Paper for "Naturalism, Theism and the Scientific Enterprise" Conference - March 20-23, 1997. The University of Texas at Austin. Not for redistribution.
Portions of this paper were subsequently published
Portions of this paper were subsequently published as:
Pennock, Robert T. "The Prospects for a Theistic
Science" Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (Vol. 50,
No. 3, pp. 205 - 209, Sept. 1998)
Pennock, Robert T. "The Prospects for a Theistic Science" Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (Vol. 50, No. 3, pp. 205 - 209, Sept. 1998)
and also in:
and also in:
Pennock, Robert T. Tower of Babel: The Evidence
against the New Creationism. Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press, 1999.
Pennock, Robert T. Tower of Babel: The Evidence against the New Creationism. Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press, 1999.
Phillip Johnson argues that evolutionary theory rides on the metaphysical coat-tails of a scientific naturalism that denies by fiat any supernatural intervention, and that if it were not for this "dogmatic speculative philosophy" Creationism would be recognized as the better theory. He recommends that scientific naturalism be replaced by a theistic science that embraces the absolute truth of divine interventions in the world and incorporates supernatural explanations. In my published exchange with Johnson that appeared in Biology and Philosophy last year, I showed that in Evolution as Dogma (JED) and Darwin on Trial (JDT) Johnson failed to recognize that science is not based upon a dogmatic ontological or metaphysical naturalism, but rather makes use of naturalism only in a heuristic, methodological manner. I also argued that methodological naturalism itself is not assumed dogmatically but follows from reasonable evidential requirements in science, most importantly, that hypotheses be intersubjectively testable by reference to law-governed processes. (In his more recent Reason in the Balance (RIB) Johnson does at last recognize methodological naturalism in the book's appendix, but in the body of the text he continues to conflate it with substantive, metaphysical naturalism.) As do Creation Scientists, Johnson tries to set up a "dual model" argument so that his version of Creationism will win be default if evolution can be eliminated by negative argument, and in the article I showed why Johnson's revised version of this negative strategy fares no better than the original. In his reply Johnson ignored most of my criticisms and simply claimed that one could, like Isaac Newton, pursue a theistic science. Although Newton did bring in God to underpin his physics, a careful investigation of his actual practice shows that Newton usually followed and in some cases explicitly endorsed many of the methodological rules that naturalism recommends. Johnson and the new Creationists go much further than Newton in their recommendations for a theistic science that incorporates divine interventions and allows appeal to supernatural explanations. In this paper I examine the prospects for such a theistic science.
Of course a theistic science would not be confined to biology and we will have to see how it would apply generally, but given that Johnson begins with Creationism as the theistic alternative to Darwinian evolution it is to his definition of that view that we must first look to discover the essential features of this proposed new science. Unlike the majority of Creationists, Johnson is silent about the specific time and pace of Creation and advances only a generic definition of Creationism:
'Creationism' means belief in creation in a... general sense. Persons... are 'creationists' if they believe that a supernatural Creator not only initiated this process [of creation] but in some meaningful sense controls it in furtherance of a purpose. (JDT p. 4)
The key elements of this definition of Creationism--elements that Johnson often reiterates--involve a Creator who is supernatural, and who not only initiates but miraculously intervenes to control the process with some purpose in mind. In addition, the central conflict is whether science should continue to pursue naturalistic explanations or whether it should entertain supernatural "explanations." So, in the case at hand, we are interested in whether the standard naturalistic Darwinian explanations of the development of life forms must fall, as Johnson claims, to the "Creation hypothesis" so conceived. Finally, given that scientific naturalism is essentially a methodology that follows from an empiricist notion of nature of evidence, we will want to look carefully at what alternative notions of evidence a theistic science are supposed to offer.
Though Johnson regularly protests that the "priesthood" of scientists prevents Creationism from putting forward its positive evidence, in all his work one finds only two small hints of what new type of evidence the Creationists have to offer--revelation and the Design Argument. The first occurs only as a passing remark following an (inadvertently self-undermining) acknowledgment that empiricism is a "sound methodological premise." (JED p. 14) Johnson writes:
Science is committed by definition to... find[ing] truth by observation, experiment, and calculation rather than by studying sacred books or achieving mystical states of mind. It may well be, however, that there are certain questions... that cannot be answered by the methods available to our science. These may include not only broad philosophical issues such as whether the universe has a purpose, but also questions we have become accustomed to think of as empirical, such as how life first began or how complex biological systems were put together. (JED p. 14)
The sly implication here is that the "sacred books" and "mystical states of mind" may indeed be appropriate ways to answer empirical as well as ultimate teleological questions. So are such forms of revelation to be a legitimate form of evidence in the new theistic science? Is this Johnson's new source of positive evidence for Creationism? I asked Johnson just this question following one of his public lectures and he replied that he was not defending this position. However, neither did he deny that such appeal to scriptural authority or mystical experience would count as positive empirical evidence. As at other critical junctures, Johnson pleads the Fifth and refuses to tell us his positive view. Johnson is in a tough position here. As I noted in my earlier article, he cannot reject these revelatory methods without alienating his constituency, for the Biblical account, perhaps supplemented by religious experiences, is the prime motivation for Christian Creationists. On the other hand, he cannot endorse the "evidential method" of supernatural revelation without abdicating his claim of expertise as a lawyer, for an attorney would be laughed out of court who argued that one could help establish an empirical fact (say, that the defendant set off the explosion) by reference to the authority of revealed psychic or spiritual testimony. I would argue that Johnson's assumptions about the truth of divine interventions require him to accept revelation in his "theistic science" and that this by itself is reason to reject the project as unscientific. Here, however, I will just again ask Johnson to come clean on whether he endorses revelation in his science. For the balance of the paper I will take him at his word that he is not defending that view and will assume that we may reject this sort of "evidence." This leaves us with the Design Argument as the only other new option on the table, so it is to the possibility of a theistic science of this form that I now turn.
Could science investigate God and the Creation hypothesis in the same manner that it investigates the natural world and the human intelligent creators that populate it? Could we have a "theistic science" as Johnson suggests that admits the possibility of supernatural interventions? There is a story about a conversation between a theist and an atheist that is relevant here. The theist tries to engage the atheist in a discussion about religion but the latter resists, saying there would be no point since she did not believe in God and so they would have no common ground. The theist says not to be so hasty: "First tell me what you mean by "God" because it might be that I don't believe in that God either." The point for us is that most of the time the concept of God gets used in the Creationist debate without definition, with most everyone tacitly assuming that we all have in mind the same idea. It always comes as a shock to someone who has been taught by Creationists to believe that Christianity is incompatible with evolution and that it is not only false but of the devil, to learn that most Christians see no conflict between evolution and their faith, and that the Catholic church and many Protestant denominations have made explicit policy statements to that effect. What conception of God must Creationists have to think that God and evolution are incompatible and that a theistic creation science is possible and necessary?
Historically Creationists who have promoted some sort of "Creation Science" have taken their conception of God from a literal reading of the Bible, even though they have often profoundly disagreed among themselves about what that meant. Following Johnson's lead in regularly pleading the Fifth, however, the new Creationists are trying to keep their theological beliefs and disagreements hidden under a bushel; in a strategy conference held last year at Biola College they agreed to promote their causes under the generic banner of "Mere Creation." Some Intelligent Design Theorists now claim that they are indifferent to whether the designer is the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God (in whichever of multiple interpretations) or that of any other religious tradition. I believe this is easily shown to be disingenuous, but if we take the Mere Creation view at face value it means that the notion of the Creator is radically ambiguous and thus extremely difficult to assess. Scientific theories are supposed to be precise so as to constrain possible outcomes, but it is going to be next to impossible to say what follows from the Creation Hypothesis if we don't know whether we are talking about Yahweh or Elohim or Kali or Pele. Though this is yet another reason to think that Creationism is not scientific, let us proceed as best we can in these obscure circumstances to assess the prospects for a theistic science. As a simplification I'll consider just two sorts of concept of the Creator that are most relevant--a supernatural notion and a naturalized notion. My argument is that in the first case "theistic science" is not science, and that in the second case it is not theistic in the Creationists' own sense of the term. I begin with the first possibility, that divine intervention is meant to count as a supernatural explanation.
Perhaps it is a Neitzschian will to power that underlies our paradoxical desires both for understanding and for the mysterious, and that leads us to belief in the possibility of supernatural explanations. We desire understanding in part because of the control that it may give us. Knowledge is power, as Bacon said, and with it we feel more in charge of our own fates and sometimes the fates of others as well. But what of the mysterious, that by nature seems to be the antithesis of power? In fact, the mysterious always bears the promise of special, hidden powers. In part this comes from an idea that mysterious powers are greater than ordinary ones. Perhaps more important is the seductive notion that if we were but to uncover its source we would thereby possess a unique control that others lacked. Uncork the genie's bottle or capture the leprechaun and one's wishes are for the asking. Read the stars and foresee the future. Contact the spirit world and be guided to a higher wisdom. Pray with piety and fervor and God will grant eternal life after death and perhaps special favors before death as well. Even demonic forces, the dark side of the mysterious, may be harnessed to one's special benefit, some believe, by the casting of spells or an unholy pact with the devil. We find this seductive hope for special, mysterious power exhibited in a variety of ways whenever there are appeals to the supernatural for explanation.
One of the earliest forms of supernatural explanation was animistic religion, which populates the world with gods. According to Japanese Shinto the kami reside in each tree, spring and mountain, so to ensure a good fish catch a village holds a festival in honor of the kami of the fishing grounds. On the island of Hawaii, Pele is the goddess of the volcanoes; bits of Pahoihoi lava that are ejected from a volcano may sometimes form delicate fibers or tiny smooth droplets and the native Hawaiians said these were Pele's hair and tears. When Kiluea erupted the explanation was that Pele was angry, and must be appeased with sacrifices before she would make the lava stop its destructive flow. In later religious forms the gods have a more independent existence and may have more fully developed personalities. The Homeric epics reveal that for the ancient Greeks the world was populated by a panoply of competing gods and goddesses who regularly, sometimes kindly and sometimes cruelly, would intervene in the world and in human affairs. Homer explains how the fates of battling armies on the ground were often decided by the favors or jealousies of the Olympian gods watching and exercising control from above for their own purposes.
