Open Science
is Better Science

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.

This page compares
open science with closed science,
and explains why open science is better 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."

    Open or Closed: Which is more useful?
    In science — in a logical search for truth about nature — is methodological naturalism a useful approach?  Although we can't be certain, probably MN will be useful if its assumptions are true, if there is a match between "what MN assumes about the world" and "how the world really is."  For example, if the history of the universe really has included only natural process, then...<snip>...  But if non-natural events really did occur during history,...<snip>...  Imagine that we're beginning our search for truth with an appropriately humble attitude by refusing to assume that we already know — with certainty, beyond any doubt — what kind of world we live in.  If we don't know whether history has been all-natural, our best scientific strategy for finding truth is an open science, with scientists humbly asking a question instead of arrogantly assuming an answer.
    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.  The assumption of MN is treated as an assumption, as a theory to be tested (there is testable-MN) instead of a conclusion to be accepted (with rigid-MN).  There is flexible open-minded inquiry, with freedom of thought for the individual and community, and scientists are free to follow the evidence-and-logic wherever it leads.

    The two paragraphs above are quoted from other pages, which also ask questions:
    If a "design theory" is false, could there still be design?  ...  What are the four types of design? and the seven logical possibilities?
    Can a design theory be evaluated?  Yes.  ...  Can a design theory be proved?  No.  ...  Can a "controversial" design theory be plausible?  Yes.
    Are design theories always controversial?  No.  ...  Why is there controversy?  Why are there any doubts about whether a design theory can be scientific?
    What are the stages in an inquiry about design?  ...  Is a design theory a creation theory?

    Originally, all of these questions — and more — were examined in Sections 7A-7G of this page.  But instead of keeping all sections in this one page, during a major reorganization of my pages about Origins Questions (finishing in January 2005) they were split into several smaller pages, and I suggest that you read the new pages instead of this page.  Here is a description of the new pages that use Sections 7A-7G:
    • An overview-page page uses many ideas (but not all) from 7A-7B-7C, in slightly revised and condensed form, along with ideas from other places (including a few from 7D-7G), to show how The Origin of Life poses an interesting challenge for naturalistic science, and to explain the logical benefits of an open science.
    • Critical Thinking in Closed Science uses 7D (with no revision, except making links to other parts of the new page) along with other ideas, plus illustrations from Michael Behe "adventures in non-publishing."  As an added bonus, the other half of the page is about Critical Thinking in Open Science.
    • 7G and 7C are closely related (since they ask analogous questions about theories of evolution and design, respectively) so they are combined — along with a new transition explaining the similarities between the two sections — in a page asking "Can historical science be authentically scientific?"
    • Along with other ideas, 7E and 7F are condensed and combined — with 7F in the introduction and left column, and 7E in the right column — in Worldviews and Science.
    • One part of 7E, about Hidden Arguments and Open Discussions, is a small but important part of Origins Education in Public Schools.

    In addition to these new pages, an old page — Open Science is Better Science (long version) — contains the original long versions of Sections 7A-7G, before they were condensed-and-revised to make the medium-sized versions you see in this page and in the new pages.

As you can see in the Table of Contents below, this page contains 7A-7G and lots of other stuff:  the introduction above, and my views (below), followed by 7A-7G, plus three new sections (conceptual, theistic, open) and a long appendix with many topics.  I thought about "splitting out" 7A-7G into a separate page, but when I tried this there were dozens of broken links (where one part of this page linked to another part of this page) and it would take lots of work to fix all of them, but I don't think the page would be improved because its "big picture gestalt" would be lessened, so it will remain as it was, all together.


Introduction  Open and Closed (What is the difference, and which is more useful?) plus Questions

My Views (it's my attempt to avoid misunderstanding)

7A. What is design?  Directed Action and Undirected Nature,  Design by Natural Process

7B. Can design be proved?  Logically Justified Confidence,  Estimating the Future of Science

7C. Can design be scientific?  Questions: PRACTICAL, METHODOLOGICAL, METAPHYSICAL, TRIVIAL, important, difficult

7D. The Freedom of Open Science  The Benefits of Open Science,  Critical Thinking in Closed Science,  Should we ask the question?

7E. The Problems of Closed Science  Two Limits for Science,  A Change of Mind,  Bypass the Process and Claim the Support,  The Futility of Humility,  Metaphysical Materialism,  Apologize or Improve?  Hidden Arguments and Open Discussions

7F. Cultural-Personal Factors in Science  Harmonizing Science and Religion,  Cultural-Personal Factors,  Recognize and Minimize,  Scientific Authority,  The Origin of Life,  Theistic Science

7G. Can evolution be scientific?  Observation, Prediction, Falsification;  Is it bad to be a theory?  The Designs of God,  Distinguishing between Similar Theories

Conceptual Factors

Theistic Science
Open Science


Is science a game with rules?    Perpetual Denial?  
A Model of Scientific Method
    Editing an Editor's Excellent Idea  
Theories of Design and Creation    Design and Common Descent   
Conflict Resolution in Science
How to Estimate Objectivity
    Flexibility and Objectivity

2A. Theistic Action    2F. My Views (old-earth creation)
3. Was the universe designed?    5. Chemical Evolution
6C: Shifts of Meaning    6E: Questions about Evolution
Why isn't God more obvious?

LINKS: Except for the non-italicized links (which open another page in a new window, leaving this page open in this window), all italicized links will keep you inside this page and will be fast!  You can visit another area of the page, and then (*) you can return to where you were by using your browser's BACK-button.   (* unless you're using Internet Explorer for Mac)

    My Views (in an attempt to avoid misunderstanding)
    Was nature created with the ability to naturally assemble itself into complex life?  I think there are scientific reasons to say NO.  Based on science and theology, my theory about "how God did it" is independent creation of the first life, followed by old-earth creation with occasional miraculous-appearing genetic modifications for the production of complex life.  Theologically, I think miracles in formative history are "probable but not necessary."  I'm not a proponent of theistic evolution, but I think it should be carefully considered, and evolutionary creationists (who think natural evolution was God's method of creation) should be treated with respect as fellow Christians.
    What is the relationship between creation and design?  A claim for design, but not a claim for creation, can be scientifically evaluated.  Michael Behe explains: "Although I acknowledged [in Darwin's Black Box] that most people (including myself) will attribute the design to God — based in part on other, non-scientific judgments they have made — I did not claim that the biochemical evidence leads ineluctably to a conclusion about who the designer is. ... The biochemical evidence strongly indicates design, but does not show who the designer was."

Some ideas from Section 7A (below) with minor revision, plus some new ideas, are in a page about Four Types of Intelligent Design.  And additional ideas are in the original long version.

    7A. What is design? 
    If you receive a radio signal — 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17,... — and you think, "probably this long string of prime numbers was not produced by undirected natural process," you are proposing a theory of intelligent design.
    To explain the origin of a feature (an object, organism, system,...), two possibilities are non-design and design:
    1. non-design, with undirected natural process producing the feature (*);
    2. design (and production) by an agent using design-directed action that converts the design-idea into reality;  more specifically, origin by design-action can be due to
    2A. design (and construction) by a natural agent (a human,...) using design-directed action, or
    2B. design (and creation) by a supernatural agent (God,...) using design-directed action.

    A basic design theory claims only that "there is evidence for design-directed action," but doesn't try to explain the details of who, when, how,...  The claim is that "it was either 2A or 2B."  { A basic design theory can be supplemented with details, as in 2A and 2B, but this is optional. }

    * But what appears to be non-design might be "design by natural process," as explained below:

    Design by Natural Process
    What is commonly called a design theory is a claim for design-directed action that is empirically detectable and occurs during history.

    There are four types of design:
    As described above,  2) design-directed action by an agent can be either:  2A) design-and-construction by a natural agent, or  2B) design-and-creation by a supernatural agent.
    But production of a feature by undirected natural process — by what is commonly called "non-design" — could be due to:  1A) design-directed action that occurred at the beginning of history (in a design of nature) and eventually results in production of a feature by undirected natural process,  1B) design-directed action that is empirically undetectable and occurs during history by theistically guided natural process, or  1C) a process that actually is undesigned, undirected, and unguided.

    In this page, a theory proposing empirically detectable design-action during history (as in 2, 2A, or 2B) will be called a design theory.  There are four basic types of design: 2A & 2B (in which a design theory is true) and 1A & 1B (in which a design theory is false).
    Two cases where a "design theory" is wrong (1A and 1B) actually involve design;  only 1C would be truly undesigned.  Therefore, evidence against a design theory (as I'm defining it) is not evidence against design by unguided natural process (1A) or design by guided natural process (1B):
    1A-design would occur if, in a supernatural design of nature, one goal is to produce a universe with natural properties that allow some formative history (or maybe all of it) to occur by natural process.  { For example, stars naturally form — and eventually produce the heavy elements that are used in living organisms — due to a highly unlikely combination of natural properties such as nuclear force, mass-energy conversion, and gravity.  Is this "combination of natural properties" due to a design of nature? }
    1B-design would occur if God supernaturally guides natural process in a way that appears to be natural and undirected, in order to produce one natural-appearing result instead of another.  { For example, the natural processes of mutation and natural selection might be supernaturally guided to produce a desired result. }
    Probably we should use more than one term, so we can communicate with more precision.  Instead of just "design" we should distinguish between detectable design (2A or 2B), a design of nature (1A), and undetectable design (1B).  { comment for reader:  Recently I've begun making a distinction between DESIGN (including 2A, 2B, 1A, or 1B) and design (referring only to 2A or 2B).  Currently, this DESIGN/design terminology is used only in my descriptions of Four Types of Intelligent Design.  Eventually I'll revise all pages, including this one, so the DESIGN/design distinction is used consistently. }

    directed or guided?
    In 2A-design, "directed" means "design-directed natural action by a natural agent" such as a bird moving straw and mud into a nest.  In this case, everything is natural but the resulting feature (the nest) would not occur if there was only undirected natural process, if the straw and mud were left to "do it on their own" without design-directed action by the bird.  { The meaning of "directed" is similar for 2B-design, except that in 2B it's "design-directed supernatural action by a supernatural agent." }
    In the definitions of 2A-design and 1B-design, notice the distinction between natural process that is directed (by a natural agent) and is guided (by a supernatural agent).  In principle, humans can observe-and-evaluate the difference between natural process that is directed or is undirected, so this is a scientific question that can be investigated using the methods of science.  ( But in reality, sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between directed and undirected, especially when there is an attempt to avoid detection. }  But we cannot observe the difference between natural process that is guided or is unguided;  this is a theological question that cannot be satisfactorily answered using the methods of science.

