Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Evolution and Normal Science

Science philosopher Thomas Kuhn in his landmark work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) proposed new ideas in the public’s vision of science. Kuhn introduced several new terms, including paradigm, paradigm shift, paradigm war, scientific revolution, and normal science. Among the public the latter term is one of the most broadly understood concepts concerning science. Normal science describes the routine, day-to-day work of scientists working within a paradigm. Kuhn’s paradigm is used to describe the collection of beliefs shared by scientists about how reality is to be understood.

Several years ago I wrote a series of letters to newspaper opinion pages concerning the paradigm of evolution, referencing the commonly perceived public vision of normal science. In my letters I raised the topics of evolution and the counter-topics of intelligent design and supernatural creation. Evolution is the accepted vision of the majority of science professionals concerning life’s origins. The bio-science profession’s normal science overwhelmingly works within the paradigm of molecules to man evolution. Below I share with readers substantial excerpts from one of my submissions to newspaper opinion pages:

In my previous letter my point was not to argue for exclusive, formal teaching of intelligent design in public classrooms to supplant teaching of the theory of evolution. I do not wish to have a secular science instructor argue the specifics of the work of a creator, including who the Creator is, even though I have strong beliefs along those lines. Many people, including myself, would argue merely for the mention that the far-ranging theory of evolution is controversial, has significant weaknesses, and that there is an alternative explanation for life’s origin, development, and complexity quite apart from the constraints of pure, naturalistic science methodology. I even advocate that we teach what the theory of evolution proposes and how scientists have arrived at its paradigm. If the theory really were true, it could only be strengthened by a critical analysis.

Having spent 40 years in public school science education, I developed enormous respect for the effectiveness of scientific method in understanding the wonders of the natural world. I also developed awareness that the scientific method is incapable of accounting for every observable phenomenon. In particular, evolution, sometimes touted as “a fact, rigorously tested and proven,” does not rise to that exalted status because of serious confusion and preconceptions ingrained in our perceptual framework by our education system.

We sometimes encounter the mantra of the late Stephen Jay Gould that evolution is both a theory and a fact. Niles Eldredge, who collaborated with Gould in 1972 to articulate the evolutionary hypothesis of punctuated equilibrium (PE) to explain important observations concerning the fossil record, has also promoted the “theory and fact” idea. Gould and Eldredge both promote evolution as a “fact,” but would acknowledge that the “theory” of how it all happened is still subject to lively debate.

Gould and Eldredge have achieved guru status with their PE hypothesis. Many people unfamiliar with all the details of the proposals of evolution would be surprised to discover that Earth’s fossil record, instead of gradual transitions, tells the story of sudden appearances of many groups of novel species (called radiations) throughout Earth’s 3.8 billion year history of life. These appearances most often follow mass extinction episodes caused by asteroid bombardment, snowball events (widespread glaciations), and extensive volcanism.

Geologic periods and eras are generally demarcated by such events. The PE hypothesis of Gould and Eldredge, replete with impressively creative terms such as cladogenesis, peripatetic speciation, and adaptive radiation, is a speculative proposal at best. Gould and Eldredge have become famous promoting PE, evolution as both theory and fact, and NOMA (non-overlapping magesteria)—the idea that there is no overlap between science and religion. Without PE there is no evolution. PE, however, provides for evolution in “fits and starts.” Eldredge has worked hard to explain the these serious difficulties encountered within evolution’s paradigm.

I once exchanged a series of letters with a paleontologist from a major Midwest university. He wrote that “Evolution is a fact of nature without regard to perceived trends, patterns, or processes, just as gravity is a fact of nature, the speed of light is a fact of nature, etc.” How does this pronouncement of evolution as a “fact,” and the assignment of “fact” status by Gould, Eldredge, and many others, comport with logic?

Pope John Paul II in 1996 proclaimed, “A theory’s validity depends on whether or not it can be verified; it is constantly tested against the facts; whenever it can no longer explain the latter, it shows its limitations and unsuitability. It must then be rethought.”

Stephen Jay Gould had said, “Facts are the world’s data.” If evolution is this sort of “fact” against which we check hypotheses and theories such as PE, we are left with a hopelessly circular argument. If evolution is a fact, like gravity, it is an easy step for Gould, Eldredge, Dawkins, et al, to propose that their creative theories about how things happened are supported by “facts” that are taken to be true as conceptual assumptions.

