Science in Christian Perspective
Neal C. Gillespie, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), xiii + 156 pp., with notes and bibliography.
KENNETH W. HERMANN
Honors College/ Experimental Programs
Kent State University
Kent, OH 44242
From: JASA 36 (September 1984): 169-176.
In the last several years significant work has been done on the history of the development of Darwinism which enables us to gain a deeper insight into the complexity of the issues involved in the Christian community's response to it.1 Since its publication in 1979, James Moore's The Post-Darwinian Controversies has received extensive attention and high praise for its novel thesis that the orthodox theology of several prominent natural scientists enabled them to accommodate Darwinian natural selection with minimal dissonance. By all accounts this is a major work which will shape research in this area for years to come. However, in the wake of all the attention lavished on Moore's work, insufficient attention has been given to an equally provocative work of the same year, Neal Gillespie's Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation, which challenges Moore's thesis at several crucial points.
Working within a framework suggested by Thomas Kuhn and Michel Foucault, Gillespie places the Darwinian theory of transmutation within the larger context of the struggle of an emerging Positivist paradigm of science to vindicate its claim to be the only worthy 'science"1 against the dominant theologically-based Creationist paradigm of science in the mid-nineteenth century. In tracing this struggle, Gillespie is able to weave other significant themes-the communal character of science, the warfare of 'science' and 'religion,' the impact of Positivism on Christianity, the dilemma Positivism posed for Christian natural scientists, the shape of Darwin's religious beliefs-into a lucid and compelling argument.
If Gillespie's argument holds, as I believe it does, it forces us
to critically re-evaluate not only Moore's thesis, but, most
importantly, the interpretation which evangelicals have generally followed in their histories of the rise of modern science
and the Christian response to it. For this reason all those
interested in the development of both Secular and Christian philosophies of science should pay close attention to
The Clash Between Creationism and Positivism
Ever since John William Draper and Andrew Dickenson White wrote their influential books in the late nineteenth century,' it has become commonplace to interpret the debate over evolution as but one more battle in the age-old warfare between the forces of enlightened 'science' and reactionary I religion.' Although this thesis has been subject to minor criticisms, very few of the critics have challenged the very categories of "science" and "religion" to understand the issue. Evangelical historians of science have generally followed this tradition, arguing either that there was no warfare after all, or, even if there was, there need not have been.
Gillespie breaks new ground in this tired discussion by arguing that "science" and "religion" are simply the wrong categories with which to capture the underlying dynamic. There was a real conflict, he asserts, but it can best be understood "when it is seen, not simply as a clash between science and religion, but as one between two antagonistic scientific epistemes. . . ." (p. 18), each struggling for the exclusive right to be called the only 'science.'
Approaching the conflict from this perspective allows Gillespie to probe the numerous theological references and overtones in The Origin of Species for a deeper understanding of the complex philosophical battles surrounding its appearance. In the past many scholars, wishing to portray Darwin as the first fully modern scientist, have brushed aside these references as at best Darwin's diplomatic effort not to offend the still-powerful orthodox establishment. Gillespie, however, argues that these references show Darwin, possibly the last pre-modern scientist, struggling to free himself from the constraints of the older, but still very influential, Creationist paradigm of science3 as he worked toward formulating a comprehensive alternative Positivist paradigm of biology and a theory of speciation which it required. Darwin was not alone in this struggle; virtually every natural scientist in the mid-nineteenth century was involved in it. The Origin can, therefore, best be interpreted as a watershed document of the paradigm conflict between Creationism and Positivism over what should count as 'good science.'
Creationism was the dominant philosophy of science in the early nineteenth century and had been since its rise in the late seventeenth century. It was essentially characterized by an inseparable union and presumed harmony between 'good science' (viz. a mixture of the Newtonian vision of the universe as a law-bound system of matter in uniform motion and the Baconian ideal of inductive factual certainty) and I good theology' (viz. all phenomena in and including the world were the result of either the direct or indirect 'divine' activity; biblical revelation and biblical thought patterns could provide a solid epistemological foundation for 'scientific' inquiry; there was unmistakable evidence for intelligent 'design' in the world; the origin, dispersion, and extinction of species were best explained as a consequence of God's will.)