    Although design cannot be falsified (because 1A or 1B is always possible), a design theory can be falsified (using the criterion of "logically justified confidence in falsity"), as explained in Sections 7B and 7C.

    Who proposes what?
    A design theorist proposes a design theory (2) and has the option of supplementing this basic claim by specifically proposing either 2A or 2B, and might also propose 1A or 1B;  creationists propose three types of design (2B, 1A, 1B);  theistic evolutionists propose only design by natural process (either 1A or, in a theory that is less deistic and more obviously theistic, 1B or 1A-and-1B).  An atheist proposes 1C or 2A for everything in history.

    the two criteria:
    IF, as defined above, a design theory requires that design-action is empirically detectable and occurs during history, then (as shown in the table below) a theory is a non-design theory if either condition (empirically detectable, occurs in history) is a no.

Does it
Is it
Does it
occur in

Is it a

1A (undirected natural,
designed but unguided)
1B (undirected natural,
supernaturally guided)
1C (undirected natural,
undesigned and unguided)
2A (natural design-action
directed by natural agent)
2B (miraculous design-action
by supernatural agent)

Instead of just four types of design (seen above), there are SEVEN
(1A, 1B, 2A and 2B, plus 2B-then-2A, 2A-then-2B, 2A-then-1B).
a more detailed version of 7A (in another page)     Table of Contents

Some ideas from Section 7B (below) with minor revision, plus some new ideas, are in a page about Naturalism and the Origin of Life.  And additional ideas are in the original long version.

    7B. Can design be proved? 
    In science, proof is impossible, but scientists can develop a logically justified confidence in the truth or falsity of a theory.
    mutual exclusion:  Because a feature was produced by either non-design or design (*), if the evaluative status of non-design decreases, the status of design increases.  And vice versa.  By testing for non-design, we can test for design.  We can conclude that a design theory is probably true (if all non-design theories seem highly implausible) or is probably false (if one non-design theory seems highly plausible).
    * design and non-design are mutually exclusive if, as explained in Section 7A, design means "empirically detectable design-directed action during the history of nature."

    Logic requires that, during any intellectually rigorous attempt to explain the origin of an observed feature, scientists should consider all possibilities.  There are (at least) five possibilities:  Perhaps the feature was produced by undirected natural process and  1a) a current natural theory describes this process, or  1b) a future natural theory will describe the process, or  1c) no natural theory that seems plausible will ever be constructed because the process was too complex or unfamiliar or improbable for our minds to propose and accept.  Or maybe the feature was produced by  2A) natural design and construction, or  2B) supernatural design and creation.

    an application:
    Current theories for a natural origin of life seem highly implausible.  Is it rational for scientists to consider the possibility that life might have been the result of design-directed action?  Of course, certainty is impossible because we can never propose and test all possibilities for non-design.  But we could develop a logically justified confidence that our search has been thorough yet futile, and no promising approaches remain unexplored.

    Future developments in science could make the status of non-design increase (if we discover how a feature could have been produced by non-design) or decrease (if new knowledge reinforces our doubts about non-design).  To decide which "future science" is more probable, we must predict improvements in current theories and inventions of new theories.  For example, we can look at each reason that a natural origin of life seems implausible — due to properties like the unfavorable chemical equilibria for synthesizing biomolecules, and the high degree of biocomplexity required for metabolism and reproduction,... — and then try to imagine ways in which future knowledge might change our views of each property.  We can ask, "How likely is each change?" and "How would it affect our evaluations for a natural origin of life?"
    To make good predictions about scientific developments, we need creativity (to imagine what could be) plus criticality (to make realistic predictions about what is probable in reality, not just possible in our imaginations) so we can avoid the extremes of insisting that in this area of science "nothing new will ever happen" or "anything could happen."  {an extreme scenario for denial involves super-aliens from space}

    In several areas, including the origin of life, scientific analysis shows that design deserves to be accepted, not as the only explanation, but as a potential explanation that is reasonably plausible and is worthy of serious consideration and further development.

a more detailed version of 7B     Table of Contents

Some ideas from Section 7C (below) with minor revision, plus some new ideas, are in a page asking, Can a theory of intelligent design be scientific?  Also, 7C and 7G (plus a transition showing their relationships) are duplicated in a page asking "Can theories of evolution (and design) be scientific?"  And additional ideas are in the earlier medium-long and long versions.

    7C. Can design be scientific?
    The most common type of Closed Science is defined by methodological naturalism (MN), a proposal to restrict the freedom of scientists by requiring that they include only natural causes in their theories.  This section examines arguments — practical, methodological, metaphysical, and trivial — for Open Science (that rejects MN and allows theories of design) and Closed Science.  The basic question is simple:  In scientific thinking and education, do we want to give a higher priority to logic or naturalism?

    PRACTICAL Questions
    In a search for truth about nature, a design theory can be useful because it might be true.  If design really was involved in the origin of a feature, but we ignore this possibility (by refusing to consider evidence for design), a false conclusion is unavoidable.
    When design encourages critical thinking about non-design, this can improve the accuracy of our evaluations (for current non-design theories) and our speculations (about future theories).  A theory of design can stimulate creative thinking and productive action by proponents of non-design (who are motivated to defend and improve their theories, and find new experimental support) and design.  In this way, and others, theories of design can help us improve our understanding of nature.
    Design would have little impact on the overall productivity of science, since most areas are not affected.  And many scientists will continue their non-design research even if they hear a design claim that "maybe there is no non-design explanation."  Proponents of design want research about non-design to continue, because the goal is to find truth;  they want to supplement non-design research, not replace it.  { If your keys are not in the kitchen, can you find them by searching in the kitchen?  Perseverance and Flexibility }
    Current scientific customs (with most scientists accepting MN) are not necessarily optimal, because traditional customs are decided by people, and "what now is" does not determine "what should be in the future."  MN is a choice, and we can ask, "Is MN always wise?"  If we're being practical, should we view science as an artificial game with rules (which exclude design) or a real-life activity with goals?  { The important difference between games and reality is illustrated by a Strong-Man Contest. }
    What about past failures of claims for design?  A current design theory should be judged on its own merit, not the weakness of superficially similar theories in the past.

    Typically, questions about methods are in four areas: history, agency, observability, and falsification.
    HISTORY:  The methods used in design are similar to methods in other historical sciences, such as astronomy, geology, archaeology, and evolutionary biology.  Because most arguments against the scientific status of design are also arguments against the scientific status of any historical science, I suggest that you read the first half of Section 7G — Can a theory of evolution be scientific? — and then read the rest of this section.
    AGENTS AND PREDICTION:  When "what happens" depends on the actions of an agent, this introduces an element of unpredictability.  But in a historical situation with agent action, a scientist (in psychology, sociology, anthropology, archaeology, or forensics, and maybe in origins) only has to determine what did occur, not predict what will occur.  In this situation, the best explanation for "what did occur" is an agency theory of design (proposing "agent action"), not a mechanistic theory of non-design (proposing "only undirected natural process").  In most ways, historical theories of design and evolution are analogous, but a major difference is that intelligent design is an agency theory, while naturalistic evolution is a mechanistic theory.  Which type of theory is better?  The answer depends on what actually happened in history, if we define a "better" theory as one that more closely corresponds with the truth.  If agent-action did occur, an agency theory is better.  If there was no agency-action, a non-agency (mechanistic) theory is better.
    OBSERVABILITY:  Modern scientists often infer the existence of an unobservable cause (an electron, idea,...) due to the observable effects it produces.  Similarly, if we observe "signs of design" we can infer design-directed action, even if the agent and action were not observed.
    FALSIFICATION:  Due to the mutually exclusive relationship between non-design and design (it's either one or the other), the status of design can be increased or decreased by empirical evidence (by observations), so a theory of design is empirically responsive and is testable.  Based on a logical evaluation of observations, we can develop a logically justified confidence in the falsity or truth of a design theory, concluding that a design theory is probably true (if all non-design theories seem highly implausible) or is probably false (if one non-design theory seems highly plausible).

    The Bottom Line:  Inferences to design can be scientifically justified.
    For example, in Section 7A the "prime number" design theory (re: a sequence of 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17,...) is a result of scientific thinking:  You observe a signal, creatively construct and critically evaluate theories, and conclude that design-directed action is more plausible than undirected natural process.  Scientists propose design to explain a wide variety of features such as bird nests, ant hills, prey killed by a predator, a human murder victim, paintings on a cave wall, metal satellites in orbit, and faces on Mount Rushmore.  In many areas of science, a logical inference that "design-directed action did occur" can be scientifically justified.
    For most critics of design, the main concerns are metaphysical, not methodological.

    METAPHYSICAL Questions
    MIRACLES:  Does design violate methodological naturalism?  Maybe.  A basic design theory, claiming only that a feature was produced by design-action (which could be either natural design-and-construction or supernatural design-and-creation), does not require miracles, but it does allow miracles.  /    And science is compatible with occasional miracles, if the universe usually operates according to normal natural patterns.
    LIMITED CLAIMS:  In any area (radioastronomy, homicide, origins,...) an inquiry about design is a two-stage process:  first ask "Was there design-directed action?" and then investigate the details.  We should evaluate a design theory based on what it does claim (that design occurred) instead of what it does not claim (that it can explain the "how, when, why, and who" details of design-and-production).
    DESIGN AND CREATION are not the same.  A design theory can be supplemented with details (about the designer's identity and actions) to form a variety of theories about supernatural creation or natural non-creation.  A design theory does not claim that we can distinguish between "creation design" and "non-creation design" by scientific analysis, it just claims that "design did occur."  /  analogy:  A scientific conclusion that "it happened by a natural process which appeared to be undirected" does not require a metaphysical conclusion that "it happened without God."  Similarly, a scientific conclusion that "it was the result of design-directed action" does not require a metaphysical conclusion that "God did it."
    METAPHYSICAL MOTIVATIONS:  Even if a theory of design (or non-design) is motivated by a desire to show that "God did it" (or "God didn't do it"), this motivation should be irrelevant during theory evaluation.  A scientific evaluation should be based only on scientific evidence and logic;  our evaluations of a theory should not be influenced by our suspicions about the motives of scientists who are proposing and defending the theory.

