Response to Meyer and Bube

 J. P. Moreland, Ph.D.

 Talbot School of Theology
 Biola University
 13800 Biola Avenue
 La Mirada, CA 90639

From: PSCF 46 (March 1994): 22-25.

I want to thank professors Meyer and Bube for their thoughtful comments on my article. Meyer is in basic agreement with what I argue and he extends my position with further arguments that I find convincing. Due to space considerations, and since Meyer and I are in such agreement about these matters, I will devote the majority of what I say here to Bube's response.

I have appreciated Bube's writings over the years, and I agree with a number of the points he makes in his response to my article. However, we do have deep differences and I will bring those to center stage, first, by commenting on three relatively minor points and, second, by looking at what I take to be the major issue in Bube's paper.

First, Bube claims that the issues raised in my article are a kind of "straw man," that the real culprit is not the theory of biological evolution per se but, rather, evolutionism taken as a version of scientism. In my view, this claim represents a simplistic caricature of what is going on. It is one thing to assert, quite correctly, that scientism is wrong and ought to be resisted. It is another thing altogether to simply reduce the complexities of the theology/science interaction, say as exemplified in the creation/evolution discussion, to nothing more than illicit extrapolations or territory encroachments from one side to the other.

Many advocates of creation science (and I make it clear that I use this term to cover various progressive creationist models as well as young earth paradigms) simply think that:

(1) Science and theology can directly interact at the same level of description in epistemically positive and negative ways and nothing about the nature of science or theology rules this out.

(2) Natural theology is a legitimate enterprise and, while theology does not in general need the support of science to be rational, nevertheless, some theological claims and arguments in natural theology (e.g. the universe had a beginning, there is a designer, humans arose in the mideast, life originated by a primary causal act of God) can tend to be supported by or at odds with scientific discoveries.

(3) The most rationally defensible ways of exegeting scripture are at odds with the general theory of evolution in its various forms.

Since a number of bright and informed believers hold these views, three different but related issues are generated:

(i) Does the very nature of science rule out creation science as a religion and not a science?

 (ii) Is creationism, taken as a research program, empirically fruitful in solving problems? and how does the epistemic virtue of empirical fruitfulness figure into evaluating research programs in general and creationism in particular?

(iii) How do current models of creation science compare to evolutionary rivals in light of empirical discoveries?

The point of my article was to address the first and, to a lesser extent, the second of these questions in a limited way. In light of the complexity of the issues involved here, it is simplistic to simply announce that the real issue is evolutionism. Such an announcement is Procrustean.

This leads to a second minor point. Bube offers a definition of science as the main foundation of his response. I will look at some details of that definition later. But for now, something very important needs to be said about the simple fact that he would offer such a definition and place so much weight on it. The task of defining science is not primarily one for scientists. Thus, it is cognitively irrelevant that the majority of practicing scientists hold to a certain definition. They are simply not trained as experts in this area for a simple reason. Defining science is a second-order philosophical question, not a first-order scientific one, and the history and philosophy of science should be the fields that handle this task. When a scientist offers a definition of science, he or she does so by taking a meta-scientific, that is, a philosophical standpoint, not a scientific one.

The plain fact is that historians and philosophers are almost universally agreed that there is no adequate definition of science (including Bube's), no line of demarcation between science and non-science or pseudo-science, no set of necessary or sufficient conditions for stating what science is or is not. We can recognize paradigm cases of science without such a definition and we can state a general characterization of science that will often and for the most part be useful. But that is about all we can do. Thus, arguments that rest on such definitions are on thin ice indeed.

Recently, Larry Laudan has shown that attempts to define science are rooted in polemical battles which try to show that some cognitive practice is not really science by identifying beliefs that are "`sound' and `unsound,' `respectable' and `cranky,' or `reasonable' and `unreasonable'."1 As Meyer has reminded us, Laudan goes on to say that,

If we would stand up and be counted on the side or reason, we ought to drop terms like `pseudo-science' and `unscientific' from our vocabulary; they are just hollow phrases which do only emotive work for us. As such, they are more suited to the rhetoric of politicians and Scottish sociologists of knowledge than of empirical researchers."2

If scientists are going to discuss these matters, they owe it to themselves to become familiar with the vast literature in the history and philosophy of science on this topic. I suspect that such familiarity would temper the temptation to claim, as does Bube, that if current definitions by practicing scientists are at odds with the history of science, the conclusion to draw is, quite possibly, that history violates "the structure of authentic science."

