SCIENCE HELD HOSTAGE: What's Wrong With Creation Science AND Evolutionism by Howard J. Van

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SCIENCE HELD HOSTAGE: What's Wrong With Creation Science AND Evolutionism by Howard J. Van Till, Davis A. Young, and Clarence Menninga (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 1988) 189 pages. ISBN 0-8308-1253-9 My background in Science is weak and I am just a novice in the theory of evolution. But since I have come onto this echo (about 6 or 7 months ago) I have learned considerably more about evolution and the theories of evolution that I knew before, and I have been disabused of a number of erroneous ideas about the subject. Although I will continue to follow the discussions about EMTs and such in this echo (my understanding of those discussions runs at about 50% -- or less) and in outside reading, that is not my main interest. My main interest is in how discussion about evolution proceeds between science and religion. The SciCre/Evo debates usually generate more heat than light, and there is plenty of blame to go around for it. For example, there are many fundamentalist and evangelical Christians who do not understand what evolution and the theory of evolution say and do not say, and are historically unaware of how many 19th century evangelicals and some early fundamentalists viewed evolution. [See DARWIN'S FORGOTTEN DEFENDERS, by David Livingstone, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987) 210 pages. ISBN 0-8028-0260-5.] On the other hand, there are proponents for the theory of evolution who mistake their own philosophical views with the conclusions of science. There are also those who believe that Christians are disqualified from exercising logic and the scientific method by reason of their religious commitments. Thus, the waters surrounding the subject of evolution sometimes get very muddy -- on both sides. I am home-schooling my son (6th grade level) and I want to approach the subject with accurate scientific understanding and also with an accurate biblical understanding. I am working on a Master's degree in Religious Education, and so at some points I will be discussing the matter of origins with other Christians. Again, I want to be both scientifically and biblically accurate, not overstepping the boundaries of either. The SciCre position is not credible or supportable, in my opinion. It does not hold up as science, and it is unnecessarily restrictive as Bible interpretation. Evolution and the theory or evolution are not anti-God (although there are some proponents of the theory who believe that it is and that such is a scientific conclusion). Evolution is reasonable and scientific, and it does not contradict the Bible -per se- (only a particular -interpretation- of the Bible). With that in mind, I have abstracted portions of "Science Held Hostage" as a sort of summary and review, in the hope that the general discussion of evolution will proceed with more understanding (particularly from my Christian brothers, but also from those who accept evolutionISM as a philosophical worldview). ["Howard J. Van Till, professor of physics at Calvin College, is author of /The Fourth Day: What the Bible and Heavens Are Telling Us about the Creation/. Davis A. Young and Clarence Menninga are professors of geology at Calvin College."] Introduction: Charting the Course "In discussing the nature of the scientific enterprise we will be very selective. For example, we will say relatively little about the `scientific method,' and we will make no attempt to develop sharp distinctions among terms like /hypothesis, theory, model and law/. Instead, our chief concerns will be: (1) to identify the accepted /domain/ of professional science; and (2) to give due recognition to the system of /values/ which function within the professional scientific community. We believe that much of the antagonism and mistrust associated with the creation-evolution debate could be dispelled if both of the disputing parties would learn to recognize the distinction between the scientific and religious domains of concern, and if both parties would abide by the system of values that have developed within the professional scientific community. "Following our discussion of domain and values, we will present a number of case studies that will illustrate what happens when either of these two concepts is disregarded. And going beyond illustration, we will take /evolutionary naturalism/ to task for its failure to honor the accepted boundaries of the scientific domain, and we will criticize /scientific creationism/ chiefly for its failure to employ an appropriate system of values in the construction and evalua- tion of scientific theories.