Monday, July 4, 2011

Belief Preferences

At the Vibrant Dance Symposium in Austin, TX in October 2010, one of the plenary speakers, a theistic evolutionist, stated there was likely a naturalistic explanation for one of the “big bangs” of biology, namely, the Cambrian Explosion. This geologically sudden proliferation of dozens of diverse body plans is a profound enigma to paleontologists. The same speaker expressed confidence that even the more remarkable origin of life question may be solved within a naturalistic scenario. Life’s origin remains a perplexing mystery to those looking to avoid consideration of a supernatural creation event. Some have posed a minimum requirement for a theistic evolutionist: belief in only two supernatural miracles--the creation of the universe from nothing, and the origin of life.

Within the spectrum of beliefs held by theistic evolutionists, many accept New Testament miracles, including the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some accept Old Testament miracles. On the other hand, many abrupt appearances of new life forms over past geologic eras are dismissed as naturalistic events.

Theistic evolutionists reverently describe science as if it were an entity of truth. Science is a divine gift which helps us to discover truth about our God-ordained natural world. But science is not an entity of intrinsic truth. Science is a complex and variable means of knowledge discovery subject to the effects of changing methodologies, diverse philosophies, various worldviews, and the power of consensus. This analysis may seem to smack of an antipathy toward science. In reality, my concern is the abuse of science. There are several categories of scientific investigation, including evolution, which are often overly driven by the power of consensus and particularly affected by biased methodologies, philosophies, and worldviews.

Literature on traditional scientific method describes inductive, deductive, and abductive reasoning, the framework around which scientific method is built. Written manuals describing scientific method do not include the variable factors mentioned above. Many laypeople are unaware how these factors affect the reporting of scientific consensus. They do not understand the powerful human element in science. The question is not only, “Is evolution true?” One must also ask, “How does the human element affect the scientist’s judgment?”

Theistic evolutionists encourage fellow Christians to “Get on board with mainstream science.” They claim the scientific community has pronounced evolution to be true and to permeate every sphere of our existence: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution” the mantra drones. This belief preference, however, contradicts the guidelines of some very strong principles of scientific methodology. For example, evolutionary science, a historical science, depends primarily on abductive inference--selection of the best explanation from competing explanatory alternatives. The evolutionary literature presents many competing hypotheses to explain biology’s big bangs, described by evolutionary biologist Eugene V. Koonin as “sudden emergence(s) of diverse forms at a new level of complexity." A careful reading of evolutionary literature proposing the various competing hypotheses leaves the reader bewildered and confused. Clearly, no “best explanation” surfaces. Instead, many un-testable competing hypotheses emerge. Some are creative proposals, some are speculative, and some are bizarre and incredible. Most of them achieve the attentive praise of evolutionists and are often enthusiastically labeled “good science.”

Within the strict limits of scientific naturalism, theistic evolutionists may express pride that they are endorsing “good science.” But are they able to instill confidence that their beliefs are really true? Do they feel comfortable promoting their personal belief preference that hypothetical Darwinian mechanisms such as mutation and natural selection have generated the gripping beauty and functionality of our bio-diverse world?

Some of my theistic evolutionist friends lament the lack of “original research” by intelligent design and creationist scientists. Perhaps they hope to discover that fiat creation is somehow akin to a naturalistic process. In Matthew Jesus instructed the man with a shriveled hand to stretch it forth. The hand “was completely restored, just as sound as the other.” If we believe this miraculous account, we must believe the molecules and atoms in the man’s hand were supernaturally reorganized. In turn, if we believe in the reality of this miraculous healing, it should not be difficult to explain the miracles of the creation of the universe, life’s first appearance, the Cambrian explosion, or the creation of man in God’s image. From the standpoint of abductive inference, a foundational support pillar for the operation of historical science, supernatural miracles certainly meet the criterion of “best explanation.”