    TRIVIAL Questions
    Some arguments against design seem impressive until you think about them, and then they seem trivial.
    For example, a claim that "in natural science, natural phenomena and natural history should be explained by natural causes" is trivial.  It is just faulty circular logic (assuming "science is natural" to conclude "science is natural") camouflaged with verbal ambiguity (using "natural" to mean "pertaining to nature" and also "normal-appearing").
    It is also trivial to view science as an artificial game with rules (which exclude design) rather than a real-life activity with goals.  { Should we treat science like it was a StrongMan Contest? }

    important questions:
    Should we define the main goal of science as a search for NATURAL explanations, or a search for LOGICAL explanations?  Of course, when we ask "Should science be logical?", everyone agrees that YES is the answer.  But disagreements occur when we ask: If there is a conflict between logical and natural, which criterion should have the higher priority?  Should we be forced (by methodological naturalism) to accept a "scientific conclusion" that is less logical, simply because it is natural?

   tough questions:
   In Section 7B the concepts of proof (which is impossible in science) and rationally justified confidence (which is the practical goal in science) are illustrated by thinking about how we can logically evaluate a design theory for the origin of life.  What would make this design theory unscientific?  a claim that a natural formation of life is extremely improbable?  a perception (by others) that this claim implies a non-natural cause?  proposing a non-natural cause?  Is there any limit to the severity of criticism before a design theory becomes unscientific?  If severe criticism is accompanied by a proposal for a new natural theory, does this make it scientific?  Can we admit that "we are far from finding the answer," but not "maybe there is no natural answer"?  Or, consistent with the restrictions of Closed Science, should we control the thinking of scientists by removing their freedom to think that "maybe..."?

    my conclusion:
    Some arguments against design are trivial, while others (especially those about practical effects and methodology) are more worthy, if only because they stimulate productive thinking and discussion.  But even though some arguments for Closed Science may seem strong initially, I think the counter-arguments are stronger and more logical, and the closer we examine Open Science, the better it looks.

    a note to the reader:   More than any other section, 7C has been diminished in conceptual content during its condensation into the medium-short version you've been reading.  To make it easier for you to explore the arguments and counter-arguments more thoroughly, I've collected the two earlier versions of Section 7C (medium-long, and long) into a 7C-page.     Table of Contents

Section 7D (below) is duplicated in a page about Critical Thinking in Closed Science, which contains new ideas, plus illustrative examples from the experiences of Michael Behe, and (in the other half of the page) ideas about Critical Thinking in Open Science.  And additional ideas are in the original long version.

    7D. The Freedom of Open Science 
    This section, building on the foundation of Section 7C, examines the benefits of scientific freedom and conceptual diversity.

    The Benefits of Open Science
    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.  In a closed science (restricted by MN) the process of science is irrelevant, since the inevitable conclusion — no matter what is being studied, or what is the evidence — is that "it happened by natural process."
    In open science, a scientist begins with MN but is free to use both MN and non-MN modes of thinking, to consider a wider range of possibilities that include both non-design and design.  There is metaphysical tolerance and open inquiry, with individual and communal freedom of thought, and scientists can follow the data wherever it leads.  Each theory is evaluated based on its merit, and if a non-MN conclusion is justified by the evidence, this is allowed.  An open science is consistent with scientists' preference for intellectual freedom.

    Critical Thinking in Closed Science
    Have the benefits of open science earned it a gracious welcome from the scientific community?  What has been the response to theories of design?  When Michael Behe submitted papers about irreducible complexity to science journals, individual editors were interested, but groups were intolerant.  One editorial board concluded its rejection letter, "Our journal... believes that evolutionary explanations of all structures and phenomena of life are possible and inevitable." {from Behe's Correspondence with Science Journals}
    In an open-minded free science, the response would be different.  Behe's thought-provoking questions would be welcomed as a constructive challenge, an opportunity to gain a more complete understanding of evolution at the molecular level.  The journals would be eager to communicate new ideas, to host invigorating debates between critics of a theory and its loyal defenders.
    Instead, critical questions are resented and rejected.  This response does offer a practical benefit.  It lets a community defend the reigning paradigm by using its power to make important decisions:  which views will (and won't) be expressed in journals and textbooks, at conferences and in the media?  what types of research, by which scientists, will be funded?  who will be hired and promoted?  and who will determine the policies of scientific and educational organizations?  { What happens in a closed science? details about Behe }
    But a "closed science" does not seem consistent with the lofty ideals of scientists, with their noble vision of science as an intellectually free, objective pursuit of truth.  Instead, in a community of scientists who are exploring freely, thinking flexibly, and dedicated to finding truth, Behe's tough questions would be used as a stimulus for critical analysis, creative thinking, and productive action.

    Should we ask the question?
    In the near future, scientists will disagree about the plausibility and utility of design, but conflicts are common in science, and can be productive.  Should journal editors wait until proponents of design have irrefutable proof?  As discussed in Section 7B, proof is impossible in science, and it can be difficult to confidently answer the question, "Was design-action involved in producing this feature?"  But it should be easy to decide, "Should we ask the question?"  A curious, open-minded community will say "YES, we want our science to be flexible and open to inquiry, not rigid and closed by dogmatism.

a more detailed version of 7D (in another page)     Table of Contents

Some of Section 7E (below) with minor revision, plus new ideas, are in the right column of a page about the mutual interactions between Science and Worldviews.  And additional ideas are in the original long version.

    7E. The Problems of Closed Science

    Two Limits for Science
    What are the limits for what can claim to be science?  One proposal is methodological naturalism (MN), which requires that scientific theories can postulate only natural causes.
    What are the limits for what MN-Science can claim to explain?  If we decide to accept MN, a second limit is logically necessary:  If an event really does involve a non-natural cause, any explanation of the event by MN-Science (in terms of only natural causes) will be incomplete or incorrect.  This limit, regarding the potential for unavoidable error in MN-Science, is MN-Humility.

    A Change of Mind
    In 1998, I was willing to support either of two options: accepting MN (and acknowledging MN-Humility), or rejecting MN.  Summarizing the rationality of MN-plus-Humility, I said: "We can view a restricted MN-science as one aspect of a broader 'search for truth' that considers all possibilities without imposing metaphysically biased restrictions on theorizing.  In this open search for truth,... MN-science can be a valuable resource that should be respected as an expert witness, but it should not be the judge and jury when we're defining reality and rationality."
    Two years later, when I began revising my overviews of Origins Questions, I concluded that it was more rational to reject MN, mainly because (as explained in Sections 7B-7D) I had become convinced that open science is better science, but also because of the rarity and futility of humility.

    The Futility of Humility
    In principle, the combination of "MN-Science plus MN-Humility" is logically acceptable.  In practice, the result is not satisfactory because even when MN-Humility is acknowledged (which is rare) it is not effective.  Why?
    Think about what happens when a "non-scientific" design theory and a "scientific" non-design theory both claim to describe the same event, such as the origin of life.  Due to the cultural authority of science, the nonscientific theory is not respected because most people assume that, for a theory about nature, "not scientific" means "probably not true."  Instead, the scientific theory is assumed to be more plausible, even if the scientific evidence does not support it.  And in a classroom where "only science is taught," only the non-design theory is taught.

    Bypass the Process, Claim the Support
    The Grand Conclusion of MN-Science — that no matter what is being studied, or what is the evidence, it happened by natural process — is actually the assumption of MN.  The circular logic of MN, which converts a naturalistic assumption into a naturalistic conclusion, is automatic and unavoidable.  But usually MN-Humility is ignored.  Instead of explaining the logical weakness of MN-Science, there is an implication that the assumption made by MN (that it happened by natural process) is a conclusion reached by science, and is therefore true.  MN provides a way to bypass the process of science and then claim the authority of science as support.

    Metaphysical Materialism
    According to a worldview of metaphysical materialism (Materialism), matter (and its natural operation due to interactive forces,...) is all that exists.  This atheistic worldview denies the existence of God and theistic action.

    As explained later (in Hidden Arguments), there is a tendency for methodological naturalism to promote metaphysical materialism, even though they are different in two important ways:

    metaphysics --> methodology?  No.  Most scientists think that metaphysics is not very important in their science, and usually they are correct.  { For example, MN makes no difference in most areas of science, since nobody wants to propose non-MN theories in these areas. }  For most scientists, it's easy to put metaphysics and methodology into separate categories and decide that, even if they are not metaphysical naturalists, they will temporarily adopt a methodology of "naturalistic assumptions" while they are doing science.
    methodology --> metaphysics?  It is not logically justifiable to convert the methodological assumptions of MN-science into a metaphysical worldview about "the way the world is," including what is and isn't real.  But this conversion does tend to happen, because MN-assumptions automatically become scientific conclusions about "the way the world is," and many people accept these conclusions about reality without realizing that the naturalistic "conclusions" are actually the naturalistic assumptions of MN.

    "natural" does not mean "without God" if we define natural as "normal appearing" (which doesn't affirm or deny supernatural action) and undirected natural process as "appearing to be undirected and normal."  A theist believes that God is actively involved in natural process because God designed and created nature, and constantly sustains nature;  and God can guide nature so one natural result occurs instead of another natural result.  Empirical evidence cannot let us distinguish between theistic and nontheistic interpretations of normal-appearing natural events. *  And a naturalistic formative history is compatible with miracles in human history.  /  * But evidence for a design of nature does support a theistic claim that natural properties were designed by God.
    The main differences between naturalism and Materialism are summarized in the table below, which shows the distinctions between theistic creationism (TC) proposing young-earth creation or old-earth creation, theistic evolution (TE), deism (D), and atheistic Materialism (AM), regarding four questions:  Was the universe designed and created by God?  Is God involved in natural process, by creating and/or directing it?  Did miracles occur in human history?  Did miracles occur in formative history?

universe created by God?
is God in natural process?
miracles in human history?
 miracles in formative history? 

If we define "naturalism" to be a "mere naturalism" that involves only the claim that all events (in part of history, or in all of history) occurred by normal-appearing natural process, then the no-answers are naturalistic:  There is a naturalistic formative history in theistic evolution (so it is partly naturalistic), and a naturalistic total history in deism and Materialism (so they are fully naturalistic).  Do you see the difference between naturalism and an atheistic Materialism that answers "no" to all four questions?  Theistic evolution is partly naturalistic, and deism is fully naturalistic, but neither is atheistically Materialistic.