* ____________________ "* By /naturalism/ we mean that philosophical and religious perspective which is based on the assumption that the physical world is all there is, that there exists no divine being capable of influencing physical phenomena. And by /evolutionary naturalism/ we mean that form of naturalism which claims that the scientific concept of evolution provides a sufficient basis for rejecting the idea of divine governance of natural processes. "By /scientific creationism/ we mean that perspective which proceeds from the claim that it is possible to employ the results of natural science to demonstrate that the universe was recently created in a mature and fully functioning form; that is, that the religiously derived concept of special creation can be validated by the results of scientific investigation." Part I Science as Practiced by Scientists Chapter 1 Locating the Boundary The Questions Natural Science Addresses "Speaking more formally now, to identify the /domain/ of natural science is to identify the categories of questions that it is capable of addressing. . . . "At the risk of oversimplification, we shall say that all (or certainly the vast majority) of the questions that lie within the domain of natural science can be comfortably placed within one of the three categories just introduced: the categories of /physical properties/, /physical behavior/ and /formative history/. Furthermore, we find it helpful to note that these three categories may be viewed as sub- divisions of a larger category of classifications: the /inherent intelligibility/ of the physical universe." Questions Lying Outside the Domain of Natural Science "1. While natural science can fruitfully investigate the /formation/ of various structures within the physical world, it is incapable of dealing with the ultimate /origin/ of the world's existence. . . . "Questions of /origin/ -- the ultimate source of existence itself -- are profoundly important questions. Their answers, however, will never be derived from the results of natural science. They are religious questions that must be directed to whatever serves as the source of one's answers to religious questions. The natural sciences, because of limitations in both the object and the domain of their investigation, have no choice but to remain silent. "2. While natural science can fruitfully investigate the /behavior/ of the physical universe, it is incapable of settling the fundamental questions concerning its /governance/. . . . "The `laws of nature' are only our descriptions of the patterns of material behavior, and descriptions have no power to govern. The question of governance cannot be answered by describing patterns of behavior. Behavior patterns give evidence of a governing power at work, but such patterns are not themselves the source of governance. Behavior patterns are not the /cause/ of governance; they are only the /results/." Chapter 2 The Path Most Traveled Matters of Competence "The primary goal of natural science is authentic know- ledge concerning the character of the physical universe. The only paths leading toward that goal are those paved with the results of competent performance of the empirical and theoretical crafts; good intentions are not enough. Incom- petent performance in scientific investigation is the pavement of a one-way path to misperception, delusion and false conclusions -- no friends of knowledge." Matters of Integrity "Scientific investigation is performed by a community of persons who, of necessity, must depend on the professional integrity of the other members of that community... Without a functioning set of ethical principles for integrity, the professional scientific community could not perform in the manner it presently does. "The fundamental principles are honestly, fairness, and candor... "The process of extrapolation deserves special attention in the context of this discussion of professional integrity. Ordinarily the data base for the description of some behavior pattern is confined to a restricted range of circumstances. And extrapolation of behavior patterns beyond those limits must be performed with appropriate restraint, and the conditions for the credibility of that extrapolation must be candidly stated... "Several matter of integrity are involved also in the manner in which one argues in favor of a particular theoretical model. We expect, for instance, that all relevant data will be given fair and adequate treatment -- not only the supportive data but also the data which tell against the model. Anomalous or contradictory evidence may not be neglected or hidden." Matters of Sound Judgment "Suppose, now, that there are two or more competing theories which claim to account for relevant data and to provide the best explanation for a given phenomenon. When scientists encounter such situations, they are called on to judge the relative merits of competing theories and to make choices on the basis of certain criteria. [The authors' list of criteria:] "1. Cognitive relevance" [Does the theory seriously engage the empirical evidence?] "2. Predictive accuracy" "3. Coherence" [Are all the elements of the theory internally coherent and logically consistent?] "4. Explanatory scope ... Theories with greater explanatory scope are generally judged to have greater epistemic merit." "5. Unifying power ... Those scientific theories which are