Monday, February 28, 2011

The Mantle of Science

Del Ratzsch, in Science and Its Limits, makes this provocative statement: “Our worldviews, in short, are inescapably shaped by science.” We often assume the public understands what we mean by science. If someone makes a statement such as, “According to science…” it is often taken as a mantle of authority generating respect or awe. We often assume the public completely understands what we mean when the term science is invoked. But people in science professions or science education are often disappointed to discover the public’s deficient grasp of the subject. Even so, when the subject of evolution is raised, supporters often reverently clothe the subject with the mantle of science. Those who teach evolution, pressuring others to believe it is a true account of human origins, use public ignorance of science in their powerful lobbying campaign.

As a working discipline, science is enormously complex. Beyond the understanding of nearly everyone that the root word of science is knowledge, there is considerably less agreement on what science is and how it works. Many who profess to “like” science look favorably on the acquisition of knowledge, particularly if they are both interested in a certain scientific subject and have confidence that the knowledge they acquire is real and true. If they suspect the knowledge they acquire is not real and true, sometimes they will not view the science favorably.

Science is also described as the process of how knowledge of the natural world is gained. There is considerable variability in how scientists go about acquiring their knowledge. When non-scientists discover the complexity and challenge involved in gaining good scientific knowledge, some become discouraged or skeptical. At times the scientific methods may be flawed. On other occasions science conclusions may be driven by the strongly agenda-driven consensus of certain groups of professional scientists. Science is a distinctly subjective human enterprise--a fact sometimes not recognized.

Public attitudes toward science often fail to include an adequate knowledge of science philosophy. Calvin College philosophy professor Del Ratzsch states, “The philosophy of science is basically the study of what science is, what it does, how it works, why it works, and what we should make of it.” Sometimes even the scientists themselves fail to appreciate the philosophical and epistemological dimensions of their science--their presuppositions, values, what kinds of knowledge claims they make, and how they are justified. Most people prefer simple answers to scientific questions. They see science philosophy as esoteric, even unnecessary. Philosophy drives the scientific enterprise, however. Few people are interested in the philosophy that powers science. Unfortunately, most scientific laypersons merely stop off at, “What does science say?” on significant questions of our day.

Evolution is a topic of wide ranging impact in our secular culture. Within the evangelical community, theistic evolution is increasingly becoming an issue of profound metaphysical and theological significance. Theistic evolution is becoming strong in some evangelical media, churches, and campuses. Perhaps the dilemma is more important in evangelical culture than in secular culture. While the secular culture has generally embraced evolution, in the evangelical community embrace of theistic evolution may amount to a virtual paradigm shift.

We might ask, “What is the main support pillar for the theistic evolutionists’ drive to convert creationists to their origins belief system?” After reading large volumes of material produced by proponents of theistic evolution generally and BioLogos personnel in particular, I conclude their repeated invocation of the term “science” as a mantle of support for the evolutionary paradigm works well for them. The technical science of genetics they claim supports evolution is often obscure or difficult for laypersons to understand, but being generally on board with “science” resonates with the public. We must be aware that the methodology and philosophy driving “science” are highly variable and have changed dramatically over time.

Young people, in particular, want to be perceived as scientifically literate. I am fearful, however, that one’s self-perception of support for “SCIENCE” and belief in evolution sound with the same modern ringtone. Many evolutionary claims are supported largely by inference and the consensus of bio-scientists. That community has a strong evolutionary bias.

I encourage all who find theistic evolution appealing, or even “elegant,” to continue the challenging task of prayerful inquiry, intent on discovering the truth God has for His people. There are many wonderful and helpful written resources available on all sides of the question. Proper judgment is not possible without carefully studying the material produced by all of the stakeholders.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Naturalistic Foundations of Theistic Evolution

Theistic evolutionism ranges along a spectrum of positions, just as does creationism. It is not a monolithic belief system. The most common position, however, is the “fully gifted” model, in which the Big Bang was God’s last physical intervention, at least until New Testament times. Evangelical TE adherents may have a high view of New Testament miracles, but not Old Testament miracles. They do not accept any interventional acts of creation or design after the initial creation of time, space, matter, and energy. They claim God “front-loaded” the creation and then stepped aside to let things happen. Life self-originated and evolved all the way to modern humans. In this model, the distinction between theism and deism is not easy to make.

