From Objective-Realism to Subjective-Relativism:
Can We Find a Golden Mean?
Kenell J. Touryan*
P.O. Box 713
Indian Hills, CO 80454
From: PSCF 53 (September 2001): 188-195.
In his Rede Lecture at Cambridge, in May 1959, C. P. Snow describes two wars: one in the late nineteenth century between religion and science, and the other in the second half of the twentieth century between the sciences and humanities.1 In a recent article in Science titled "Deconstructing the Science Wars by Reconstructing an Old Mold," Stephen Jay Gould quotes Snow's article and attempts to find a "golden mean," or the aurea mediocritus of Horace and Aristotle for the undeclared war between the sciences and the humanities.2 The former represents all working scientists that generally uphold the objective and progressive nature of scientific knowledge, dubbed "realists," and the latter, all of the humanities and social sciences, where postmodernists regard all claims to truth to be culturally embedded, including science. In fact, the truth claims in science are considered as social constructs with their own conventions and arbitrariness.
It follows immediately from the above that Christianity's truth claims, which are based both on revelation and the use of reason, put the Christians concerned with the relationships between faith and science in the middle of both wars mentioned by Snow: between revealed religion and science on the one hand, and between the sciences and the humanities on the other hand. As we will discuss below, the former has created a new battleground, a standoff between proponents of Intelligent Design on one side, and the Naturalists, on the other side.
If Christians concerned with the relationships between faith and science agree that all truth is God's truth, and that all knowledge--whether it be socially constructed, empirically determined, or experienced through divine revelation--comes from God, could we find a golden mean that does justice to all three modes of knowledge, without hopelessly compromising the validity of any one of them? To answer this question correctly, we, as with Gould, first have to take a hard look at the alleged dichotomy between objective realism and subjective relativism, and then add the element of divine revelation into the equation. But unlike Gould, we find the golden mean through apologetics.
Objectivity and Subjectivity in Human Knowledge
The polarization between objective-realism and subjective-relativism created by social constructivists represents a false dichotomy based on a misunderstanding of scientific truth claims. This misunderstanding has arisen from a misrepresentation of what science actually entails. It is an objectivist myth that science is based on a fully general method, rooted in observation and experimentation, by minds consciously free of bias, using universal tools of reason to accumulate reliable knowledge, steadily and inexorably. In fact, as with all human activities, science is and always will remain part of human culture. Despite their best efforts to remain objective, scientists are human, subject to emotional and even irrational vagaries, and reluctant to give up cherished and established theories even in view of anomalies that question their accepted norms.3 A classic example is the manner in which Wegener was ostracized and ridiculed by colleagues for his theory of tectonic plates in 1915.4 Wegener supported his work with extensive geological research but died in 1930 as an intellectual outcast. Now, almost seventy years after his death, his idea is accepted as common wisdom.
Rescher Approach: What is Objectivity
I believe the first step toward removing this false dichotomy is to revisit the correct definition for objectivity best articulated by Nicholas Rescher in his book Objectivity: The Obligation of Impersonal Reason. Rescher says that the present and more relevant mode of "objectivity" relates
... to the appropriateness of claims or contentions, addressing the question of whether a claim is impersonally and generically cogent rather than personal and idiosyncratic--whether it holds not just for me (egocentric subjectivity) or for some of us (parochial subjectivity) but for all of us (impersonal or interpersonal objectivity). It is this epistemic mode of objectivity that primarily concerns us here. Objectivity in this sense has to do not with the subject matter of a claim but with its justification.5
Such objectivity calls for seeking to eliminate the distorting influence of personal or parochial eccentricities. It is not at odds with having particular commitments, and in fact, accepts contextuality (the sine qua non of social constructionists) as an objective fact. In the last chapter entitled "Is Objectivity Subject to Limits?" Rescher demonstrates that the very fact that we all have a "private space" in life where subjectivity reigns supreme, is itself an objective fact about our condition, as best rational inquiry reveals to us.6 Finally, Rescher concludes:
Intelligence does not stand as one limited faculty over against others (emotion, affection, and the like). It is an all-pervasive light that can shine through to every endeavor, even those in which reason herself is not involved. Whatever human undertaking is valid and appropriate can be shown to be sound by the use of reason. It is the exercise of objectivizing rationality that informs us about priorities.7
The Polanyi Approach: Personal Knowledge
Michael Polanyi in his monumental work titled Personal Knowledge Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy tackles the issue of objectivity in the framework of personal knowledge.8 The latter is manifested in the physical sciences, and is seen to work even more extensively in the social/behavioral sciences. In both disciplines, the act of knowing, according to Polanyi, includes an evaluation--a personal dimension that bridges the disjunction between subjectivity and objectivity, bringing fact and value, and science and humanity back together. Polanyi demonstrates that the scientist's personal participation in the discovery and validation is an indispensable part of science itself. Even in the physical sciences, "knowing" is ultimately an art where the skill of the knower guided by personal commitment will put him or her in contact with reality. All this becomes even more evident in the biological and behavioral sciences. All in all, there is neither a reality entirely independent of human inquiry nor a perspective without some influence from the world.