The switch to monotheism saw no change in this sort of use of supernatural explanation. Yahweh was regularly moved to anger, even towards his chosen people, and in His wrath would bring forth destruction and pestilence. In the mid-14th century, Christians in much of Europe tried to make wholesale atonement for their sins, that they though must have led Yahweh to set upon them the Plague of Black Death. A similar explanation was offered for the more recent plague in the 1980's by some prominent Evangelicals when it appeared that the A.I.D.S. epidemic was primarily attacking gay men: homosexuals were "reaping the whirlwind" of God's anger for disobeying His supposed commands against homosexual behavior.1 God's displeasure with gays was the supposed explanation for the occurrence of this baffling new disease and the horrible death it caused, and the implicit message was that good Christians would be able to avoid that fate.
Of course it is not only to deities that people have appealed to try to make the baffling phenomena of the world comprehensible, and to possibly bring it under their control. There is a wondrous company of preternatural beings that have figured in supernatural explanations--ghosts and poltergeists, angels and demons, spirit guides and familiars are just some of the more common in the Western tradition. One also finds a similar array of associated occult powers that supposedly may be tapped using prayers and spells, blessings and curses, talismans and potions.
Also, though religions have probably included supernatural explanation most systematically, they are not alone in this predilection. Until just the 19th century even the natural philosophers and scientists who studied the world would often include supernatural elements in their theories.
Sir Isaac Newton, for instance, spent as much of his energies delving into alchemy and studying ancient wisdoms as he did on the mathematical and physical investigations for which he is now famous. He worked to show, contrary to the view of the Cambridge Platonists, that atomism was not atheistic, arguing that the atomistic doctrine could be traced back to Mochas, who was identified with Moses, and thus was a Christian view. He held that atoms and the laws they obeyed were fixed at Creation by God. "All these things being consider'd, it seems probable to me, that God in the Beginning form'd Matter in solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, moveable Particles, of such sizes and Figures, and with such other Properties, and in such Proportion to Space, as most conduced to the End for which he form'd them..." (Quoted in Toulmin and Goodfield 1962, p. 192) Newton also included forces in his ontology, holding that they too were created by God and superimposed upon matter to serve as causes. (As I pointed out in my reply to Johnson, however, in his rules of reasoning Newton endorses some of the standard elements of methodological naturalism--not to admit unnecessary causes when explaining phenomena, and to regard the conclusions of inductive methods as "accurately or very nearly true" (Newton 1962, p. 399) and to eschew contrary hypotheses until new evidence requires them.)
Among 19th century British geologists, many of whom were also clergymen, it was mostly taken for granted that the Genesis account of the Noachian Deluge was true. Members of the Geological Society spent much of their time searching for evidence of the global flood and using the deluge hypothesis to try to explain diluvial gravel deposits, river valleys and other large-scale geological features. It was only in mid-century that, following a protracted debate between the "gradualist" Charles Lyell and the "catastrophist" Rev. Adam Sedgwick that the latter finally admitted that the evidence did not support and indeed went against the biblical supernatural account. In his final address as President of the Geological Society Sedgwick publicly renounced the supernatural view:
Having been myself a believer, and, to the best of my power, a propagator of what I now regard as a philosophic heresy, and having more than once been quoted for opinions I do not now maintain, I think it right, as one of my last acts before I quit this Chair, thus publicly to read my recantation. (SAP313)
This debate helped spell the end of appeals to supernatural agents in scientific theorizing and paved the way for quick acceptance of Darwin and Wallace's natural theory of the origin of species.
Before Darwin's proposal of a clear mechanism for biological evolution, British naturalists were almost exclusively Creationists. They had profound disagreements among themselves about, for example, whether God's organic plan was based upon perfect adaptation of every organism to its environment or upon creating organisms according to ideal archetypes that in many cases were not properly adapted, but they agreed that the biological world was specially created through God's supernatural agency. Nevertheless, Darwin's natural theory was quickly accepted for the origin of most animal species, except for homo sapiens. Even Wallace had difficulty accepting a natural theory of the origin of human beings and he fell back on a supernatural account. He allowed that human beings had evolved, but under the direction of spirit beings, and he spent considerable effort investigating mediums and other spiritualists who claimed to have access to beings in the supernatural realm. (Kottler 1974)
Since then science has completely abandoned appeal to the supernatural. In large part this is simply the result of the consistent failure of a wide array of specific "supernatural theories" in competition with specific natural alternatives. But there is also a deeper and more generally compelling reason for the abandonment of supernaturalism by science. Though in his early work Johnson failed to distinguish methodological from ontological naturalism, in his more recent pronouncements he argues that naturalism is dogmatic even as a method and, unfairly, speaks of it as "methodological atheism." However, Science adopts naturalism as a principle of inquiry not because of any hidden atheistic agenda or even any special antagonism to theism. Rather, science eschews theistic explanations for the same reasons that it eschews other supernatural explanations, and it is to a discussion of these that that we now turn.
It is misleading for Creationists to characterize science in general and to define evolution in particular and as being "godless." Science is godless in the same way that plumbing is godless. Evolutionary biology is no more or less based on a "dogmatic philosophy" of naturalism than are medical science and farming. Why should Johnson find methodological naturalism so pernicious and threatening in the one context and not the others? Must we really be seriously "open-minded" about supernatural explanations generally? As Bertrand Russell said, it is good to keep an open mind, but not so open that our minds fall out! Surely it is unreasonable to complain of a "priesthood" of plumbers because they only consider naturalistic explanations of stopped drains and do not consider the "alternative hypothesis" that the origin of the backed-up toilet was the design of an intervening malicious spirit. Would it not be bizarre to reintroduce theistic explanations in the agricultural sciences and have agronomists tell farmers that their crop failure is simply part of God's curse upon the land because of Adam's disobedience, or sugget that they consider the possibility that the Lord is punishing them for some moral offense and that it may not be fertilizer they need but contrition and repentance?
Johnson tells us that it is possible that such interventions are indeed true. Even though he may be right, we should acknowledge that such spiritual possibilities fall under the purview of the priest and not the scientist. Given the nature and limitations of scientific modes of investigation, the proper role of the scientist is to search for natural causes of such occurrences and not to beg off the investigation by attributing them to supernatural interventions, divine or otherwise. Clearly scientists are not being dogmatic or atheistic in proceeding under the methodological heuristic that such events have natural explanations.
To take one important case, think of how these considerations apply to the medical sciences. It was once commonplace to attribute the origin of certain illnesses to curses or demonic possession. Indeed, Jesus is said to have performed some miraculous cures by expelling devils from the body of the diseased. If we accept Johnson's diagnosis, medical schools and research physicians are doing a terrible disservice by not teaching students how to perform exorcisms and by not investigating the possible supernatural origins of diseases.
Some of the more sophisticated new creationists recognize that evolutionary theory is not "Godless" in any dogmatic, ontological sense, but they remain critical of science's naturalistic methodological stance and try to portray the methodology as being essentially equivalent to atheism. For example, they disparagingly characterize science's naturalistic methodology as "methodological atheism." This sort of rhetoric has the effect of making it seem that science has a particular antipathy to theism. Of course it is true that methodological naturalism does reject appeals to theistic interventions, but not because of some special distaste for God. The creationist's rhetoric is misleading in the same way that the following case would be. Suppose someone criticizes a lawyer, saying that she refuses to represent any Jewish person in civil rights cases. This makes the lawyer sound like a bigot. In fact, it turns out that the lawyer specializes in corporate tax law. So, although it is true that she refuses to defend the civil rights of Jewish individuals, that is just because she does not represent any individuals in any civil rights cases. It is simply not the sort of law that she handles, so it is unfair to make her appear a bigot by narrowly characterizing her rule of practice. Similarly, science does not have a special rule just to keep out divine interventions, but rather a general rule that it does not handle any supernatural agents or powers. That is what it means to hold methodological naturalism, so it is quite unfair to equate this with methodological atheism.
Creationists want science to reintroduce divine entities and powers into its theories and theorizing. The Creationist's supernatural "alternative explanation" should be given equal time to the natural theory of evolution. Literalist Creationists hold that Biblical revelation should be admitted to explain and justify the supernatural origin of the world, of animal species, of human beings and more. Johnson and ID Creationists want science to incorporate the reality of God and to cite His preternatural divine intelligence as the best explanation of biological complexity. But are these sorts of appeals to supernatural explanation reasonable? In particular, are they reasonable in science?
Many scientists would immediately answer in the negative on the grounds that explanation, supernatural or otherwise, should play no role at all in science. Science, they would claim, does not explain the world, but merely describes it and leaves the explanations to philosophers and theologians. Indeed, Arno Penzius made just such a statement in an interview with Creationist Fred Heeren about his work with Robert Wilson that led to the observation of cosmic background radiation and evidence for the Big Bang. Asked why Wilson had been disposed to accept the steady state theory before those 1965 observations, Penzius offered: "[Wilson], like most physicists, would rather attempt to describe the universe in ways which require no explanation; there's the economy of physics. And since science can't explain anything--it can only describe things--that's perfectly sensible."
Although this is a rather common view among contemporary scientists, it is quite mistaken, and it is important that we see why it is mistaken. First, however, we should note that as a response to the Creationist this would be a weak argument. It provides no good reason to rule out supernaturalism. The supernaturalist could easily agree not to call Creationism an "explanation," but just a straight-forward hypothesis about the world, what things exist in it and what relations hold among them. They are simply offering an alternative description of the world. This gives us a clue about the nature of the scientist's mistake.
The mistake arises in part from ambiguity in the notion of explanation. To see this let us take a moment to examine the concept. At the generic level an explanation of X is something that "makes X plain." That is, explanation brings understanding where before there was confusion or obscurity. But there are many species of explanations that may be distinguished by the nature of the phenomenon to be explained as well as the question that is being asked about it. For example, one may ask someone to explain what is the temperature and light output of the sun. Here we see without difficulty that the explanation one would offer would be just a description--the surface temperature of the sun averages X degrees centigrade and its light output is such and such. The scientist would probably quickly accept this sort of case and then claim that the problematic case is when we ask the person to explain why the sun so shines. But here is the source of the ambiguity that leads to the mistake. There are two different questions that we might have in mind when we ask "why X?"