    Evolution and Atheism:  Some people, including both atheists and theists, try to link evolution with atheism by implying that "If natural evolution could produce the complexity we observe in nature, then God either does not exist or is not active in history."  This claim, which ignores the possibility of design by natural process and theistic evolution, should be challenged.  Yes, evolution is required for atheism, so "if atheism then evolution" is justified.  But a reversed claim that "if evolution then atheism" is not justified.
    note: Eventually, this page will examine the worldview implicatio ns (metaphysical, religious, educational, ethical,...) of evolution (and sociobiology, evolutionary psychology,...) and methodological naturalism.

    Open Science and Open Discussions
    Two proposals are discussed below:  1) we should adopt an Open Science; but if not, then  2) in situations where a Closed Science has been adopted, there should be a clear explanation of MN-Humility and an open discussion of ideas that are relevant and important.

    Should we apologize or improve?
    Sections 7B-7D describe some advantages of an open science that is liberated from MN.  The main reason to reject MN is its logical deficiency:  MN demands that scientists should ignore some possibilities, even though logic demands that scientists should consider all possibilities
    The timing of MN-plus-Humility:  First, we reach a conclusion by using an approach (MN) that is logically deficient.  Second, with MN-Humility we apologize for the logical weakness of our approach by explaining why the conclusion might be wrong, but probably isn't wrong because we should trust science rather than nonscience.  /  A summary of these two steps:  Bypass the process of science, and claim the authority of science.
    Another option, which seems more rational, is to fix the deficiency by letting logic (not naturalism) be the highest priority in scientific thinking.  Appropriate timing is important.  If we want science to be an effective method for constructing accurate theories about nature, we should let scientists use the entire process of science (including a logical evaluation of all competitive theories) when they are determining the conclusions of science.

    Hidden Arguments and Open Discussions
    When MN is adopted in science or education, how can we minimize the negative consequences?  To reduce the impact of Materialist implications and biased evaluations, we can improve the neutrality of our metaphysics and the quality of our thinking.  { Of course, these are useful whether science is closed or open. }
    Occasionally a Materialist worldview is explicitly stated, as when Carl Sagan (winner of awards for science education) opened Cosmos by asserting that "The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be."  More often, Materialism is implicitly communicated, even if this is not intended, when "no theistic action in scientific descriptions of the universe" implies "no theistic action in the universe."  Due to these implications, ignoring religious perspectives (as in a simplistic policy of "teaching only science") does not produce a neutral balance.
    Implicit arguments can be persuasive because only one view is presented, with no opportunity for counter-argument.  Because the arguments are hidden, they are not critically analyzed, so fallacious reasoning can survive and thrive.

    By contrast, open discussions will encourage understanding and critical thinking.  Possible discussion topics include the goals and methods of science, arguments for and against MN, the logic of MN-Humility, interpretations of natural process, scientific evidence for and against theories of non-design and design.  During discussions, important ideas from major viewpoints should be expressed accurately (with no weak, distorted "strawmen") so the ideas can be understood and evaluated.
    MN-Humility can be introduced by waiting for a topic, such as the origin of life, when humility is justified, and then explaining how MN-science ignores one of the five logical possibilities, and why "natural process for most events" is compatible with "supernatural action for occasional events."
    Strategies for coping with the challenges that teachers face when they try to teach wisely and well, with integrity and skill, are outlined in Section 8 of Origins Questions.
    A respect for religious perspectives, with an absence of "faith versus reason" implications, is important.  Without respect, a discussion of important ideas can be harmful.  With respect and wisdom, it can be helpful and educationally productive.

a more detailed version of 7E     Table of Contents

All of Section 7F (below) with minor revisions, plus some new ideas, are in the left column of a page about the mutual interactions between Science and Worldviews.  And additional ideas are in the original long version.

    7F. Cultural-Personal Factors in Science

    Harmonizing Science and Religion
    Most people want their own ideas to be logically consistent.  This desire produces mutual interactions between scientific theories and religious theories, with each influencing the other.  Either type of theory, or both, can be adjusted in an effort to achieve consistency.  For theories in the area of origins,
    An atheist has no scientific freedom, since only one conclusion (totally natural evolution with no theistic action) is acceptable.  An open-minded flexible agnostic who says "I haven't decided yet" has freedom.  But a rigid agnostic who wants to remain agnostic will want to reject any theory with theistic implications.  A believer in a non-theistic religion will prefer nontheistic theories and interpretations.  A theist has options (young-earth creation, old-earth creation, or theistic evolution) and is free to follow the evidence and logic of science to any conclusion.  But sometimes there is a theistic influence on science, since each theistic position requires some adjustment (scientific and/or religious) to achieve harmony between theology and science.

    For a Jewish or Christian theist, five variables that can be adjusted are:  scientific interpretations of nature;  theological interpretations of the Bible;  relative emphasis placed on scientific interpretations and theological interpretations;  theological theories about the frequency of various types of theistic action by God (with different combinations of appearance, degree of theistic control, and context);  willingness to use miraculous-appearing theistic action for explaining the history of nature.

    Cultural-Personal Factors
    During all scientific activities, including theory evaluation, scientists are influenced by cultural-personal factors.  These factors include psychological motives and practical concerns (such as intellectual curiosity, and desires for self-esteem, respect from others, financial security, and power), metaphysical worldviews (about the nature of reality), ideological principles (about "the way things should be" in society), and opinions of authorities (who are acknowledged due to expertise, personality, and/or power).  /  These factors interact with each other, and operate in a complex social context that involves individuals, the scientific community, and society as a whole.  Science and culture are mutually interactive, with each affecting the other.  /  Some cultural-personal influence is due to a desire for personal consistency between ideas, between actions, and between ideas and actions.  For example, scientists are more likely to accept a scientific theory that is consistent with their metaphysical and ideological theories.  {this description is from my integrative model of scientific method which shows how cultural-personal factors are related to conceptual factors}

    Recognize and Minimize
    In science and in our studies of science, we should recognize the influence of cultural-personal factors in science, and (in an effort to maximize the effectiveness of science in a search for truth) we should try to minimize the influence of these factors.  We should want scientific theories to be evaluated by thinking that is objective and logical, not biased and sociological.
    How can we achieve scientific evaluation that is more objective and logical?  One way to pursue this noble goal — using it as an aiming point and taking actions that will move us closer to it, while humbly recognizing that we haven't yet achieved it and never will — is to construct a science that is more open and objective, more flexible and logical.

    An Example of Cultural-Personal Influence
    We accept the claims of physicists about their theories of motion.  By analogy, should we also accept the claims of biologists about their theories of evolution?  Maybe not. Why?
    First, for some aspects of evolutionary theory (but not for basic theories of motion) there are scientific reasons for critical thinking and caution.
    Second, there are reasons to suspect that cultural-personal factors are influencing the evaluations of naturalistic evolution within biology, so there are reasons for listening carefully to critics of the "consensus conclusions" about naturalistic evolution.  There are two types of cultural-personal influence:  in biology an uncritical acceptance of evolution offers professional advantages (in getting publications, funding, employment,...) for individuals;  and for the community, the accepted theory must be a naturalistic theory because of methodological naturalism.

    Naturalism and the Origin of Life
    For judging the depth of commitment to a naturalistic "universe without miracles," it is fascinating to see how the origin of life is handled by scientists who study it, authors who explain it, organizations of scientists and educators, and the media.  For example, a textbook usually will admit that we don't yet know how life became alive, but will imply that life originated by natural process, instead of being humble about naturalism.

    Theistic Science
    Sections 7A-7E explain the benefits of open science.  A concept that is related, yet different, is theistic science;  as Alvin Plantinga explains it, "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."  {details}

a more detailed version of 7F     Table of Contents

    an introduction for 7G:
    In a theory of old-earth creation, a scientist accepts the "consensus conclusion" of current scientists about an old earth, but rejects the current consensus about naturalistic evolution.  This distinction inspired a web page — Is a theory of old-earth creation logically inconsistent? — that, in the four paragraphs below, explains the difference between proponents of four theories (old-earth creation, design, nondesign, and young-earth creation) when we ask: What are the capabilities of historical science, for questions about age and design?

    When we ask questions about age, young-earth flood geologists are super-skeptical regarding the ability of historical science (as in geology or astronomy) to reach any reliable scientific conclusions about history.  They ask, "Were you there?", and declare that a "no" means "you can't know much about ancient history."  [the other three views disagree]
    Similarly, when we ask questions about design, nondesign theorists are super-skeptical regarding the ability of historical science to determine anything about historical design-directed action by an agent, especially if the agent and action might have been supernatural.
    By contrast, design theorists (and old-earth creationists) are confident that scientists have developed, and can continue to improve, scientific methods (which are based on a logical evaluation of observable evidence) to cope with the challenges of scientifically distinguishing (based on a logical evaluation of the observable evidence arising from design-directed action or undirected natural process) between design and nondesign.  As with all science, in these areas we cannot obtain proof, but we can develop a rationally justified confidence about "a good way to bet."
    Flood geologists say "science can do less (when thinking about age questions) than is claimed by the consensus," while design theorists say "science can do more (in thinking about design questions) than is claimed by the consensus."

    This should help you see the differences between my claims (about "what is science") and the claims often made by young-earth creationists (about "what isn't science").

    Can a theory of design be scientific?  Because many arguments against "design as science" are just arguments against any historical science (in areas like biology, paleontology, geology, or astronomy) that tries to understand the history of nature.  Therefore, to establish a foundation for deciding "Can design be scientific?" in Section 7C, we'll ask the analogous question for evolution.

Section 7G (below) is duplicated, along with 7C, in a page asking "Can theories of evolution (and design) be scientific?"  And additional ideas are in the original long version.