Within the parameters of these broadly-held assumptions, Gillespie distinguishes two main sub-groups prior to 1859, Miraculous Creationists and Nornothetic Creationists. (He adds two further sub-groups, Providential Evolutionists and Providential Darwinists, which appeared after the publication of The Origin. We will discuss them more fully below.) The Miraculous Creationists (e.g. Hitchcock, Miller, Sedgwick, Agassiz) argued for a direct fiat creation of the world and of species which transcended known or knowable means. 'Creation' for them was known only in the realm of 'theology' where it could only be defined as 'miraculous.' It was thus shrouded in mystery and, therefore, inaccessible to 'scientific' inquiry. The Nornothetic Creationists (e.g. Owen, Hershel, Dana), on the other hand, rejected this emphasis on 'miracle,' seeing it as capricious and, therefore, detrimental to 'scientific' study. They argued instead that God created the world and accomplished his will in the world by 'lawful' means. This meant that 'creation' of species fell within the purview of 'science' since it was 'lawful.'
Positivism, part of the over-all secularization of thought in the nineteenth century, was an emerging rival philosophy of science which attacked Creationist premises at two critical points: the epistemic role of theological categories of thought in I good science' and the limited scope of 'scientific' inquiry in understanding the world. The hallmark of Positivism was the effort to establish complete epistemological autonomy for a I scientific', as opposed to a 'theological', understanding of the world. This meant that it had to free the theories and language of 'science' from their bondage to theology, the "God hypothesis," and all other biblical patterns of thought. 'Science', according to the Positivist redefinition, had to be free from all external restrictions in its comprehensive understanding of the world. It, therefore, dealt with 'nature' as a law-bound system of matter in uniform motion which was I scientifically' explained in terms of mechanistic causal links. It had to reject as 'unscientific' and capricious the introduction of any telic purpose, guiding Intelligence, or'supernatural' (i.e. miraculous) causation as epistemic foundations for good science.' In keeping with this new definition of science', Positivism extended the range of issues which fell within its realm to include issues which formerly had been reserved for theology and metaphysics. This was especially true for the issues of 'creation' and 'speciation' which now required some form of transmutation theory, of which there were many alternatives before and after Darwin, to satisfy the Positivist criteria for 'good science.'
It is particularly important to bear in mind that the Positivists successfully convinced the scientific community that God's relationship to the world could only be capricious and inscrutable; therefore, any appeal to it was 'unscientific'. The opposite of the capricious and inscrutable 'intervention' of God was the constant, uniform, and stable operation of 'law'. They thus drove a wedge between 'God' and 'law'.4 This made the Nornothetic position inherently ambiguous and unstable, according to Gillespie, since it was philosophically committed to Positivism yet shrunk back from its logical exclusion of 'God' as an epistemic foundation for their ' science'.
These were the two principle paradigms of 'science' that confronted all natural scientists in their quest for an understanding of the world in general and speciation in particular in the years prior to 1859. Although the spirit and direction of these two paradigms can be clearly delineated, individual scientists, as Gillespie shows, did not fall neatly into one group or the other. During this confusing period of transition, natural scientists held a complex and inconsistent amalgam of assumptions drawn from both paradigms which created much philosophical confusion and a tangled web of unresolved questions. The issues were so confusing that Gillespie is able to identify four different meanings of 'creation' and at least five different views on the origin of species, each representing different combinations of Creationist and Positivist assumptions, prior to 1859.
By 1859 Creationism, though increasingly criticized, was still the dominant paradigm of 'good science.' Positivism was gaining strength, but had not yet fully developed the implications of its assumptions into a comprehensive philosophy of science and biology so that it could permanently replace Creationism as the new 'scientific' orthodoxy. That task was completed by Darwin in The Origin of Species.
