Science in Christian Perspective
Special Creationism in Designer Clothing:A Response to The Creation Hypothesis
Howard J. Van Till
Professor of Physics
3201 Burton St. SE
Grand Rapids, MI 49546
The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer, J. P. Moreland, Ed., (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994) 335 pp., including notes, no index, $12.99. Paper.
From: PSCF 47 (June 1995): 123. Response: Siemens, Gerard
Enter "theistic science"
In his extended introduction to this collection of essays, editor J. P. Moreland, a professor of philosophy, places the goals of its contributors on solid ground: "Christians have a special intellectual and moral obligation to follow Augustine's advice: we have a duty, he said, to show that our Scriptures do not contradict what we have reason to believe from reliable sources outside them. In short, Christians have the obligation and privilege of developing and propagating an integrated Christian world view"(11). All Christians would, I presume, agree with that general goal.
But Moreland et al. have a much more specific goal as well: to define and defend what they, following philosopher Alvin Plantinga, wish to call "theistic science," a research program that is "rooted in the idea that Christians ought to consult all they know or have reason to believe in forming and testing hypotheses, explaining things in science and evaluating the plausibility of various hypotheses, and among the things they should consult are propositions of theology (and philosophy)"(12, 13). On the character and propriety of "theistic science," there is substantial disagreement among Christians.
To understand and evaluate this research program we must know its two central propositions: (1) "God, conceived of as a personal, transcendent agent of great power and intelligence, has through direct, primary agent causation and indirect, secondary causation created and designed the world for a purpose and has directly intervened in the course of its development at various times (including prehistory, history prior to the arrival of human beings)," and (2) "The commitment expressed in proposition 1 can appropriately enter into the very fabric of the practice of science and the utilization of scientific methodology"(13, emphasis added).
It soon becomes clear that the first proposition commits "theistic science" to some version of the special creationist picture of God's creative activity-that, in time, God's creative work was manifested as "direct, discontinuous, miraculous actions"(13). As I understand it, these inferred creative miracles, although performed without human observers and not explicitly called miracles in the Bible, would nonetheless be placed in the same category as the many revelatory and redemptive acts of God experienced by human observers and explicitly recounted as miracles in Scripture.
According to Moreland, "theistic science" is not one narrowly defined position but a research program that "is consistent with a number of different theories that specify it; for example, progressive creationist models, young-earth creation-science and other models"(13). Nonetheless, it is clear throughout the book that some portraits of God's creative work that are commonly found within the larger Christian community (and within the ASA) would not be welcome under the umbrella of "theistic science" like "theistic evolution" or "evolutionary creation," for instance.
What is wrong with evolutionary creation?
Because those last two terms have a spectrum of meanings, and because the perspective of this reviewer greatly affects the stance of this essay review, I must clarify what I mean by "evolutionary creation." By that term I mean a concept of the Creator and the creation that includes the following propositions:
(1) That God, as presented in the Scriptures, and as the only and omnipotent Creator, is the sole source of both the existence and the capacities (for example, what matter and material systems can do) of the entire universe
(2) That from the beginning, when the creation was brought into being from nothing, God has generously gifted the basic entities (for example, physical and biological systems) of that creation with all of the capacities that they would need to actualize, in time, all of the physical structures and living creatures that have ever existed. In other words, the functional and developmental economies of the creation are complete, not marked by any gaps that God would be obliged to bridge in time by extraordinary interventions.
(3) That the formative history of the creation does not occur independently of God's action, but is continuously dependent on God's action of sustaining and blessing. Therefore, the creation's entire formative history must be viewed as a manifestation of God's intentions, that is, God's design for what the creation, by employing its generously given capacities, would become in time. This design perspective does not in any way, however, bind God to achieve his intentions (designs) by acts of manipulation or coercion of created materials or beings.
(4) That the creation, though gifted by God with a gapless developmental economy (not missing any capacities that would be needed to realize the historical formation of all structures and life-forms) is always open to God's action in it and to God's interaction with it. Therefore, there is here no questioning of God's power or freedom to act in or interact with the creation; the question here is: What is the character of the created world in which God acts and with which God interacts? Does it have, by God's generosity, a gapless economy, or is its economy marked by gaps or deficiencies that need to be bridged by special acts of God in time, acts in which God manipulates or coerces matter to assume structures or life-forms that it was not earlier equipped by God to actualize? (Note: In this view miracles are acts freely performed by God for their timely revelatory or redemptive value, not obligatory acts needed to compensate for earlier omissions.)