A good example of Rescher's and Polanyi's analyses is an honest evaluation made by anthropologist David Lewis. Lewis contends that anthropologists strive for objectivity, but rarely, if ever, can break free from the fetters of subjectivity.9 Increasingly, scientists are recognizing that the anthropologist's own background, theoretical bias, and experience of field work can channel his or her thinking along lines that affect the conclusion reached. In fact, in Lewis' own study of religious awareness in Russia and Central Asia, he claims that a religious faith in the researcher can actually be an advantage rather than a disadvantage.
The Cultural Continuum
With these insights into objectivity, we can now reconstruct the cultural continuum of H. G. Cassidy (Figure 1) where all disciplines are peripherally and radially related and where metaphysical, philosophical, and theological frameworks provide a world view for the various disciplines.10 These disciplines cover the full spectrum of academic activities, circumscribing the exact and inexact sciences, the reasoned and the revealed, the objective and the subjective, the quantitative and the qualitative; each approach representing an incomplete but essential aspect of human activity. What we then look for is an aggregate of these endeavors, woven together as individual strands, into a coherent whole. One way for the Christian to do this, is to look for the golden mean through apologetics.
The Five Strands of Evidence
For Christians concerned with the relationship between faith and science, the centrality of religion, specifically in the form of Christian truth claims, gives a coherent view of reality. To justify our contention, we resort to the analogy of the weaving together of a multiplicity of strands where each strand represents an aspect of reality, necessary for grasping truth, but sufficient only when all the strands are taken together as a whole.12 To this end, a Christian apologist can identify five strands of evidences, each of which is necessary but not sufficient, unless woven together into a rope of multiple strands that can withstand attacks from any source, be it from the ontological naturalist, the cultural constructionist, or the religious extremist. The multiple strand approach will provide the only satisfactory answer for resolving the dichotomy between the objective and the subjective, faith and reason. One way to represent these five strands is as follows:13 (1) evidences from the physical universe; (2) evidences from human nature; (3) evidences from history and archaeology; (4) evidences from Scriptures, and (5) evidences from self (or intuitive) knowledge, where the individual contacts the Creator in the innermost parts of his or her being. For the sake of completeness, let me briefly explain the scope of each evidence.
1. Evidences from the Physical World
The renewed emphasis on Intelligent Design has brought into focus several evidences from nature that have become the favored apologetic tools for some Christians, but targets of attack by ontological naturalists. Among the more compelling evidences are: (a) the problem of origins (universe and life); (b) the fine-tuned universe;14 (c) specified complexity and irreducible complexity;15 (d) Goedels' theorem of incompleteness applied to mathematics and information theory;16 and (e) the unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics at modeling the physical world.
Each evidence has shed some new light on the possibility of finding empirical evidence for intelligent design in nature, which Hugh Ross calls the "fingerprint of God" after the manner of Psalm 8:3. However, it should be noted that the counter-attack from naturalists has been strong, pervasive, and often effective.17 Though these evidences collectively represent an important strand of evidence for a Creator and strengthen the faith of the believer, they often leave the committed naturalist unimpressed. A question often asked by the ontological naturalist as he challenges the ID advocates is, "How would science be done differently if one accepts design?" I believe that an appropriate answer would be that of Nobel Laureate I. I. Rabi, a conservative Jew. One of his oft quoted statements goes as follows:
Physics filled me with awe, put me in touch with a sense of original causes. Physics brought me closer to God. That feeling stayed with me throughout my years in science. Whenever one of my students came to me with a scientific project, I asked only one question, "Will it bring you nearer to God?"18
Here, Rabi does not stop at the empirical evidence of an Intelligent Designer, but by identifying the Intelligent Designer as the Creator, it leads him to experience the unity between the way he can know God and do his scientific work.