As early as the Sketch of 1842 Darwin had become convinced that the principle roadblock to a breakthrough in understanding speciation was the lingering influence of the Creationist paradigm, especially its appeal to inscrutable supernatural explanations, nescience, and idealism. He therefore set himself the task in The Origin of thoroughly discrediting Creationism as 'bad science' and banishing it once and for all from meddling with 'scientific' issues, and replacing it with a Positivist philosophy of biology, along with its requisite theory of speciation. Darwin clearly recognized, according to Gillespie, that "a complete shift from special creation to descent with modification, from mystery and miracle to secondary causes" was absolutely mandatory. "The conceptions of the new positive biology were so philosophically interrelated that no compromise with the old view was possible." (pp. 70-71) He simply could not tolerate a rival paradigm of 'science'. Creationism had to be driven out of the scientific community. Stating Darwin's purpose in these strong terms is meant to emphasize the direction in which his thought was moving, Gillespie is careful to point out that, although Darwin was clearly moving in this direction, his arguments in The Origin were ambiguous and inconsistent due to the lingering influence of the Creationist paradigm on his thought.
The popular view of Darwin is of a scientist, eschewing the trappings of theory, patiently collecting a mountain of diverse 'facts' which, when finally presented in The Origin, offered irrefutable 'proof'of modification by descent through natural selection. Of course, he did nothing of the sort, as even he recognized. Gillespie, along with several other recent Darwin scholars,5 points out that Darwin was very conscious of the importance of a Positivist philosophical foundation on which to build his transmutation theory. In fact, Gillespie argues that "when Darwin began to consider the problem of species extinction, succession and divergence, he did so as an evolutionist because he had first become a positivist, and only later did he find the theory to validate his conviction" (p. 46). Darwin thus wrote The Origin as a "manifesto for positive science" and an attack on its rival, Creationism.6
Creationism was 'bad science' in the first place, according to Darwin, because it blocked inquiry into the physical 'laws' giving rise to species by its constant appeal to direct or indirect 'divine' intervention which were either unknown or unknowable. This kind of explanation, be argued, would render 'science' impossible. A consistent 'science' must allow inquiry into the 'secondary' means of origin and extinction which the 'Creator' had originally "impressed on matter." Secondly, Creationism was 'scientifically' sterile since its appeal to purposive design in the contrivances of nature only masqueraded as an explanation. In reality, it only restated what needed to be explained. in the third place, Creationist assumptions failed to accurately predict results and to explain numerous anomalies and unused niches in nature. On the contrary, Darwin contended, his theory of descent solved many puzzles in taxonomy, homology, paleontology, extinction, the fossil record, and the horizontal unity of nature. In sum, Creationism was not even worthy of being called I science'; only Positivism, with its theory of modification by descent through natural selection, could qualify as 'science' due to its rigorous 'scientific' criteria and superior power of generalization.
The Origin of Species
spelled the doom of the Creationist
paradigm. Gillespie maintains, however, that this occurred,
not because of its theory of evolution (there were many
alternative theories), but because of its persuasive presentation of a comprehensive Positivist philosophy of biology.
Henceforth, all discussion of the issues of speciation would be
carried on within the paradigm of Positivism.
The Challenge of Providential Evolution and Providential Darwinism
in the years following the publication of The Origin Darwin faced an unexpected challenge to his Positivist biology from two groups within the Creationist paradigm, the " providential evolutionists" and the "providential Darwinists," who maintained that it was possible to harmonize some form of evolution, by whatever mechanism, with their creationist commitment to the presence of intelligent design in nature. The providential evolutionists (e.g. Owen, Argyll, Mivart) believed that the entire evolutionary process was designed by 'god'; the providential Darwinists (e.g. Gray, Wallace, Lyell) argued that natural selection was the means by which 'god' created new variations and species. Both groups felt that they had thus blunted Darwin's critique of Creationism by effectively synthesizing Creationist 'design' with his theory of evolution and natural selection. Although
Kenneth W. Hermann has done graduate study in US Intellectual History at Michigan State University and the University of Illinois. After having taught at several Christian colleges, he currently teaches courses in Christian thought in the Honors College at Kent State University. He regularly offers a course in "A History of 'Science' and 'Religion' in Western Thought." His research interests include the implications of the Christian faith for deepened inquiry in the various disciplines and the historical development of this understanding, and the history of secularization of Western thought as well as the Christian community's response to it.
The crux of their crucial misunderstanding of this key point, according to Gillespie, was their inability to recognize the transformed meaning of 'design' in the Positivist universe. From its modern formulation by the Puritan virtuosi in the late seventeenth century down to its influential popularization by William Paley in the early nineteenth century, the
The hallmark of Positivism was the effort to establish complete epistemological autonomy for a scientific,' as opposed to a theological,' understanding of the world.