(5) The scientific methodology that follows from this view of the created world is one that assumes the functional and developmental integrity of all physical and biological systems. The pejorative label "methodological naturalism" (to be discussed later) is, therefore, entirely inappropriate. The methodological strategies associated with this perspective are not derived from philosophical naturalism, which takes both the existence and the astounding capacities of the universe as brute givens requiring no further explanation. Its methodology is based instead on the presumption that the universe is God's creation and that he has generously gifted it from the beginning with a functionally and developmentally complete economy. A broad spectrum of physical structures and life-forms would be realized in time without the need for extraordinary divine interventions to compensate for earlier omissions.
(6) This evolutionary creation perspective is, in its basic approach, entirely consistent with the reading of Genesis encouraged by Basil and Augustine sixteen centuries ago. These two stalwarts of early Christian theology rejected the idea that God performed special creative acts in time and they promoted instead the concept of a creation gifted with complete functional and developmental economies from the very beginning.1 There is, however, one noteworthy difference of detail. Where Basil and Augustine employed the prevailing concept of spontaneous generation for each kind of life-form, a concept no longer considered scientifically credible, this evolutionary creation view employs the concepts of genealogical continuity and descent with genetic variation.
Now, why would Moreland et al. reject this evolutionary creation perspective or any other view that posits a creation provided by God with a gapless economy-a view, as we have noted, with deep roots in historic Christian theology? Moreland's answer is given in a passing reference to what he perceives to be a biblical requirement: "[M]any Christian intellectuals, including Old Testament scholars, do not believe that Genesis is consistent with theistic evolution as it is usually presented. Instead they opt for some form of special creationism. We side with these scholars..."(14). Curiously, no particular biblical scholars are cited here by Moreland.
Moreland's rejection of evolutionary continuity and his
adoption of the special creationist picture is in tension, however, with his
stated attitude toward big bang cosmological theorizing. "Now,
while it may be true that a full-blown acceptance of every detail of the theory
may not harmonize with certain respectable ways [again, no references cited] of
understanding Genesis 1, one thing seems clear: in spite of certain scientific
problems with the big bang theory, it is currently the most reasonable and
widely respected view, and it does confirm the fact that the space-time physical
universe had a beginning"(20).
It seems that, although the presumption of a gapless developmental economy is
considered unacceptable in biological theorizing, no objection is raised here
concerning its employment in cosmological theorizing. After all, the big bang
concept does support the idea of a beginning.
This ambivalence toward continuous development is amplified by many favorable references to the concept of "fine-tuning" in the values of several cosmic constants and to the "delicately balanced set of preconditions " for the "emergence of any life, including human life" in the universe(30). However, once one adopts a special creationist stance, as Moreland does, the need for fine-tuning and for many of these preconditions disappears. In fact, the presence of both would appear entirely surprising, thereby weakening the case for special creationism. More on this later.
Design argument or design perspective?
The term "design argument" arises from the apologetic employment of "design" in arguments to prove the existence of God. "The design argument's most fundamental point can be put in this way," says Moreland. "Science cannot explain away all examples of order...as being the result of merely natural processes, because scientific explanations presuppose and must start with ordered entities and laws"(23). Therefore, if "natural processes," as presently understood, are deemed insufficient to accomplish the kinds of ordering we see, then it seems most reasonable to Moreland et al. to account for this ordering by appeal to the action of a Designer. "There is no good reason to leave these examples of order as brute, unexplained realities, and there is good precedent to explain them as the result of a mind; the design argument capitalizes on this insight"(24).
What I prefer to call the "design perspective" would do the same, but it would not burden the argument with the additional presumption that, if designed (intended) by a mind, then accomplished by means of coercion...manipulating matter and material systems into assuming structures and forms they were not equipped to actualize by the exercise of their God-given capacities. A "design perspective" would focus on perceiving the whole universe, wondrously rich in its capacities and potentialities, as an astounding manifestation of thoughtful divine intentionality. It would not focus (as the design argument does) on finding specific instances in which it is possible to argue that something must have occurred because of the divine manipulation of some creaturely entity.