    7G. Can evolution be scientific? 
    Some critics of biological evolution (bio-E) claim it is unreliable and unscientific because:  major bio-E cannot be observed;  E-theory does not predict;  E-theory cannot be falsified.  Are these criticisms justified?
    OBSERVATIONS:  Bio-E is a historical science, and the limitations of historical data provide reasons to be cautious about conclusions.  But scientists have developed methods for reducing the practical impact of data limitations, so (although we should critically examine these methods) a historical science can be scientific.
PREDICTIONS:  In historical science, prediction is not necessary.  Instead, in bio-E the goal is to retroductively explain by constructing a historical scenario (connecting the initial and final situations of a historical episode) that is consistent with E-theory.
    FALSIFICATION:  If scientists retain methodological naturalism (MN) and assume that "everything in the history of nature happened by natural process," they cannot falsify a theory of "bio-E somewhere in the universe."  But even without MN, it would be difficult to falsify bio-E due to its explanatory flexibility:  bio-E has powerful explanatory resources (linked genes, changes of function, developmental genes, statistical bottlenecks, long periods of time,...) that — combined with the creative imagination of a scientist — provide lots of flexibility for explaining almost anything, and it is difficult to distinguish this hyperflexibility from genuine plausibility.  In addition, appeals to "future science" make bio-E even more difficult to falsify.  { Yes, bio-E could be falsified by evidence for out-of-order origins, such as rabbits before trilobites, but this is irrelevant if E is wrong in ways that are less obvious. }  /  Why is the plausibility of bio-E usually over-estimated?  Some reasons are outlined in The Process of Logically Evaluating Evolution.

    Two Kinds of Science: Operations and Historical
    The Scientific Method does not exist, because no single method is used in the same way by all scientists at all times.  But scientists use scientific methods that are variations on a few basic themes.
    Some variations are due to differences between operations science (to study the current operation of nature, what is happening now) and historical science (to study the previous operation of nature, what happened in the past).  Both types of science are similar in most important ways, especially in their use of scientific logic, but there are minor differences.
    Although repeatable controlled experiments (with the situation set up by humans) can be done in operations science, this is not possible for historical events.  But this limitation has inspired scientists to develop methods that reduce the practical impact of this limitation.  One way to reduce the impact is to use repeatable uncontrolled experiments (with the situation set up by nature) and look for consistencies.  These consistencies let scientists develop reliable theories that usually are related to (and are consistent with) theories in operations science.
    A common misconcpetion about historical science involves the timing of inference.  A theory-based inference about "what happens if this theory is true" can be logically valid even if it is made after an event has occurred, or after observations are known.  In historical science, the goal is to describe and explain what did happen, not predict what will happen.

    Is it bad to be a theory?
    Would it be accurate to summarize a claim (which is disputed above) that "evolution is unreliable because it is historical" by proclaiming that "evolution is just a theory"?  No, because in science, "theory" does not mean "unreliable."  In fact, I don't think the word "theory" should have any special significance, so in my model of Integrated Scientific Method a theory can have a high or low plausibility, a simple or complex structure, a narrow or broad domain, and it can be descriptive or explanatory.  Therefore, simply calling a proposal a "theory" says nothing about its quality or characteristics.

    Can we predict the designs of God?
    Do "imperfect adaptations" provide evidence for bio-E?  "God surely would not have used a collection of parts generally fashioned for other purposes. ... Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution."  Here, in The Panda's Thumb, Stephen Jay Gould asserted that God "surely would not," as if he knew what God would have done.  But in the Bible, it seems that God does not want a history that appears optimal, or theistic action that appears obvious.  {Why isn't God more obvious? Can we prove God? }
    The possibility of design-action that is not "optimal and obvious" is opposed by advocates of bio-E, who want a competitor with predictions that are different from E-theory and easy to falsify.  Young-earth science meets both qualifications, and with independent creation (either young-earth or old-earth) we might expect designs to appear independent and optimal.  By contrast, old-earth creation by genetic modification (oeCgenetimod) predicts that new species will appear to be modifications of old species, because this is what they are.

    Distinguishing between Similar Theories
    Can we distinguish between oeCgenetimod and evolution?  Maybe.  With detailed data — such as lab reports (for physiology, structure, DNA,...) for all organisms during a period of change — it would be easy.  But with the data we actually have, it is more difficult.
    Because oeCgenetimod includes two mechanisms, continual natural-appearing evolution and occasional miraculous-appearing macromutations, oeCgenetimod is consistent with most evidence for evolution.  The major differences are that oeCgenetimod raises questions (re: irreducible complexity, rates of change, extrapolating from micro-E to macro-E,...) about important details of bio-E.
    Does oeCgenetimod have to be "more different"?  No.  A "high contrast" with other theories is not a requirement for a scientific theory.  For example, in most situations the predictions of Newton's classical mechanics and Einstein's special relativity are almost identical.  But we don't demand that, if we are to take Einstein seriously, his theory must be modified to make it differ from Newton's theory in other ways, for our convenience, so we can more easily distinguish between his theory and Newton's theory, using data that is easy to collect and analyze.  Instead, it's more important to use the criterion of perceived accuracy by asking, "Based on empirical evidence and logical evaluation, does a theory seem to match the way the world really is?"

a more detailed version of 7G (in another page)     Table of Contents

The sections above (7A-7G) are adapted from my "origins questions" page.
The sections below were written for this page more recently, in July 2002.


    Conceptual Factors in Science
    In my integrative model of scientific method the conceptual factors that influence theory evaluation are split into internal characteristics and external relationships:

    Scientists expect a logical internal consistency between a theory's own components.  And when evaluating a theory's logical structure, one common criterion is simplicity, which is achieved by postulating a minimum number of logically interconnected theory-components.  Also, in each field of science there are expectations for the types of entities and actions that should (and should not) be included in a theory.  These "expectations about components" can be explicit or implicit, due to scientists' beliefs about ontology (what exists) or utility (what is useful).
    The external relationships between theories (including both scientific and cultural-personal theories) can involve an overlapping of domains or a sharing of theory components.  Theories with domains that overlap are in direct competition because they claim to explain the same systems.  Theories with shared components often provide support for each other, and can help to unify our understanding of the domains they describe.  There is some similarity between the logical structures for a theory (composed of smaller components) and for a mega-theory (composed of smaller theories), and many conceptual criteria can be applied to either internal structure (relating components within a theory) or external relationships (between theories in a mega-theory). ...
    Inputs for evaluating a theory come from empirical, conceptual, and cultural-personal factors, with the relative weighting of factors varying from one situation to another.
    quoted from my Overview of Scientific Method

    Theory evaluation depends on these conceptual factors and also cultural-personal factors (psychological motives and practical concerns, metaphysical worldviews, ideological principles, and opinions of authorities, as described earlier) and empirical factors that are produced in a "reality check" by a logical analysis of empirical data, by comparing a theory's predictions with observations to see whether a theory's claims about "the way things are" matches the reality of "the way things really are."

    Some effects of non-empirical factors (conceptual and cultural-personal) are examined in the next two sections, for theistic science and open science.

    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?"  One question, which is more specific, asks:  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 action in Biblical history (with God actively involved, but only in normal-appearing natural process) was used throughout 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.
    This theological proposition can have a liberating effect on a scientist.  How?  Since there are two options, a theist — when looking at a particular feature (or the entire history of nature) and asking, "Was this 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 a 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 data 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 data and logic.  /  Of the three modern perspectives (1b, 2a, 2b), only 2b is allowed to operate freely in naturalistic closed science.

    Open Science 
  The main claim of this page is that open science is better science.  What is open science?  It is open-minded, flexible, and tolerant, willing to consider alternative approaches and 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 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 or conceptual 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:  Shouldn't we consider the possibility that a particular feature was the result of design?
    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 in Theistic Science) it can lead to different theological propositions about God, nature, and science.

    • An open science is open to different philosophical 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 various 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 the overall community.

    Is it based on scientific logic?
    It can be useful to think about evaluative factors (empirical, conceptual, and cultural-personal) that are based on scientific logic, and are not based on scientific logic.
    Factors that I'm calling scientifically logical include empirical reality-checks (made by comparing predictions with observations) and structural logic-checks (regarding a theory's internal consistency and its external relationships with other scientific theories that are well established *).  These empirical/structural factors are the foundation of scientific logic.  { * But we should not allow naturalistic worldview theories to be defined as "scientific theories" that can be smuggled into science;  when investigating a historical event, scientists should begin with a naturalistic assumption, but should not end with a naturalistic conclusion unless this is indicated by the empirical evidence and scientific logic. }
    Factors that are not scientifically logical include psychological motives and practical concerns (which lead to asking, "If this theory is accepted, will it help me get publications, grant money, employment, and status?  Will I gain more by joining those who are arguing for this theory or against it?  Who has more power, and with whom should I form alliances?"), plus metaphysical worldviews and ideological principles that are "manifested in science" when theories are evaluated based on their external consistency with metaphysics and ideology, and (to the extent that these are influenced by cultural-personal factors) conceptual constraints on "the types of entities and actions that should (and should not) be included in a theory."
    Because all of these influences are part of the actual practice of science, I'm asking "Is this factor a part of scientific logic?", not "Is this factor a part of science?"  /  And calling it "not scientifically logical" does not imply an absence of logic, since non-scientific theories (about metaphysics and ideology) do have a basis in logic.  Also, an individual who is influenced by asking, "Will I gain more by arguing for this theory or against it?", is behaving rationally on a professional and personal level.  At the community level, logic that is "not empirical/structural scientific logic" can be an important part of the rhetorical "logic of persuasion" that is an essential part of scientific practice.  But none of these influences are "scientifically logical" when we ask, "Are they consistent with the noble goal of objective scientific evaluation based on empirical/structural scientific logic?"
    I proposed, in the "Recognize and Minimize" part of Section 7F, that in a scientific search for truth, we should try to focus on scientific logic (empirical and structural) by trying to minimize the effects of other factors.  Is this a wise goal?  What are the advantages and disadvantages of these other factors?

