TAWDE: The Lunatic in the Louvre (Ch 7)

Hi @Interested_In_Book_Studies!

This is a fun chapter! It takes a dominant worldview (at least in the West) head-on. Andy addresses scientism – the belief that only science can provide knowledge – in a witty and thought-provoking way.

From the opening illustration of attempting to answer why the Mona Lisa was painted by analyzing the chemical composition of the portrait we immediately see holes in the scientism line of reasoning. Diagnosing the material makeup couldn’t possibly answer the question of why. And, that’s precisely the point. There are a host of questions this worldview is ill-equipped to handle.

The chapter continues and raises questions of ethics – why is it good for humans to flourish? Why should we report our findings honestly and accurately? After all, Andy reasons, we’re just a collection of atoms like a coffee table and it couldn’t hurt in the long run, right?

Answering questions of why force us to seek revelation to attain knowledge. In the chapter Andy shares that he loves to hike the summits in the Lake District – a revelation. However, we don’t have to simply take him at his word as he points out. We could investigate his home and we would find all sorts of hiking gear, see his library full of mountaineering literature, and inspect his Facebook page to see photos of him on hikes. This evidence points us to the fact the he does, indeed, like to hike. Similarly, the evidence around the universe can and does point us to God – a revelation in Scripture.

The chapter moves on to point out that scientism is self-defeating. Why is it self-defeating? Well, if there isn’t any other “stuff” in the universe besides atoms and chemicals, humans must only be a collection of atoms and chemicals too. The problem is that’s exactly what trees, cars, and buildings are, and we certainly don’t ascribe rational thought or the ability to reason to them; and we are no different under this view. Additionally, the claim “only science can provide knowledge” isn’t a scientific claim. You cannot scientifically test this assertion and therefore it fails its own test.

Lastly, Andy brings clarification to the position he is pushing for. He isn’t saying that science isn’t any good and should be abandoned. Look at all the good and advances in society we enjoy because of science, we don’t want to turn away from that. Rather he says he is arguing for “science and.” We should use science and many other fields in our quest for knowledge. As pointed out, it’s difficult to build a home only using a hammer; you’ll need more tools to accomplish the task.

  1. Do you run into people who hold to this view? How do the typical interactions go?

  2. Which part of the chapter jumped out at you the most? Why? Was it like a situation you’ve encountered or did the information hit you in a new light?

  3. How is this book overall, not just this chapter, effecting your conversations? Is it moving you towards more fruitful and winsome engagement? If so, could you share with us?


I must say, Andy is quite a story teller; with Claude in the Museum. :slight_smile: Love the word play through out, like the line about stealing the Mona Lisa:

“Won’t she be alarmed?” I hissed.
“I’d describe her expression more as ‘nonplussed’,” Claude grinned.

actually this next quote is a really interesting point: Why is Dawkins so angry at people for believing in God? If all there is is matter/energy why not get angry at radishes. :slight_smile:

You know this, I know this, and even Richard Dawkins knows this: when he rages against religion, he clearly thinks it is people he is furious at. However, if his narrow, science-only view of reality holds, getting annoyed with a person is simply being irritated with a sack of chemicals. If he were being consistent, Dawkins might as well vent his anger at radishes, sofas, duffle coats or, for that matter, the humble carbon atom. People, in the sense of being persons, don’t really exist if scientism is true. But if it’s any consolation, neither does Richard Dawkins.

Bannister, Andy. The Atheist Who Didn’t Exist (p. 126). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

I also thought it was a good point that science’s foundation is based on ethics. If a scientist doesn’t make a moral decision (ethical) to report his findings truthfully, then this undermines science.

I also have heard that Richard Lewontin quote before and it’s a brilliant one; about “not allowing a Divine Foot in the door”.

I also like how Andy shows that scientism alone eliminates reason. Lennox also mentions this, who says he got his argument from Charles Darwin’s quote (below).

Sometimes, when in conversation with my fellow scientists, I ask them “What do you do science with?”

“My mind,” say some, and others, who hold the view that the mind is the brain, say, “My brain”.
“Tell me about your brain? How does it come to exist?”
“By means of natural, mindless, unguided processes.”
“Why, then, do you trust it?” I ask. “If you thought that your computer was the end product of mindless unguided processes, would you trust it?”
“Not in a million years,” comes the reply.
“You clearly have a problem then.”

After a pregnant pause they sometimes ask me where I got this argument—they find the answer rather surprising: Charles Darwin. He wrote: “…with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy

The Charles Darwin quote is:

“With me, the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.”

