Open Science
is not Theistic Science,
but is it better science?

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.

The question, "Is an open science a better science?", is examined in a page about Methodological Naturalism which explains why I think the answer is YES.  Some of these reasons (plus a few new ideas) are summarized in this page, which also looks at the difference between theistic science and open science.  { Many of the ideas in this page have been summarized and revised in Sections 7B-7D of my FAQ about Evolution, Creation, and Intelligent Design. }

    Theistic Science
    theistic science is based on the principle that "Christians ought to consult all they know or have reason to believe when forming and testing hypotheses, when explaining things in science, and when evaluating the plausibility of various scientific hypotheses.  Among the things they should consult are propositions of theology. (J.P. Moreland & John Mark Reynolds; page 19 in Three Views of Creation, 2000)"  Alvin Plantinga describes the rationality of adopting this approach: "a Christian academic and scientific community ought to pursue science in its own way, starting from and taking for granted what we know as Christians."
    Of course, theological propositions are intended to describe God's character and actions, and God's relationships with nature and people.  Although this is the most important function of theology, we can also look at another aspect — which is intrinsically less important but is useful for thinking about science — by asking, "How does theology affect science?"  Or, more specifically, "How does a theological proposition affect the types of theories that are proposed, and how these theories are evaluated?"

    One general proposition is based on a Biblical history in which God uses two modes of action: usually normal-appearing and occasionally miraculous-appearing.  Maybe the most common mode of divine action during Biblical history (normal-appearing natural process) was the only mode used during the formative history of nature, as suggested by proponents of evolutionary creation.  Or maybe, as proposed in theories of old-earth progressive creation, the modes of action were similar in both stages of history, with God using two modes of action (usually normal-appearing and occasionally miraculous-appearing) in both formative history and Biblical history.
    If both of these propositions are considered theologically acceptable, this either-or proposition can have a liberating effect on a scientist.  How?  Since there are two options (either only natural, or natural plus miraculous) a scientist — when looking at a particular feature and asking, "Was this feature produced by natural process?" — is free to logically evaluate the scientific evidence and answer either YES or NO.  But a scientist who is committed to naturalism must answer YES, since the inevitable conclusion (no matter what is being studied, or what is the evidence) must be that "it happened by natural process." 
    This general proposition decreases some constraints (those imposed by naturalism) on scientific theorizing and evaluating.  But specific propositions can add constraints.  For example:  1a) A few centuries ago, overly rigid interpretations of the Bible led to rejection of scientific theories proposing a moving, rotating earth;  1b) currently, a young-universe interpretation of Genesis can encourage a scientist to reject theories proposing (and evidence supporting) an old universe;  2a) if a totally naturalistic evolution is considered theologically unacceptable, some aspects of naturalistic evolution could be evaluated as being less plausible than is warranted by evidence and logic; but  2b) if there is a theological objection to God "interfering" with nature, naturalistic evolution could be evaluated as being more plausible than is warranted by evidence and logic.  /  Of the three modern perspectives, only 2b (favoring naturalistic theories) is allowed to operate freely in naturalistic closed science.

    Open and Closed: What is the difference?
    The most common type of non-open science is closed by methodological naturalism (MN), a proposal to restrict the freedom of scientists by requiring that they include only natural causes in their theories.  The difference between science that is open and closed is the difference in responding to a question:  Has the history of the universe included both natural and non-natural causes?  In an open science (liberated from MN) this question can be evaluated based on scientific evidence; a scientist begins with MN, but is flexible and is willing to be persuaded by evidence-and-logic.  In a closed science (restricted by MN), evidence and logic are not the determining factors because the inevitable conclusion — no matter what is being studied, or what is the evidence — must be that "it happened by natural process."
    In open science, a scientist begins with an MN-assumption, but does not insist that — no matter what the evidence indicates — it is necessary to end with an MN-conclusion.  An open scientist rejects rigid-MN and replaces it with testable-MN that treats the assumption of MN as an assumption, as a theory to be tested rather than a conclusion to be accepted.

    Open Science 
  The main claim of this page is that open science (liberated from the restrictions of rigid methodological naturalism) is better science.  What is open science?  It is open-minded and flexible, willing to give scientists intellectual freedom so they can follow the data wherever it logically leads.

    What does "open science" mean for an individual or a community?
    An open-minded approach to science allows maximum freedom for an individual.  If any conclusion is philosophically acceptable, a scientist can reach a scientific conclusion based on scientific logic.
    An open-minded approach to science allows maximum freedom in a community.  For the aspects of science that are subjective, that depend on cultural-personal perspectives, a tolerant community will allow full participation by scientists with different perspectives.

    What are some of the perspectives operating in origins science?
    Currently, methodological naturalism, which produces a closed science that allows only naturalistic theories, is the dominant approach.
    A basic design approach asks a simple, open-minded question:  Why don't we consider the possibility that a particular feature was the result of design-directed action?
    In theistic science, a theistic worldview is used as a metaphysical foundation for doing science.  But theistic science is not a single way of thinking, since (as described above) it can lead to different theological propositions about God, nature, and science.

    • An open science is open to different perspectives.  Instead of enforcing a monopoly by allowing only one perspective, as in most current origins science, an open science allows a variety of perspectives (including naturalism, design, and different types of theistic science) and is open-minded toward a range of scientific conclusions.  Various aspects of open science can occur at the level of individuals, sub-communities, or an overall community.