Some TE enthusiasts may not wish to concede that evolution’s foundation is grounded in scientific naturalism. Metaphysical (philosophical) naturalism is the belief that “nature is all there is.” Methodological naturalism is the operational principle of modern scientists: Proceed with your scientific activities as if nature is all there is, as if there is no supernatural, and as if all processes in our cosmos are naturalistic processes. This operating principle, in turn, forces the predetermined scientific conclusion that all life developed naturalistically. Since this is the only scientific conclusion possible, the consensus judgments of scientists operating under this principle force the conclusion that evolution is good science, the best science, and of course, the only science. There is no discussion--no argument--because only one conclusion is possible.

Anyone working in biological science who wishes to achieve respect in that community must commit to methodological naturalism. He may not publish research with even a suggestion that in some cases naturalism is a dead end. A host of theistic evolutionists relentlessly state that evolution is “serious” science and the “best” science, that we should be intellectually honest, seek straight answers, come to grips with evolution, and struggle to resolve conflicts between our Christian faith and scientific knowledge. For them, it is impossible to conceive that any honest, open minded, struggling person seeking straight answers could possibly reach a conclusion that evolution may not be true. The power of their argument is the power of the logical fallacy of begging the question: assuming the truth of the very point in question.

Evolutionists do not caution us concerning other logical fallacies such as the false authority fallacy: accepting statements just because others (in this case most of the biological science profession) say it is correct. If virtually everyone in biological science is driven by methodological naturalism or philosophical naturalism, of what value is their argument that “everyone” in the field of biology has reached a certain conclusion, and therefore, so should we? Their conclusions are driven by philosophy, not science. I have encountered many brilliant people who use this appeal to authority as one of their strongest arguments. That is the worst reason for accepting evolution, I retort.

This is not the end of the discussion. Theistic evolutionist scientists, theologians, and journalists muddle the picture at this juncture. Peter Enns refers to “a continuing struggle between Christian faith and scientific knowledge.” Any young person interested in science is thrust into conflict, especially by suggestions that anyone who opposes evolutionary science is doing the church a great disservice. Our Christian young people wish to betray neither their faith nor their love for science. But they are being forced to make a choice at odds with the theological truth expressed in Holy Scripture. This blog has repeatedly stated that if scientific and theological interpretations are both correct, they will not conflict.

Phillip E. Johnson wrote several books critical of evolution in the early 1990s. He discusses the commitment of bio-scientists to philosophical naturalism. His arguments resonate even today. Johnson has been the victim of intense disdain from scientists with a stake in the evolutionary paradigm. He correctly says the mutation-natural selection mechanism claimed to drive the evolutionary process is not affirmed by actual observation of the process in action, “…but because their guiding philosophy assures them that no other power is available to do the job.” Evangelical theistic evolutionary scientists, driven by this philosophical commitment, are caught in a vice grip. The philosophy of scientific naturalism they have embraced dictates “what is real” for them. Johnson’s Darwin On Trial (1993) discusses the conflict of those TE adherents who claim to retain their evangelical faith: “Scientific naturalism, on the other hand, does leave a place for ‘religious belief,’ provided that the religious believers do not challenge the authority of naturalistic science to say what is real and what is not.” If science has this authority, what has become of the authority of our theology?

Theistic evolutionary scientists, some of whom claim to embrace evangelical faith, are chained to metaphysical (philosophical) and methodological naturalism, helping them formulate their worldview. Evolutionary theory is based largely on inference: Natural selection was the creator.

Genesis 1 states: “God created.”

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Discrediting Faith?

Beautiful sunsets, magnificent mountains, and various other glorious natural displays have long triggered deep feelings of worship. My mother was fond of quoting the King James translation of Psalm 121:1: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help.” She balanced the poetic quality of verse 1 by a follow-up quote of verse 2: “My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.” For her, the majestic hills in our northwest New Jersey neighborhood triggered deep reverence. But my parents’ Christian faith was affirmed even more deeply in gaining understanding of how God’s created world worked.