… on a slightly related note, I’m reminded of a quote I read in one of Lennox’s books, and I’ll have to try to paraphrase as I can’t remember which book it was in

“If we were looking at the world, we actually do see a moral universe; we see individual moral agents (humans) that are free to make decisions, and they are separated by an a-moral (neutral) space surrounding them. If a person picks up a hammer and uses it to build a building; it stays just as hard as if that same person had picked up the hammer and hit another person over the head with it. The hammer doesn’t stay rigid when it is used for good, and then go all floppy when used for evil.
The hammer is completely neutral (as is the air or space surrounding each of us), and it is humans who are moral agents; who choose right or wrong and will be held accountable before God for their choices”

Can I ask you a question @boabbott, in relation to question 1 and 3. In this chapter ethics (moral choices) are the basis for science. How would you simply bridge the gap to the moral argument we talked about in chapter 6? I find that in Australian culture most people don’t really stop and have these longer conversations face to face. Everyone is so busy just doing normal life things - working hard to pay the bills, or relaxing on the beach this time of year, and don’t like to think about these things. It’s the old “don’t talk about religion or politics” culturally. I find an online conversation gives me a lot more time to think and discuss. Is it a matter of just keeping it simple with a few questions to make people think, and then having a book such as this one to give them if they are interested? how do you approach it? (it’s on my todo list this year to do the ‘Everyday Questions’ or I recall you mentioned a book a while ago that helped you with how to bridge smoothly to a deeper conversation?

1 Like

@matthew.western, I love the paraphrase you gave. I’ve not heard the space around us categorized as a-moral, but it definitely is and that has huge implications if scientism is correct. Thanks for sharing!

The book I’ve referred to is Tactics by Greg Koukl. It’s a wonderful book to help open doors to conversations beyond the mundane and into deeper questions about God, life, and the like. One caveat, I can’t fully endorse his view of the Holy Spirit in evangelistic interaction but overall the book is a must-read.

The way you describe Australian culture sounds very similar to American culture, and I bet most of the western world. We’re not supposed to talk about religion or politics either, but once I know someone I’ll occasionally say something like, “We’ve talked about everything but religion and politics, so which one should we talk about first?” You’ll usually get a chuckle and a polite decline but just respond kindly with something like, “Well, let’s promise to be respectful and be friends after this no matter what, even if we deeply disagree. I’ll share my views first and you can tell me where I’m wrong…” Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t, but I’ve had people circle back to it after some time (like weeks or months even) and say, “remember when you said…” and the door is open.

Other times I just look for a way to ask simple probing questions because many conversations can be directed towards the gospel if you’re listening well. I’ve posted many times on RZIM Connect about the two questions I think everyone should get really good at asking, but if I need to cover them in more detail send me a DM. 1) What do you mean by that? 2) Why do you think that? These are easy, non-confrontational, and a-religious questions that make most people open to answering them. Once they answer, you just ask good and appropriate follow-up questions: that’s interesting, could you tell me more? Have you considered that if ____ is true it means ____? The follow-up questions are the questions that begin to steer the conversation towards Christ.

Regarding having a book to give them, I think it’s important to be familiar with resources to point people to, especially if it’s in an area that you’re not well-versed. The resource could be a book, a scholarly article, a lecture on YouTube, a podcast, or any number of things. The thing you want to make sure is that 1) it’s credible and 2) it’s accessible to them intellectually. For example, sometimes I’ll want to point a person towards a resource on Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig, and while he’s a very credible source a lot of his stuff is over the head of most people, so I may not share it.

Lastly, I don’t want to be naive and say, “Here’s the secret formula. Just do XYZ and you’ll lead everyone you talk with to Christ.” That’s not going to happen (if it does that’s amazing and please let me know I’m wrong). I was 19 years old when I decided to start intentionally sharing Jesus, and if I remember correctly only one person out of the first 20 or so people wanted to converse and he just wanted to argue. I think it’s because I wasn’t good at asking questions and I wasn’t very winsome (or even close to being so). But, once I learned how to ask questions and listen to the person I started to see more interest in conversation; maybe 70% were willing to discuss? The point is you take some hard hits but if you keep going you begin to see change. All we want is for each person, including us, to take the next step in following Jesus. Or as Greg Koukl puts it, “Put a rock in their shoe. Give them something they can’t ignore and have to think about.”

1 Like

thanks that’s great info - I’ve bought the kindle edition of that book. :slight_smile: I’ll save the post. yes I did like your two questions and have seen them in the past. What do you mean by that? and Why do you think that? great questions and very non-confrontational. I also like your bridge question “we’ve talked about everything but religion and politics, can we talk about that now”. :slight_smile:

Yes I like the Lennox book ‘Can science explain everything?’ as a give away book as I understand it completely. I also like this book we’re looking at as an option because at the end of each chapter there are 4 more recommended books to read in a given area. I might have to have one of each in my glovebox of the car - one for the more serious minded person, and this one for someone who obviously likes a bit of humor and word play to get them to think.

thanks again.

1 Like