    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 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 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 structural/empirical logic — by analyzing a theory's internal and external structure, and by using "reality checks" to compare observations with a theory's predictions or retroductions — 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 or not history was 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?  { The main body of this page, in Sections 7A-7E, examines MN-science, and shows why an open science (that allows different approaches, including naturalism and design) 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 two "closed science" approaches — 1) a type of theistic science claiming that, based on interpreting the Bible and considering the character of God, a totally natural evolution is impossible;  2) methodological naturalism, which says "a scientist must assume that a totally natural evolution was the only possibility and is the way it happened." — and  3) an "open science" approach.
    For each type of closed science, #1 and #2, if the premise is true (if the premise matches reality), probably the approach will be scientifically useful.  And if the premise is false, probably the approach will be scientifically detrimental.
    With each "closed science" 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 logical 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 Approach #1) will not be effective, but pro-evolution arguments based on naturalism (in #2) will be effective.
    Within the current scientific community, #1 may be hazardous to the quality of a scientist's professional career.  But #2 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, #1 will be rewarded with approval, status, and perhaps material rewards (invitations to speak, donations to a ministry,...) while #2 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."
    And in the context of a person's whole life, which includes both science and nonscience, if #1 or #2 prevents a conflict between the person's scientific theories and non-scientific theories, probably this "minimizing of personal inconsistency" will be perceived as a benefit.  But it may not be an actual benefit if it prevents a person from seeing the truth.  { comment for the reader:  A "whole life" question is complex, is different for every person, and many books (not just web-pages) could be written about it.  In fact, I feel this way about the entire "Open Science" section — here I'm just skimming the surface of issues that deserve a more thorough treatment.  But that's a project for later, not now. }

    * The two approaches analyzed above, #1 and #2, lead to decreased objectivity in science.  By contrast, #3 — which is one form of open science, and is based on 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 #3.  {techniques for estimating objectivity}

    Open Science and Actual Science
    In real life, can a science be fully open and totally objective?  No.  Individuals and groups will bring their own approaches (involving worldviews, methodologies, ambitions,...) into science.  Some approaches are more "open to following the data wherever it leads" than others;  in the analysis above, for example, 3 is more open than 1 or 2.  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.

Table of Contents



Is science a game with rules?    Perpetual Denial?  
Perseverance and Flexibility    A Model of Scientific Method  
An Editor's Excellent Idea    Theories of Design and Creation
Design and Common Descent    Conflict Resolution in Science  
How to Estimate Objectivity
    Flexibility and Objectivity

2A. Theistic Action    2F. My Views (old-earth creation)
3. Was the universe designed?    5. Chemical Evolution
6C: Shifts of Meaning    6E: Questions about Evolution

Why isn't God more obvious?    Seven Types of Design

  Is science a game with rules?
    Some critics of design view science as an intellectual game played with a set of rules, which include MN, that are established by tradition, approved by consensus in the scientific community, and enforced by funding agencies, journal editors, and hiring committees.
    This is an interesting perspective.  In terms of sociology, regarding interpersonal dynamics and institutional structures, it is an idea with merit.  But it seems much less impressive and less appealing when we turn to philosophy and think about functional logic and the cognitive goals of science, when we acknowledge the distinction between games and reality.
    The practical value of restrictive rules is different in a game and in reality.  To illustrate, consider the Strong Man contests televised by ESPN.  During these competitions, I've seen a man tow a semi-truck with a rope, and carry a refrigerator on his back.
    For the game, if one competitor wanted to hook the semi to a tow truck or strap the refrigerator to a two-wheeler, this would be cheating.  It would provide an unfair advantage and would not help in achieving the goal of the game: determining who is the strongest man.  In this context, the rule about "no mechanical help" is useful.
    But for reality, for accomplishing a practical goal, the same rule might not be useful.  If the real-life goal of a business is to move vehicles or refrigerators quickly, over and over throughout the day, using tow trucks or two-wheelers is a more effective strategy than asking a person to do all the work.
    It is obvious that a restrictive rule which is useful in the context of an artificial game — such as requiring that a heavy object must be moved by a human without mechanical help — may not be useful in real life for accomplishing practical goals.  When this principle is applied to science, it seems more rational to view science as an activity with goals, rather than a game with rules.  Then we can ask whether the restrictions imposed by MN will make scientists more effective in pursuing and achieving the goals of science.  More specifically, we can ask "Is MN a useful strategy in our search for truth, in our development of increasingly accurate theories about nature?"  {back to trivial objections in 7C}

    Perpetual Denial?  (What if design was proposed by space aliens?)
  Imagine a scientific community with trillions of super-intelligent space aliens (IQ = 20,000) each with a life span of a billion years, devoted to science (and using high-speed travel to explore a variety of environments throughout the universe) for the past 5 billion years, who have not yet constructed a plausible theory for a natural origin of life.  Even in this situation a denial of design would be possible, but would it be rational?
    In the near future, the actual state of human knowledge will remain much less advanced than this imaginary super-science, and critics of ID will point out, with some justification, the reasons for cautious humility when making claims for design.  But now we know much more about the origin of life than we did five decades ago, just after the original Miller-Urey experiments, and what we've learned makes a natural origin of life seem much less plausible.  At some point in our knowledge, it seems rational for scientists to ask, "Should we seriously consider the possibility that the first life was not produced by natural process?"  I think we've already reached the point where this question is rationally justified.  {back to predicting future science in 7B}

    Perseverance and Flexibility
    Perhaps the search by Closed Science is occasionally futile, like trying to explain how the faces on Mt. Rushmore were produced by undirected natural process (erosion,...) even though, when scientists are restricted in this way, the finest creativity and logic will fail to find the true origin.  Perhaps MN is putting scientists in the position of a man who is diligently searching for missing keys in the kitchen when the keys are sitting on a table on the front porch.  No matter how hard he searches the kitchen, he won't find the keys because they aren't there!  On the other hand, if the keys really are in the kitchen, they will probably be found by someone who believes "the keys are in the kitchen" and is diligently searching there, not by a skeptic.
    In Section 7C, I ask a question: "Can the pursuit of knowledge be hindered by a claim for design?"  Then I answer "no" because "many scientists will persevere" but this depends on a variety of factors, inside and outside science, including the psychology of perseverance.  In the complex blend that generates productive thinking, "There can be a tension between contrasting virtues, such as persevering by tenacious hard work, or flexibly deciding to stop wasting time on an approach that isn't working and probably never will.  A problem solver may need to dig deeper, so perseverance is needed;  but sometimes the key to a solution is to dig in a new location, and flexibility (not perseverance) will pay off." {from Productive Thinking (creative and critical) }

back to Practical Questions in 7C

    A Model of Scientific Method
    As part of my PhD dissertation, I developed a model of Integrated Scientific Method that is a synthesis of ideas (mainly from scientists and philosophers, but also from sociologists, psychologists, historians, and myself) about scientific method.
    This integrative model of science, which has nine parts — Empirical Factors, Conceptual Factors, Cultural-Personal Factors, Theory Evaluation, Theory Generation, Experimental Design (Generation & Evaluation), Problem-Solving Projects, Thought Styles, Productive Thinking (creative and critical) — is described in An Overview of Scientific Method and A Detailed Examination of Scientific Method.  Hot debates about "the nature of science" are discussed in a page that asks, Should science be eks-rated?

    back to the main body: cultural-personal factors or Is it bad to be a theory? or conceptual factors

  Editing an Editor's Excellent Idea
  With one journal, after Michael Behe submitted a tightly focused paper (a reply to specific criticisms) the editor made an excellent proposal for an expanded project that — consistent with the noble ideals of science — would have performed a valuable service by encouraging the open discussion of an exciting new idea: "The notion of intelligent design is one that may warrant further exploration, even though the topic has been dealt with extensively by both practicing scientists and philosophers of science.  Should this exploration take the form of contrasting viewpoints in articles by two persons, published in the same issue, on the more general aspects of the topic, then our editorial policy of presenting current issues of significance in the biological sciences might be satisfied.  /  Recast in more general terms, your article could present the "pro" side of the issue, and in that context it could address some of the criticisms that have appeared since your book was published, but it would have to provide a much broader perspective.  In particular, it would have to assume a readership that is not familiar with your book, at least not in any detailed way.  An accompanying article could present the "con" side of the issue, again taking a general perspective.  No doubt your book would figure prominently in both articles, but the theme would be modern concepts of intelligent design rather than a specific publication.  This approach would almost certainly reach a broader readership than a detailed response to specific criticisms.  It also has the added advantage of allowing you to present a synopsis of your entire case rather than just defending specific aspects of it.  Such a paired set of articles would imply that the topic is important, and therefore would attract additional readers."  { all quotes are from Behe's Correspondence with Science Journals }
    This is a flexible "open science" approach.  But the journal's editorial board was less enthusiastic.  They protested that "it is not possible to develop a meaningful discussion" between a design theory "based on intuitive, philosophical, or religious grounds" and an evolutionary theory "based on scientific fact and inference."  And they concluded, "Our journal... believes that evolutionary explanations of all structures and phenomena of life are possible and inevitable.  Hence a position such as yours, which opposes this view on other than scientific grounds, cannot be appropriate for our pages.  Although the editors feel that there has already been extensive response to your position from the academic community, we nevertheless encourage further informed discussion in appropriate forums.  Our journal cannot provide that forum, but we trust that other opportunities may become available to you."
    Although the editorial board recognizes that "there has already been extensive response to your position from the academic community," official recognition (by publication in their journal) is denied.  Why?  They explain that, in contrast with Behe's intuitive religious philosophy, their journal contains pure science.  But the situation is reversed.  Although Behe's ideas are based on observations and scientific logic, publishing them "cannot be appropriate" because "our journal... believes that evolutionary explanations... are possible and inevitable."  The rejection seems based on philosophical preference, not scientific merit.

    Behe summarizes his experiences: "While some science journal editors are individually tolerant and will entertain thoughts of publishing challenges to current views, when a group (such as the editorial board) gets together, orthodoxy prevails."
    For example, the collective silencing of an individual's "excellent idea" is outlined above.
    And when Behe submitted a paper to another journal, the editor initially described, with regret, a problem — "I am painfully aware of the close-mindedness of the scientific community to non-orthodoxy, and I think it is counterproductive" — but eventually decided to maintain a closed science, instead of boldly deciding to be the first editor to challenge the status quo and move in the direction of open science.  The rejection was supported by a senior journal advisor who responded to Behe's critical analysis with a generous proposal for delayed publication: "Having not yet understood all of biology is not a failure after just 200 years, given the amount of understanding already achieved.  Let us speak about it again in 1000 years."  The editor told Behe, "I would like to encourage you to seek new evidence for your views, but of course, that evidence would likely fall outside of the scientific paradigm, or would basically be denials of conventional explanations.  You are in for some tough sledding."
    Of course, editors have a responsibility to exclude papers that do not meet their standards for scientific quality.  But, as mentioned above, it seems that Behe's papers are being rejected because they are "philosophically incorrect," not because they are scientifically inadequate.

    back to Critical Thinking in Closed Science

    Theories of Design and Creation
    A basic design theory — before it has been supplemented in ways that are theistic, naturalistic, or pantheistic — is limited to claims that can be scientifically evaluated.  Michael Behe clearly explains the limits of his "design only" claims, in a summary of ideas from pages 245-250 of his 1996 book, Darwin's Black Box:
    Although I acknowledged that most people (including myself) will attribute the design to God — based in part on other, non-scientific judgments they have made — I did not claim that the biochemical evidence leads ineluctably to a conclusion about who the designer is.  In fact, I directly said that, from a scientific point of view, the question remains open.  In doing so I was not being coy, but only limiting my claims to what I think the evidence will support.  To illustrate, Francis Crick has famously suggested that life on earth may have been deliberately seeded by space aliens (Crick and Orgel 1973).  If Crick said he thought that the clotting cascade was designed by aliens, I could not point to a biochemical feature of that system to show he was wrong.  The biochemical evidence strongly indicates design, but does not show who the designer was.  {from Philosophical Objections to Intelligent Design: Response to Critics}
    Here, Behe is explaining why — even though his theory claiming that "design has occurred" can be scientifically evaluated — he is not claiming "creation has occurred" because, based on the scientific evidence he is considering, this claim cannot be scientifically evaluated.