able to unify diverse phenomena into one comprehensive theoretical framework will be favored over a collection of independent theories that treat each phenomenon in isolation from the others." "6. Fertility" [How well does the theory function to stimulate investigation in new areas, to suggest new ways of organizing our knowledge, to reveal relationships previously obscured?] Extra-Scientific Matters "Identifying the roles played by extra\scientific concerns in the scientific enterprise is a complex and difficult task. It is an area of study that deserves continuing attention. For our present purposes we shall focus briefly on the function of religious commitments in scientific investigation. The term /religious commitment/ must not be interpreted too narrowly, however. We do not wish, for instance, to restrict it to the Christian religion, not even to theism in general. Rather, we intend the term to represent the full spectrum of beliefs concerning the ultimate nature of reality, the existence or nonexistence of a transcendent deity, the significance of human life, and the relationship of the physical world to any transcendent beings or realms of reality. Thus twentieth-century Western naturalism is as much a religious commitment as is Christian theism. "First, religious commitments frequently serve as a stimulus for a scientist to select and carry out a particular program of research... "Second, religious commitments ought never lead a scientist to permit or encourage any reduction in the demands for craft competence or professional integrity... "Third, religious commitments cannot be used as a warrant to ignore or to consciously violate the boundaries of the scientific domain... "Fourth, religious commitments, whether theistic or nontheistic, should not be permitted to interfere with the normal functioning of the epistemic value system employed within the scientific community... "Science held hostage by any ideology or belief system, whether naturalistic or theistic, can no longer function effectively to gain knowledge of the physical universe. When the epistemic goal of gaining knowledge is replaced by the dogmatic goal of providing warrant for one's personal belief system or for some sectarian creed, the superficial activity that remains may no longer be called natural science." Part II Science Held Hostage by Creationism Chapter 3 The Legend of the Shrinking Sun "As this case study has illustrated, what began as a puzzling report within the professional scientific community was transformed by the scientific-creationist community into a `scientific evidence' purporting to substantiate their recent-creation scenario. But this transformation from puzzle to recent-creation evidence carried, we believe, too high a price tag. "In order to make the shrinking sun concept function as a young-earth evidence, numerous principles of good scientific practice had to be breached: one preliminary report -- a report soon discredited -- had to be granted far greater weight than several substantial reports subsequently published; the principles of meaningful extrapolation had to be violated; and the relevance of several important phenomena and much readily accessible date had to be disregarded. The shrinking sun report, as it propagated through the recent- creationist literature, lost contact with the critical evaluation and continuing investigation performed with competence and integrity by the community of professional scientists. And, having lost this vital connection, the solar shrinkage report became the `legend of the shrinking sun' -- the vehicle of misinformation and unwarranted con- clusion." Chapter 4 Footprints on the Dusty Moon "The claim that a thick layer of dust should be expected on the surface of the moon, and the claim that not more than a few inches of dust were found on the surface of the moon, are contradicted by an abundance of published evidence. The continuing publication of those claims by young-earth advocates constitutes an intolerable violation of the standards of professional integrity that should characterize the work of natural scientists." Chapter 5 Timeless Tales from the Salty Sea "As we discussed in chapter two, it is a requirement of professional integrity that a scientist give due recognition to all relevant information. Failure to do so may be sufficient warrant to discredit one's conclusions. In the specific case that we have been reviewing, the failure to distinguish between the remarkably different concepts of /residence time/ and /age/, coupled with the failure to incorporate a vast amount of published information concerning processes by which sea salts are either continuously or episodically removed from ocean water, does indeed thoroughly discredit the conclusion that oceanic salt content supports the young-earth hypothesis. The 4.5 billion year chronology of earth history is in no way weakened or disqualified by an appeal to the salt content of terrestrial oceans." Chapter 6 Making Mysteries out of Missing Rock "Scientific Creationists have repeatedly