My father was a statewide agent for a seed company during the 1940s. In that role he was involved in promoting the cutting edge agriculture which widely came into use during the first half of the 20th century--the development of plant hybrids. Two pure strains of plants called “inbred” varieties are crossed to produce a hybrid plant which manifests the best traits of both inbred varieties. Further crossing of that hybrid with another hybrid results in a “double cross,” manifesting the best traits of all four original pure inbred strains.

A small “Corn Data Notebook” from Hoffman Farm Seeds of Landisville, PA, 1946 edition, states “These great hybrids are continually improved, season after season—by patient, careful selection and progeny testing…and by introduction of new bloodlines.” The Hoffman firm was my father’s employer. As a child, I remember my father using mysterious terms like “inbred” and “cross.” He kept busy planting “test plots,” visiting farmers and helping them overcome the inertia of traditionalism, persuading them of the value of hybrid plants possessing “hybrid vigor” and their potential for greatly increased yields.

One may wonder whether discovering and applying genetic knowledge of how hybridization works weakened my father’s faith in God as the Creator of the many thousands of strains of pure, inbred plants. Quite the contrary! He praised God for man’s ability to discover how hydridization works and embraced it enthusiastically. The Genesis 1:28 exhortation to "...Fill the earth and subdue it...Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground" would appear to apply here as well.

Dr. Francis S. Collins, in his much discussed book The Language of God, has captured the imagination of some evangelical Christians by proposing the compatability of theistic evolutionary beliefs with traditional orthodox Christian precepts. His topics for chapters 7-10, successively, are (1) Atheism and Agnosticism, (2) Creationism, (3) Intelligent Design, and (4) Biologos (codeword for theistic evolution). He calls each of these positions “options.” Collins dismisses options (1), (2), and (3), and suggests that the correct position is option (4)--theistic evolution.

Collins, in Chapter 9 (p. 193), claims belief in intelligent design attempts to “ascribe to God various natural phenomena that the science of the day had been unable to sort out – whether a solar eclipse or the beauty of a flower.” We may infer that Collins cites a solar eclipse as an example of an errant belief that God periodically performs a miracle of blackening the sun. We may further infer that people citing the beauty of a flower believe God is performing a “miracle” each time a flower blooms. Collins implies many intelligent design adherents have a “God-of-the gaps” religion, citing the above as examples. He states such “theories” have a dismal history, because “advances in science ultimately fill in those gaps,” thereby discrediting their “faith” that God performs miracles.

In The Language of God, Collins paints adherents of intelligent design as God-of-the-Gaps believers in a “discouraging tradition” running “a huge risk of simply discrediting faith.” He states “Advances in science ultimately fill in those gaps,” thereby discrediting the faith of many that God ever acted supernaturally along earth’s historical timeline. I conclude Collins would say that since we now know the moon, in its precise and predictable motions, periodically comes between the earth and the sun, our faith that God ever performs any sort of miracle has been discredited. Naturalistic scientists commit the argumentum ad futuris fallacy in their argument: Accept our argument because future evidence will support it. Some writers have named this the "naturalsim-of-the-gaps" argument.

As my parents grew older they became more aware of natural processes set in place by God to form mountains or make hybridization possible. Were my father alive today he would see the biotechnology of genetic engineering in the same light. Application of such technology reflects the function of intelligent design features long present in the world of nature. We do not weaken the credibility of the intelligent design concept; we strengthen it. One of the best examples of this strengthening effect is the incredible increase in our knowledge of the cell’s complexity since 1950, including the structure and coding functions of the DNA molecule. Intelligent design theists do not believe in God because of what we do not know, but because of what we do know.

Because of science, the concept of intelligent design has been strengthened exponentially.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Rules and Rulings

Scientific conclusions about cause and effect in earth’s bio-history must adhere to rules. Did observed effects “just happen?” Or was God involved in the actions in some way? Intelligent Design, by rule, is declared not to be scientific because it makes inferences of action by a supernatural being.

