research, teaching, and administration at premier colleges and universities.

As you can see, they're pretty open to different pursuits. So what do you get with this fellowship? Well, as stated on the Harvey website:

Each Harvey Fellow is awarded a $15,000 annual stipend. The award is portable to a premier graduate degree program, subject to approval by the selection committee. Generally, only schools considered to be among the top five by professionals in a given subject area or specialty will be acceptable destinations.


Fellows are free to use their stipends for legitimate educational expenses which further their vocational goals: e.g., tuition, living expenses, research tools or travel, studio space, professional conferences, and interview travel.

The number of Fellowships awarded each year varies according to available funds from the Mustard Seed Foundaton. Funding is provided for up to a total of two years for most master’s programs and a total of three years for law and doctoral programs.

Not bad, eh?

Doubtless some of you are wondering if there's a catch. That's because you're smart- of course there's a catch, there's always a catch, and this time it's a doozy:

The Harvey Fellows was developed to encourage followers of Jesus Christ to integrate their faith and vocation and pursue leadership positions in strategic fields where Christians appear to be underrepresented. We understand God to be Creator and Sustainer, not only of human beings, but of society’s disciplines and structures which make up our world. Our goal is to empower students who evidence the passion and ability to lead others as they participate in God’s work to redeem these structures.

The Harvey Fellows provides financial support to Christian graduate students who possess a unique vision to impact society through their fields and who are pursuing graduate studies at premier institutions in their disciplines (in the United States or abroad).

The Harvey Fellows seeks to:

Encourage students who are committed to Jesus Christ to pursue vocations that are culturally influential and to pursue vocational credentials in the most prestigious graduate programs;

Equip students to develop the tools necessary to lead integrated lives, addressing important societal issues from within the framework of a Christ-centered worldview;

Validate exceptional abilities in academics and leadership as gifts from God worthy of cultivation and development;

Offer a forum for the exchange of ideas on the integration of faith, learning, and vocation, while establishing a network of talented Christians who are leaders in numerous occupational arenas.

So, this isn't your general, run-of-the-mill fellowship program. This is a program specifically for Christians, and others need not apply. Now, some of you (knowing that I'm an atheist) may be waiting for me to rant about how unfair or prejudicial this is. Sorry to disappoint you, but it's not gonna happen. I'm fine with a group offering a fellowship like this, and wish them the best of luck.

I am, however, here to pose a question: why? Why is it desirable to increase the number of Christians in these disciplines. For simplicity, let's narrow the question to: Why is it desirable to increase the number of Christians in the social and behavioral sciences?

Well, what are the properties of a good scientist? Honesty, intelligence, dedication, open-mindedness, and curiosity all spring to mind. Are these qualities that non-Christians lack? Are Muslims, Jews, and Atheists less honest than Christians? Well, popular opinion might say yes (especially about Atheists) but I know of no empirical findings that support such a contention. Are Christians more intelligent or dedicated? Well, Albert Einstein was Jewish, so probably not. What about open-minded or curious? Seems a little unreasonable to say so.

So why do we need to increase the number of Christians in science? Well, according to the Harvey Fellowship (as quoted above):

Our goal is to empower students who evidence the passion and ability to lead others as they participate in God’s work to redeem these structures.

Okay, but what does that mean? Well, the Harvey Fellowship explains that its vision is best summed up by the Lausanne Covenant, which is more or less an Evangelical Manifesto. This covenant, that sums up the Harvey Fellowship's vision, and that all fellows must sign their agreement to, includes the following:

We affirm the divine inspiration, truthfulness and authority of both Old and New Testament Scriptures in their entirety as the only written word of God, without error in all that it affirms, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice. We also affirm the power of God's word to accomplish his purpose of salvation. The message of the Bible is addressed to all men and women. For God's revelation in Christ and in Scripture is unchangeable. Through it the Holy Spirit still speaks today. He illumines the minds of God's people in every culture to perceive its truth freshly through their own eyes and thus discloses to the whole Church ever more of the many-colored wisdom of God.