Darwin steadfastly maintained in his discussions with them, however, that this attempted synthesis, while satisfying to them, misrepresented his theory. Since Positivism was intent on stripping all 'scientific' terms of their biblical and theological connotations, Darwin had to oppose any definition of 'design' which suggested God's guidance or manipulation of the law of 'natural' selection. After all, from Darwin's perspective, this is precisely what 'natural' meant: the autonomous operation of the 'law' of speciation through the mechanism of 'natural' selection. Since this 'law' was autonomous, it did not need, much less tolerate, the guidance of God. Although as Gillespie (along with others) points out, Darwin was often troubled by the force of the Creationist 'design' argument (e.g. his trouble with the evolution of the eye) and often inconsistent in his definition of the term, he never wavered in his opposition to any theological explanation of speciation. 'Natural' selection was the only acceptable I scientific' alternative to 'supernatural' selection.
Darwin and the Positivists agreed with the Creationists that the world was 'ordered'. The critical question, however, in the struggle between the two paradigms was what this meant and how it ought to be explained. In the Positivist universe Darwin showed "how blind and gradual adaptation could counterfeit [italics mine] the apparently purposeful design that... others had seen in the contrivances of nature. . . . " (p. 83) Darwin argued that adaptations could arise out of the fortuitous variations of an organism which were neither the result of 'design' nor 'chance', as the Creationists understood those terms. In giving this Positivist theoretical account of the order, stability, and continuity in nature, without appealing to a superintending Providence, Darwin believed that his theory of natural selection was "logically adequate to account for the forms of organisms and philosophically more appealing to the positivist outlook" (p 84).
Gillespie argues that neither the providential evolutionists nor the providential Darwinists grasped the significance of Darwin's counterfeiting argument for their synthesis position. Darwin and the Positivists were arguing that the order of the world only appeared to be the product of Intelligence to those who, on prior ground, were committed to it; it could not be logically inferred from the phenomena themselves. George Romanes, a perceptive Darwinist, pointed out that "It is one thing to show that, if we assume the existence of mind in nature, organic adaptations must be due to design; but it is quite another to prove the existence of mind in nature from the known occurrence of such adaptations." (p. 115) In other words, the Creationists were guilty of mistaking a prior assumption of intelligent 'design' for an inductive inference.
Darwin and the Positivists further pointed out that it was only a prejudice of anthropomorphic thought, a product of biblical patterns of thought, which convinced the Creationists of the analogy between human and non-human phenomena. Therefore, although terms like 'design', 'purpose', and 'law' were meaningful in describing and explaining human activity, they could not be carried over univocally into describing and explaining non-human activity. At best they were only metaphors derived from human experience to describe the natural world. They must not, however, be regarded as 'true' descriptions. Thus, the Positivists argued, the existence of a 'Designer' could neither be logically inferred from the adaptations of nature nor be used as an explanation of such adaptations. Consequently, the Creationist choice between 'design' and 'chance' begged the question of the meaning of those terms which were paradigm-dependent. (Gillespie rightly points out that the Positivists begged the question as well, but did so successfully.) In the Positivist universe it was possible to account for the order of the world without being forced to choose between God's existence and chaos.7
Another way in which Darwin's definition of 'design' confused the providential evolutionists and providential Darwinists was his restriction of 'design' to the general operations of 'law' in the universe as opposed to the specific 'design' of individual phenomena. He thereby fixed his attention on the autonomous 'law' which ruled the phenomena rather than on the phenomena themselves. Darwin argued that the phenornena of natural history were the result of the general laws which were "first impressed on matter by the Creator." Lest this frequently quoted statement be mistaken as agreeing with the providential evolutionists and providential Darwinists, Gillespie points out that "while Darwin acknowledged the theological origin of the laws of nature, the operation and end of those laws were not predetermined by divine will nor executed under any kind of divine supervision. [italics mine] It followed that there could be DO point in seeking a knowledge of purpose or in giving a place to such a postulate in scientific inquiry. " (p. 107) For Darwin, what he took as 'god' was not present in natural history in any way, so was not present to 'scientific' inquiry. Only the 'natural laws' of speciation through 'natural' selection were present and accessible to 'science.'