The first is a question that inquires after the intended purpose, or the ultimate end, of sunshine. We sometimes express this more explicitly asking it in the form of an explain what for question. That is, when we ask "Why does the sun so shine?" we might mean "What is sunshine for?" This is the teleological sense of why-explanation. The term "teleology" comes from the Greek term telos, which means "goal" or "end." In his classification of explanatory types, Aristotle called these "final" explanations. If one considers how to explain, for instance, a sculpture in this sense it would not be appropriate to simply start listing the sculpture's many physical effects (it tips the scales at 2000 kg., it casts an irregular shadow, it makes many observers shrug and say that their 6 year old child could have done better, and so on). Rather the relevant teleological explanation is, say, that the sculpture is meant to express the artist's alienation from contemporary material culture and feelings of irony in having accepted the commission for the sculpture from a major Wall Street trading firm. Teleological explanations are "final" because they refer to ultimate intended goals. It is to this notion of explanation that the positivistic scientist is probably objecting. When science investigates the sun it can tell you that sunshine warms the earth and helps make plants grow, but it cannot say that doing these things is what sunshine is for. If that is what you mean by asking for an explanation of sunshine then let the romantic nature poet give that sort of answer. Science could also discover that sunshine can burn one's retina or cause skin cancer, but it could never discover and offer the explanation that one or another of these effects was sunshine's ultimate purpose.
However, there is a second notion that someone may have in mind in asking why the sun shines in the manner it does--the interrogator may be inquiring about the physical processes that produce the observed light and temperature. This is the genetic sense of why-explanation, and there is no good reason for the scientist to object to this sort of explanation. Indeed, giving accounts of processes that give rise to phenomena is the main thing that scientists do. Furthermore, an explanatory account of this sort is just a special sort of description, so we see again that the distinction between explanation and description that the Positivistic scientist appealed to was mistaken.
There is a simple reason that many contemporary scientists make this mistake; probably without realizing it they are following a philosophical position that was the received view during the first half of the 20th century. The position was advocated under a variety of different names and its specific tenets evolved over time, but we may speak of it under the general name of "Positivism." Positivism's influence continues to be felt in science even though philosophers of science themselves have long since abandoned many of its tenets after continued argument and analysis revealed their conceptual flaws. Positivists held that science should not go beyond what is physically observable, and they explicitly rejected explanation in science because they thought that it was necessarily metaphysical. Their maxim, heard echoed above, was that science describes but does not explain. But Positivists readmitted explanation into science after Carl Hempel, in a series of important articles beginning in 1948, showed how it could be explicated in a way that was not dangerously metaphysical. The contemporary "positivistic" scientist probably absorbed the anti-explanatory view that dominated until the time of Hempel's work and is simply not aware of the more recent developments in philosophy of science.
Hempel developed several explanatory forms to deal with different sorts of scientific cases, but all fall under what was called the "Covering Law Conception" of scientific explanation. The idea is that we may explain X--the explanandum--by showing that it follows from the empirical law (or laws) governing that sort of phenomena together with background information such as the initial conditions of the variables in the law. Let us take his central Deductive-Nomological (D-N) Model to give an example. Suppose one were to ask for an explanation of why a cannonball takes a given number of seconds (say six and a half) to hit the ground after being dropped from a tower? Here the explanandum, E, is the specific duration of the cannonball's to fall. This is explained by giving a logical deduction from the gravitation law (nomological has the Greek stem nomos, which means "law") and the values of its variables for the case at hand. That is, one may derive E from Galileo's gravitation law that governs bodies falling near the earth (or some more general gravitational law) and plug into its equation the figure for the height of the tower from which the cannonball was dropped (the initial condition). We explain the duration of the fall by showing that it follows in this way from the law of gravity. The abstract form of the D-N model looks like this, where the line indicates that what is below is a logical derivation from the premises above.
L1, L2...Lk Laws
C1, C2 ...Ck Initial conditions
E Explanandum (Fact, or feature of an event)
Thus, on Hempel's conception a scientific explanation is a special sort of deductively valid argument, namely one that contains at least one general law in the premises from which one derives the explanandum. Furthermore, Hempel specified that the laws must have empirical content, by which he meant that they had to be testable by observational data. This condition prevented explanation from falling back into metaphysics. Science could indeed explain empirical phenomena by reference to covering laws so long as it was careful to stay within the bounds of empirical testability. Explanation was now acceptable to the Positivists and the anti-explanation tenet was dropped. Actually, Positivism was itself abandoned as a unified philosophical view shortly thereafter when sufficiently many of its other central tenets were also rejected for other reasons. Today almost no philosophers of science still consider themselves Positivists, though there are still scientists who are vaguely "positivistic" in the old, outmoded sense without realizing it.
So, science may indeed offer explanations. However, it is unfortunate that we cannot rest with Hempel's precise D-N model of explanation and proceed immediately with our assessment of supernatural explanation by comparing it to the detailed logical structure of his model. Hempel's work was successful in reintroducing explanation to science, and many of his broad conclusions remain in force, but extensive discussion of the technical details of his particular logical models revealed weaknesses that he was unable to overcome. Other philosophers of science took up the task and have made significant conceptual progress since then.
It turns out that in some ways Hempel's conditions were too weak and in other ways they were too strong. For example, the specific logical form of the D-N model was too lenient and thereby allowed in cases where were not truly explanatory. A variety of proposals have been offered for how to strengthen the requirements. One important version, developed by Philip Kitcher, emphasizes the idea that explanatory understanding may be achieved by unifying our knowledge and thereby reducing the number of "brute facts" we must accept. On this view for a derivation to count as an explanation it must belong to a restricted set of derivations that optimizes unification by minimizing the number of explanatory patterns needed while maximizing the number of conclusions that may be generated. (KEUC431) On the other hand, Hempel's requirement that an explanation be an argument that cites a law may be too strict. Many philosophers now argue that an explanation need not take the form of an argument at all, and that a description may be sufficient. It also may not be necessary that the description include a statement of a law. On the influential account developed by Wesley Salmon, to explain X it may be sufficient to describe the causal process that produced X. Salmon has a detailed theory of causal processes and their interactions that forms the framework for this sort of explanation, but we need not get into its details here. Salmon's main point is that at the most basic level the explanation of something in the world involves something else in the world--the causal processes that led to it. An explanatory account need not include an explicit statement of the causal law, though of course it is understood that the cited causal processes are lawful. Finally, philosophers now agree that Hempel's hope for a theory of explanation that made use of only syntactic and semantic constraints was not possible, and that pragmatic considerations must also enter the picture. Bas van Fraassen has developed this point, showing how explanations of X are fixed in relation to a contrast class--some alternative Y that depends upon the question in which we are interested. Thus, explanation-seeking why-questions are too vague if that take the form of "Why X?" and need to be further specified by contrast, such as by asking "Why X, rather than Y?" Philosophers of science have developed other elements of Hempel's view as well but the three we have mentioned give us enough to proceed with our discussion of supernatural explanations.
Given the above brief history, let me now sketch a simple theory of genetic explanations that we may use that combines the elements we have discussed.
(I) X is explained by what makes it so (in situ).
(II) A person explains X by showing what might make it so (in situ).
The idea of what makes X so is the core of our concept of explaining why X. (Pennock 1995, p. 42) I will call this a "Constructive" theory of explanation, since it holds that why-explanations necessarily involve the processes that make or structure that which is to be explained. Though the locution is not always felicitous, we may say that one explains something by showing what "constructs" it, and sometimes how these processes construct it. I also choose this term as a friendly gesture towards Constructionists, especially moderate ones like the later Latour, but to still maintain a constructive distinction with those forms that endorse extreme social relativism.2 It is an ontological realist view of explanation that recognizes that explanatory accounts have important pragmatic features.
The Constructive theory of explanation is a generic analysis that aims to capture the ways explanations may legitimately vary depending upon the type of explanatory relata--what it means to "make X so" depends upon the type of thing to be explained--and upon the specifics of the why-question we are asking. Given that scientific explanation is a special case of why-explanations, we should expect that its analysis will fall under a generic conception. Scientific explanations are more precise than everyday ones, but they are not radically different in kind, so it will thus be useful to review several mundane examples to illustrate the generic pattern and then see how it applies to the scientific case. Some of the examples that follow could be developed into scientific explanations, but here we just note them as ordinary explanations.
- Why is so-and-so President of the U.S.? Because he was made so by election. (Political practice)
- Why is Johnny angry? Because Billy made him so by calling him a dork. (Psychological explanation)
- Why is the U.S.S. Enterprise sailing into the neutral zone? Because Captain Picard gave the order, and he has the power of command to make it so. (Authoritarian explanations)
- Why are all bachelors unmarried adult males? Because we make this true by the way we use our language. (Linguistic convention)
- Why are triangles three-sided? Because they are made so by the definition of triangle and by the rules of Euclidean geometry. (Formal definitions and relations)
Again we see that although these are all why-explanations, only some of them make even an indirect reference to unification. What is common to them all is that the explanatory accounts cite something that makes, or purportedly makes, the explanandum so.
In science there are several varieties of explanation, and all fit this pattern, and in specific domains the somewhat vague notion of "making it so" may be spelled out in a much more precise manner. The most common variety of Constructive explanation in science is that in which one explains by citing the causal processes that produced the fact. The causal view has its roots in Aristotle's theory of explanation in terms of the "four causes" and has since been endorsed in various forms. Important recent advocates include Michael Scriven (1958) and others, but the view has been developed most thoroughly by Wesley Salmon (1984; 1994). According to his Causal-Mechanical (C-M) model: "To provide an explanation of a particular event is to identify the cause and, in many cases at least, to exhibit the causal relation between this cause and the event-to-be-explained." (Salmon 1984) We need not endorse the full details of these views to recognize the importance of causal explanations in science and the straight-forward sense in which the cause of X is something that constructs or makes X so. (I will take causal explanations as my main example to show how the Constructive account becomes more precise in specific contexts.)