(II Tim. 3:16; II Pet. 1:21; John 10:35; Isa. 55:11; 1 Cor. 1:21; Rom. 1:16, Matt. 5:17,18; Jude 3; Eph. 1:17,18; 3:10,18)

We affirm that there is only one Saviour and only one gospel, although there is a wide diversity of evangelistic approaches. We recognise that everyone has some knowledge of God through his general revelation in nature. But we deny that this can save, for people suppress the truth by their unrighteousness. We also reject as derogatory to Christ and the gospel every kind of syncretism and dialogue which implies that Christ speaks equally through all religions and ideologies. Jesus Christ, being himself the only God-man, who gave himself as the only ransom for sinners, is the only mediator between God and people. There is no other name by which we must be saved. All men and women are perishing because of sin, but God loves everyone, not wishing that any should perish but that all should repent. Yet those who reject Christ repudiate the joy of salvation and condemn themselves to eternal separation from God. To proclaim Jesus as "the Saviour of the world" is not to affirm that all people are either automatically or ultimately saved, still less to affirm that all religions offer salvation in Christ. Rather it is to proclaim God's love for a world of sinners and to invite everyone to respond to him as Saviour and Lord in the wholehearted personal commitment of repentance and faith. Jesus Christ has been exalted above every other name; we long for the day when every knee shall bow to him and every tongue shall confess him Lord.

(Gal. 1:6-9;Rom. 1:18-32; I Tim. 2:5,6; Acts 4:12; John 3:16-19; II Pet. 3:9; II Thess. 1:7-9;John 4:42; Matt. 11:28; Eph. 1:20,21; Phil. 2:9-11)


More than 2,700 million people, which is more than two-thirds of all humanity, have yet to be evangelised. We are ashamed that so many have been neglected; it is a standing rebuke to us and to the whole Church. There is now, however, in many parts of the world an unprecedented receptivity to the Lord Jesus Christ. We are convinced that this is the time for churches and para-church agencies to pray earnestly for the salvation of the unreached and to launch new efforts to achieve world evangelization. A reduction of foreign missionaries and money in an evangelised country may sometimes be necessary to facilitate the national church's growth in self-reliance and to release resources for unevangelised areas. Missionaries should flow ever more freely from and to all six continents in a spirit of humble service. The goal should be, by all available means and at the earliest possible time, that every person will have the opportunity to hear, understand, and to receive the good news. We cannot hope to attain this goal without sacrifice. All of us are shocked by the poverty of millions and disturbed by the injustices which cause it. Those of us who live in affluent circumstances accept our duty to develop a simple life-style in order to contribute more generously to both relief and evangelism.

(John 9:4; Matt. 9:35-38; Rom. 9:1-3; I Cor. 9:19-23; Mark 16:15; Isa. 58:6,7; Jas. 1:27; 2:1-9; Matt. 25:31-46; Acts 2:44,45; 4:34,35)

The development of strategies for world evangelization calls for imaginative pioneering methods. Under God, the result will be the rise of churches deeply rooted in Christ and closely related to their culture. Culture must always be tested and judged by Scripture. Because men and women are God's creatures, some of their culture is rich in beauty and goodness. Because they are fallen, all of it is tainted with sin and some of it is demonic. The gospel does not presuppose the superiority of any culture to another, but evaluates all cultures according to its own criteria of truth and righteousness, and insists on moral absolutes in every culture. Missions have all too frequently exported with the gospel an alien culture and churches have sometimes been in bondage to culture rather than to Scripture. Christ's evangelists must humbly seek to empty themselves of all but their personal authenticity in order to become the servants of others, and churches must seek to transform and enrich culture, all for the glory of God.

(Mark 7:8,9,13; Gen. 4:21,22; I Cor. 9:19-23; Phil. 2:5-7; II Cor. 4:5)


We believe that we are engaged in constant spiritual warfare with the principalities and powers of evil, who are seeking to overthrow the Church and frustrate its task of world evangelization. We know our need to equip ourselves with God's armour and to fight this battle with the spiritual weapons of truth and prayer. For we detect the activity of our enemy, not only in false ideologies outside the Church, but also inside it in false gospels which twist Scripture and put people in the place of God. We need both watchfulness and discernment to safeguard the biblical gospel. We acknowledge that we ourselves are not immune to worldliness of thoughts and action, that is, to a surrender to secularism. For example, although careful studies of church growth, both numerical and spiritual, are right and valuable, we have sometimes neglected them. At other times, desirous to ensure a response to the gospel, we have compromised our message, manipulated our hearers through pressure techniques, and become unduly preoccupied with statistics or even dishonest in our use of them. All this is worldly. The Church must be in the world; the world must not be in the Church.