claimed that geological field evidence can best be explained in terms of a recent creation and a catastrophic global deluge. That claim has been made specifically for the Grand Canyon of northern Arizona... Evaluation of the Scientific-Creationist Argument "1. Major distinctive scientific-creationist claims about geology betray a glaring lack of familiarity with relevant professional literature... "Lack of familiarity with the literature has led also to a misunderstanding of basic geological concepts. Scientific creationists persistently misunderstand the principle of uniformity... "Similarly, scientific creationists do not appear to understand the basic concept of the geologic column. They have created the impression that orthodox geology has severe difficulties with the Grand Canyon because of its acceptance of `the geologic column.' Scientific creationists seem to think that geologists pretend that all the systems of the geologic column are, or should be, represented by actual rock in continuous successions of layers all over the world... "2. The flood model entails a lack of external consistency with relevant bodies of knowledge. This point could be developed at great length by considering the fact that the various scientific-creationists claims about the Grand Canyon are totally incompatible with the established results of radiometric dating and biogeography. On these grounds alone the global flood theory is strongly suspect. this lack of external consistency is exemplified by the failure of scientific creationists to consider /regional/ geology in their theorizing... "3. The flood model lacks internal coherence. Scientific creationists have claimed that between layers of rock in the Grand Canyon there is no evidence or erosion at all and that the layers were deposited successively and continuously by great flood waves passing back and forth across the face of the earth. But if the flood model is correct, then there should be abundant signs of erosion between layers, especial- ly if those layers were still soft and unconsolidated as most flood geologists believe! Indeed, flood geologists repeatedly talk of the tremendous erosive capabilities of the flood... The supposed absence of erosion between layers to which scientific creationists appeal would be a strong argument /against/ a global flood that consisted of a succession of waves! "4. The flood model lacks predictive accuracy." Part III Science Held Hostage by Naturalism "In this final part we call attention to the way in which the ideology of naturalism has failed to honor the limita- tions of natural science and has sought instead to hold science hostage to support the tenets of its own form of religious faith." Chapter 7 Popular Portraits of Science: Focused or Fuzzy? "Contrary to a common impression among evangelical Christians that scientists are hostile to religious belief, we discover that much current writing does not attempt to make religious claims on scientific grounds. For example, many recent books written in defense of organic evolution and in opposition to scientific creationism are commendable for their careful avoidance of using natural science as a tool to attack religious belief. The domain of science is generally understood and respected. Among the better books to appear are Norman D. Newell's /Creation and Evolution/, Niles Eldredge's /The Monkey Business/, Michael Ruse's /Darwinism Defended/ and Philip Kitcher's /Abusing Science/. . . . [Discussion of Isaac Asimov and his book, /In the Beginning/ follows.] "Asimov's book is an example of naive scientism at its worst. Although not obviously operating from a position of overt philosophical naturalism, Asimov does try to draw deistic or agnostic religious conclusions from scientific discovery. . . . "In this book, Asimov does not explicitly discuss the domain and limitations of science. His comments, however, do strongly suggest that he believes that science is able to establish certain metaphysical parameters about the ultimate character of reality. For example, he notes that the Bible presents a sophisticated picture of a monotheistic god who "constantly engages himself in the minutiae of his creation." But in contrast to the biblical view, Asimov believes that over the past four centuries, `scientists have built up an alternate picture of the Universe. . . . The natural phenomena of Earth and of the Universe have seemed to fall into place bit by bit as behavior that is random, spontaneous, unwilled, and that takes place within the constraints of the `laws of nature.' Scientists grew increasingly reluctant to suppose that the workings of the laws of nature were ever interfered with. . . . Certainly, on such inter- ference was ever observed, and the tales of such interferences in the past came t seem increasingly dubious. `In short, the scientific view sees the Universe as following its own rules blindly, without either inter- ference of direction.'" [Asimov, /In the Beginning/, p. 11.] "Here Asimov has given a misleading impression of the scientific approach