A second sort of scientific explanation is that in which one may explain a fact by reference to its classification, say, explaining a given property of a species by reference to its genus (or other higher order taxon). This fits the Constructive pattern in that we explain why a thing has the characteristics it has by virtue of the kind of thing that it is. For instance, one might explain why whales are viviparous by noting the fact that they are mammals. I know of no detailed treatment of this sort of case that is as well-developed as theories of causal explanation, but aspects of it have been discussed under various other headings. Dray presented the idea of "explanation-by-concept" in historical contexts (Dray 1959, p. 403), and his notion was discussed by Hempel (1965, p. 453-57), who tried to reduce it to his nomic view. More recently Ruben (1990, p. 218-22) endorsed the possibility of "identity explanations" whereby one may explain a fact by citing "another" fact that is identical to the first, but at a different level of description, such as explaining a change in the temperature of a gas in terms of a change of its mean kinetic energy.
A third sort of explanation involves mathematical relations. Being able to account for mathematical explanations had been one of the notable advantages of the Unification over the Causal theory of explanation. These fit naturally within the Constructive notion of making something so by virtue of formal relations. We find this idea entering at the most basic level of mathematical understanding as when we are taught mathematics by first learning that one and one "makes" two. In science we find mathematical explanations appearing in both theoretical and applied contexts. Here I mention a single example. In genetics one explains a one-to-one ratio of males to females in a population in terms of Fisher's sex ratio argument that shows it arises as a mathematical consequence under assumptions of random mating, differential ratios of sons and daughters produced by different parents, and heritability of these offspring production ratios. (Sober 1993, p. 15-7)
I would argue that other forms of why-explanation in science may be couched in one or another of these or in one of the other varieties previously mentioned.
Returning now to the generic Constructive notion, the qualification that an explanation be "in situ" limits the requirements for an explanation. To explain a given item one need not show what would make it so in all situations, but just what made it so in the situation(s) under consideration. This is a pragmatic constraint. An ideal complete explanation of X would include everything that made X so, but this is seldom, if ever, required. We typically take certain background facts for granted in a given context, and need only cite what made the difference, say, in getting X rather than Z, in that situation. To make this point clearer, let me how to think of causal explanation from a Constructive point of view.
As we noted, according to Salmon's C-M model one explains an effect by identifying "the cause." However, the world is a complex causal network and for any given effect there are multiple causal factors that were involved in its production. The Constructive view agrees that causes count as explanations because they "make things so," but does not hold that the ontic relations alone fix "the cause" unless by that we mean the ideal complete explanation, an account of which would include all the factors, such as might be written out in an Ideal Explanatory Text (Railton 1981). Instead, it holds that explanations may be and for the most part are relativized to a situational context and suggests that this is picked out on a pragmatic basis. To be precise about the elements in the basic sort of case I propose that we not think of the causal relation in the standard two-place (C causes E) fashion but rather as a four-place relation that I call the "CaSE" model. This is simply a more fine-grained way of parsing causal relations in a way that recognizes both the ontic elements and the pragmatic ones and thereby licenses certain inferences. I cannot here defend the details of the model or its logic, but the idea is that one factor C in the network is separated out from the others, in the situation ('S'), for pragmatic reasons. Typically this is done by means of contrasting alternatives ('a'), such as noting by the emphasis in the question that one is interested in one aspect of the event rather than some contrasting other (which may be its negation or some specified alternative), or that one is interested in C rather than some possible C' that did not occur (again, its negation or specified alternative), but may be done in other ways.3
So, in a causal explanation of some effect E, we cite its cause C, relative to a "background" situation S, which is fixed (explicitly or tacitly) by our interests. In a loose way we may often think of S as referring to assumed "standard conditions" or perhaps to some discipline-determined background domain. In the most precise manner we may think of it as a ceteris paribus clause. The CaSE model is best exemplified in practice by controlled experimental testing, which I take to be the gold standard of good scientific method; the parameters (S) are fixed in both the experimental and control groups and only the independent variable is allowed to change (C relative to some interesting alternative, a, which is either not-C or some set base line), and the effect upon the dependent variable (E) is observed.4 Because on the Constructive view there is no single ontically privileged way to make the separation, the "same thing" may have different explanations depending upon the way a question is posed, allowing for legitimate explanatory pluralism without falling into unconstrained relativism.5 The story would have to be told differently for non-causal explanations, but similar considerations are involved.
Continuing now to spell out the Constructive view, its notion of being "made so" may involve but does not require necessity. We see this most clearly in explanations of human behavior. Although Johnny was angered by Billy's remark, we don't think that his response had to have been necessitated by the events to be explained by them. Perhaps in an ideal psychological theory scientists would get necessary mental connections, but we may still have good explanations without them. We also see this in statistical explanations. (Salmon takes it as a strength of his view that it can incorporate statistical explanation, recognizing indeterministic causal processes as possible explanations. Ruben appears to want to stick with necessary--"determinative"--relations, but in the end he opens the door a crack to allow the possibility of stochastic explanations, not for a positive reason, but so as not to beg the question of indeterministic causation.) Of course, we sometimes do desire more of an explanation, especially in science. If so, then we may explicitly indicate the higher standard by asking not why X was (or is) so, but why X had to be (or must be) so. In such cases we would expect an adequate explanation to involve necessity, by indicating processes that necessarily made X so.
Given the Constructivist analysis of explanation, we may now turn to an exploration of some of the explanatory virtues. According to the Inference to the Best Explanation (IBE) confirmation theorist, we appeal to explanatory virtues to sort out the better or best of competing potential explanations. Here I will discuss just three explanatory virtues and show how Creationism fails in comparison to evolutionary theory for each of them.
(a) Explanatory scope
We begin with one of the most commonly cited explanatory virtue, that related to the scope of the explanation. By this is meant the variety of phenomena explained by the explanatory hypothesis. Whewell discussed this virtue in terms of conscilience--if two or more different sorts of evidence point in the same direction this is a sign that our investigation is on the right track and that we have a good hypothesized explanation. Typically we emphasize the importance of greater variety and express notion this by saying that a given explanation has breadth or wide applicability. For example, the Darwinian evolutionary mechanism has broad scope in that it can explain adaptation of organisms to their environment, the origin of species and features of their bio-geographical distribution, and the tree-structure of biological taxonomy, among other general phenomena. That is, these various patterns of facts are made so by the causal processes of variation, inheritance and natural selection. This is strong evidential support for evolutionary theory; no alternative can account for as wide a variety of phenomena. Other things being equal, we tend to hold that explanations with broad scope are better than those with narrow scope, though there are caveats to this generalization.
Some methodologists use the term "explanatory power" as a synonym for explanatory scope--when they say that something is a powerful explanation they mean that it has broad scope, or broader scope than some alternative, weaker explanation--but others use the term in a more general sense to mean that a given explanation has broad scope and other virtues as well, such as being especially precise, or deep, or simple. This terminological ambiguity may be part of the reason that unification has been confused with other explanatory virtues. I'll use "explanatory power" in the more inclusive sense and will try to sort out unification from scope and other specific virtues.
Explanatory scope is sometimes identified with unification, but these are not the same. Even if we thought that unification is the correct analysis of what it means to be an explanation, a given explanatory hypothesis could explain more or fewer phenomena than some other hypothesis. So, explanatory scope would be a measure of a certain degree of unification. Scope refers to how much gets explained, however the notion of explanation is explicated and it is useful to keep this as a separate virtue even when we reject unification as the correct explication of explanation.
Often we assume that the greater the scope the better the explanation, but it is important to recognize that a particular explanation may have a narrow scope and still be good. For instance, a three hour timer delay for my dishwasher set at noon explains why the machine activates at three o'clock. In general that setting of the timer mechanism explains no (or relatively few) other sorts of events, but in the context it is a perfectly good explanation of the event. Explanations will have broader or narrower scope depending upon the sort of phenomena being considered, so an absolute measure of scope is not by itself an indication of a good explanation. Rather I suggest that scope comes into play for IBE confirmation when we are comparing alternative hypothesized explanations of the same data set; other things being equal we should prefer H1 over H2 if H1 explains more of the data set than H2 does. For example, a chemist may get a series of measurements from a laser absorption analysis of an unknown compound. The hypothesis that it has structure H2 may account for just certain features of the curve, but this should be rejected in favor of structure H1 if the latter accounts for more of the data curve. Creationists claim that their hypothesis of a benevolent deity who specially designed and created organisms explains the organisms' adaptations to their environments, but this hypothesis cannot explain the concurrent existence of maladaptations. It is thus not as good an explanation as Darwin's evolutionary hypothesis which has the resources to explain both.
Finally, we should note that even if H1 has broader scope than H2, the latter may be better supported if their other explanatory virtues are not equal. A possible explanation of the same data set may still be rejected in favor of another with narrower scope if, for example, the way the mechanisms of the latter produce the observed phenomenon can be shown in greater detail.
(b) Explanatory resolution
We tacitly accept that the best explanations are those that account for the phenomena in a manner that is detailed and precise. For example, it is sometimes sufficient to say that the sailor is sick because of a "vitamin deficiency," but we find the explanation better (and thus better confirmed) if we can delineate the biochemical pathways that lead to the observed symptoms, say, from absence of vitamin C to the signs of scurvy. This is so not only in explanations of specific cases but also in general explanations--the current medical explanation of A.I.D.S. is the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, but researchers are not fully satisfied with the explanation since they can so far say only a little about how the virus works.
Surprisingly, methodologists have rarely discussed this property of explanations explicitly and it is not included in standard lists of explanatory virtues. Following the optical instrument metaphor, I will call this the virtue of explanatory resolution. The resolution of a telescope or microscope refers to its ability to resolve or distinguish points nearby one another. The clearness of the image depends upon this property of the instrument, and clarity is also a basic feature of good explanations. We disparage explanations that do not have this property by calling them fuzzy or vague. Let us say that an explanation that provides a great level of detail about the productive processes is one with high resolution, and one with minimal detail has low resolution. I suggest that a hypothesis that accounts for the phenomena with higher resolution is better than one with lower resolution. Indeed, I propose that explanatory resolution is the most basic and the most important of the explanatory virtues, and in general will trump other explanatory virtues. We find that this is typically so in the judgments of scientists on specific issues.