Intelligent Design is the whipping boy of diverse groups involved in the lively discussion of human origins. The ID movement is accused of being irrational, unscientific, and a “god-of-the-gaps” cop-out. Dr. Francis S. Collins, well-known former director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and currently director of the National Institutes of Health stated in The Language of God that, “Intelligent Design burst on the scene in 1991.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

The concept of design in the natural world originating from an intelligent mind goes back thousands of years. We could distinguish biblical creation accounts using the term “formed” from later arguments for the deliberate actions of a designer. Plato and Aristotle proposed teleological arguments hundreds of years before Christ. Likewise, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Newton, Boyle, and ironically, even many non-theistic scientists up to the present time have made reference to the abundant apparent design features in the world of nature. Some of these scientists make humorous references to “monkeying” with physics, cosmic “tinkering,” and fine-tuning.

Collins correctly voices the visceral objection of many ID adherents: The natural world and living things in particular are far too complex to have organized themselves. On one hand Collins commends the “thoughtfulness and sincerity of ID’s proponents” and further states “this movement deserves serious consideration.” Then he assumes the default position of the majority of scientists today who control our public educational institutions: “Intelligent Design fails in a profound way to qualify as a scientific theory,” he claims. According to the philosophical and methodological box the field of SCIENCE has constructed for itself, I must agree that this statement is true. SCIENCE is a naturalistic enterprise. Using empirical methods, it investigates only natural cause and effect. Notwithstanding that abductive reasoning’s inference to the best explanation may point to a possible or likely “outside the science box” interpretation of evidence, no such explanation is ever permitted, either as conjecture or as a subject for further research. Naturalistic presuppositions permit only naturalistic conclusions. Therefore, evolution is awarded the verdict. Evolution wins on a technicality.

Examples of winning or losing on a technicality abound in the world of sports. The game of golf is rife with obscure rules. Violation of any of the rules costs dearly. Sometimes the penalty seems harsh. On August 16, 2010, Dustin Johnson suffered a two stroke penalty on a technical rule and thereby lost his chance to win the PGA championship. He grounded his club in a bunker before a shot, a seemingly insignificant offense which had no impact on his real score, but was against the rules, nonetheless. He was docked two strokes. But forming false conclusions about the reality and implications of intelligent design and the creative acts of God in our cosmos have infinitely more significance as we search for eternal truths. The penalty negatively impacts our basic worldview.

The fundamental operating principle of science is methodological naturalism. This is a distinct change from former times. Scientists “do” science and make conclusions about reality as if there is no supernatural. Methodological naturalism is the driving force of scientists. Theistic scientists may believe in God and in God’s direct involvement in cause/effect relationships in origins research, but voicing this belief in connection with their work in science will only result in a heap of trouble.

Alvin Plantinga, a philosopher known for applying analytic methods to defend orthodox Christian beliefs, made some important observations following the court ruling in the case of Kitzmiller v. Dover (PA) Area School District in 2005:

“What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing science in accord with methodological naturalism? There is a good deal to be said on both sides here. For example, if you exclude the supernatural from science, then if the world or some phenomena within it are supernaturally caused—as most of the world’s people believe—you won’t be able to reach that truth scientifically. Observing methodological naturalism thus hamstrings science by precluding science from reaching what would be an enormously important truth about the world. It might be that, just as a result of this constraint, even the best science in the long run will wind up with false conclusions."

Theistic evolutionists are taking the biological science community’s conclusions about evolution to be true. Those conclusions provide the best science, they intone. While this may be true according to our culture’s technical rules of the game for science, perhaps their quest should focus on making “inference to the best explanation.”

Monday, February 7, 2011

Science of Theistic Evolution

Dr. Francis S. Collins makes an interesting statement near the beginning of Chapter 8 in his popular book The Language of God. “Taken at face value,” says Collins, “the term ‘creationist’ would seem to imply the general perspective of one who argues for the existence of a God who was directly involved in the creation of the universe. In that broad sense, many deists and nearly all theists, including me, would need to count themselves as creationists.” But the remainder of Chapter 8 is a polemic against creationism--young earth creationism. YEC believes, according to Collins, that “all species were created by individual acts of divine creation, and that Adam and Eve were historical figures created by God from dust in the Garden of Eden, and not descended from other creatures.” Indeed, this is also the general position of old earth creationism.