The third point is this. Bube's paper claims that creation science cannot be authentic science because it is done to establish a previously existing model, presumably because the model is not tentatively and openly, but rather dogmatically, embraced ahead of time. However, several things are wrong with Bube's employment of this argument. First, even if tentativeness is an epistemic virtue in science, it is a characteristic of scientists themselves, not of their theories. Theories are not conscious beings. Thus, all that follows from this is that creation scientists should loosen up, not that creation science models themselves are pseudo-science. Perhaps Gish, Morris, Walter Bradley and others just need therapy to make them more tentative. If that happened, would Bube agree that creation science models are models of science (a different question than asking if they are empirically adequate)? The fact is that some creationists are quite tentative about their models, in whole or in part, and creation science paradigms could be taught, researched, and explored by those who don't even accept them. Thus, the tentativeness of a scientist has nothing to do with the scientific or pseudo-scientific status of his or her theory. Moreover, a number of other theories are considered scientific even though their practitioners are not tentative. Does anyone today doubt the circulation theory of blood? Does this lack of tentativeness make any difference? It is one thing to say that a lack of tentativeness can tend to make a scientist distort data. This point, while often true, counts equally against evolutionists as well, and in any case, it is ultimately beside the point because the acceptability of a paradigm is a matter of several factors, including how it fares in light of several epistemic virtues (e.g. simplicity, empirical accuracy, fruitfulness in guiding new research, effectiveness in solving internal and external conceptual problems) and how it compares to its rivals. So even though tentativeness is in general a virtue for scientists themselves, it is only one of many important factors and, as I have said, its absence among practitioners of a paradigm does not mean that the paradigm itself is not a scientific paradigm.

I come now to a critique of what I take to be the central issue of Bube's paper: the details of his definition of science, of which two shall be mentioned. First, Bube's definition of science includes methodological naturalism as part of that definition. I have criticized methodological naturalism elsewhere, and will only offer some brief remarks here.3

To begin with, I have already pointed out that demarcationist strategies, methodological naturalist ones included, have been failures. We should learn from this fact. Second, even if we grant that scientific explanation requires descriptions of mechanisms in natural categories, it only follows that creation science or perhaps a better term would be "theistic science" is not science if we go on to grant the erroneous assumption that science is exhausted by explanation. But this is not the case. Theistic science is rooted in the idea that Christians ought to consult all they know or have warrant to believe in forming and testing scientific hypotheses, in explaining things in science, and in evaluating the plausibility of various scientific hypotheses, and among the things they should consult are propositions of theology (and philosophy).

This understanding of theistic science allows us to spell out a number of ways that theological (and philosophical) beliefs can enter into the very fabric of science apart from explanation proper. Two of them are as follows: (1) Theology can provide and solve internal and external conceptual problems. (This was the main point of my article.) (2) Theology can provide a picture of what was and was not going on in the formation of some entity (e.g the first event, first life, the basic kinds of life, man, and for some, the geological column) and what some entity is (e.g. living things have souls that constitute their nature and ground the search for more species-specific principles of classification). These pictures can serve as guides for new research (e.g. by postulating that a purpose will be found for vestigial organs), they can yield predictions that certain theories will be falsified (e.g. those entailing a beginningless universe) and that certain discoveries will be made (e.g. that evidence of human origins will be found in the mideast).

Thus, even if theological ideas cannot be used in scientific explanation, theistic science could still be legitimate science by utilizing theological beliefs in these other ways. Bube appears to acknowledge this in a few places, but his definition of science is inconsistent with this acknowledgement. This is all creationists need to justify the claim that theistic science is science and not religion.

Second, it is false that theological propositions like the flood of Noah or a direct, primary causal act of God cannot be used to explain things in science. Scientific explanation is not limited to a covering law model of explanation using only natural laws nor to a realist causal model that only posits natural, material entities as causes. This is especially true in the historical sciences, though the point is not limited there. Scientists regularly explain things by citing causal entities, processes, actions, or events in their explanations. For example, the Big Bang is cited as a single causal event in certain scientific explanations. Now, some branches of science, e.g. SETI, archeology, forensic science, psychology or sociology, use personal agency and various inner states of agents (desires, willings, intentions, awarenesses, thoughts, feelings) as part of their description of those causal entities. For example, Richard DeCharms claims that "a scientific concept of the self that does not encompass personal causation is inadequate."4 There is nothing non-scientific about appealing to personal agency and the like in a scientific explanation, and it is this insight that theistic scientists capture and that Bube leaves out.