The table below is from The Process of Logically Evaluating Origins Theories in which the terms (micro-E, minor macro-E, basic fossil-E,...) are defined.  A theory of old-earth macromutational creation (which in Section 7G is called old-earth creation by genetic modification) will be defined soon, in "Design and Descent."

    Logical Comparisons of Design, Creation, and Evolution
    The major differences between design, creation, and evolution (E) are summarized in this table:

 components of E-theory 
(for each component, does
a theory say yes or no?)
of 1800
micro-E and
minor macro-E
old earth and
basic fossil E
common descent
? YES no no no
Total Macro-E
YES no no no no no
claims that
" God did it"

    If you carefully compare the differences between theories, you can see why — when these differences are ignored — theories of natural evolution will be considered more plausible than a logical evaluation of evidence would justify.  { The page about "Process of Logically Evaluating..." explains why this occurs, and how to avoid it. }
    In the "intelligent design" column, three answers are "?" because a basic theory of design neither affirms nor denies an old earth or common descent (as explained below) or theistic creation.  But since all modern design theorists affirm micro-E and minor macro-E, this is a YES.

    Design and Descent
    Some theories of creation affirm common descent, while others reject it.  According to theories of old-earth creation, God's creative activity, both natural-appearing and miraculous-appearing, was spread over billions of years.  There are two basic types of old-earth creation:  with independent creation "from scratch" (without common descent, so there would not necessarily be any genetic relationships with existing species), similar to the independent creation in young-earth creation;  or with common descent because macromutational creation involves an extensive modification (by changing, adding, or deleting) of the genetic material for some members of an existing species.  Thus, an old-earth theory of design can claim NonDesign-Descent (with independent creations) or Design-Descent (with macromutational genetic modifications).
    To make a logical evaluation, we must abandon a two-theory approach.  Instead, we should think in terms of three (or more) theories: Total Macro-Evolution and Descent-Design (which agree about common descent), and NonDescent-Design.  In a three-way comparison, evidence against descent counts against Total Macro-E and Descent-Design, and it counts for NonDescent-Design.  Similarly, evidence for descent counts for two theories (Total Macro-E and Descent-Design) and against one theory (NonDescent-Design).  But evidence about descent, either for or against it, does not help us distinguish between Total Macro-E and Descent-Design.

    Does a basic theory of design either affirm or deny common descent?  No.  Since a basic theory of design does not have to explain details (about when, how, why, who,...) it can answer questions about an old earth or common descent with a noncommittal "I don't know."  Thus, the two "?"s in the tables above.
    But conventional theories of neo-Darwinian E (which make a claim for Total Macro-E by undirected natural process with no design) require both an old earth and common descent, so evidence against either would be evidence against E and for biological design.  Therefore, some proponents of design argue against common descent (or an old earth) because they think this is justified by the evidence and will be helpful — even though it isn't necessary, because it is only one of several possible ways that evolution might be false — in providing evidence against non-design evolution.
    Other proponents of design, including myself, think the scientific evidence does indicate common descent (and an old earth) but not Total Macro-E.  If logical scientific evaluation provides support for common descent, arguing against common descent is counter-productive in building a case for design because this will focus attention on aspects of biology where we think the evidence is consistent with evolutionary theory, and will distract attention from important questions — about irreducible complexity, rates of change,... — where evidence indicates that a theory of Total Macro-E may be incorrect.

back to Design and Creation in Section 7C

    Conflict Resolution in Science
    The recent history of science reveals an interesting example of alternative approaches.  In the early days of molecular biology, one question was the mechanism of oxidative phosphorylation in mitochondria.  This question was important, unanswered, and fascinating, and it stimulated a lively competition to find the answer, beginning in 1961.  In 1960 the widely accepted explanation assumed the existence of a chemical intermediate.  Even though an intermediate had never been found, its eventual discovery was confidently predicted, and this theory "was... considered an established fact of science. (Wallace, et al, 1986; p 140)"  But in 1961 Peter Mitchell proposed an alternative theory based on a principle of chemiosmosis.  Later, a third competitor, energy transduction, entered the battle, and for more than a decade these three theories — and their loyal defenders — were involved in heated controversy.
    This episode is a fascinating illustration of contrasting thought styles, with radically different approaches to solving the same problem.  Advocates of each theory built their own communities, each with its base of support from colleagues and institutions, and each with its own assumptions and preferences regarding theories, experimental techniques, and criteria for empirical and conceptual evaluation.  All aspects of science — including posing with its crucial question of which projects were most worthy of support — were hotly debated due to the conflicting perspectives and the corresponding differences in self-interest and in evaluations about the plausibility and utility of each theory.
    Eventually, chemiosmotic theory was declared the winner, displacing "an established fact of science," and in 1978 Mitchell was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

    A little earlier, a major "clash of paradigms" in the 1950s resulted in the emergence of plate tectonics — which had been the target of ridicule a few decades earlier, with its proponents being ostracized from the field of geology — as a surprise winner.
    The 1950s also witnessed a challenge to the dominance, in American psychology, of a behaviorist approach.  One reason for the previous dominance of behaviorism was its consistency with the philosophy and methodology of positivism, which asserted that scientific theories should be restricted to what can be observed, that science should not postulate the existence of unobservable entities, actions, or interactions.  The restrictions imposed by positivism are compatible with behaviorist psychology, which avoids the concept of "thinking" that cannot be directly observed.  But eventually, positivism and behaviorism were challenged, and although both have survived as minority viewpoints, they are not dominant.  Most modern scholars, in science and outside it, prefer a non-positivist philosophy (that allows unobservable entities in theories) and non-behaviorist psychology (that allows an examination of "ideas" that previously had been considered inappropriate for authentic science).
    Centuries earlier, in the field of astronomy, noncircular motion was considered inappropriate in 1600, but in 1700 it was acceptable.  What caused this change?  The theories of Kepler and Newton.  First, Kepler formulated a description of planetary motions with orbits that were elliptical, not circular.  Later, Newton provided a theoretical explanation for Kepler's elliptical orbits by showing how elliptical motion can be explained by combining his own theories of motion and gravitation.  For a wide range of reasons, scientists considered these theories — which postulated noncircular celestial motions — to be successful, both empirically and conceptually, so the previous prohibition of noncircular motions was abandoned.

    back to Should we ask the question?

    Techniques for Estimating Objectivity
    While discussing open science, I claim that some approaches to science lead to "decreased objectivity" while other approaches produce "increased objectivity."  But how can we define and measure objectivity?
    One method is based on the premise that objectivity is related to flexibility.  Based on this premise, in order to estimate objectivity we ask:  Has a scientist already decided, due to non-scientific criteria, that a particular theory must be correct, or (if this was indicated by the evidence) could the scientist be open-minded and decide to accept another theory?  { The following section, Flexibility and Objectivity, provides an illustration. }
    A second method is based on the premise that if a conclusion was based on pure scientific logic (by analyzing theory structures and using empirical "reality checks"), it would be objective.  One way to apply this method is outlined below:
    Just as Newton tried to imagine the characteristics of "motion without friction," we can try to imagine the characteristics of "science without cultural-personal influences."  By comparing this idealized science with actual science, we can estimate the influence exerted by various types of cultural factors, and how these affect the process and content of science, in the short-term and over longer periods of time. ...  But how does one try to imagine what science would be like, in a certain field, without the thought style that operates in this field? ...  One strategy for characterizing "the effects on theory evaluation" of a thought style is to imagine several models of science, each with a different thought style, and then compare the results of theory evaluations (made by scientists operating in the context of each model) with each other, and with the actual theory evaluation in the situation being analyzed.  {quoted from Tools for Analysis: Idealizations and Range Diagrams}

    back to What are the benefits?

  Flexibility and Objectivity
    The table below shows a range of people (in the purple column at the left), a range of conclusions (in a green row at the top), and a range of responses (in the white cells).  The five imaginary people have decided, based on theological criteria, that "design-directed action by God" certainly did occur (at one extreme), certainly didn't occur (at the other extreme), with three intermediate views.  Now imagine five different science scenarios in which an unbiased evaluation of the evidence indicates that the probability of design-directed action varies from "certainly did occur" to "certainly didn't occur."  The responses (to each scenario, by each person) vary from +++ (Wow, am I happy!) to — (This is worse than ants at a picnic!) and a dreadful dissonance that, if not resolved, could produce mental anguish due to a recognition of personal inconsistency.

action by God
SCIENTIFIC CONCLUSION about design-directed action

did occur

did occur
maybe not

didn't occur

didn't occur
A. certainly did occur
+ + +
ok?  -?
B. probably did occur
+ +
ok?  -?
C. maybe, maybe not
D. probably didn't occur
ok?  -?
+ +
E. certainly didn't occur
ok?  -?
+ + +

    According to a premise that "objectivity is related to flexibility," as described above, a person who doesn't care about the outcome (whose predisposition is an indifferent "maybe, maybe not") can be the most objective.  For this person, no matter what the evidence indicates, it will be personally acceptable, so there is much less motivation to evaluate the evidence in a non-objective way.
    By contrast, a person who is deeply committed to a "certainly did occur" view will be highly motivated, in order to maintain personal consistency, to interpret the evidence in any way that is necessary to make it seem (to self and others) that "certainly did occur" is the most rational conclusion.  Notice the steep gradient of emotions for the extreme views (A and E), compared with the plateau for the objective C.  The "probably" positions (B and D) do care about the scientific outcome, but they have some flexibility, analogous to a weather forecaster who predicts "80% chance of rain" and, when it doesn't rain, says "Well, that was the 20% that I predicted."  And if a person is not deeply committed to maintaining an extreme view, a flexible response might be: "Previously I thought design certainly didn't occur, but the evidence indicates otherwise, so I'll change my view."
    Of course, scientific objectivity isn't the only goal in life.  A person may think that benefits (scientific, intellectual, spiritual, social, political,...) will arise from avoiding the noncommittal "maybe, maybe not" indifference of C, and these benefits are more important than the loss of objectivity.  And if a non-scientific source of knowledge leads to a predisposition that is true (that matches reality), this can be a scientific benefit in guiding a scientist's experimenting, theorizing, and evaluating.