But there is no polemic against old earth creationism in Collins’ book. Most OECs also believe in individual acts of divine creation and in Adam and Eve as historical figures created by God. But Collins believes neither in individual acts of creation since life appeared on earth, nor in Adam and Eve as historical figures. Creationism of the young earth variety is easy to discredit scientifically based on plentiful and overwhelming scientific evidence for a universe of enormous age. Old earth creationism is not so easy to discredit. Dr. Collins clothes theistic evolution with the mantle of science, as if to affirm the validity of the evolutionary paradigm just by assigning it that linguistic mantle.

Some strong and convincing science affirms important tenets of old earth creationism. Conversely, there is considerable science which raises questions about the evolutionary paradigm. Yes, there is some science which may suggest an evolutionary scenario. But the supoporting science must be better understood. Dr. Collins and his BioLogos successors energetically clothe themselves in the mantle of science, claiming “Evolution, as a mechanism, can and must be true.” This is a classic example of “begging the question” (assuming an answer to the very point that is in dispute). Then they proclaim evolution is good science. Such claims muddy the waters of understanding on a very complex issue. The issue is not which viewpoint can most effectively claim the imprimatur of science. Rather, the issue is, “What really happened with respect to the origin of life, appearances of major diverse categories of plants and animals, and the appearance of man? Is the explicit claim of the Bible correct when it states God created the diverse life forms, including man?

Science is underpinned by consensus of the practitioners of science and by statements from philosophers of science. Consensus and philosophy are powerful forces. Both forces are generally beyond the understanding of most laymen who gather their information from sound bytes and productions of popular media produced by stakeholders in the discussion. The public is confused by claims that certain positions represent “good science.” At best, some such claims are inaccurate. At worst, the claims are manipulative. The question should not be, “Does science support this view?” Rather, the question should be, “What is true?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Theistic Evolution Apologetics

The BioLogos Foundation was organized by Dr. Francis S. Collins several years after publication of his successful 2006 book The Language of God. Collins was the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute until 2008. The Institute helped sequence the human genome, a great stride in providing biotechnologists with the tools to develop new medical applications. President Obama appointed Collins director of the National Institute of Health (NIH). He resigned as president of BioLogos Foundation to assume the NIH position in 2009. Dr. Darrel Falk then assumed the presidency.

Dr. Collins has perhaps now become more famous for promoting theistic evolution--the idea that modern man has come into existence by naturalistic processes--and stating that such beliefs are totally compatible with a belief in God and with scripture as God’s revelation. Most Catholics and mainline Protestants believe in theistic evolution. The target group for Collins’ efforts is evangelical Christians who have a personal conflict with the issue and who may feel cultural pressures to believe in evolution--the position of a large segment of the professional science community and almost everyone in biological sciences. 

Collins’ account of his conversion to Christianity, his path to faith in God, and God’s coming to earth in the person of Jesus Christ seems to conform with traditional orthodox Christian faith. He speaks of his surrender to Christ. He believes in “Christ dying in the place of us who deserve God’s judgment for our wrongdoings.” Collins writes “Christ paid the ultimate price to free us from the bondage of sin.” The scientist states the crucifixion and resurrection provide a remedy for “…self-will, in order to be reborn as a new creation.” 

But the ideas of creationism and intelligent design (ID) in the natural world are not persuasive for Collins. He acknowledges the Big Bang is entirely compatible with…“the Judeo-Christian tradition, the opening words of Genesis (‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’)” Collins acknowledges the Big Bang event with a certain ambiguity. One of his six stated premises upon which theistic evolution rests reads, “Despite massive improbabilities, the properties of the universe appear to have been precisely tuned for life." A curious passage reads, “One must leave open the door to the possibility that future investigation in theoretical physics will demonstrate that some of the fifteen physical constants that so far are simply determined by experimental observation may be limited in their potential numerical value by something more profound, but such a revelation is not currently on the horizon.”