The popular view of Darwin is of a scientist, eschewing the trappings of theory, patiently collecting a mountain of diverse 'facts' which, when finally presented in The Origin, offered irrefutable 'proof of modification by descent through natural selection. Of course, he did nothing of the sort, as even he recognized.
The Creationist difficulty in appreciating the force of Darwin's theory is poignantly seen in Asa Gray, Darwin's most influential advocate in the U.S. Gray's case is particularly instructive since he is one of Moore's prime "Christian DarwiDists" who harmonized orthodox theology with natural selection. According to Gillespie, Gray only dimly recognized that natural selection counterfeited purposive intelligence, and then only late in his life. Believing that Darwin was really a providential evolutionist, Gray earnestly hoped that he would eventually come out explicitly for the harmony of 'design' (as Gray Understood it) and natural selection. That Darwin Dever did, and that he, in fact, opposed such harmony, caused Gray continued anxiety as can be observed in his Darwiniana.
Gray's anxiety was rooted in his futile attempt to remain true to both his Creationist sympathies and his Positivist philosophy of science. As a good Positivist he steadfastly denied that God 'intervened' or in any way 'interfered' in a I miraculous 'way in the creation' of new species. On the other band, as a good Creationist and orthodox Christian, be was uncomfortable with the full implications of the Positivist logic which denied an epistemic role for God in 'science.' He consequently held out for the possibility that God was somehow, possibly as the unknown cause of variation, involved in guiding variation "along certain beneficial lines." His problem was to explain bow a Guide could guide who never was involved in the physical process. As Gillespie sums up "Darwin's theory bad no place for a Guide and Gray's view seemed to have no role for one except as be moved in that realm of mystery which existed at the end of every chain of scientific reasoning, the reality of which everyone had to admit" (p. 114). In the end Gray was able to accept Darwin's theory of natural selection only by consoling himself that Darwin's denial of God's presence in the world was a personal quirk and not logically entailed by his Positivist biology.
Having been deprived of the traditional Creationist 'design' argument based on the adaptations of nature, the providential evolutionists and providential Darwinists fell back on 'design' really existing in the mind of God rather than in the world, God was no longer involved in particular creation of individuals, so was not accessible to 'science'; He was only involved in the general over-all plan or 'design' of evolution. Although they maintained that God was still somehow involved in the processes of nature, they agreed that such involvement was neither 'miraculous' or distinguishable from the 'natural law' of speciation. An incognito God was, evidently, better than no God at all.8
This move, as Gillespie argues, was obviously fatal for the traditional Creationist understanding of 'design'. By substituting a plan behind the adaptations for the adaptations themselves, they left the realm of 'science', where its epistemic strength bad always been, for the inaccessible realm of 'faith'. 'Design', to be sure, had been salvaged, but at the heavy price of replacing its original role as an epistemic foundation for 'science' with an act of 'faith' whose assertions provided no guidance for 'science' and were unverifiable by the new Positivist canons of method.
The consequence of trying to harmonize the Creationist paradigm with the unexamined Positivist assumptions meant the ultimate break-up of the unstable Newtonian legacy of nature as matter in motion coupled with the idea of a supervising Creator ... Its materialist, or positive, tendencies bad long been gaining ascendency and had long been an increasing source of worry to its supporters. Design was the means by which it bad been anchored to a theological base. Without design, a material science was almost irresistable. (p. 85)
Although many providential evolutionists and providential Darwinists continued to talk as though their views could be harmonized with natural selection, there was, in fact, a marked contrast between their views and Darwin's.