"We claim," says Moreland, "that when one actually examines the scientific evidence for the real design in the world, it becomes much less plausible to believe that the design in this world is the result of chance or some other factor apart from God"(28). I agree, of course, provided that the primary inference of being designed is "being the actualized product of thoughtful intention," not " being the contrived product of coercive action." I heartily support a design perspective, but find no warrant at all for the presumption that the intentions of design must be accomplished by means of special creation.
Addressing the objection that the concept of macroevolution makes the design argument implausible, Moreland outlines two possible strategies for response: (1) to focus on nonbiological examples of design, including the preconditions for life; (2) to grant, at least for the sake of argument, the possibility that the macroevolutionary picture may be correct, and proceed to "build a design argument based on broader features of order and purpose, even on the existence of the mechanisms of evolution"(31). While this second approach is the one that I would advocate, not merely for the sake of argument but because I believe it to be the best way to account for the way things are, Moreland rejects it. Why? Because, he says, "it is hard to square with the early chapters of Genesis and with the empirical facts of science itself"(31).
The book goes on to build the authors' case regarding their interpretation of some empirical results, but nowhere does it deal substantively with questions of biblical interpretation. There is not even a listing of those biblical scholars whose interpretation the authors favor. Given my conviction that particular beliefs regarding the requirements of biblical interpretation lie at the root of nearly all Christian anti-evolution attitudes, I find this to be a telling omission. If theological propositions are to be an essential part of "theistic science," then why is there no discussion of the warrant for special creationism, which is the very proposition that makes this "research program" unique?
Nonetheless, without any elaboration of the presumed biblical basis for special creationism, Moreland says that the strategy of this book's authors will be "to criticize evolutionary theory and present a creationist alternative to it"(31). In his foreword, Phillip Johnson, a vocal critic of evolutionary biology, says that "A creationist is simply a person who believes that God creates". But that initial appearance of congenial openness to a full spectrum of differing concepts of divine creative activity is quite misleading. Throughout this volume, when the terms "creationist" or "creation" are used, they presume a specifically special creationist picture of God's creative activity being manifested as a series of "direct, discontinuous, miraculous actions" in time. But if special creationist is meant, why not say it? Why, for instance, is the book's title not The Special Creation Hypothesis?
In a similar manner, the vast majority of references in this book to "design" and to the "design hypothesis" or "design argument" or "intelligent designer" presume, without explicit argumentation, that if the universe shows evidence for design, then it must have gotten that way because of special creation. Once again, if "special creation" is meant, why not say it? Why dress special creationism in "designer" clothing?
Down with methodological naturalism!
Philosopher J. P. Moreland follows his extensive introduction to the book with a chapter in which he presents his "critique of methodological naturalism and a limited defense of theistic science"(41). Recall that, as it is defined and employed in this book, "theistic science" is a research program committed to the expectation that some of God's creative action would have been manifested as episodes of divine miraculous intervention in time. Therefore, "[G]aps in the fossil record are not problems in need of solution for creationists...[T]hese phenomena are basic for creationists...[I]t is enough for creationists to use theological notions to guide them in the quest for scientific tests to establish the phenomena predicted by their theological constructs"(64).
But which theological constructs does one choose to employ? Most noteworthy here is the disparity between the special creationist "construct" promoted in this work...that God has "directly intervened" in the formative history, including prehistory, of the world" and the position held by Augustine, with whose foundational advice Moreland opened the introduction to this book. Augustine, in his extensive commentary on Genesis 1-3, De Genesi ad litteram, or The Literal Meaning of Genesis, explicitly rejects the special creationist construct and adopts the position that the functional and developmental economies of the created world were gapless from the very beginning2
Moreland contrasts the "theistic science" research program, committed to special creationism, with one committed to methodological naturalism. He defines methodological naturalism as a scientific research program committed to considering only those theories that are consistent with "a naturalist standpoint in explaining things in science"(33). Here the term "naturalist" is given its meaning from philosophical naturalism. In contrast to Christian theism, Naturalism may be defined as the view that reality is exhausted by the spatiotemporal world of physical entities embraced by our scientific theories"(21). Therefore, methodological naturalism is presented by Moreland (see also Stephen Meyer's chapter) as a scientific strategy that begins with philosophical naturalism, then strips away all explicit reference to the offensive atheistic metaphysics, leaving only the methodological rules that proscribe any consideration of divine action. So defined, methodological naturalism, sometimes dubbed with the even more pejorative label, provisional atheism, should find no welcome within the Christian community.