The hypothesis and terminology of PE is more descriptive than explanatory. One article stated “Gould and Eldredge did not specify any particular genetic mechanism for PE” (i. e., how new forms could explosively appear on the scene). Another stated it was not a well-developed theory. Evolutionists have not convincingly explained mechanisms driving these sudden re-populations of new forms following mass extinctions, or, for that matter, the long periods of stasis during which little if any change occurs. Their attempts to do so are riddled with speculations and uncertainties. Upon analysis, their arguments rely on logical fallacies and tricks of argument laden with circular reasoning, tautology, and begging the question.

We are told, ad nauseam, that evolution is rigorously tested and proven, as if this statement is its own best proof. We are presented with evidence such as genetic tinkering experiments with fruit flies, micro-evolutionary mutations in viruses, peppered moths in England, and Galapagos finches which do not rise to the status of proof for macro-evolution. These are the real canards in the current cultural war.

At this point I am content to argue that evolution is weak science. The proposition of widely spaced supernatural creation events is not falsifiable in the classic scientific sense, as that term is currently defined. But have we considered whether the unusual proposals of punctuated equilibrium are observable, falsifiable, repeatable, or provable, and supply us with predictive ability?

Many complain about religious intrusion into the domain of science. On this basis, have we discarded the plausible inference of supernatural creation events to account for the observed data merely because belief in the agency of a supernatural Creator has a flavor of religion? The precept of “progressive creationism” is a proposal gaining traction among theists because it conforms to the sequence of creation events described in Genesis 1 and allows for the translation of Hebrew “yom” as “a long period of time.”

I enthusiastically endorse the traditional methods of science for discovering truth about the natural world. However, when truth may lie outside the strict “game rules” of scientific methodology, and when the fault lines of evolution’s paradigm begin to manifest themselves, perhaps it is time for a thoughtful reappraisal of the workings of Thomas Kuhn’s “normal science.”

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Paradigm Wars

Back in the middle of the first decade of the new millennium, I took it upon myself to engage several strongholds of evolution. Having been a science instructor in our public schools, I wrote to some of my former colleagues. I also submitted letters to local and national newspapers with my concerns. Many of those letters of concern were published. I recently reviewed some of these letters to individuals and public media. The issues are still relevant. Here is an close adaptation of one letter I’ll share with readers. It was sent around the time of the infamous decision by Judge John E. Jones III. This decision was hailed as definitive in excluding mention of intelligent design in public classrooms on the basis that it is constitutionally forbidden because ID is tantamount to a religious viewpoint:

One of the most wrenching issues of the day, destined to become even more so, is the teaching of evolution in our public schools. The teaching is pitted against the desire of advocates of intelligent design (ID) to have mentioned, at least, the possibility of an intelligent designer as an alternative way to account for the origin of life and its processes. The same advocates desire to have significant weaknesses in the theory of evolution mentioned in our public school classrooms along with the view that evolution, contrary to the constant drumbeat from most science professionals, has not risen to the status of “fact.”

A firestorm has erupted replete with courtroom challenges. Professional science organizations staunchly claim the mention of possible supernatural action anywhere and anytime in the natural world within our science curriculum would be tantamount to state advocacy of a religious belief. Many people are unaware of the historic backdrop for the fierce opposition from professional science organizations in the area of public education. Neither are they aware of a little-known philosophical debate which preceded the firestorm.

In 1962, science historian Thomas Kuhn produced a landmark volume entitled “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” His thesis was that science does not gradually evolve toward truth via slow accumulation of new discoveries. Rather, science undergoes periodic revolutions Kuhn termed “paradigm shifts.” Kuhn popularized the term “paradigm” and originated the expression “paradigm shift.” A paradigm, in Kuhn’s view, is a collection of beliefs shared by scientists about how reality is to be understood. He also coined the terms “normal science” to describe the routine, day-to-day work of scientists working within the paradigm, and “scientific revolution,” an episode in which an older paradigm is replaced by a new one.

After Darwin the mainstream science establishment embraced the evolutionary paradigm as an organizing principle for science. Science text publishers, particularly since the mid-20th century, have rigidly adhered to it. Kuhn brilliantly characterized those who adhere to a paradigm as seeing reality with tunnel vision through the mist of ideas and assumptions that constitute their paradigm. They often resist and suppress new ideas because those ideas subvert the basic paradigm to which they subscribe. When a new candidate for paradigm surfaces a battle over its acceptance emerges and we experience a “paradigm war.”

Country-wide court battles signal the early stages of a paradigm war. The stakes are very high. The paradigm of naturalistic evolution has gripped our science education establishment and that establishment is not yielding one inch of territory. The often-applied separation of church and state principle is only one of many devices by lawyers to strengthen their case before judicial authorities. Another device is the stated principle that science deals only with natural phenomena while the supernatural is exclusively the domain of religion. The science establishment, perhaps to shield itself securely within its evolutionary paradigm, decries any attempt even to mention possible alternative explanations for counter data or legitimate challenges to the “evolution is a fact” mantra repeated widely within public science classrooms.