2. Nature of Human Existence
The issues here are the fact of human existence, the meaning of life, the complexity of self, human consciousness, the moral universe, man's innate sense of the nouminal, among others. One key unresolved question today is whether human consciousness will ever be explained from a purely naturalistic approach. Penrose, for example, argues for a new physics that would approach the study of consciousness from a yet unknown angle such as quantum mechanical wave function coherence. At present, consciousness transcends computation.19
In a recent book, psychologist Jerome Kagan from Harvard breaks rank with conventional analysts and presents empirical evidence that humans are: (a) free and willful enough to do things for reasons; (b) self-conscious enough to appreciate the significance of experiences; (c) aware of long-term consequences of action, and (d) spiritual enough to be motivated to be good (not just maximize pleasure and minimize pain, according to the wisdom of evolutionary psychology).20 Although the claims of Penrose and Kagan have been strongly debated, nevertheless humans understand things in a way that no computer ever will.
The hierarchy of knowledge in understanding reality, the so-called supervienience theory, a bottom-up structure considered by some IDers as being reductionist, is another approach that demonstrates that the whole is always more than the sum of its parts.21 The tremendous complexity inherent in the nature of human existence presents a real challenge to the naturalist, and thus represents the second strand of evidence.
3. Evidences from History and Archaeology
If the evidences from nature point to God's fingerprint, history points to his footsteps. After all, if God created man in space and time, it is only logical that he should interact with human affairs in history. Can his footsteps be heard in human history? Here the Christian apologist raises many intriguing questions where purely naturalistic answers are inadequate. For example, religion has been found to be persistent and universal throughout human history. Every known civilization has developed religious beliefs as a key component of their culture. The longest lasting and large-scale experiment in atheism practiced by the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe was a dismal failure. After seventy years of brutal suppression, religion survived and has now become a dominant force in every country previously under the hegemony of the Soviet Union. Could it be that reality is spiritual in origin rather than material? Or how does one explain in purely naturalistic terms the disappearance of powerful empires and civilizations (Babylonian, Egyptian, Roman) and the persistence of a tiny nation Israel and the Jewish culture persecuted relentlessly over millennia? Like the proverbial phoenix, the nation rises from its ashes after being defunct for over 1800 years. Finally, an obscure Semitic cult called "Christianity" expands rapidly. It defeats not only a dozen well-entrenched and powerful rival cults, but the whole Roman Empire within four centuries, without raising a sword.22 If such a rapid growth implies "divine nurture" and one accepts the validity of the abductive approach, it would be disingenuous not to consider the bodily resurrection of Christ that fueled such rapid growth as inference to the best explanation. In fact, if one considers all the data on hand--such as the empty tomb, the integrity of the followers of Christ willing to die for their cause, the hostile atmosphere in which the Good News prevailed--the best explanation is that indeed Jesus rose bodily from the dead.
4. Evidence from Scripture.
The arguments here are centered around the historical reliability of Scripture, its internal self-consistency, its view of nature as being contingent, created by a transcendent God, its prophetic fulfillments, and its moral imperatives set realistically within the context of an imperfect world. All of the above set the Bible apart from other competing belief systems. No other religious book exposes itself to scrutiny by historians and archaeologists, who can employ extra- biblical information to verify or refute the countless references the Bible makes to historical dates, characters, and geographic locations.23
If evidence (3) above represents God's footsteps in history, then evidence (4) is his written Word-- the very logos that has brought into existence all matter, energy, and information and has made the world intelligible. The logos expresses speech, inward thoughts, life, light, and eventually, the materialization of all that which is intangible and inaccessible to the senses; the incarnation of the Creator in the form of his Son, Jesus Christ. The logos blends the natural and supernatural into a single reality with multiple aspects that can provide the only satisfactory answers to nature's profound mysteries.