The centrality of explanatory resolution makes sense given that, as we saw, explaining why X involves showing how X became as it is; that is, showing what made it so. In giving a causal explanation, for example, we expect to see the details of how the causal mechanism can produce the observed pattern of data as precisely as possible. This is more important than having an explanation that unifies but in an imprecise way.
For instance, Lamarckism could be said to unify in a vague manner about the same evolutionary phenomena as Darwinism. It also has only somewhat less explanatory scope. Nevertheless it loses to the latter because it provides no clear account of how the change works. Indeed, even before Darwin's alternative was in place Lamarckism was judged harshly because it could not show in detail a plausible mechanism by which use led to heritable characteristics. On the other hand, Darwin provided a clear process that could produce transmutation through natural selection of heritable variations. Moreover, one of the most persuasive new sorts of evidence in favor of Darwinism was the discovery of DNA, RNA and the molecular mechanisms that underpinned evolutionary theory. Now we have the details of how genetic information is stored, replicated and transmitted. We can show with remarkable precision how the genetic mechanisms produce the heritable properties of an organism, and how variation arises that can then be selected for in an environment, producing organisms that are adapted to their conditions. The primacy of explanatory resolution shows why biologists judged the Darwinian explanation to be far superior to the Lamarckian even though the two are approximately comparable regarding other virtues. Creationism does not even get out of the gate on this explanatory track for their "theory" says and can say nothing at all about how the process of divine special creation is accomplished.
(c) Explanatory focus
Closely related to explanatory resolution is a virtue we may call explanatory focus. We expect that better explanations will be able to account for the distinctive features of the explanandum, that is, why it has this particular feature rather than some other one. As in the virtue of resolution, we are interested in seeing detail, but here the emphasis is on a specific feature in contrast to some specific alternative. We spoke of this in passing earlier in the discussion of the limitation that explanations be in situ, noting that, in situation S, we want to be able to explain why X rather than Z. Lack of this virtue makes for a different sort of vague explanation, one that cannot account for the what is distinctive about what is to be explained. Many explanations in folk psychology lack focus in this way. For example, "stress" has been cited as the explanation of all manner of personal malaise from angry outbursts and nervous breakdowns to chronic fatigue and hives. It may be true that stress is involved in the explanation of these maladies and many others, but medical physiologists still judge it to be a poor explanation because nothing in the "stress hypothesis" can distinguish why the sufferer got one rather than another. Such explanations quickly give way when scientists discover more focused alternatives. Stomach ulcers were commonly explained in this unfocused manner and sufferers were advised, in a similarly unfocused manner, to "reduce stress," but this explanation and therapy are quickly being abandoned now that a bacterium has been discovered that appears to be the specific cause of ulcers. (Tompkins and Falkow 1995) The "unifying" appeal of the stress theory does not carry much relative weight.
This is really what Popper must have had in mind in developing his falsification criterion of demarcation between science and pseudo-science. He explained that his original motivation was to understand why Marxist history and Freudian and Alderian psychology were not scientific theories in the same way that Einstein's theory was. He claimed that it was not "explanatory power" that differentiated them, because these theories explained "practically everything that happened within the fields to which they referred." (Popper 1962, p. 35). What was needed to make something a good scientific theory, Popper thought, was that it could make risky predictions that could potentially falsify the theory. If the foregoing analysis of explanation is correct, then what Popper was really after was not so much a certain type of prediction, but rather the virtue of explanatory focus so that the theory could clearly give an account of why X rather than Z, and so could be rejected if observation proved otherwise. This misunderstanding may account for why Popper originally dismissed evolutionary theory as not being scientific; evolutionary theory is notoriously poor at making predictions because of the complexity and historical contingency of the causal factors in a changing environment. On the other hand the sorts of causal processes it appeals to are certainly able to provide explanatory focus once the selective forces in a given environment are understood. For example, Peter and Rosemary Grant's already classic research on the evolution of Darwin's Finches on Daphne Major documented how changing weather conditions leading to changes in available food sources caused the population to evolve by selectively favored finches with larger beaks were over those with smaller ones. Again, the Creation Hypothesis has no resources to explain why one trait occurs rather than some other except by a generic appeal to God's will, and this equally "explains" both X and Z.
We could continue in this manner down the lists of explanatory virtues with similar results, but rather than multiply examples let us step back and see if we can find the reason for this pattern.
The previous sections have outlined the basics of the theory of scientific explanation and a little of how assessment of explanatory virtues allows us to evaluate the worth of competing explanatory accounts. There are actually a range of other explanatory virtues that have been discussed in the literature, but, like scope, they are subsidiary to resolution and focus. As we have seen, the supernatural Creationist theory seems to fare poorly on these points. But this is not because of any special bias against Creationism, for the conclusion holds for any supernatural theory, simply because of the characteristics of the notion of the supernatural. Let us review three of the main characteristics of the supernatural to see why this is so.
The first and most basic characteristic of supernatural agents and powers, of course, is that they are above and beyond the natural world and its agents and powers. Indeed, this is the very definition of the term. They are not constrained by natural laws. Indeed, on some views it is a supernatural creator that makes the laws in the first place, and those that make the laws have the power to break them. Of course, this is why humans hanker after access to occult powers, since they would supposedly free us from the laws that bind us.
If supernatural agents are constrained at all it may only be by logic. Even God cannot make it so that something is at once P and not-P. When story-tellers need a way to save their protagonist from a misguided pact with the devil, they invariably do it by placing a bet that the devil is unable to win by virtue of the rules of logic. But other than logical impossibilities, there is nothing that we can know that a supernatural agent could not do.
The second characteristic of the supernatural, that we have mentioned before and that follows rather directly from the first, is that it is inherently mysterious to us. As natural beings our knowledge all comes via natural laws and processes. If we could apply natural knowledge to understand supernatural powers, then, by definition, they would not be supernatural. The lawful regularities of our experience do not apply to the supernatural world. If there are other sorts of "laws" that govern that world, then they can be nothing like those that we understand. Occult entities and powers are profoundly mysterious to us.
The same point holds about divine beings--we cannot know what it is that they would or would not do in any given case. God works, they say, in mysterious ways. We cannot have any privy knowledge of God's will and those who have tried to claim it are quickly brought back to earth. When the complex Ptolemaic epicycle theory of the planetary system was explained to Alphonso X, king of Castile, with its equant points, eccentrics, deferents and epicycles--wheels upon wheels within offset wheels--he commented that "if God had consulted him at the creation, the universe should have been on a better and simpler plan." (WHI151) Defending the complexity of his theoretical models, Ptolemy is reported to have said, "You may complain that these models are not simple, but from the point of view of God, who knows what is simple." And of course Ptolemy was right; we cannot say that our notion of simplicity is at all relevant to what God's might be, or if it is even an important property for Him. Scientific models must be judged on natural grounds of evidence, for we have no supernatural ground upon which we can stand for it is necessarily a mystery to us.
A final relevant element of the notion of the supernatural, closely linked to the previous ideas, is that supernatural beings and powers are not controllable by humans. Though our secret desire may be to gain esoteric power through contact with the supernatural, we seem to understand at a deep level that such control would be impossible.
Folk tales and literature consistently tell us that those who would steal the fire of the gods are bound to be burned. Information about the future acquired by supernatural foresight did not allow Oedipus to escape his fate, and only made the inevitable outcome all the more pitiful because his parents' foolhardy attempts to use that information to outwit fate became the very means that sealed it. The power of wishes, however it may be granted and however carefully used, turns upon the wishers who soon learn that they cannot predict or control the negative effects that follow. The sorcerer's apprentice appears to touch supernatural power for one giddy moment before losing control, with usually dire consequences. The very notion of the "Faustian bargain" carries this warning against the temptation of thinking one can control supernatural powers for one's own benefit; pacts with the devil inevitably turn out for the worse, for Satan never does have one's interests at heart. The best protagonists can do in such tales is to return in the end to their prior state, having learned, one hopes, to be content with their natural estate and powers.
Perhaps one may find a few isolated exceptions to this pattern in which humans are unable to control the supernatural, but the pattern certainly holds true of our relation to the divine Creator as Christian Creationists want us to believe in Him. God controls the world and, though we may control ourselves, we cannot control God. Indeed, part of what it means to accept Christ, on the Evangelical view, is to relinquish even the control we have of our selves and to turn our lives over to God's will. Despite this, however, there remains the same temptation to think that we may influence God's supernatural power for our benefit through our actions. What is the difference between the belief that wearing a religious medallion or making the sign of the cross will protect one from evil and the belief that a charm or a knock upon wood will ward off bad luck? Of course one important difference is that many people uphold the efficacy of the former because of their belief in the divinity of Jesus, while most dismiss the latter as silly superstition because they no longer take seriously the idea of the goddess Fortuna. Nevertheless, the two beliefs are the same in the sense that both seem to maintain the hopeful possibility of supernatural control. Does not the belief in petitionary prayer yield to the same subtle temptation? Prayers for healing or discernment, for career advancement, for success in war, or even for peace, that are made "in Christ's name" seem to contain the implicit idea that we may bring God to use His powers towards such ends by our sincere petitions. And do we not find this again in the most basic idea that we may gain forgiveness and eternal life by choosing to accept Jesus as our savior? Evangelicals emphasize that we need only ask for salvation to be given, saying that it is "up to you." All this appears to fit the original impulse that leads us to the supernatural with the hope of benefiting from its powers.
However, we need to recognize that this wishful belief in the possibility of human control of divine and occult powers actually contradicts the idea of the supernatural in a profound manner, for by definition the supernatural is beyond the reach of we mere creatures of the natural world. If the supernatural could be controlled by the natural then it would cease to be super. If we may control the natural world it is only because the world is governed by physical laws that must be "obeyed" even when we are pulling the strings. But in the very idea of the supernatural is the notion that it stands above natural laws and thus outside the possibility of our control. If God were really under our control in any sense then He could certainly not be said to be omnipotent, and probably would not be thought very godly. The whole point of the supernatural is that it may control nature but nature cannot control it; God commands and we must obey, not vice versa.