Providential evolution showed that design could be reconciled with descent by natural birth as the cause of new species. But from Darwin's point of view, and from the positive point of view, this was done at the cost of resting in theological explanations that were both redundant and beyond the reach of science, or, worse, by disregarding a priori any explanation based on a randomly operating mechanism of evolution. (pp. 107-108)
They had, in fact, harmonized 'design' and evolution, but only by misunderstanding Darwin's Positivist biology and conceding the Positivist claim that God could serve no epistemic role within 'science'.9
Darwin's religious beliefs have always attracted attention, mostly to praise his agnosticism, but most recently from James Moore who applauds his "Christian base." Gillespie maintains that past interpreters have erred in reading the self-confessed agnosticism of Darwin's Autobiography back into the years prior to the writing of The Origin, thus making him a committed agnostic during the formative years of his theory construction. The transformation of his religious beliefs was more complex than that. Gillespie argues that Darwin moved from a weak orthodoxy in the '30s and '40s to a general theism in his middle years, and, finally ended in an agnosticism marked by troubling questions which haunted him for the remainder of his life. Thus, during the formative years of his theory and the writing of The Origin, Darwin was a theist.
Darwin's theism must not, however, be understood as Christian. Although Darwin was greatly influenced by orthodoxy and the Creationist paradigm through his frequent references to 'God', the 'Deity', and the 'Creator', it is fairly clear from the perspective of his religious journey that he was not referring to the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." At best Darwin's 'God' was a numinous awe" and a "gratuitous support" drawn in to underwrite the possibility of science, to guarantee its rationality, . . . and to preserve his optimistic view of the evolutionary process". (p 124) His 'God' remained aloof from the world, delegating its operation to the fortuitous operation of I natural law' so as not to be held responsible for the glaring waste and cruelties of nature. "In the final analysis, Darwin found God's relation to the world inexplicable; ... a positive science, one that shut God out completely, was the only science that achieved intellectual coherence and moral acceptability". (p. 133) However one chooses to characterize Darwin's religious beliefs, they certainly do not form a "Christian base".The Legacy of the Collapse of the Creationist Paradigm
The keystone of the Creationist paradigm was the vital epistemic role which theological beliefs ought to play in the forming of 'scientific' theories. But by the mid-nineteenth century, under the influence of incipient Positivist assumptions in their own science, a growing number of Christian natural scientists willingly abandoned the "God hypothesis" as an epistemic foundation for knowing the world. They accepted the Positivist argument that allowing an epistemic role for 'theology' in 'science' would severely inhibit its practice and introduce an 'unscientific' element of caprice. Consequently, God and his revelation could no longer serve as sources of 'scientific' knowledge about the world. At best they could only provide 'spiritual' knowledge accessible only to 'faith'.
To accomodate this change, the Christian natural scientists did not have to give up their Christian faith per se; they only had to accept the Positivist premise that their Christian commitment be confined to the 'spiritual' realm of life and not dictate any a priori beliefs about the structure of the world and how we come to understand it. In doing so they were able to retain their belief in God, but at the heavy cost of making it
private, subjective, and artificial. One could keep God in the positivist cosmos only by constantly reminding oneself that he was there ... He was, at best, a gratuitous philosophical concept derived from a personal Deed and not entailed by the new system of science. Neither its rationale nor its logic required his presence to get on with scientific work. (p. 16)
By replacing revelational assumptions with Positivist Ones as foundational for 'scientific' work, the Christians "took God out of nature (if not out of reality) as effectively as atheism," (p. 153).
Many orthodox natural scientists were able to accept this profound transformation in the meaning of the Christian world view, primarily because they were still able to retain their 'religion' and harmonize it with their Positivist 'science'. Their new harmony, however, was distinctly different from the harmony of Newtonian natural theology. Although Gillespie does not sav so directly, this transformed meaning of the harmony of 'science' and 'religion' was a legacy of the Kantian premise that 'science' and 'religion' were two autonomous realms of life which could coexist as long as each respected the territorial boundaries of the other. Few people recognized the profound changes.
Popularizers of the new science who spread the gospel of metaphysical materialism based on science's supposed certain authority appreciated the real significance of what had happened as little as did the theologians who thought successful accommodation of a divinely revealed religion to the new science was a simple matter of shedding a few antiquated superstitions. (p. 153)
Creationism collapsed, not because it was over-run by the forces of atheism, but because its most influential proponents quietly conceded the Positivist redefinitions of 'science' and I religion' and then pronounced their concessions a victory for the harmony of 'science' and 'religion'-and Christianity.Conclusion
What was needed, and is still needed, to secure the integrity of God's claim on the whole of life, including our deepened investigation Of reality, and maintain communication with the Secularists, is a comprehensive Christian world view and philosophy of science forthrightly anchored in our commitment to Jesus Christ, Who holds all things together.
established. This is a highly condensed summary to be sure, but it does establish the context in which the modern harmony of 'science' and 'religion' tradition arose of necessity.