How utterly frustrating, then, for me to see Howard J. Van Till identified by Moreland as one of those misguided Christians who, as discerned from "a straightforward reading of their writings," would affirm: (1) that "natural science, by its very nature, presupposes and is constituted by methodological naturalism," and probably also (2) that "the very nature of natural science entails the impropriety of theistic science"(42). I do not wish here to belabor the matter of defining "natural science" or of specifying its rules of methodology, since that can soon degenerate into a trivial semantic exercise. The term natural science can be defined in any way that one chooses. Some definitions characterize science well; others do not. Some definitions characterize science as experienced by those who do it; other definitions characterize science as perceived by those who talk about it. But it should be clear to anyone that one's chosen definition for natural science has no bearing at all on the propriety or impropriety of a different research program that its proponents choose to call "theistic science."
Do I think that "theistic science" is the best choice for the name of that enterprise? No, but its proponents are free to call it whatever they wish. My chief objection is that calling this broad enterprise-an enterprise broad enough, apparently, to reach apologetically significant conclusions regarding the reality of divine intervention-a form of science might suggest to some persons that the anti-theistic propaganda often presented in the name of science also has a chance of being apologetically substantive. Perhaps the research program proposed in this book would be more aptly called theistic natural philosophy, a name that would better indicate that its scope is greater than what is ordinarily called natural science and a name that would also reflect the fact that its principal proposers (Plantinga, Moreland, Meyer) are philosophers, not scientists.
On the matter of methodological naturalism my concerns must be stated far more crisply. To the best of my recollection, I have never approvingly employed the term methodological naturalism in my writing.3 Why not? Because I have long had a profound distaste for that label, though it may be possible to define and employ it so Christians and other theists would have little objection to it. But in most presentations claiming to offer a distinctively theistic perspective regarding the evaluation of contemporary natural science in general, or of the concept of biological evolution in particular, the term methodological naturalism is frequently placed in such close association with the terms philosophical naturalism, metaphysical naturalism, and provisional atheism that some malodorous transfer is unavoidable. It is the familiar rhetorical strategy of "stench by proximity," in which the noun, naturalism, is perceived to have an odor so foul as to overpower the perfume of the qualifying adjective, methodological.
Consequently, instead of trying to deodorize and employ so problematic a term as methodological naturalism, I have chosen to focus on the concept of creation's functional integrity (or, if you prefer, the idea that the functional and developmental economies of the creation are gapless). I have drawn, not from the fouled wells of metaphysical or philosophical naturalism, but from early Christian theological sources, primarily from biblical commentaries on Genesis written by Basil and Augustine. Given that vision of what God has brought into being, I fully expect that our systematic, empirical investigation of the created world will provide us with an ever-growing knowledge of the awesome capacities with which this world has been gifted.
In this expectation, then, when I am faced with a gap in our understanding of some element in that economy (even a stubbornly persisting gap), I am not at all inclined to postulate that this gap in human understanding should be taken as compelling evidence for the existence of a gap in creation's economy that could be bridged only by a "special" act of God. Rather, I take this gap as an attractive invitation to continue research in that area because something remarkably interesting may be lurking behind the veil of our present ignorance. Furthermore, I take this position thoughtfully, not because of being asleep at the wheel of Christian scholarship and veering off into the quagmire of philosophical naturalism or into the swamp named "Do Whatever the Secular World Wills."