It seems that the cautionary tales we have noted tacitly recognize the impossibility of natural control of the supernatural and the hubris of believing otherwise. Indeed, even the religious examples of supposed supernatural control by symbol, prayer or action that we mentioned have another interpretation than the one we first considered that respects this view. According to this alternative interpretation our actions cannot control God in any way. Our prayers are not worthy of answer and no good deed or profession of faith can make us worthy of salvation. Redemption is not owed and it cannot be earned. If redemption comes, it comes as a gift. It is out of our control. Admittedly, this is a harsh doctrine and few Christian sects, except perhaps the Calvinists, have faced all its consequences squarely, but this does seem to be the only consistent view. Many try to have it both ways and intimate that, although God cannot be compelled by petitions, actions or even faith, somehow we can be confident that these will indeed make a difference, and that He cannot fail to heed the call of the believers. But even come judgment day, no matter what our actions it still remains God's free choice whether or not to heed our petitions. This certainly seem to be the view that would be held by the Evangelical Creationists. We cannot control God.
These characteristics of the supernatural show why supernatural explanations should never enter into scientific theorizing. Science operates by empirical principles of observational testing; hypotheses must be confirmed or disconfirmed by reference to inter-subjectively accessible empirical data. One supports a hypothesis by showing consequences obtain that would follow if what is hypothesized were to be so in fact. Darwin spent most of the Origin of Species applying this procedure, demonstrating how a wide variety of biological phenomena could have been produced by (and thus explained by) the simple causal processes of the theory. But, as we have seen, supernatural theories can give no guidance about what follows or does not follow from their supernatural components.
The appeal to supernatural forces, whether divine or occult, is always available because we can cite no necessary constraints upon the powers of supernatural agents. This is just the picture of God that Johnson presents. He says that God could create out of nothing or use evolution if He wanted (JDT p. 14, 113); God is "omnipotent" (JDT p. 113). He says God creates in the "furtherance of a purpose" (JDT p. 4), but that God's purposes are "inscrutable" (JDT p. 71) and "mysterious" (JDT p. 67). A god that is all-powerful and whose will is inscrutable may be called upon to explain any event in any situation, and this is one reason for the methodological prohibition against such appeals in science. Because of this feature, supernatural hypotheses remain immune from disconfirmation. Young Earth Creation-Science does include supernatural views at its core that are not testable and it was rightly dismissed as not being scientific because of these in the Arkansas court case, but it at least was candid about a few specific non-supernatural claims that are open to disconfirmation (and indeed that have been disconfirmed), such as that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and that many geological and paleontological features were caused by a universal flood (the Noachian Deluge). So far at least, Johnson has declined to offer any specific positive claims of this sort by which his notion of Creationism could be tested.
Experimentation requires observation and control of the variables. We confirm causal laws by performing controlled experiments in which the purported independent variable is made to vary while all other factors are held constant and we observe the effect on the dependent variable. But by definition we have no control over supernatural entities or forces.
Finally, if we were to allow science to appeal to supernatural powers even though they could not be tested, then the scientist's task would become just too easy. One would always be able to call upon the gods for quick theoretical assistance in any circumstance. Once such supernatural explanations are permitted they could be used in chemistry and physics as easily as Creationists have used them in biology and geology. Indeed, all empirical investigation could cease, for scientists would have a ready-made answer for everything. For example, consider Wayne Frair's alternative creationist explanation of the many general similarities among animals (such as common reactions of humans and rats and monkeys to drugs). These, he says, "can be explained as originating in basic design given by the Creator. Evolution is not needed to account for the similarities." (Frair and Davis 1983, p. 14) In short the "explanation" does not go beyond claiming that this pattern is so because God designed it so. Clearly science must reject this kind of one-size-fits-all explanation. By disqualifying such short-cuts, the Naturalist method also has the virtue of spurring deeper investigation. If one were to find some phenomenon that appeared inexplicable according to some current theory one might be tempted to attribute it to the direct intervention of God, but a methodological principle that rules out appeal to supernatural powers prods one to look further for a natural explanation. Clearly, it is not just because such persistence has proved successful in the past that science should want to encourage this attitude.
The scientists' appeal to supernatural agency in the face of a recalcitrant research problem would be as profoundly unsatisfying as the ancient Greek playwright's reliance upon the deus ex machina to extract his hero from a difficult predicament. Sydney Harris, the preeminent scientific humorist, cleverly made the point in a cartoon that appeared in American Scientist. He pictures two scientists standing before a chalk-board that the first had covered with an intricate series of symbols and equations, but with one gap in the sequence at which is noted "Then a miracle occurs." The second scientist, gesturing towards this notation, states his considered assessment: "I think you should be more explicit here in step two."
Without the binding assumption of uninterruptible natural law there would be absolute chaos in the scientific worldview. Supernatural explanations undermine the discipline that allows science to make progress. It is not that supernatural agents and powers could not explain in principle, it is rather that they can explain all too easily. As such we may think of them as the explanation of last resort, since, like the Greek god in the machine, they can always be hauled down to "save the day" if every other explanation fails. They are the poor person's explanations, that is, the explanations of the intellectually poverty-stricken, since they are available for free. Surely it is not in this sense that the poor in spirit are blessed with seeing God.
I believe that such abstract considerations provide sufficient reason to reject appeals to supernatural explanations in science. Nevertheless, it will be worthwhile to make the ideas more concrete by considering a few specific effects of reintroducing the possibility of supernatural interventions in a practical setting.
Rather than addressing the possibility of a theistic science immediately I think it will help us to first consider the effects of introducing theism in another area that Johnson recommends--namely his special area of expertise, the law. In Reason in the Balance Johnson claims that naturalism has eaten away at the law in the same way he says it has infected science, and he fondly recalls the era in which "lawmakers assumed that authoritative moral guidance was available to them in the Bible" (RIB39). Thus, one result of introducing theism into the law would be that the content of the law would change, with secular rules and notions of justice replaced by ones with a religious foundation in the law of the Bible. He gives the example of adultery, noting that in a naturalist legal setting one could oppose it as a breach of contract but one could not condemn it merely because God forbade it. Johnson tells us that every culture must base its laws in some "creation story" (RIB12) and that naturalistic evolutionary tale has replaced the traditional story of our creation. We see what Johnson takes to be the proper basis for laws about adultery when he writes: "If God really did create us 'male and female' and intended male and female to play different roles in the family, and intended sexual intercourse to be confined to the marital relationship, then the system of traditional family morality makes sense." (RIB31) Johnson recommends this approach in part because he believes that moral duties make no sense except as commandments from a divine authority. I have elsewhere (Pennock 1996) discussed Johnson's claim that scientific naturalism undermines morality and leads inevitably to relativism, and I will not repeat my criticisms here. We will return to the connection of the Creation story to morality shortly, but first I want to focus on two other significant ways in which the introduction of the Creationist variety of theism would be likely to transform our legal system.
The first follows in parallel from Johnson's insistence that science admit the reality of supernatural influences in the daily workings of the world. For the law to take this seriously as well, it would have to be open to both suits and defenses based on a range of possible divine and occult interventions. Imagine the problems that would result if the courts had to accept legal theories of this sort. How would the court rule on whether to commit a purportedly insane person to a mental hospital for self-mutilation who claimed that the Lord told her to pluck out her eye because it offended her? How would a judge deal with a defendant, Abe, accused of attempted murder of his son, Ike, who claims that he was only following God's command that he kill Ike to prove his faith? As Johnson says, such interventions may indeed be true. But though in our private religious faith we may respect their possible authenticity, surely the law, a public institution, is not being dogmatically biased in discounting them. How, for instance, could the legal system handle torts if it had to consider accusations that a defendant caused plaintiff's miscarriage by casting an evil eye, or hexed plaintiff's cow? We need only look to legal history to see the sorry effects of such a system.
The law once did take such accusations of occult interventions seriously. We could pick any number of supernatural possibilities that the law considered, all based in the authority of Scripture, but the case of witchcraft is a good example. The law took the Bible seriously in its descriptions of witches, sorcerers, demons, transvection, and familiars. It also incorporated the Scriptural command that one not suffer a witch to live. In the Renaissance the Catholic church wrestled with the legal implications of this worldview; in 1484 Pope Innocent VIII appointed Heinrich Kramer and Jakob Sprenger as inquisitors and they authored the Malleus Maleficarum, laying out accepted procedures for investigating and prosecuting people accused of witchcraft. There were some safeguards against too quickly accepting accusations of witchcraft at face-value, so in some cases it might require half a dozen persons to testify (perhaps anonymously) that the defendant had bewitched a child or a cow. On the other hand, since witchcraft was practiced in secret, making it difficult to witness, and since witches were especially malicious, judges were allowed to be deceitful to trip them into inadvertent confessions. In the following centuries the procedures were elaborated upon. Jean Bodin's influential Daemonomania of 1580 advised that when a woman was reported to be a witch there was a strong prima facie presumption that she was one and so could be tortured if there was any other corroborating evidence. As Wayne Shumaker, from whose fascinating history The Occult Sciences in the Renaissance I recount these facts, sadly observed that in Europe from 1484 to 1700 some 200,000 to 300,000 persons were executed as witches, usually by burning at the stake, and that "the situation of any person accused by malicious neighbors was regularly desperate." (Shumaker 1972, p. 67) Is there any doubt that we may thank naturalistic science for bringing an end to the need to fear such "possibilities?"