By the early nineteenth century the Creationists had had a long time to consolidate their particular paradigm of how these two realms ought to be harmonized. They were so successful in this that their paradigm was considered both by themselves and their critics as 'normal science.' They, therefore, found it increasingly difficult to recognize that the Positivists were not simply friendly critics who misunderstood the meaning of 'normal science'; they were, in fact, defining a completely different paradigm of 'science,' 'religion,' and their proper relationship. They failed to see that the philosophy of science was not a discipline to be studied apart from their orienting faith commitments or grounds of certainty' that there was not so much a philosophy of science to be agreed upon by all as much as philosophies of science, each rooted in their respective faith commitments and world views. They consequently struggled to come to a mutual agreement with the Positivists on a philosophy of science. This tactic took at least two forms: 1) they answered the Positivist paradigm with a restatement of their own paradigm, which was irrelevant since it missed the issue; 2) they abandoned their philosophy and accepted the Positivist one, which was trivial since it conceded the Positivist claims. In both cases vital communication with skeptics and unbelievers was cut off. It is a sad story, which needs to be told in greater detail, that many left the Church in the late nineteenth century, not because they stumbled over the cross of Christ, but because the Christians were not addressing the issues at the depth they deserved.
What was needed, and is still needed, to secure the integrity of God's claim on the whole of life, including our deepened investigation of reality, and maintain communication with the Secularists, is a comprehensive Christian world view and philosophy of science forthrightly anchored in our commitment to Jesus Christ, Who holds all things together. Such articulation would: clarify the paradigm-dependency of all 'scientific' terms; challenge the Secularists to probe their paradigms for their orienting faith commitments; maintain the integrity of God's people in the special sciences by abandoning the search for ultimate unity with Secular paradigms; and, establish greater cultural freedom for alternative paradigms in the 'scientific' establishment. Such an approach would itself be a powerful apologetic, and would at least have the potential of Christians being recognized and respected rather than patronizingly ignored, as is so often the case at present.
In view of Gillespie's provocative and sobering argument,
there is much work for Christian historians and philosophers
of science to do. We need in-depth analyses of: the presuppositions of various philosophies of science in history; the
transformation of key terms of 'scientific' discourse which
accompanied those philosophies (e.g. science, religion, theology, law, nature, natural, design, creation, miracle, etc.); and,
a critical reassessment of how Christians in the past (and the
present) have dealt with these issues.10 For too long the
dualistic approaches of Newtonian natural theology, post-Kantian theologies of science, and science but not scientism
have been uncritically adopted as the appropriate philosophical framework for a Christian philosophy of science.
1Throughout the essay I will he using single quotations to mark off terms and concepts which were themselves paradigm-dependent. Since it is central to Gillespie's argument that this was not understood in the mid-nineteenth century, I have followed this unorthodox convention to alert the reader to the terms which were in dispute. I trust this will not impede the flow of the essay unduly.
2John William Draper, History of the Conflict between Religion and Science, International Scientific Series, vol. 13 (London: Henry S. King & Co., 1875); Andrew Dickenson White, A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, 2 vols. (London: Macmillan, 1896),
3It is not clear whether Gillespie chose the term "Creationism" because of its current popularity, Although there are clear lines of connection between the two positions, they should be carefully distinguished when approaching Gillespie's argument.
4In a real sense the Positivists were simply taking Occam's voluntarist view of God's relationship to the world to its logical conclusion. In reacting against the Thornist view which be felt bound God to logic, Occam argued that God was totally 'free' in his relationship to the world. Henceforth, God's relationship to the world was related only to his 'free will.' God could do anything he 'willed' to do in the world with no restrictions. This clearly laid the groundwork for the notion that God's will was capricious and contrary to 'law.' Since the secularization of 'law' in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was meant to replace this capricious 'will' of God, it caused a great deal of confusion to the Positivists and blindness in the Creationists when they tried to wed and 'law.' The unfortunate consequence of this development, from which many evangelical philosophers of science have not yet fully recovered, was the placement of a reified 'law' between God and his creation. The logical consequence of this development, clearly seen already by LaPlace, was that with this understanding of 'law' there was no further philosophical need for the "God hypothesis." It remained only for the Positivists to take full advantage of this opening provided by the Christians.