Part of the difficulty in these matters is generated by the ambiguity that follows from the failure, very common in anti-evolution literature, to distinguish two very different meanings for the word naturalistic.4 One meaning, I shall call it naturalistic (narrow), is very limited in scope and simply refers to the idea that the physical behavior of some particular material system can be described in terms of the "natural" capacities of its interacting components and the interaction of the system with its physical environment. Therefore there is a naturalistic (narrow) theory of planetary motion, or of star formation, or of earthquakes, or of cell behavior, or of photosynthesis, or of the development of a zygote into a mature organism.
So understood, naturalistic (narrow) speaks only to the idea of the functional integrity of a material system as it acts and interacts in time. No stance regarding the ontological origin of its existence is either specified or implied. Nor is the ultimate source of its capacities for behaving as it does, or its purpose in the larger context of all reality, or its relation to divine action or intention. Defined in this way, naturalistic (narrow) has no elements or connotations that would be in any way objectionable in principle to Christian belief.
The other definition, which I shall call Naturalistic (broad), is far more expansive in scope. It not only includes all of the elements of naturalistic (narrow), but it also superimposes the strong metaphysical stipulations that neither the existence nor the behavioral capacities of material systems derive from any divine source (thereby making a Creator unnecessary) and that the behavior of material systems can in no way serve in the attainment of any divine purpose or intention. So defined, Naturalistic (broad) is essentially identical to materialistic and is, therefore, absolutely irreconcilable with Christian theism. Any critique of methodological naturalism that fails to honor the distinction between the broad and the narrow meanings of naturalistic is, I believe, sure to generate more heat than light, more hostility than learning.
Only two options?
The primary goal of Stephen C. Meyer's lengthy chapter, "The Methodological Equivalence of Design and Descent," is to debunk the use of demarcation arguments for discrediting the concept of "design" in the historical sciences. For Meyer, "design" entails a reference to "the past action of an intelligent agent" to cause some specific outcome (like the "origin" of life, of human consciousness, of the universe itself) deemed beyond the capacities of physical or biological systems. In his words, "Whatever the evidential merits or liabilities of design theories, such theories undoubtedly represent attempts to answer questions about what caused certain features in the natural world to come into existence"(93). "[T]heories of design involving the special creative act of an agent conceptualize that act as a causal event"(94). Stated more directly, designed means not only thoughtfully intended, but also actualized by means of special creation.
Meyer places the concept of "intelligent design" over against the concept of "naturalistic descent." Theories of "intelligent design" are "those that invoke the causal action of an intelligent agent...as part of the explanation for the origin of biological form or complexity." Theories of "naturalistic descent," on the other hand, are "those (such as Darwin's `descent with modification') that rely solely on naturalistic processes to explain the origin of form or complexity"(71). At this point the obvious question is, Does Meyer here mean naturalistic (narrow) or Naturalistic (broad)? If he means Naturalistic (broad), then all Christians must categorically reject such theories, leaving only intelligent design (actualized in miraculous acts of special creation) as an acceptable option. If, however, he means naturalistic (narrow), then the question of how intelligent design (as thoughtful intention) might have become actualized in time remains unanswered.
Perhaps Meyer did not intend to imply that design and descent, as he defines these two terms, are the only two options. I would have welcomed a third - not the stark choice of either (1) intelligent design (actualized in acts of special creation) or (2) Naturalistic (broad) descent, but (3) both intelligent design (that is, thoughtfully intended by a transcendent Creator) and naturalistic (narrow) descent (as the exercise of the remarkable capacities generously given by the Creator to biological systems). I take Meyer's omission of that third option to mean that he does not consider it a viable one.
This conclusion is affirmed, I believe, when Meyer notes that "where origins are concerned only a limited number of basic research programs are logically possible. (Either brute matter can arrange itself into higher levels of complexity or it does not. If it does not, then either some external agency has assisted the arrangement of matter or matter has always possessed its present arrangement.)"(102). What Meyer (consistent with most contributors to this book) does not consider seriously is the possibility, held by many Christians, that matter does, by God's generous provision, have this astounding capability.
Even setting aside the particular capacities contested in this book, I would argue that we need to be far more astounded at what physical and biological systems can do. Pick whatever example you like; then ask, How is this possible? From what source do such wonders proceed? Is this nothing more than sheer accident? A self-created fortuity? An unthought happenstance? A self-explanatory, but purposeless fluke? Try any answer that philosophical naturalism could possibly offer. The result: it has no satisfactory answer to offer! And adding more capacities to the list does not make it easier for materialism, it makes it even more difficult!