    Is it based on scientific logic?
    It can be useful to think about evaluative factors (empirical, conceptual, and cultural-personal) that:  1) are based on scientific logic, and  2) are not based on scientific logic.
    Factors that I'm calling scientifically logical include...  { The remainder of this section has been moved into a page about Critical Thinking in Open Science. }

    Is an assumption true?  ( Does it correspond to reality? )
    For most scientists, searching for truth is an important goal of science, even though it isn't the only goal.  If there is a match between "how the world really is" and what an approach assumes about the world, probably this approach will be useful in science.
    For example, if the history of nature has included only natural process, then methodological naturalism (MN) is correctly assuming an all-natural history, and MN will be useful because it helps scientists avoid being distracted by false theories about non-natural events.  But if non-natural events did occur during history, the premise of MN is false, and MN will be detrimental when it inevitably forces scientists to reach some false conclusions.
    Similarly, if the earth really is young, the correct premise of young-earth scientists will help them avoid becoming distracted by false old-earth theories.  But if (as seems to be the case) the earth really is old, a young-earth premise is incorrect, and it will lead scientists to reject old-earth theories that are true.

    Scientific Logic and Scientific Conclusions
    But if we don't already know — with certainty, beyond any doubt — what kind of world we live in, so we don't know which premises "match the reality," what is our best scientific strategy for finding truth?  An open science.
    For example, if we don't know for certain whether the earth is young or old, an open science (with no constraints demanding either a young earth or old earth) will let a scientist use scientific logic to reach a scientific conclusion.  { I think there is overwhelming evidence for an old earth. }
    Or imagine that we don't know for certain what happened during history, so we ask a question:  Has the history of the universe included both natural and non-natural causes?  In this situation, we're humbly asking a question instead of arrogantly assuming an answer.  While we're in a questioning state of mind, exploring various aspects of nature, an open science (not constrained by MN, not demanding an all-natural history) will let scientists use scientific logic to reach a conclusion.
    In open science that is liberated from MN, a scientific conclusion can be either naturalistic or non-naturalistic, because "scientific" does not mean "naturalistic".  The logical process of open science cannot guarantee a correct conclusion, but will allow it (whether history was or wasn't all-natural), and scientists can use scientific logic to reach a scientific conclusion.  By contrast, a naturalistic closed science will bypass the process of science (which is not necessary when reaching the naturalistic conclusion demanded by the naturalistic assumption) and — if history was not all-natural — it will inevitably reach some wrong conclusions.  Is this what we want in science?  { Other pages examine closed science in more detail, and show why an open science offers many benefits in a search for truth. }

    What are the effects?
    Let's look at some interactions between a question (Did natural evolution produce all of the biocomplexity we now observe?) and the assumptions in two "closed science" approaches:  1) evolution is PROHIBITED (in a type of theistic science claiming that, based on theology, a totally natural evolution is impossible);  2) evolution is NECESSARY (with methodological naturalism, so a scientist must conclude that a totally natural evolution is the way it happened).  By contrast, evolution MAYBE is the assumption of an "open science" approach.
    For each type of close-minded science, evolution-PROHIBITED and evolution-NECESSARY, if the premise is true (if it matches reality) the approach will probably be scientifically useful.  And if the premise is false, probably the approach will be scientifically detrimental.
    With each "closed" approach, a conclusion is reached before the evidence is evaluated, so the process of scientific logic will be influenced by the pre-conclusion, and the conclusion will be determined by the pre-conclusion.  But this influence only means that the process is biased;  it does not mean the conclusion is wrong.  But neither approach should try to claim the virtue of scientific objectivity. *
    Within the current scientific community, anti-evolution arguments based on theology (in E-PROHIBITED) will not be effective, but pro-evolution arguments based on naturalism (in E-NECESSARY) will be effective.
    Within the current scientific community, E-PROHIBITED (or even E-MAYBE) may be hazardous to the quality of a scientist's professional career.  But E-NECESSARY is considered "the normal behavior that is expected" so there will be no consequences, either positive or negative, although an exceptionally clever and vigorous defense of evolution (and MN) may bring professional rewards.
    Within much of the Christian community, E-PROHIBITED will be rewarded with approval, status, and perhaps material rewards (invitations to speak, donations to a ministry,...) while E-NECESSARY brings disapproval.  But in other parts of the Christian community, a conclusion of "natural evolution" will be accepted, and may even be applauded as being theologically preferable to a God who "interferes with nature."

    * The two close-minded approaches, E-PROHIBITED and E-NECESSARY, lead to decreased objectivity in science.  By contrast, E-MAYBE — which is one form of open science, and is compatible with a general theological proposition making the modest claim that "maybe formative history was all-natural and maybe it wasn't, and either possibility is acceptable" — can have a liberating effect in science, leading to decreased constraints and increased objectivity.  /  In case you hadn't guessed, my own view is E-MAYBE.  {techniques for estimating objectivity}

    Real-Life Approximations to an Open Science
    In real life, can science be totally objective and fully open?  No.  Individuals and groups will bring their own approaches (involving worldviews, ambitions,...) into science.  Some approaches are more "open to following the data wherever it leads" than others;  in the analysis above, for example, E-MAYBE is more open than E-PROHIBITED or E-NECESSARY.  But even if some individuals and sub-communities adopt approaches that are closed, the environment in which science operates can be "opened up" when the overall scientific community listens respectfully to all approaches, encourages scientific evaluations based on scientific logic, and tries to minimize the effects of cultural-personal factors.

Later, in this page there will be more (in some ways) and less (in other ways), plus minor revisions.

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pages about Open Science by Craig Rusbult

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