The second significant effect of introducing Johnson's philosophy of Theistic Realism into the law would be a radical dismissal of ordinary standards of evidence. The most common evidence upon which someone was found guilty of witchcraft was simply the accusations of others, against which the only real defense was try to have the testimony thrown out on the grounds that the accuser was one's mortal enemy. Interestingly, there were a few physical signs that were supposed to count as evidence, such as the so-called "Devil's mark." This was an area of skin that seemed to be insensitive to pain, supposed to have been caused by contact with the devil's claw when the pact was sealed. Confessions under torture were also accepted, though again defendants were at a disadvantage for it was thought that refusing to confess under torture was also a sign of guilt because only a witch insensitive to pain, perhaps with supernatural aid, would be able to withstand the torture. Judges were warned that they had to be especially wary because the interventions of demons could cause illusions. As proof of this power one author cited the story from St. Gregory's first Dialogue telling of a woman "who thought she was eating lettuce but instead ate a devil in the form of a lettuce or, possibly, invisible within it." (Shumaker 1972, p. 78) The authority of St. Gregory was supposed to be proof enough of this possible supernatural power. It was apparently inappropriate to ask, as Shumaker suggests a doubter today might, "How do you know it was the lettuce?" (Shumaker 1972, p. 79)
We here consider posing such a question in the legal setting, but it is the same problem of evidence that is at issue for a theistic science that Johnson says is supposed to sanction the possibility of supernatural interventions. We have seen this exact problem arise in the Creationism debate before, when Gosse and current "mature earth" creationists suggest that the earth is in fact only six thousand years old but that God gave it the appearance of great age. However, the issue is not just whether or not God would deceive us in this way, but how we could ever tell that something produced by a supernatural agent. Some commentators assumed that witchcraft made direct use of supernatural power, while others thought that the mischief was really all done by demons who used secondary causes, that is, by natural though perhaps yet unknown causal laws. In either case we have the same trouble finding out whether or not there is a devil in the lettuce. It will do no good to peel back the leaves. How could Gregory have reached his conclusion? We may call the problem of how to determine whether or not a supernatural agent intervened in particular cases "the problem of the lettuce."
Perhaps as a saint Gregory was privy to some special lettuce revelation, but I am still taking Johnson at his word that he is not defending revelation. Given that the core Creationist hypothesis involves special supernatural interventions we should expect some answer to the lettuce problem. The Darwinian view holds that the evolutionary processes are working all the time, and can point to observations thereof. We may observe mutation, recombination, inheritance, natural selection and the resultant changes in gene frequencies in populations. Can the Creationist do as well with the Creation hypothesis? On this point I now issue another challenge to Johnson to come clean: Are divine interventions occurring today in particular cases? If so, which ones, and how do we tell? If not, why not, and again, how do we check?
Johnson wants us to believe, as he writes in Reason in the Balance, that "The possibility that divine intervention may occur... emphatically does not imply that all events are the product of an unpredictable divine whimsy." (RIB92) Perhaps not, but we want to see the test for distinguishing the specific cases. It is amusing to remember that in his earlier book, Darwin on Trial, Johnson's single example of how the Creationist theistic explanation is better than evolution was the case of the elaborately tailed peacocks, that he says an uncaring evolutionary process would never allow to develop, but that they are "just the kind of creatures that a whimsical Creator might favor." (JDT p. 31)
Returning to Johnson's definitions of Creationism, we see that the problem of the lettuce affects his view in deeper ways than even that of simply identifying the presence or absence of supernatural interventions. Johnson's Creationism dismisses the worth of Deistic views of Creation and demands ongoing direct control. It thus seems fair to ask how the theistic scientist supposes that control to work. The Darwinian can specify a fair number of the sorts of causal processes that control evolution, fulfilling the basic requirement for a scientific explanation. The third challenge to the Creationist is to tell us their alternative divine control process. Creation Scientists, like the Morrises, who keep to Genesis literalism at least are forthright in specifying special creation from nothing or from the dust. Johnson and other Intelligent Design Creationists are silent about the control process. May theistic science appeal to ex nihilo miracles or other control processes? In the case of the development of life forms, does God create by selecting the variations that will survive? (Young Earth Creationists reject this possibility because it makes death God's instrument of Creation, and I suspect that ID Creationists would not allow it because it could undermine their basic argument from information.) So does God create by causing the variations upon which selection occurs? This control mechanism was proposed by some of Darwin's contemporaries to keep God in direct control of the process. But, then, does God also create fatal and deleterious mutations or only the "good" ones? The specter of the lettuce problem reappears in all these possibilities.
Finally, what about the third, and most important, core element of Johnson's definition of Creationism--that God creates for a purpose. How is a theistic science to discover God's purposes? Consider the example mentioned in passing of Creationist Jerry Falwell's claim about the purpose of A.I.D.S.. How would Johnson's theistic science test the hypothesis that A.I.D.S. was created by God for the purpose of punishing homosexuals, drug-users and others for their sinful lifestyle? Naturalistic science simply proceeds by seeking a natural explanation and treats A.I.D.S. like other diseases and discovers that it is caused by the Human Imuno-Deficiency Virus, and nothing in its methodology allows it to test such moral or teleological hypotheses about God's possible purposes. The problem of the lettuce is particularly keen here and its implications particularly chilling.
I do not bring up this case of the theistic purpose hypothesis about A.I.D.S. as just a provocative hypothetical scenario, but because the questions of the morality of homosexuality and explanation of A.I.D.S. figure in significantly in Johnson's work and because he thinks both are intimately connected to core issues in the Creationist debate. In "Naturalism, Creationism and the Meaning of Life" (Pennock 1996) I discuss in detail the way that Johnson and other Creationists see the debate as being as much about the proper moral order as about the proper explanation of biological order, and point out how Johnson brings up homosexuality as one of his standard examples in Reason in the Balance to illustrate this point. Johnson is more subtle than those Creationists who note that God "created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve," but his point is the same that we are supposed to learn from the creation story that homosexual behavior breaks the created order and thus the moral order. Johnson's views about the explanation of A.I.D.S. is less well known to those who have only followed his anti-evolutionary writings. The A.I.D.S. issue has been his other avocational pursuit. He has written against the current scientific view that A.I.D.S. is caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, and in support of Peter Duesberg's radical contrary view that it A.I.D.S. is the result of lifestyle behaviors of homosexuals and drug-users that cause general ill-health. Many biomedical journals gave Duesberg's view a thorough hearing since he first challenged the HIV view in 1987. A.I.D.S. researchers have concluded that the available evidence does not support Duesberg's alternative view, but Duesberg and a small coterie of public supporters like Johnson continue to press the point. Duesberg's view meshes rather well with Falwell's hypothesis about God's purpose for A.I.D.S., though of course the latter could also apply even if one accepted the standard HIV view. For us here it does not so much matter what the efficient cause of A.I.D.S. but how, whatever the efficient cause, a theistic science could test Falwell's teleological hypothesis about God's ultimate purpose. This is my fourth challenge to Johnson's proposal for a theistic creationist science. As scientists, I claim, the best we can do is to try to find some natural explanation for A.I.D.S., and though it is likely that science will find there is more to the story than the virus itself, science's naturalist methodology can never go further to test and discover God's purposes.
Having previously shown why science has good reason to rule out appeal to supernatural powers and entities as a methodological principle, and in this section some of the unacceptable consequences of abandoning it, let us now turn to the second horn of dilemma I posed earlier.
To say that science doesn't deal with "the supernatural" does not mean that everything that we currently think of as supernatural--ghosts and extra-sensory perception, for example--really is. Perhaps these are actually natural law-governed phenomena that are yet to be discovered. Philosophers are fond of appealing to scenarios from the Star Trek television shows to illustrate hypothetical conceptual possibilities, so let me take a case from one episode to develop my point here.
The episode involved the people of a world who transported themselves to an asteroid in the belief that there their souls would there be set free of their bodies to live on in a blissful afterlife. There are the usual conflicts and misunderstandings to be worked out as the crew tries to deal with this seemingly absurd practice. In the end, however, they are made to reevaluate their skepticism when their sensors detect unusual energy patterns around the asteroid that exhibit individual coherence and excitations that appear to match the electrical activity patterns of people's brain. Trekkers know this is all "technobabble" of course, but we willingly suspending our disbelief, and, within the science-fictional world of the series, we recognize that the peoples' belief in a ghostly afterlife is true in a sense after all, and has a scientific explanation.
In this science-fiction example it looks as though science has tested and confirmed the existence of ghosts and a "spirit afterlife." In one sense this surely seems right; if such evidence were found then there seems to be no reason that there could not arise a new scientific speciality that investigates and tests hypotheses about this afterlife. In our own real world we have not found such evidence but isn't it possible that we could? If we agree with this then, similarly, why couldn't there be a science that incorporates theistic interventions? This is the creationist's complaint that science is close-minded in ruling out such possibilities. But here is the question: even in the Star Trek example are we really still talking about "ghosts" and a "spirit afterlife" in the way we ordinarily conceive of them? The danger of such hypothetical examples is that they mislead us about what sense of "possibility" we are talking about, since one can hide a lot of question-begging assumptions in some well-spun technobabble. In the episode the departed "souls" turn out to be "coherent energy patterns." They interact causally with other matter and energy, of course, or the sensors would not have picked up their "energy signature." Indeed, if they are energy in the ordinary scientific sense, then it would now be possible to exert causal influence upon them in the usual ways. Presumably we could manipulate or disrupt them as we can other forms of energy. Presumably we could "kill" them. At this point we should be beginning to feel a little uncomfortable about our earlier conclusion about what was confirmed here. Let us step back now and analyze what has been going on in this science-fiction example.
By discussing the confirmation of "ghosts" in this way we have tacitly taken them out of the supernatural realm and placed them squarely in the natural world. To conceive of ghosts as supernatural entities is to consider them to be outside of the natural realm, outside the law-governed world of cause and effect physics. But to say that science could test and confirm their existence, as in our hypothetical case, is to reconceive them as natural entities. Perhaps there really are "coherent energy patterns" as postulated in the story, but such "ghosts" are no longer supernatural--they have been naturalized. Surely the Christian will quite properly object that, whatever these things are, they are surely not departed souls in the religious sense of the term.
So what should this tell us about Johnson's and other Creationists' idea for a theistic science? How does God figure in this picture? Will theists really be happy from a religious viewpoint to think of God as a scientific hypothesis as we just considered the hypothesis of a spirit afterlife?
