Science in Christian Perspective


MacKay vs. Cramer: A Rebuttal
Professor D. M. MacKay
Department of Communication & Neuroscience
University of Keele
Keele, Staffs. ST5 5BG

From: PSCF 38 (March 1986): 62-63.

One of the best services we can render one another as apologists is to identify any weaknesses in our apologetic armament; but for public criticism to be useful, let alone a trustworthy guide to others, it is essential that the critic understands, and does not seriously misstate, the argument he criticizes. Unfortunately, in Dr. J. A. Cramer's essay on "Science, Scientism and Christianity," in the September 1985 issue of JASA, the following statements (among others) are either directly false or so misleading as to have the semantic function of falsehood.

I have appended brief notes of the mistakes, in square brackets.

1. "(MacKay) allows for the sake of argument that causal determinism is true of the mind." [This confuses 'mind' with 'brain'].

2. "(MacKay argues that) for a particular brain state to be inevitablefor you, you must consider and accept the prediction as true.,, [Not at all: my criterion of 'inevitability' was whether (unknown to you) there exists a complete prediction of your future brain-state with an unconditional logical claim to your assent-i.e., such that if only you knew it, you would be logically correct to believe it and in error to disbelieve it. I showed that no such prediction exists. Since the case discussed is one in which you won't be offered the prediction, Cramer's question whether you can choose to believe it does not even arise!]

3. "(MacKay) views theological statements as not readily testable against experience." [Misleading generalization. The Clockwork Image (p. 100) has a whole section on "The test of experience;" and Brains, Machines & Persons (p. 102) refers to specific theological claims that "should be testable in your experience and in mine."]

4. "(MacKay) says one explanation debunks another when one story ' . . . would have had to be different if the other story had been different. . . ' This gives us no criteria for deciding which story should be judged to be debunked." [This makes nonsense by omitting the context. My full sentence reads: "A good test is to ask whether the admitted story would have had to be different if the other story had been different" (emphasis added). I was discussing the standard case where one story is admitted by both sides, and the question is not "which is debunked?" but whether the other story is debunked by that admission.]

5. "(In the case of the advertising sign) the two accounts do not contradict and appear to stand to each other as overlapping levels of explanation. If this is correct, the example has no relevance to 'nothing-buttery."' [Clearly false. "Nothing-buttery" was defined as the tactic of alleging that even where there was no explicit contradiction, the completeness of one (scientific) account (in its own categories) ruled out (left no room for) another (religious) account.

The advertising sign is precisely a counterexample, in which the completeness of one account does not rule out the other.]

6. "Differences in viewpoint and standpoint lead respectively to what MacKay terms 'hierarchic' and 'non-hierarchic' complementarity." [This is not the basis given for the two terms. I make no distinction between "viewpoint" and "standpoint." The Zygon article (pp. 229-23 1) gives the basis explicitly.]

7. "The advantages of 'complementarity' over ' complementariness' are elusive.- [I agree! I have nowhere made the distinction Cramer invents, nor does any of my argument hang on it. If I ever used the latter term, it would be as a synonym of the former. In Zygon (and earlier) I argued that Bohr's use of 'compiementarity' was simply a particular application of the general logical concept I tried to elucidate. My point was that complementarity need imply no dependence upon Bohr*s philosophy of physics.)

In these circumstances, I do not wish to take up further space in debate with Dr. Cramer: let me only ask any readers interested in getting the picture straight to (please!) read the original arguments and see for themselves how accurately his essay reflects them.

It is piquant to find such damaging carelessness of the reputation of others evinced in the same issue of the Journal as your admirable reminders of the spirit in which Christians ought to engage in controversy. together with Gareth Jones' horrifying account of experiences of a different spirit. In my closing address at the 1985 ASA/RSCF Conference in Oxford I ventured to ask whether there might not be scope for some applied research by Christians to find better ways of helping test and strengthen one another's arguments through mutual criticism. (Even without benefit of research, one can think of some elementary precautions to include in a minimal 'code of practice"). On current evidence. perhaps the time is over-ripe?


The following are representative of my actual views on the topics treated by Dr. Cramer. Although later references enlarge on the earlier arguments. I would still stand by those of 1953!

(a) Complementarity
    Science & Faith Today a symposjum - London, Lutterworth Press, 1953.
Where Science & Faith Meet (a symposium), London, Inter-Varsity Fellowship. 1953.
Complememtarity 11, Aristotelian Soc. Suppt., 32,105-122,1958.
The Sovereignity of God in the Natural World. Scottish Journal of Theology, 21. 13--26, 1968.
Language, Meaning and God. Philosophy, 47, 1-17, 1972
    What Makes a Contradiction? Faith and Thought, 97, 7-14, 1968.
    Complementarity in Scientific and Theological Thinking. Zygon, 9, No. 3, 225-244,1974.
Science, Chance and Providence (Riddell Memorial Lectures 1977), Oxford Universitv Press, 1978.
Human Science and Human Dignity, Hodder & Stoughton, London, and Inter-Varsity- Press,                Downers Grove, Ill., 1979.
    Science and the Quest for Meaning, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1982.

(b) Logical Indeterminacy

    On the Logical Indeterminacy of Free Choice,
Mind, 69, 31-40, 1960.
Scientific Beliefs about Oneself. In: The Proper Study (G.N.A. Vesey, ed.), Royal Institute of Philosophy Lectures, Vol. 4, Macmillan, London, 48-63,1971.
Choice in a Mechanistic Universe, Brit. J. Phil. of Sci., 22, 275-285, 1971.
The Logical Indeterminateness of Human Choices. Brit. J. Phil. Set., 24, 405-408,1973.
    The Clockwork Irnage: A Christian Perspective on Science, Inter-Varsity Press, 1974.
What Determines My Choice? In: Cerebral Correlates of Conscious Experience, (P.A. Buser and A.     Rougeul-Buser, eds.), Elsevier, 1978.
Brains, Machines & Persons, Collins, London, and Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1980.
Ourselves and our brains: duality without dualism, Psychoneuroendocrinology,7,285-294,1982.