5. Evidence from Self-Knowledge.
If the previous four evidences engage the mind, the fifth evidence reflects the statement made by Blaise Pascal: "The heart has its reasons the mind will never know." It leads to self-evident knowledge which can become compellingly certain without being inferred from any other knowledge. Roy Clouser uses the traditional term "intuition" for such noninferrential recognition of truth.24 Such truth is apprehended directly, nondiscursively as one reflectively compares it to one's present and past experiences of self-evident beliefs.25
Many, if not most scientific insights, have come through the "a ha" of intuition. One of the best known flashes of insight is provided by Henri Poincare. He describes how he had intensive periods of deliberate and conscious search for what he called Fuchsian functions, but had reached an impasse. He left for a geologic excursion, forgetting his mathematical work. As he stepped into a bus, the solution came to him in a flash. He says: "Without anything in my former thoughts seemingly to have paved the way for it ..." --full comprehension in a single moment!
For the Christian, of course, this intuitive insight can move a step higher and come from the Holy Spirit. The truth of the Incarnation is revealed into a person's innermost being where the knowledge about God leads to a personal encounter with the living God: a subjective experience that has its objective correlate for many to see.
If evidences (1) and (2) reveal God's fingerprint, evidence (3) his footsteps, evidence (4) his written Word, then evidence (5) reveals his heartbeat! Each evidence is necessary, but in itself is insufficient. Taken together however, all conditions are fulfilled.
It should be noted that the five strands described above cover the entire spectrum of human knowledge, from objective-realism to subjective-relativism (personal experience may be a more appropriate choice of word than relativism). An alternate representation of these five strands and the mutual support they offer, is an equilateral triangle, where the three sides represent one (or more) of these strands (Figure 2), each side touching the other two (which means that each evidence is linked to the other four), forming a rigid geometric structure, one that can withstand best, the arrows of the ontological naturalist's counter attack. A better illustration would be to bisect the triangle into three contiguous, equilateral triangles, each representing one or two strands of evidence.
The Five "Alls"
There is one more factor for the Christian apologist that provides the ultimate unifying force which brings all knowledge together, and that is the person of Jesus Christ. Unlike any other religious leader, past or present, the New Testament records at least five "alls" that speak of the sweeping claims that all creation is under Christ's authority, and continuously infused and upheld by the "power of his word."
1. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matthew 28:18).
2. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made (John 1:3).
3. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church (Ephesians 1:22).
4. He is the image of the invisible God, the first born over all creation (Colossians 1:15; 2:9).
5. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word (Hebrews 1:3).
The centrality of Christ in all human affairs can be best illustrated through a diagrammatic representation of the nature of a person (Figure 3). The outermost ring represents the physical aspect of a human, which is in touch with the physical world through the five senses. The inner circle represents a person's intellect, emotions, and will, which constitutes the soul. These three are distinct faculties of an individual but are contiguous, merging to form a whole, as shown by the dotted lines. The three lines intersect at a point which can represent the seat of the conscience, or the spirit of a person, where God's Spirit intersects the human spirit from above (a higher dimension). A point has no dimension, no substance. It only exists as lines intersect each other. The point then becomes the immaterial, intangible aspect in humans, where the intellect, emotions, and the will meet, yielding the imago Dei imprint--the place where the Lordship of Christ enters the individual, through the Holy Spirit, and sustains his or her very being.
The biblical, social, and historical analyses of science pose no threat to the core assumption of the scientific endeavor, that a real world exists out there which can be understood and explained. These analyses can aid the institution of science by revealing science as an accessible form of human creativity, not just some exotic activity open only to a hallowed few.
It is evident from the above arguments that indeed we can find an aurea mediocritus if we can break through the emotions of mutual anathema of the two poles of the objective/quantitative and the subjective/qualitative, and move toward literal mediation.26 Both objective realism and the subjective experiential dimension are essential elements for the proper defense of Christian truth claims. The additional component that the Judeo-Christian tradition brings to all existence is the divine revelation (where the "natural" analogue is human intuition). It too can be understood through the proper balance between the objective/quantitative and the subjective/qualitative. The Apostle John states this succinctly: "But these are written that you may believe ..." (John 20:30) and "That which was from the beginning which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched" (1 John 1:1). Thus for the Christian, the tangible, the objective, the measurable, meet the subjective, the personal, the nouminous to form a unified whole where Christ the Logos blends the natural and the supernatural into a single reality.27
The author expresses his appreciation to the two reviewers for their valuable comments and insights, all of which have been incorporated in the revised manuscript.