The last quotation seems to reveal an interesting reservation theistic evolutionists may hold concerning not only Genesis 1:1, but also the remaining verses of Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. They explicitly state God created the heavens and the earth, a succession of living creatures, and finally, man. The ancient bara is the strongest of several Hebrew words translated “create” in our English versions. It could mean to produce something out of nothing. At the very least, scripture uses the term to mean the fashioning of something “new, fresh, good, perfect, and pristine,” as one commentator stated. Bara always signals the actions of God. Theistic evolutionists, taking their cue from secular, non-theistic evolutionists, lean toward a naturalistic explanation for every observable event with respect in the natural world. This is the hallmark of methodological naturalism driving the practices and presuppositions of the scientific community, and it is the hallmark of evolutionary scientists. The book jacket for The Language of God declares “For Collins, science does not conflict with the Bible, science enhances it.” What kind of science does Collins refer to? Defenders of theistic evolution refer to evolutionary science which is saturated with naturalistic presuppositions.

One of the theistic evolutionist plenary speakers at the October, 2010 Vibrant Dance of Science and Faith Symposium in Austin, TX stated there is a naturalistic answer for the Cambrian explosion (a geologically sudden, stunning proliferation of new animal phyla about 540 mya) and that theistic evolutionists are still searching for a naturalistic answer to the sudden appearance of bio-chemically complex life on Planet Earth 3.8 bya. I have read with interest the naturalistic explanations for the Cambrian explosion. Those accounts do not make a persuasive case. There exists far less hope for a naturalistic event sequence explaining life’s initial appearance. Even for naturalistic scientists this issue is a mystery. Dr. Collins writes, “…the precise mechanism of the origin of life on earth remains unknown…” 

Genesis 1-2 appears to pose a more credible mechanism: “God created.”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Concordism's Counterbalance

If concordism is the position that Biblical references to natural history find realization in modern scientific discovery and knowledge, we may wonder if there is a balancing or opposing view. Some Bible scholars question the literality of many scripture creation passages, seeing mere figures of speech in those texts. We may draw only spiritual truths from those literary devices, they claim. Accomodationists state scriptures reflect the human contexts in which they were created and cannot be viewed as literal accounts.

Accomodationism allows generous leeway in interpreting what scripture actually means. I have stated that scriptural language may indeed utilize linguistic imagery more typical of the culture of the day it was written. Had our modern scientific concepts been injected into the language of the Bible in their pre-scientific era, the result may have been confusing and less than fruitful. But accomodationists commonly go much further, making statements which cast serious doubt on the accuracy of many Bible accounts. They say, for example, that the use of “firmament” (Hebrew raquia) sometimes signifying a hard, domed shell covering a flat earth may suggest other errors in the Bible.

Another term currently used to mold perceptions of scripture was popularized by Peter Enns, reformed evangelical scholar in his 2005 volume Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the problem of the Old Testament. In the context of the book’s thesis, the incarnational model would take account of the dual divine and human aspects of scripture production. In reading the material of Enns, Darrell Falk, Karl Giberson, and others involved in the leadership of BioLogos Forum, it is clear that this view of scripture allows them to make an easy leap to supporting the BioLogos endorsement of theistic evolution: a “molecules to man” evolution, a denial of the literality of Adam and Eve as the first human beings, and an unceasing effort to find naturalistic explanations for mysterious sudden appearances of diverse or novel life forms and other unexplained sudden innovations many view as transcendent creation events. These sudden innovations have been described in detail by secular scientists with no stake in a theological belief system.

BioLogos Forum has cast a broad net to attract a wide range of theistic believers. In particular, they appeal to evangelicals who are disillusioned with traditional creationist positions for one reason or another. Under the BioLogos umbrella, it is completely acceptable to believe in evolution and still find inclusion in the Christian community, even the evangelical Christian community. This appears to be a noble and lofty endeavor. But I do not make this statement without expressing a number of my serious concerns with theistic evolution.

Many of these concerns relate to the embrace of naturalism. Some of my previous posts have dealt with the implications of both philosophical and methodological naturalism. I invite you to review my upcoming posts and previous archived posts on these topics from 2007 and 2008.