    The following sections (2A, 2F, 3, 5, 6C, 6E, and 2C) are from my Introductory Overview of Origins Questions:

    2A. Theistic Action 
    When we're developing our worldviews (our theories about reality), an interesting question is:
    If God exists, what does God do?

    According to the Bible, God designed and created the universe, continually sustains its ongoing operation, and can influence events in ways that appear natural (normal, consistent with the usual operation of nature) or miraculous (not according to our usual expectations).

    2F. My View (old-earth creation) 
    What is my view of origins?  I think that:
    the universe and earth are billions of years old,
    the first life was independently created, and
    biological development occurred by "normal-appearing natural process" (with genetic changes sometimes guided by God *) supplemented by occasional "miraculous-appearing theistic action" to modify some genetic material (by change, addition, or deletion) in an existing species.  /  * I define "natural" to mean "normal appearing," not "without God."
    claims for intelligent design (based on "signs of design" that we can observe) are more scientifically justifiable than claims for divine creation.  {Why?}

    Why are these my views?  It seems to me that:
    There is abundant scientific evidence for an old earth, and an old earth is theologically satisfactory;
    based on scientific evidence, a natural origin of life is extremely improbable, and
    natural process alone was not sufficient to produce the biological complexity we observe;
    compared with independent creations (of new species that would not necessarily have any relationships with existing species), genetic modifications (to create new species) are more scientifically plausible, and are more consistent with a Biblical history in which God usually works with currently available resources instead of "starting over from scratch."

    3. Was the universe intelligently designed? 
    Scientists are discovering that many properties of the universe are "just right" for a variety of life-permitting phenomena.  One explanation is that the universe was cleverly designed.  Other explanations are that "we're just lucky" or that if there were an immense number of universes, extremely improbable things (like properties that allow intelligent life) would occur in one of these universes.
    All of these theories seem impossible to test, due to an absence of data about what existed and what happened before the beginning of our universe.  But theistic beliefs and living by faith are compatible with an absence of scientific proof for the existence of God.  And when all things are considered, I think the most plausible theory is that "there was an extremely clever designer and awesomely powerful creator of the universe."
    Anthropic Principle & Fine Tuning: Multiverse and/or Intelligent Design?
    Can we prove the existence of God?  (Why isn't God more obvious?)

    back to Design by Natural Process or Naturalism is not Materialism

    5. Chemical Evolution 
    In an attempt to explain the origin of life, scientists propose a two-stage natural process:
    1) formation of organic molecules, which combine to make larger biomolecules;
    2) self-organization of these molecules into a living organism.

    What scientists are learning is that the complexity required for life (in terms of biomolecule formation and self-organization) is much greater than the complexity possible by natural process (beginning with lifeless matter).  This huge difference has motivated scientists to creatively construct new theories for reducing requirements and enhancing possibilities, but none of these ideas has progressed from speculation to plausibility.

    back to Can design be proved? an application

    6C: Shifts of Meaning 
    Often, support is illogically shifted from a strongly supported meaning of evolution (such as basic "old earth" progressions in the fossil record, or micro-E changes that occur in drug-resistant bacteria, peppered moths, and finch beaks) to a less strongly supported meaning (like Total Macro-E).
    Often, scientific evidence against young-earth creation is shifted onto old-earth creation;  and the important scientific differences between two old-earth theories (independent creation and genetic modification) are ignored.
    With an evolution-shift the implied support increases, with a creation-shift it decreases.  But in each case the shift (and associated implication) is not logically justified.

    This section builds on the foundation of 6A (The Many Meanings of Evolution) and 6B (The Many Meanings of Creation).  Principles for "avoiding illogical shifts" are carefully examined in The Process of Logically Evaluating Origins Theories.

    6E: Questions about Evolution 
    We should critically evaluate the plausibility of an extrapolation from micro-E through minor macro-E (such as a speciation, due to an evolution of reproductive barriers, between otherwise similar species) to Total Macro-E by asking "How many mutations and how much selection would be required, how long would this take, and how probable is it?"
    Another important question is whether systems that seem irreducibly complex (because all parts seem necessary for performing the system's function) could be produced in a step-by-step process of evolution, since there would be no function to "select for" until all of the parts are present.
    back to Similar Theories or Critical Thinking in Closed Science or Design and Descent

    Why isn't God more obvious?  (a part of Section 2C)
    A QUESTION:  Does God want us to be certain about His existence and activity?
Each person can use evidence (historical, personal, and scientific) to estimate the plausibility of various worldviews, but there is no logically rigorous proof for any worldview.
    CHOICE AND FAITH:  I think this state of uncertainty is intended by God, who seems to prefer a balance of evidence, with enough logical reasons to either believe or disbelieve, so a person's heart and will can make the decision.  We have freedom to choose what we really want, and an opportunity to develop the "living by faith" character that is highly valued by God, with a trust in God serving as the foundation for all thoughts and actions of daily living.
    For a deeper exploration of this question: Is there proof of God's existence and activity?

    back to Can we predict the designs of God?

    Seven Types of Design
    Section 7A describes four types of design, with design-directed action that converts a design-idea into reality.  The design-action can be detectable and during history (by an agent that is natural or supernatural, 2A or 2B), or undetectable and during history (1B), or at the beginning of history to actualize a design of nature (1A).  Section 7A assumes that the design-idea and design-action are by the same agent.  But there also might be agent-mixing "hybrids" in which a design-idea (by one agent) is actualized using design-action (by another agent).  As shown in the table below, for example,
    in 2A-then-1B, a design-idea by a natural agent (2A) is actualized with normal-appearing natural action that appears to be undirected yet is undetectably guided by a supernatural agent (1B).  According to traditional theology, this is one way for God to answer a prayer.
    in 2A-then-2B, a design-idea by a natural agent (2A) is actualized with miraculous-appearing directed action by a supernatural agent (2B).  This is another way for God to answer a prayer.
    in 2B-then-2A, a design-idea by a supernatural agent (2B) is actualized with normal-appearing directed natural action by a natural agent (2A).  This occurs when a human does the will of God, to help achieve a goal of God.

 by creature 
by God
1A — undirected
(not guided by God)
not possible
{ 2B-and-1A }
1B — undirected
(guided by God)
 (prayer answer) 
{ 2B-and-1B }
2A — design-directed
(by natural creature)

{ 2A-and-2A }

 (do will of God) 
2B or 2A'
(by creature or God)

(prayer answer)

(illusionist trick)

{ 2B-and-2B }

    In this section, each reference to "God" could be replaced by "supernatural agent", but I'm saying "God" to make things simple and definite, to make it easier for readers to understand the different types of design in terms of traditional Judeo-Christian theology.
    In traditional theology, many actions of God — those actions, such as 1A and 1B, that are not a direct response to prayer — are called providence.

    We can also define another type of design, 2A-and-2A', in which a design-idea by a natural agent (2A) is actualized with miraculous-appearing natural action by a natural agent (2A').  This occurs when an illusionist does something — such as pulling a rabbit out of a hat, making an elephant disappear, or temporarily sawing a person in half — that may appear to be miraculous, or at least very mysterious and astounding, by using natural skill (sleight of hand, misdirection,...) or technology (smoke and mirrors, special cabinets,...).  In this case, the design-action is directed natural process (2A), but to acknowledge the special characteristics of this natural process (it is miraculous-appearing, not normal-appearing) I'm calling it 2A' rather than 2A.  { It is "miraculous appearing" from the perspective of a person who is fooled by the illusion.  But an expert (such as a fellow illusionist) who is skilled at observing-and-evaluating this type of action will understand what is happening, and will correctly perceive the design-action as normal-appearing 2A-and-2A rather than miraculous-appearing 2A-and-2A'. }
    2A-and-2A' is the same as 2A-and-2A ontologically (based on what each actually is), but epistemologically (in how each is perceived and interpreted by a non-expert) they are different.  This is an interesting variation of the five logical possibilities because (even as a non-expert) you are usually confident that you are seeing 2A (natural design-action) even though it looks very unusual (toward the "miraculous" end of a continuum from normal-appearing to miraculous-appearing), and your belief about how it's done could be a current theory (you already have the "process of illusion" figured out), a future theory (you'll understand "how it was done" later when you observe-and-think more carefully, or have it explained to you), or no theory (you'll never understand it).  { But this situation differs, in important ways, from design-questions such as the origin of life. }
    In 2A-and-2A' perhaps the designer intentionally calls attention to the result of a design-action, with the goal of making it obvious so everyone will notice it and be amazed.  But in other situations the goal is to hide the design so it will appear to be non-design, so nobody will notice because the "directed natural process" appears to be "undirected natural process."  This occurs, for example, when a criminal tries to hide a crime and escape detection, or when artists want to make a "designed event" (such as a tidal wave in a movie) look like a natural event.  Although in principle we can distinguish between directed and nondirected, based on a logical evaluation of evidence, in practice this can be challenging, so a "false negative" (saying "it was non-design" when it actually was design) is possible, and so is a "false positive" (by incorrectly claiming "it was design").
    In 1B-design, with supernatural guidance of undirected natural process, why might God want to achieve a design-result in a way that doesn't look like design-action?  One possiblility — asking "Why isn't God more obvious?" — is described above.  And another page looks more closely at theistic action.

This website for Whole-Person Education has TWO KINDS OF LINKS:
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Here are other related pages:

Sections 7A-7G have been split up, condensed, and
supplemented in the new pages that are described
earlier in this page.

An Introductory Overview of Origins Questions
(short versions of sections 1-6 and 8, but not 7)

the original "long versions" of Sections 7A-7G

Pages by other authors who ask
"Can design theories be scientific and useful?"
are in the home-page for Origins Evidence.

And other pages by Craig Rusbult are in
Origins Questions for Science and Theology.


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