Most ID proponents would be content with this mention. Most ID supporters do not wish to have their specific theological doctrines taught in public schools, contrary to the fear that such would be the case. In view of this understanding of the potent force of paradigms in science, we may understand more fully what is going on in our culture. We may be on the edge of a “scientific revolution.” Historically, there have been many paradigm wars resulting in scientific revolutions within the field of science.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Questions for the Handmaiden and Queen

Science/Faith conferences are highlighted on church and college calendars. The subject of science as it relates to faith has proven to be instructive for many in the church and on Christian college campuses. Pastors, Christians working in science careers, science majors, and laypersons with a special interest in science are pleased when these conferences are held on their campus. The subjects of science and faith, interesting when studied alone, are often more appealing when studied together. The pairing of these topics has an interesting history.

Science has been called the handmaiden to theology. Theology has been characterized as the queen of the sciences. Both expressions have their roots in centuries past. Both expressions are used to highlight our discussions of the relationship of science and theology. This relationship is of significantly greater importance in our day than most realize.

If we view our science and theological beliefs as human productions, each informs the other in significant ways. Natural science is knowledge of the physical world and its operation. Theology is knowledge of God and his actions in the physical world. The meaning of each term has been defined and expanded upon at great length by experts in science and theology. (For our discussion purposes, we hope our brief definitions will suffice.) Beyond these simple definitions, over the centuries thousands of scholars and authors have offered their contributions to the formation of knowledge in each discipline.

Alister McGrath, noted theologian and Christian apologist, has described a “long tradition within Christian theology of drawing on intellectual resources outside the Christian tradition as a means of developing a theological vision.” Mathematicians, philosophers, and musicians, for example, contribute intellectual resources to the reality of theology. God, the Creator, receives “feedback” from his created beings according to their gifts. In this way, McGrath describes science as a handmaiden, or servant, helping our understanding of theology.

Metaphorically, how is theology the queen of the sciences? Theology, the study of God and his actions on earth, has “regal” power to inform us about God and his creation, including how the Creator acted and still acts within his created universe. In this expression the “sciences” include broad understandings of human knowledge.

In our day, science and theology still have an interface. Science today principally deals with physical and life sciences. In modern terminology, the interface refers to the association of science and faith. The relationship of science and faith has a storied history and remains a popular discussion issue. A search of popular topics for instructional gatherings includes a generous sprinkling of “science/faith” conferences. As a former science instructor and as a Christian, I support these conferences. With interest, I peruse the programs looking for topics of interest to me. With concern, however, I note a serious problem in these “science/faith” conferences.

To oversimplify, some leaders exhibit a tendency to overstress science or in some cases, to overstress theology. Does science inform theology? Does theology inform science? To both questions, the answer is, “Yes.”

Theistic creationists may overstress theology by misinterpreting scientific data or ignoring it altogether in their zeal to interpret scripture according to their private interpretation of what scripture says, particularly when they judge that scripture presents a strict scientific chronicle of events on earth in just a few verses. Our blog has stated that science and scripture will not disagree if both are interpreted correctly.

Evolutionists may overstress science in a somewhat different manner. Discussions with theistic evolutionary Christians reveal a surprising tendency to “join themselves at the hip” to secularists who captured much of our cultural mindset at the close of the Civil War. During that period ambitious secularist scientists claimed much of the authority formerly granted to theistic scientists. The secularizers of science followed the lead of militant secularists who had impacted culture in general. Theology became less influential as a shaper of society. The vision of science and religion as “a single, self-consistent whole” crumbled. Many theistic evolutionists given voice at science/faith seminars possess a strong allegiance to the findings of science. Their allegiance pleases the overwhelming majority of secular bio-scientists whose mindset is governed by the naturalistic paradigm of “molecules to man” evolution.

Many science/faith seminars accord an inconspicuous voice to creationists, either old earth or young earth advocates. With virtually unified voice, they decry the intelligent design movement, energetically dismissing it along with evidence for supernatural creation. Design and creation proposals are dismissed as unscientific notwithstanding that their discovery methods are used across the science profession. The problem goes much deeper. Secular science spokesmen have made their pronouncement: The activity of a supernatural God is off limits to scientific discovery.