So why all the effort to find gaps in the developmental economy of the creation? Is not a gapless economy far more awesome and far more demanding of divine creativity? Does our apologetic engagement with naturalism really need to be shored up with "special effects?" Are not the things that take place as part of our daily experience more than enough to affirm the truth of Romans 1:20, even without the insights of modern natural science? How could this world be anything but the manifestation of thoughtful and purposeful intention? As I see it, a profound design perspective is in no way dependent on, or strengthened by, finding gaps in the developmental economy of the creation.
Is the supernatural empirically detectable?
Bill Dembski's contribution to this book focuses on the question, "Is there anything that has, could or might happen in the world from which it would be reasonable to conclude that a supernatural Designer had acted"(18). Among the listed attributes of a "supernatural Designer" is "intelligence," defined by Dembski to be the capability "of performing actions that cannot adequately be explained by appealing to chance"(116). By an argument based on the concept of a hypothetical oracle called "the incredible talking pulsar," Dembski arrives at the conclusion (not at all surprising in this context) that "Design is therefore knowable on rational and empirical grounds"(129).
Where, specifically, can empirical evidence for specific past action of a supernatural Designer be found? Dembski evidently already knows. "[W]hen it comes to the origin of life there is a compelling argument to be made for design"(122). The substantiation for this claim is promised to appear in a forthcoming book (with S. Meyer and P. Nelson) in which the design argument is to be revitalized. "Such a revived design argument begins with living systems, looks to results from probability and information theory, cybernetics, computational complexity theory, molecular biology, and chemistry, and concludes that any naturalistic [broad? narrow?] alternative to design fails"(133). I presume this to mean that all possible alternatives have already been exhaustively examined by the authors and found inadequate - a remarkably bold claim indeed!
Design as purposeful intention
Hugh Ross, trained as an astronomer, presents a concept of design and its inferences that is quite different from the concept employed by the other contributors to this book. When Ross speaks here of design, his focus is on the issue of purposeful intentionality. A remarkably diverse array of correct numerical values for physical parameters and of fruitful form-producing capacities for the behavior of matter and material systems are provided. When he offers examples of what he considers to be clear empirical evidence for design, the vast majority of these examples have significance only against the background of the assumption that the functional and developmental economies of the universe are gapless - not marked by gaps or deficiencies to be bridged by compensatory or corrective interventions.
One sentence, however, stands out as an exception to this emphasis. Toward the end of the chapter, after calling attention to all of the numerical and behavioral parameters that must fall within narrow limits in order for the universe to have experienced the continuous and constructive formative history envisioned by contemporary scientific cosmology, Ross inserts his judgment that, "Evidently personal intervention on the part of the Creator has occurred not just at the origin of the universe but also at much more recent times"(170). Nowhere else in this chapter is there any suggestion that design must be effected by means of irruptive divine intervention in time, only that there is abundant evidence for thoughtful foresight and provision. One could well ask, If God were planning to employ a series of "special effects" in time anyway, why go through the trouble of setting up that remarkable system of fine-tuning in the first place? (Correspondence with the author revealed that his preference for the special creationist scenario, although not defended in this essay, is explained in other writings.)
Concerning all of the cosmic parameters and all of the historical processes and events that had to coordinate in just the right manner so that our arrival on the scene could take place, Ross says: "Astronomers have discovered that the characteristics of the universe, of our galaxy and of our solar system are so finely tuned to support life that the only reasonable explanation for this is the forethought of a personal, intelligent Creator whose involvement explains the degree of fine-tunedness"(160). Therefore, "the rational conclusion to draw from the incredible fine-tunedness of the universe and the solar system is that someone purposed that we should live"(171).
I concur with Ross on this matter and on his employment of the term design to show the evidential and experiential basis for our perceiving the whole universe around us - not only its present state but its entire formative history - the manifestation of God's thoughtful, purposive, and effective intentions. I could be equally comfortable with many other statements in this book regarding design if it were not for the fact that this term is most often taken to entail its realization by means of special creation (miraculous intervention). For that additional stipulation I find no warrant - certainly not in this book.