5cf. Martin Rudwick, The Meaning of the Fossils (London: Macdonald, 1972); David Hull, Darwin and His Critics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973); Michael Ruse, The Darwinian Revolution (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979); Dov Ospovat, The Development of Darwin's Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981).
6It should be pointed out that Darwin was really offering a dogmatic critique of special creation: he was already assuming the Positivist philosopbical position in his attack. He was clearly not a dispassionate collector of 'facts' standing aloof from the struggle between these two competing philosophies of science. Once having assumed that Positivism was the only philosophy worthy of the name 'science,' he could only attack special creation as 'unscientific.' Of course this was begging the question of the meaning of 'science,' among other issues, but it was, and continues to be, an effective ploy in the battle of ideas. it would have been more accurate, though less forceful in its polemic appeal, for Darwin to say simply that Creationism was not Positivism.
7After laying dormant for over 75 years, due largely to the popularity of Paley, David Hume's argument against the earlier argument for 'design' was finally making its mark.
8The distinction between 'general' and 'specific' has some interesting parallels with similar theological distinctions being made in the nineteenth century between 'general' and 'special' revelation, grace, and providence.
9James Moore seems not to have caught the force of Gillespie's argument at this crucial point when he maintains in his review of Gillespie's book that the Newtonian tradition enjoyed
a tense but harmonious, and historically long-lived integration of positivism with theistic metaphysics....
... For a high Newtonian theistic and a consistent believer in God's concursive providence [the mechanization of the physical universe] need not have posed a threat, for "it could be granted that all of nature was within the domain of God's law," and that "science laid no claim to the faith of the believer."
Gillespie, as I read him, does not deny that many made these claims; in fact, he shows that they did. He only argues that, in doing so, they had misunderstood Positivism and Darwin's arguments since these were not their claims. He further argues that they were DO longer offering them as epistemic presuppositions for their 'science'; they were only using them as an ad hoc apologia for the possibility of retaining their personal faith along with their Positivist 'science.' The implications of Gillespie's argument, with which I wholeheartedly agree, is that Positivism was always philosophically inconsistent with a Christian ontology and epistemology, even though many held them together in their personal lives, and that this underlying inconsistency was finally brought to the fore by those who had no apologetic interest in the harmony of 'science' and 'religion.' Interestingly enough, the rise of modern apologetics took place in the late seventeenth century precisely when many Christian natural scientists felt it necessary to reassure themselves and their leary contemporaries that a materialistic view of the world, such as that envisioned by Galileo and Newton, 'really' did not lead to atheism, but could effectively be reconciled with a transformed view of God's relation to the world. This issue needs much further critical study. (cf. James Moore's review of Charles Gillespie and the Problem of Creation in The British Journal for the History of Science 14 [July 1981]:189-198.)
10Let me suggest in conclusion, that more serious attention be paid to the significant work that has already been done along this line within the Kuyperian stream of the Reformed tradition. Although it takes time and patience to grasp the philosophical categories of this tradition, it is time well-spent in getting to the roots of the history and philosophy of science from an integral Christian philosophical standpoint. The following works among many, are good places to begin: Herman Bavinck, The Philosophy of Revelation (Grand Rapids, ME Baker Book House, 1979 ); Abraham Kuyper, Principles of Sacred Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1980 [18981), especially part 2; Herman Dooyeweerd, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, 4 vols. (Nutley, NJ: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1969); Herman Dooyeweerd, The Secularization of Science (Memphis, TN: Christian Studies Center, n.d [19541); Herman Dooyeweerd, Roots of Western Culture (Toronto Wedge, 1979); Jan Lever, Creation and Evolution (Grand Rapids, MI Grand Rapids international Publications, 1958); Hendrik Van Riessen, The Christian Approach to Science (Toronto: Wedge, 1960); H. Evan Runner, The Relation of the Bible to Learning (Toronto: Wedge, 1970); Hendrik Hart, Understanding our World (Washington, D,C.: University Press of America, 1984).