As we saw, for a hypothesis to be scientific it must be inter-subjectively testable, and fit within the framework of law-governed cause-effect relations. This is the core of what it means to be a natural object and to be amenable to scientific investigation. Agreeing to be constrained by this sort of epistemological approach as the means of gathering public knowledge about the empirical world is just what it is to be a methodological naturalist. This is no different than what we tacitly assume for everyday knowledge, and all science does is make careful extensions of our ordinary experience in what is simply a more precise and explicit version of the ordinary way we get such knowledge. In proposing a theistic science Johnson claims to be expanding science to supernatural possibilities undreamed of in this philosophy, but what he and other so-called Creation scientists are really doing is reducing God to a scientific object, placing God in the scientific box.
Creationists are especially fond of quoting the 19th Psalm but they have a rather odd way of interpreting it.
The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and [the sky] is declaring the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge." (Psalm 19:1-2)
Instead of appreciating the lovely poetic sensibility of these images--imagining the dome of heaven to be like a clay bowl that praises the potter--Creationists talk about this as though it had something to do with the search for extra-terrestrial life-forms. They speak of talking pulsars and information-bearing signals from a divine intelligence as though God were a broadcaster beaming out messages for us on a literal carrier wave and waiting for some enthusiastic ham-radio operator to pick up the word of His existence.
Returning to the Design Argument, we see that it works in just this way, drawing an inference from to the nature of God from what is already known and familiar to us in human, natural, terms. The ID Theorists have given us a scientifically gussied up version of Paley's venerable argument. God becomes a big watchmaker in the sky, a divine genetic engineer, or a supped-up "intelligence." But philosophers long ago revealed the flaws in the Design Argument, and Scripture itself warns against analogizing God to human experience. As (Isa. 40:18) rhetorically asks, "To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?"
Johnson tells us that scientific naturalism is the root of all evil, but it turns out that he is doing nothing less than naturalizing God. Ironically, Johnson may not be a supernaturalist after all, but a super naturalist.
To recognize this ironic fact is to suddenly understand what previously seemed to be a rather puzzling feature of the Creationist debate, namely, the surprising similarity of outlook between Creationists and atheists. Scientific organizations and religious institutions have issued explicit statements, correctly, that evolutionary biology neither affirms nor denies the existence of God and that Christianity is not threatened by evolution, but both Creationists and atheists seem to think that God hangs in the balance over the truth or falsity of evolution. In the present instance we see this in the affinity between Johnson and a few atheist scientists, Will Provine and Stephen Weinberg in particular, who have been happy to engage him in debate. Provine and Weinberg concur with the essentials of Johnson's framework and the implication that theism is incompatible with evolution. Johnson is an unwitting friend of such atheists, for they agree in naturalizing God and making God an empirical hypothesis, amenable to scientific investigative testing. Adolf Grnbaum, for example, a distinguished philosopher of science who has argued an atheistic position against theists like William Craig and Philip Quinn (who want to appeal to divine interventions to explain cosmological facts), quite agrees with Johnson and other Creationists that science can test the God hypothesis. The difference is that the atheists have looked at the world and concluded that from this perspective the balance of evidence weighs heavily against the ordinary conception of an omni-benevolent personal Creator. Naturalize God and put the Creation Hypothesis to empirical test and the atheists claim a knockout.
Because Creationists see the dispute in the same terms they fear that atheism is the inevitable conclusion if one accepts evolution. This is why they fight so fervently to deny evolution and to try to uphold the scientific status of the biblical account, often to the point of absurdity. To defend the scientific plausibility of Noah's ark, ICR Creation-scientist John Woodmorappe provides a book-length ark feasibility study (Woodmorappe 1996) and finds himself arguing that Noah solved the problem of animal waste management by training the animals to urinate and defecate upon command as someone held a bucket behind them. Is it surprising that mainstream Christians are embarrassed by Creationism?
As an ID "Mere Creationist," Johnson refuses to state any position about Noah's ark and focuses on more generic Biblical claims, but because he too thinks of God as amenable to scientific test he holds the same incompatibilist view of the relation of Christianity and evolution. He writes:
One might have thought that Provine and I would be bitterly opposed, since I am a Christian who emphatically affirms that the world is the product of a purposeful Creator, not a blind material mechanism. But in fact I think Provine has done a lot to clarify the point at issue, and I agree with him about how to define the question. (RIB189)
Provine says that compatibilists have to check their brains at the church-house door because he thinks both the Creation hypothesis and the evolutionary hypothesis are on a scientific par and can be evaluated by standard naturalistic methods and on this basis the former is a clear loser. Johnson holds out hope that evolution may still be proved false, but he frames the conflict in the same way: "Christianity makes sense only if its factual premises are true... The essential factual premise is that God created us for a purpose, and our destiny is a glorious one in eternity." (RIB204) On Johnson's view naturalistic evolution is incompatible with this premise. He seems to think that the only way that God could give human beings purpose is by creating their bodies by directly intervening in the causal processes to produce them. The only option remaining for him, then, is to stand and slug it out on science's home turf.
To enter the field of intellectual argument is to accept the risk that we may lose by being proved wrong. But accepting the risk of being wrong is the inescapable price for making any meaningful statements about the world. The best scientists have never feared to accept that risk... (RIB110)
Having recognized Johnson's inadvertent crypto-naturalism we are now sensitized to the significance of such remarks. Whether or not he realizes it, in this statement Johnson is advocating a return to the Verifiability Criterion of Meaning--the view that only statements that can be tested are meaningful. This view of meaning was one of the central tenets of Logical Positivism in its most scientistic vein, and its unworkability was one of the reasons that Positivism was overturned. Its reappearance in Johnson's conceptual framework shows the extent to which he is unwittingly caught up in an even more pervasively naturalistic outlook than the one he decries. That statements be empirically testable is indeed a requirement for scientific knowledge, but to think that such statements alone are meaningful is to buy into the scientistic view that only scientific knowledge is meaningful. Christian critics of Creationism have pointed out that Young Earth Creationists, in their insistence upon the need for Creation-Science, are actually venerating science above God. The critics are right. After all, what is a literal, "scientific" reading of Genesis but exegesis from a naturalistic perspective? Johnson may or may not be a Biblical literalist but he exhibits the same inverted perspective, protesting just a bit too much against the supposed naturalist mote in the scientist's eye while remaining unaware of the super naturalist log in his own. This is the reason that he and the atheist see eye-to-eye. Continuing just beyond the above quote, Johnson writes:
If Christian theists can summon the courage to argue that preexisting intelligence really was an essential element in biological creation and to insist that the evidence be evaluated by standards that do not assume the point in dispute, then they will make a great contribution to the search for truth, whatever the outcome. (RIB110)
He concludes by acknowledging that this courageous approach allows the possibility that biologists may respond with convincing evidence that shows that direct creation by such intelligence is not necessary. If we are to take him at his word this means that he would then have to admit that the Creation hypothesis is false. This is just the line of reasoning that the atheists have already followed to its "natural" conclusion.
But let us be honest here. Do we really expect that the ID Creationist would accept this conclusion even in such a case? More importantly, is the Christian really forced to accept this scientific conception of God that Creationists and atheists put forward? The answer is certainly "No" in both cases. As a scientific Creationist, Johnson would have us put God on a slide and peer at Him under the microscope of science. But there is a tension in Johnson's conception of God, as we saw, for at other places he expresses the traditional notion of a supernatural, omnipotent God who is mysterious and inscrutable. We would expect Johnson to retreat to this notion in the same way that other Creationsts have done. Christians would be wise to not even start down the dead-end road of Creation-Science or Theistic Science, however it is called, for it is unlikely that they would find a naturalized God to be worthy of worship.
Johnson quotes John 1:1-3 as the Scriptural basis of his theistic science.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. (John 1:1-3)
Somehow, Johnson seems to think that this tells us that God's creative purposes are open to scientific scrutiny. Perhaps Christians might better judge this passage and the prospects for a theistic science in the light of another New Testament passage from Romans 11:
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Rom. 11:33)
1 Jerry Falwell on AIDS - July 17, 1983 ABC local affiliate program "AIDS: The Anatomy of a Crisis". Falwell opened the program by citing Galatians. "When you violate moral, health, and hygiene laws, you reap the whirlwind. You cannot shake your fist in God's face and get by with it." (Quoted in Shilts 1987, p. 347)
2 At one level one might characterize the difference between a Constructivist like myself and a Constructionist as only a matter a matter of degree. The Constuctionist thinks that hypotheses about the world are so vastly underdetermined that anything goes. For instance, H. M. Collins holds that one may "connect the dots" of the world in any fashion at all to produce any picture one likes. (Collins 1985, 1992, p. 16) On most versions of this sort of view, only social factors (particularly power relations among knowledge-constructors) make a significant difference. By contrast, the Constructivist holds that the constraints that come from the world are more important. At another level, however, the Constructionist and Constructivist have a more fundamental disagreement. The former has taken the linguistic turn with a vengeance and holds that science should be thought of as simply another form of narrative manipulation of texts, while the latter recommends a return to a naturalistic, ontological view. This difference emerges, for instance, in the way they think of laws. The former thinks that laws are just propositions, while the latter holds that natural laws are in the world and that scientific laws expressed in language are approximate representations thereof. More on laws later.
3 The ontic factors (C and S are the causal inputs and E the effect) are indicated by uppercase letters while the 'a' is in lowercase because it symbolizes the pragmatic elements that indicate how are interests are parsing the network for the question at hand. In real cases we typically share a tacit set of assumptions about the "background" situation and our interests, so we omit S and a and may simply deal with the standard two-place "C causes E," but the pragmatic assumptions are necessary for the inferences we draw and may have to be made explicit, especially if interlocutors discover that they do not share the same theoretical framework.
4 I discuss this CaSE Model of the causal relation and its application in more detail in (Pennock 1991 and forthcoming).
5 Consider the classic example of identifying "the cause" of a traffic accident. The driver cites the slippery road, the mechanic cites the worn brakes, the city planner cites the partially obstructed view. Each of these may be a legitimate explanation of the same accident because each explainer has pragmatically put different features of the network of causes into the assumed background situation and has in mind different contrasting alternatives (e.g. a wet rather than a dry road, worn rather than safe brakes, obstructed rather than open views at intersections). This is a sense in which I believe we should bow to the Constructionist, since there is no privileged one of these which is better just by virtue of the way the world is without considering our interests.
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