How did life first become actualized?
How did the first form of life become actualized? By naturalistic (broad) means? By naturalistic (narrow) means? By means of intelligent design? By means of special creation? In their reflection on choices of this sort, Walter Bradley and Charles Thaxton, in their chapter on "Information and the Origin of Life," make a very important distinction, one rarely found elsewhere in this volume: "It is worth noting here that affirming natural causes as the probable source for the origin of life, as most origin-of-life scientists do, does not necessarily mean naturalism...This means we may not infer from experience the metaphysical conclusion of naturalism"(176, 177). Using the terminology that I introduced earlier, I take Bradley and Thaxton to be affirming that naturalistic (narrow) does not at all imply Naturalistic (broad).
They go on to say, "Likewise, when one infers by experience an intelligent cause to account for the structure of life, it does not carry the necessary conclusion of supernaturalism"(177). Does this mean, then, that when Bradley and Thaxton argue in favor of intelligent design as the ultimate source of biological information they would prefer not to impose the additional requirement that it be realized by means of special creation only? Would they prefer instead to remain open to the possibility of its natural realization (that is, the narrow meaning of naturalistic) within a creation gifted with a gapless economy? If their references to intelligent design are intended to include that possibility, then I take no issue with the conclusions reached by Bradley and Thaxton. But it is not clear that this is their intention. In fact, it would appear that it is not.
The heart of this very difficult "origin-of-life" problem seems to be the question of how to account for the formation of material systems having the requisite specified complexity or biological information. To Bradley and Thaxton "It is clear that the information/complexity problems associated with the origin of life present challenging, maybe even intractable, problems" (191). In agreement with Robert Shapiro, these authors would say that "all current theories are bankrupt and that we need to find a new and more fruitful paradigm to guide our search for a naturalistic explanation for the origin of life"(196). But Bradley and Thaxton go beyond Shapiro to say, "However, we believe that the problem is unnecessarily exacerbated by the conventional wisdom that would restrict our considerations to natural causes, explanations based on chemistry and physics alone"(196).
Thus it appears that a naturalistic (narrow) account, one committed "to the search for natural processes irrespective of metaphysical commitment" is judged by Bradley and Thaxton to be inadequate. They consider this approach to be "in error and that those who promote it place an unnecessary demand on both nature and scientific methodology"(197). Consistent with this judgment, they proceed to argue that specified complexity, the kind of order found in DNA, cannot be accounted for in terms of natural causes and therefore provides direct evidence for the action of some intelligent cause (agent). By analogy with written messages, they conclude "that the remarkable information sequences in DNA also had an intelligent source." Furthermore, "Since DNA is an essential molecular component of every form of life we know, we likewise conclude that life on earth had an intelligent cause"(206)
Arguing by appeal to empirical science, they state their judgment that "there is no convincing experimental evidence that order with high information content (specified complexity) can arise by natural processes"(208). Therefore, "given the information in a DNA molecule, it is certainly reasonable to posit that an intelligent agent made it. ...scientific investigations of the origin of life have clearly led us to conclude that an intelligent cause may, in the final analysis, be the only rational possibility to explain the enigma of the origin of life: information"(209).
In his earlier chapter on "design versus descent," Meyer asserted that Bradley and Thaxton "postulate intelligent activity not because of what we do not know, but because of what we do know about what is and what is not capable of producing coded information"(97). It must, however, be noted that their appeal (or anyone's appeal) to "no convincing experimental evidence" must necessarily be accompanied by a candid recognition of the fact that known evidence is minuscule and imperfectly understood compared with potential evidence not yet known or fully comprehended. The contributors to this book are relying on the expectation that certain kinds of evidence will never appear; most scientists are proceeding on the expectation that it will. Time will, of course, tell.
Furthermore, what does it mean to say of the information content in DNA that "an intelligent agent made it?" Does this necessarily mean special creation? In other words, is this a reference to some sort of theokinetic event in which God appears momentarily as a physical agent to move atoms and molecules into configurations that they were ill-equipped to achieve by the exercise of the capacities originally given to them by God? Or, on the other hand, could "an intelligent agent made it" mean "achieved by matter's exercise of those capacities graciously provided by the Creator to make such remarkable structures realizable?"