The methods of science discovery are wonderful, God-given gifts to man. I am thankful for science as a God-enabled discipline of enormous benefit to man across the timeline of human history. On a lesser plane of grandeur, I am also thankful for the professional skill of committed scientists and theologians who present their findings at science/faith conferences. As with any human endeavor, we may effect changes by offering our contributions of active participation and meaningful input when the conference concludes. In this way scientists, theologians, and laypeople alike may learn and profit, and come ever closer to discovering powerful scientific and theological truths.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Science/Faith Conferences

The interface between science and faith is the subject of many investigations among Christians in the field of science and to a lesser extent, among the laypeople in our churches. Popular conferences bring together science scholars to investigate the relationship between science and faith. Some seminars are directed toward and populated mainly by Christians in science professions, often with laypersons invited as observers. Other gatherings include theologians invited by conference sponsors to gain their particular perspectives concerning science. Perhaps most valuable are conferences which include individual participants formally trained in both science and theological disciplines. This blend of professional qualifications may be unusual in the conference setting. Our culture’s trend toward specialization may be responsible for this dichotomy.

In the past several years I have personally attended such conferences or viewed recordings of conferences. As a former science teacher my personal interest in science and theology make me a unique beneficiary of the planning of conference organizers. The conferences also hold appeal for my wife, a former math teacher, who shares my interest in matters of science and faith. As former teachers, we enjoy discussing issues and events related to our common career interests as well as matters of Christian concern, personal and societal.

Our concern is the substantial segment of our church population uninterested in matters of the science/faith connection. At a recent northeast conference on science and faith, some of the speakers decried the tendency of evangelical church attendees to be suspicious of the findings of science. There are multiple reasons for this phenomenon. Some find their personal interpretations of origins questions or the benefits resulting from scientific and technological advances to be contrary to their personal views. Our Creator has gifted humans with free will to choose, select, or reject modern technological advances and life styles and incorporate them as their own. We rejoice in the Creator’s gift of free will. Our science and theological beliefs are central. They are included in the gift of free will.   

What are the findings of science? If we were to categorize such findings, many Christians may not approve of them. A significant segment of the evangelical Christian community, for example, including a number of evangelical institutions of higher learning, now subscribes to evolution, including molecules-to-man evolution. The author of this Science/Faith blog does not endorse molecules-to-man evolution. We believe our interpretation of the evidence for creation and intelligent design scenarios diametrically opposes macro-evolution. Molecules-to-man may describe one important application of “macro-evolution.” We do not believe in macro-evolution.

We promote the idea that geological and historical events clearly present evidence of sudden creation events which are unexplained by any evolutionary scenario. Our readers are encouraged to read widely and broadly on the questions of human origins and the implications of the findings of science as it relates to evolution, creation, and intelligent design. In addition to the professional science community’s answer on origins, other advances provided by science and technology in our society have significant impacts on our worldview. As Christians we must be aware of these impacts and be prepared with our response.

Some fellow Christians have come to different conclusions about origins. Theistic evolutionists believe evolution is one means by which God could have accomplished his creative work. Finally, I encourage each reader to read and study these origins questions broadly. No conference attendance, regardless of the quality of the presenters and their presentations, substitutes for personal study and reflection on these vital issues.          


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Source of Intuition

Human intuition, an adjunct to scientists’ assembled evidence concerning origins, has received its share of attention to explain how we form our beliefs. When all is said and done, after scientists make their case for evolution, are their science students and the public at large overwhelmed by their power of persuasion?  Are they impacted by the tenets of neo-Darwinism which has captured the heart of the bio-science community with its emphasis on genetic connections between organisms? Does a significant segment of the public endorse the paradigm of evolution? In keeping with the marriage of the science profession to naturalism, secular science educators may now respond with a qualified, “Yes.” Many voices from our secular science establishment have established their claim to authority on the question of origins.

What is the effect of the evolutionary indoctrination received by our students in public education? Could the formation of the human body have occurred by a chance evolutionary natural selection scenario? More specifically, are the exquisite design features of billions of sensory neurons (cells which carry electrical signals to or from the brain) a happy outcome of natural selection? The neurons of the body are incredible structures of complexity and functionality. Integration of eye anatomy, for example, and the neural function from the retina to and including the brain leave us awe-struck with wonder. The evidence of information we have uncovered about just one sensory organ, the eye, fortifies our personal intuitional confidence that such a marvelous organ could not conceivably have developed as the outcome of an evolutionary event sequence.