1C. P. Snow, see Stephen J. Gould, Science 287, no. 5451 (14 Jan 2000): 61, see notes.
3Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2d ed. enlarged (Chicago: Chicago Univ., 1970).
4"Science Beyond the Pale," Science 249 (6 July 1990): 14-6.
Nicholas Rescher, Objectivity: The Obligation of Impersonal Reason (Notre Dame, IN: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1997), 4.
8Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, 1962), 17.
9David C. Lewis, After Atheism: Religion & Ethnicity in Russia and Central Asia (Curazon: Caucasus World, 2000), 14-20.
10H. G. Cassidy, The Science & the Arts (New York: Harper Brothers, 1962).
11W. W. Watts, Journal of the ASA (September 1973): 91.
12N. David Nermin, "What's Wrong with this Sustaining Myth?" Physics Today (March 1996): 11-3; and K. J. Touryan, "Are Truth Claims in Science Socially Constructed?" Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 51, no. 2 (June 1999): 102-7.
13These do not represent an exhaustive set.
14Peter D. Ward & Donald Brownlee, Rare Earth (Copernicus Springer-Verlag, 2000).
15William A. Dembski, Intelligent Design (Downers Grove, IL: IV Press, 1999).
16Gregory J. Chaitin, "G–del's Theorem & Information," International Journal of Theoretical Physics 21, no. 12 (1982): 941-53.
17The Nature of Nature Conference held at the Polanyi Center, Baylor University, April 12-15, 2000 in Waco, TX.
18Physics Today (Sept. 1999): 38.
19R. P. Penrose, Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996).
20Jerome Kagan, Three Seductive Ideas (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1989), 189-93.
21See, for example, Paul Teller, "A Poor Man's Guide to Supervenience and Determination," So. Journal of Philosophy 22, Supplement (1984): 137-62.
22Herschel Baker, The Image of Man (New York: Harper Torch Books, 1947), 124.
23See, for example, Edwin Yamauchi, The Stones and the Scriptures (Philadelphia & New York: Holman Book, 1972).
24Roy Clouser, Knowing with the Heart (Downers Grove, IL: IV Press, 1999), 72.
25Clouser gives an impressive list of thinkers who have described such non-discursive experiences: Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, John Locke, Leibnitz, Popper, Platinga, (p. 185, ref. 22). Platinga, for example, affirms belief in God from direct perception (see Faith & Rationality (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983).
26See Stephen J. Gould, Science 287, no. 5451 (14 Jan 2000): 254-5; and C. S. Peirce, Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960), see also Chong Ho Yu, "Logic of Abduction," a paper presented at the Annual Meeting of American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA, April 1994 (YuHo@aol.com). To understand the nature of knowledge and reality, whether objective, subjective, reasoned or revealed, the logical system introduced by Charles Sanders Peirce, and discussed by Chong Ho Yu, concerning abduction, deduction, and induction could be helpful here. Abduction and deduction contribute to our conceptual understanding of a phenomenon, while the logic of induction adds quantitative details to the conceptual knowledge. Yu states:
At the stage of abduction, the goal is to explore the data, find out a pattern, and suggest a plausible hypothesis with the use of proper categories; deduction is to build a logical and testable hypothesis based upon other plausible premises; and induction is the approximation towards the truth in order to fix our beliefs for further inquiry. In short, abduction creates, deduction explicates, and induction verifies.
Humans use all three approaches to gain knowledge in their endeavor to understand and explain the real world, with induction and deduction being the primary tools of science, and deduction and abduction often employed by the humanities.
27The dotted lines are drawn intentionally to side-step the knotty issues regarding dichotomy or trichotomy. Also, the point where the three triangles, or the five evidences meet, could represent the entry point where God, through the power of his Word, upholds all of reality, without contravening his physical laws.