If I understand Bradley and Thaxton correctly, they strongly prefer the special creation picture over anything closely resembling my evolutionary creation perspective. If that is so, and if, as I believe they would say, special creation is the sort of concept that must be warranted by extrascientific means, where in this volume is the development of the extrascientific warrant for that concept? The contributors to this work have every right to defend the special creationist perspective as the foundation for "theistic science" (or "theistic natural philosophy"). However, to be consistent with Bradley's and Thaxton's admonitions regarding the limits of what can be derived from empirical considerations alone, the warrant for that perspective must then be developed from extrascientific considerations
Inferences from Scripture
Paleontologist (and advocate of young-earth "creation-science") Kurt Wise, in his chapter on "The Origin of Life's Major Groups," concedes that "Macroevolution is a powerful theory of explanation for a wide variety of physical data." Nonetheless, it is his considered judgment that "the claims of Scripture provide us with a model that can give a better explanation of far more of the major features of life than evolution." For example, after a general reference to the biblical teaching that God created all things in a way that reflects his own nature, Wise says that "We infer from the nature of other things he created that he fashioned all things in a mature form and in a hierarchical pattern. In the case of life, we are told that he created a number of distinct kinds of organisms"(232). In addition to this appeal to special creationism, Wise cites flood geology as having great explanatory value. "A global deluge that gradually buried organisms already filling a well-integrated biosphere explains the general water-to-land fossil order as well as stratigraphic intermediates among the plants and vertebrates, often used as evidence for evolution"(233).
In some cautionary comments against making "foolish assertions without experiential basis," especially regarding the identity of causes, Bradley and Thaxton remarked: "A curious propensity afflicting many people...is to go ahead and name a cause even when they cannot be certain. The `cause' is almost always generated by their philosophy or religion"(198). Well said. I think most of us are culpable on that point, including the contributors to The Creation Hypothesis.
Beginning on a sour note
Finally, let me comment about the book's beginning. In his brief foreword, law professor Phillip Johnson, moving quickly and with long strides along a stepping-stone path of vaulting inferences, tells us that "[M]odern culture is ruled by a philosophy called scientific naturalism, which insists that the entire history of the cosmos belongs to the subject matter of science. Science, by the same philosophy, is inherently committed to naturalism. Naturalism is the doctrine that the cosmos has always been a closed system of material causes and effects that can never be influenced by anything from `outside'-like God."
Johnson continues, "Naturalism rules the secular academic world absolutely, which is bad enough. What is far worse is that it rules much of the Christian world as well...I]t is common for philosophers even at conservative Christian institutions to accept the rules of scientific naturalism, and to accept them for no better reason than that the secular world wills it to be so. It is no wonder that the best students from these institutions so often emerge with a naturalistic outlook; that is how they have been taught to think"(7).
Notice how easy it is to exploit the ambiguity that follows
when one chooses not to differentiate the narrow and broad meanings of naturalistic.
Notice also what is here being said about the many members of the ASA who are on
the faculties of Christian educational institutions. Given the irenic tone
maintained by most of the contributors to this volume, I am disappointed that
the editor chose to include so denunciatory a foreword as this.
1For an overview of the approach to Genesis taken by Basil and Augustine see my essay, "Is Special Creationism a Heresy?" in Christian Scholar's Review, XXII:4, pp. 380-395, June, 1993; also published as a chapter, "When Faith and Reason Meet," in the book, Man and Creation, Michael Bauman ed. (Hillsdale, MI: Hillsdale College Press, 1993), pp. 141-164.
2Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, trans. John Hammond Taylor, vol. 41 and 42 in the series, Ancient Christian Writers (New York: Newman Press, 1982).
3For a sample of my explicit rejection of this term see my essay, "When Faith and Reason Cooperate" in Christian Scholar's Review, XXI:1, pp. 33-45, Sept., 1991.
4See my contribution to "God and Evolution: An Exchange" (with Phillip E. Johnson) in First Things, No. 34, pp. 32-38, June/July. 1993; also reprinted in the book, Man and Creation, Michael Bauman ed. (Hillsdale, MI: Hillsdale College Press, 1993), pp. 269-286.