It may be objected that such appeals are permissible in the human sciences and not the so-called natural sciences. But this response is question-begging in that it rules out personal explanation in natural science by definition instead of merely defining those sciences ostensively. Moreover, such question begging legislations have hurt science in other areas, e.g. cognitive psychology and artificial intelligence models of consciousness. In this regard, John Searle says:

How is it that so many philosophers and cognitive scientists can say so many things that, to me at least, seem obviously false?. I believe one of the unstated assumptions behind the current batch of views is that they represent the only scientifically acceptable alternatives to the antiscientism that went with traditional dualism, the belief in the immortality of the soul, spiritualism, and so on. Acceptance of the current views is motivated not so much by an independent conviction of their truth as by a terror of what are apparently the only alternatives. That is, the choice we are tacitly presented with is between a "scientific" approach, as represented by one or another of the current versions of "materialism," and an "unscientific" approach, as represented by Cartesianism or some other traditional religious conception of the mind.5

In my view, it is this methodological naturalist straightjacket that would deny to, say, biology, paleontology, and the study of origins, the same freedom of movement. The claim that if we allow such freedom then there would be no way to stop it is a red herring. Theistic scientists do not believe in a capricious God nor do they appeal to a direct act of God willy nilly in an explanation, but only if there are good theological, philosophical, and/or scientific reasons for doing so.

This leads to the second detail of Bube's characterization of science. He claims that if God created living creatures instantaneously by fiat, then the only scientific description for the event is spontaneous generation, not creation. But why is this the case? I can only think of two reasons. First, God is not a natural physical entity or process. But as we have seen, science does not limit its explanatory entitles to such natural mechanisms.

Second, it may be that Bube thinks the two explanations "spontaneous generation" and "creation" are each consistent with empirical data in that the data entails neither. But this is irrelevant. Theories are always under determined by data and scientists regularly make inferences to the best explanation even though other explanations are logically possible, or even if the two rivals are, strictly speaking, empirically equivalent. Note that in creationist employments of a primary causal act of God regarding the origin of the universe, first life, and human beings, the notion of creation is not merely a description, but an inductive inference to the best explanation. If such an explanation is in fact the best one, whether based on probability considerations or analogy with human artifacts and the known properties of matter, and if such an inference solves external and internal conceptual problems better than the "spontaneous generation" alternative, then what is unscientific about such an inference? That it is not entailed by the data is irrelevant; scientific inferences to the best explanations never are. The idea that the scientist must notice the data and the analogy to artifacts, notice that a causal act of God solves this as well as various conceptual problems, but nevertheless must take off his or her scientist's cap and put on another one before he or she makes the inference is, in my view, picking at nits.

In closing, I have a plea. Years ago, Thomas Kuhn pointed out that when science is dominated by a major paradigm, scientists who do not accept that paradigm are treated poorly by their colleagues who adopt the dominant view: they are called pseudo-scientists, they have trouble getting published, and in general, sociological pressure is brought to bear on them to conform. If this is true (and who can doubt it in light of the sociology of much of the American Scientific Affiliation in the last several years), then scientists may well be the last people to ask about what counts as science because they are too close to the issue to have the objectivity and perspective needed to make such a judgment. When we couple this insight with the fact that definitions of science are philosophical and historical and not primarily scientific matters, then Bube's own word of caution, with a slight but important twist, actually has an opposite effect from the one he intended:

Until the appropriate distinctions are made, the appropriate inferences understood, and the appropriate applications put into common use, this subject will remain one of confusion for many Christians not trained in the history and philosophy of science.



1Larry Laudan, "The Demise of the Demarcation Problem," in Physics, Philosophy, and Psychoanalysis, ed. by R. S. Cohen, L. Laudan (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel, 1983), p. 119.

2Ibid., p. 125.

3See J. P. Moreland, "Creation Science and Methodological Naturalism?" in Man and Creation: Perspectives on Science and Religion, ed. by Michael Bauman (Hillsdale, MI: Hillsdale College Press, 1993); "Theistic Science and Methodological Naturalism," in The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for a Designer, ed. by J. P. Moreland (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, forthcoming, 1994), Chapter 1.

4Richard DeCharms, "Personal Causation, Agency, and the Self," in The Book of the Self: Person, Pretext, and Process, ed. by Polly Young-Eisendrath and James Hill (N. Y.: New York University Press, 1987), p. 18.

5John Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1992), pp. 3-4.