Science in Christian Perspective
Exception Taken: A Critique of Norman Geisler's Response to Davis Young
David F. Siemens, Jr.
Los Angeles Pierce College
From: JASA (December
Geisler's response to Young (JASA, March 1985, pp. 51ff) demonstrates a technique against which informal logic texts warn, that of persuasive definitions. It is, says Fogelin (Understanding Arguments, 2nd ed., p. 52), "a particularly subtle form of slanting ... to gain an argumentative advantage." It involves slipping a question-begging revision into the discussion. Specifically, Geisler redefines 'science' to include reference to supernatural causes and interventions, miracles, singularities, citing "the founders of modern science" in justification. He could have noted that philosophy was once called the queen of the sciences. Or that the seven liberal arts were also called the seven sciences. But this would have exposed the archaic nature of his usage.
The Oxford English Dictionary noted, some sixty years ago, that ,science' was often "restricted to those branches of study that relate to the phenomena of the material universe and their laws, sometimes with implied exclusion of pure mathematics." This usage is now almost universal in English, so that the older senses require qualification. It is usually necessary to specify formal science if the reference is to mathematics and logic. Otherwise the reference of .science' is to the empirical sciences, to what Geisler tries to denigrate as "operational science." One is obviously free to stipulate an alternative definition if the common one is inadequate or imprecise. But such a change usually has a penalty-one communicates only to a limited group or within a restricted context. As a consequence, Young speaks to the membership of ASA and to the secular members of the Philosophy of Science Association equally. But Geisler restricts himself, barring lengthy explanations, to those committed to "creation science."
Geisler claims that Jastrow gives creationists "a right to conclude there was a cause (Creator) of the beginning of the universe." He overlooks, first, the overwhelming philosophic evidence that the First Cause is not a cause among causes, but involves a shift of meaning, an analogical rather than a univocal usage. Second, he ignores the complexity of the concept of causality, which tends to confuse, rather than to clarify, most problems. One need only note that Mario Bunge wrote a book, and William A. Wallace a two-volume work, on the topic.
Third, Geislcr papers over the equivocal nature of the evidence given by science relative to the origin of the universe. I too like to think that the current version of Gamow's cosmology points to a creation ex nihilo. But science has not, the last I heard, been able to extrapolate before 10"" second after the initiation of the "big bang." There is the scientific possibility that the universe is cyclic, that a "cosmic crunch" preceded the universal expansion. Indeed, I have been told that, even if the universe is now expanding without the possibility of future collapse, it could have reached this state by a series of expansions and contractions, whose number is not ascertainable. And there may be just enough matter in the universe to produce yet another cycle. These possibilities point out anew, if the warning is still needed, that one cannot base theology on the current state of science.
There is, however, another way in which Geisler may be read. It is not explicit, but seems to underlie his statements. Is it implied that scientists cannot, or must not, discover the universe to be cyclic? If Geisler has not forgotten the lesson taught by Galileo, his language is acceptable to those who have.
It seems to me that Geisler goes too far in ascribing a counterscriptural motivation to Young (par. 10). The full context of Young's statement (JASA, September 1984, p. 157) reveals a total commitment to Scripture. The declaration of the glory of God by the heavens is not the product of science, but antedates science by millenia. David sang Psalm 19 more than twenty-five centuries before Galileo fathered science. And I doubt that one is likely to find God in
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or other scientific formulas. Perhaps Young could have written more carefully, but he has a point. Further, Romans 1: 18-20 needs to be interpreted in the light of verses 21 and following. Does Scripture warrant the claim that every pagan had adequate knowledge of the Father until he personally suppressed it? Is it not possible for the suppression of truth to be a product of the ungodly environment in which one grows up? Does missing the mark (3:23) entail a deliberate personal rejection of God's revelation in nature? It seems that Geisler's paragraph requires that each question be answered with a "yes." Perhaps he too could have written more carefully.
Finally, I tentatively suggest that there may be a correlation between "creation science" and the description of "science" by the successors of John Dewey. Many of us remember the four to six step "scientific method" that was presented in elementary science texts for decades, despite protests from the scientists who knew better. I trace its origin to Dewey's How We Think. But his version was more complex than the science-by-the-numbers pushed primarily by the education department members. I feel that they wanted the prestige of science but could not approach the rigor and precision of the recognized sciences. So they cut science down to a procedure within their capacity. That is, they "redefined" science as a puerile and jejune exercise requiring neither intelligence nor skill. (Perhaps I give Dewey too much credit for his version, for in Reconstruction in Philosophy he wanted to make philosophy scientific.) It seems to me that some people are presenting theological speculations as "creation science" in the hope that some of the prestige of science will rub off on their efforts. Before I am taken to task for ascribing a lack of principle to these parties, I note that I am not commenting on motivation. Noble intent is not proof against a subconscious need to produce a set of predetermined results. And I repeat that this is a suspicion, not a demonstration.