In 2011 a lengthy scholarly paper in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching discussed an unusual research report of student feelings on origins of life, the many life forms we observe, and by extension, the wonders of even one body system such as the human eye and vision. The study by Minsu Ha, David L. Haury, and Ross H. Nehm was titled “Feeling of Certainty: Uncovering a Missing Link between Knowledge and Acceptance of Evolution.” A reaction by a Reasons to Believe contributor, Roger Bennett, clarifies the issue for our post readers concerned about the truth of evolution: Bennett says, “…in acquiring knowledge, we not only assimilate information, we also experience an intuitive feeling that the information is true, or in some cases, not true.

Bennett quotes an article from which underscores the point: “…the human brain doesn’t judge the merits of an idea solely on logic, but also how intrinsically true the idea feels.” Bennett believes that intuitive feelings against Darwinism arise from God’s image in man (Gen. 1:26-27). His image, according to Bennett’s analysis, enables us to be receptive to the “testimony” of His existence through creation. The previously cited scholarly paper references a study which held that children “generate creationist beliefs about origins,” but, on the contrary, do not generate intuitive evolutionary or at least naturalistic beliefs. Children do not generate naturalistic beliefs because they possess the image of God and because they’ve not yet been taught to rationalize away creation’s testimony, according to Bennett.

Children and adults have intuitions which fortify their beliefs. The above-cited scholarly paper was not written from a theistic perspective. Even so, we acknowledge the characteristic of man as a creation of God with an “image of God” signature. Our ability to observe and analyze physical evidence remains strong. Likewise, human intuition is a gift from our Creator. Romans 1:19-20 (NLT) affirms the realities of both intuition and physical evidence: “For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God.”

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Intuitive Recognition

Curiosity about the physiology of the eye and the function of human vision leads us to inquire more deeply about how such wonders came to be. Science professionals are not content to discover merely physical processes even though such discovery is fascinating on its own merits. Scientific findings, for example, that one million neurons carry tiny “on or off” electrical impulses from our retina through a million neural conduits in the optic nerve, later to be integrated into a meaningful visual experience by our brain--such wonders should trigger more than shallow exclamations such as, “So that’s how it works!” Instead, most people inquire, “How did these wonders of the body come to exist?”

Most secular science textbooks give the credit to evolution. Even Charles Darwin had been struck with the majesty and magnificence of the eye. He experienced great difficulty rationalizing away his self-expressed “absurd” thinking that the human eye had resulted from an evolutionary process. Darwin then set out to resolve his doubts about evolution. His deeper questions about the origin of the eye were cleverly rationalized by a famous caveat confidently repeated by Darwin and still endorsed by present day supporters of evolution. The caveat consisted of a set of three proposals each beginning with “IF.” Following is Darwin’s lengthy stipulation:

IF numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; IF further the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and IF any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable to our imagination, can hardly be considered real. (emphasis mine)

First, Darwin claimed that “the difficulty of believing (in evolution) can hardly be considered real.” (emphasis and parentheses mine) In his statement he works in reverse order from our present eye, a remarkable organ by his own admission, to a primitive eye in the dim geological past. Biological evolution, however, does not proceed in reverse order from complexity to simplicity. Evolution is usually assumed to produce increasing complexity and functionality. Darwin’s complete statement is full of assumptions and contingencies, enough to satisfy the most ardent and optimistic evolutionist.

Authors of biology textbooks and resource material commonly season their writings with powerful evolutionary assumptions. In particular, the assumption is made that virtually every genetic commonality among living things and every anatomical similarity is an artifact of evolutionary ancestry. In particular, modern textbooks are filled with references to evolution and adjectives such as evolutionary. Virtually all leading biology textbook authors use the power of their pulpit to teach the theory of evolution with unrelenting vigor. Evolution is the ruling paradigm of the day in secular biology.

For theistic scientists, there is an alternative to naturalistic evolution to account for the astonishing human eye. It is called theistic creation. Another explanatory proposal is termed intelligent design. Naturalistic scientists and theistic scientists alike use empirical evidence in their proposals. The two groups of scientists, however, come to different conclusions concerning origins, notwithstanding the evidence available to them in their research.

A seldom discussed issue impacting our scientific beliefs concerns the role of intuition--the apprehension that a given fact is indeed true without the need for conscious reasoning. After studying information about the human eye and its function, we must ask ourselves where our personal intuition leads. Our posts have reviewed many startling discoveries scientists have made concerning eye function. Does intuition lead us to recognize naturalistic evolution as the ultimate explanation for the existence of the eye and the function of vision? Do our intuitive abilities tell us that ultimate truth is found in the principles of naturalism? On the other hand, do we intuitively sense the truth that the eye was intelligently designed? Does our intuition tell us that a supernatural creation act is responsible for the existence of an organ as thoroughly wondrous as the human eye?