(Eph. 6:12; II Cor. 4:3,4; Eph. 6:11,13-18; II Cor. 10:3-5; I John 2:18-26; 4:1-3; Gal. 1:6-9; II Cor. 2:17; 4:2; John 17:15) [emphasis added]

As you can see, the Lausanne Covenant is a call for Christian evangelism the world over that includes a belief both in the inerrency of the bible, and in Jesus Christ as the only route to salvation. If this is the Harvey Fellowship's "vision," then it is clear that it has nothing to do with science, and everything to do with religion.

So is that bad? Well, yes and no. On one hand, people are going to bring their spiritual beliefs into their work. A devout Christian who also happens to be a Sociologist might well study income inequality, or even religion itself. The types of questions she asks will doubtless be driven by her spiritual leanings. I don't have a problem with that and, indeed, it is the best reason why the scientific community needs diversity. If we have lots and lots of different prejudices in how we pose our questions, and agreed-upon methods for evaluating the answers, then we can use the sum total of our work to find the facts that underlie the prejudices. This is no different then using several instruments to measure the same phenomenon so as to cancel out measurement error.

On the other hand, however, the Lausanne Covenant commits the Harvey Fellows to a peculiar position. They must agree, at the very beginning, that the world is a certain way and that the bible is the utter truth. As such, the "redeeming" that figures so prominently in the Harvey Fellowship's language can only refer to working to fit the world, and our findings about it, to match the dictates of a vague book written by a number of (often unknown) men more than a thousand years ago. It is reaching a conclusion a priori and then trying to force the data to fit it. Now, I'm an atheist, so maybe I don't understand religion. Maybe the essence of Christian faith is an adherence to particular dictates without evidence. Maybe that's being a good Christian. I can't answer that question, because I am not Christian, but I can tell you one thing:

It's lousy science.

* No, really, I did. I didn't need the credits to graduate, but I couldn't get a tuition reduction for not taking an extra class and figured, "Hell, why not?"

** This is, of course, untrue. While I am very much a lover of science, it simply isn't a philosophical system that can serve the same purposes as the metaphysics of religion.

*** For the non-academics in the audience, "fellowship program" is the academic equivalent of a sign that says "Free crack!" Much like those piles of "Free Birdseed" that the Coyote would leave for the Roadrunner, however, there is almost always a cost in it somewhere.


Blogger Rebekah Ravenscroft-Scott said...

EXACTLY! (and thanks for the linkup)

and why are people masquerading as scientists when in fact they're evangelists? what about either academic integrity or moral honesty?

Friday, July 07, 2006 2:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No kidding. You want to proselytize? Do so on your own time.

Friday, July 07, 2006 2:36:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the issue may be that, while we can understand religion scientifically, we cannot understand faith entirely. We can determine why people choose to believe, but not truly the nature of that belief.

Well, that's my simplistic thought of the day

Friday, July 07, 2006 4:24:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your blog. Thanks for being honest and open about everything. I love Jesus and love reading about people who know him too.

I am a musician and I would be honored if you would check out my music. All my music is free for download. Anyway, I don't mean to be a pest, just thought I'd share.

"All my muisc is free."

Friday, July 07, 2006 8:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe Sean should have actually read the post before spamming the comments.
Here's some contact info on him. Maybe we could all tell him how much we appreciated his comment.

Web Site E-Mail:

Scheduling & Booking Information:
True To Him Productions
Don Mast
1230 22nd Avenue
Altoona, PA 16601
(814) 942-6695
Booking E-Mail:

Personal E-mail:

Sean's Postal Address:
224 Hideaway Bay Dr.
Miramar Beach, FL

I don't know why I keep expecting some sort of morals out of these Christians.

Sunday, July 09, 2006 2:33:00 AM  
Blogger Drek said...

Actually, I think I'd prefer if people didn't spam him. His post here makes it sufficiently clear that he's not paying much attention.

If he becomes a persistent nuisance... well... then we'll have to do something I suppose.

And I think the comment spamming falls less into the category of "morality" and more "good taste," but perhaps that's just me.

Sunday, July 09, 2006 10:59:00 AM  

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