to the study of the world. Some individ- ual scientists may have reached the conclusion that natural behavior is blind and unwilled by anything outside nature. However, science as a professional, communal enterprise has never made any judgment that natural behavior is either blind and unwilled or directed and willed by something outside of nature. Furthermore. science has made not judgment as to whether or not `interferences' with the supposed `laws of nature' are possible or have happened. . . . "Furthermore, Asimov steps completely beyond the bounds of science without being candid about what he is doing. On the basis of scientific method he claims to draw a variety of metaphysical conclusions. He continues, `That still leaves it possible that God created the Universe to being and designed the laws of nature that govern its behavior. From this standpoint, the Universe might be viewed as a wind-up toy, which God has wound up once and for all and which is now winding down and working itself out in all its intricacy without having to be touched at all. `If so, that reduces God's involvement to a minimum and makes one wonder if he is need at all. . . . `So far, scientists have not uncovered any evidence that would hint that the workings of the Universe require the action of a divine being. On the other hand, scientists have uncovered no evidence that indicates that divine being does /no/ exist.' [Asimov, /In the Beginning/ pp. 11-12.] This quotation is replete with what we consider to be intolerable assertions. In the first place Asimov is guilty of the common error of thinking that the `laws of nature' govern the behavior of the universe. They do no such thing. As pointed out in chapter one, the `laws of nature' are only our finite and fallible attempts at describing the regular patterns of behavior that we observe in the world around us. The identity of the ultimate power that governs those patterns must be determined on extra-scientific grounds. "Additionally, it appears that Asimov thinks of natural science as such a comprehensive method of discovering knowledge that it is within the capability of science to uncover, recognize, evaluate and interpret evidence for or against the existence of God. Not only so, but Asimov speaks as if science can potentially decide the relationship of whatever god there may be to the universe. Science, in his view, ultimately has the power to determine whether or not a theistic, deistic or atheistic world view is legitimate. He continues to make the totally unwarranted assumption that, since science is able to describe the intrinsic intelli- gibility of the universe without reference to the agency of external spiritual beings, therefore the universe in fact operates solely in terms of purely blind, impersonal law. It seems not to have occurred to Asimov that God may act immanently within the universe in such a manner that we perceive that matter and energy behave in regular and usefully predictable patterns." Chapter 8 A Masquerade of Science [Discusses P.W. Atkins' book, /The Creation/, "which claims to draw only from the well of natural science and the reservoir of its logical implications. That claim, however, must be rejected. This is not an authentic product of natural science. Science is its mask, not its face."] "The principal thesis of /The Creation/ is that the physical universe is the self-originating, self-sustaining, self-governing, motiveless, purposeless, mindless sum total of all reality. Consequently, /The Creation/ must be seen as Atkins's profession of faith, hist statement of belief in reductive materialism, his naturalistic creed. but insofar as Atkins attempts to employ the results of natural science to provide warrant (or at least the appearance of warrant) for his creedal commitments, /The Creation/ functions as an exemplar of naturalistic folk science. "Creationist folk science (more commonly called `creation- science') strives to warrant its belief in a particular concept of divine creation by means of unconventional interpretations of selected empirical data. Naturalistic folk science seeks to warrant its belief in reductive materialism by constructing arguments which have the appear- ance of being logical extrapolations from the results of professional natural science. In neither case are the boundaries of the domain of natural science honored. In both cases science has become indentured in the service of an ideological or religious commitments. Behind the mask of numerous references to scientific investigation we find the face of Atkins's naturalistic creed." Chapter 9 Sagan's Cosmos: Science Education or Religious Theater? [Discusses Carl Sagan's PBS series and book /Cosmos/.] "Was science education the principal goal of `Cosmos'? In my judgment, it was not. Although the results of contem- porary science played a prominent role throughout the entire series, I believe that `Cosmos' functioned most powerfully as /religious theater/, that is, as a dramatic presentation of information, concepts and ideas organized around a strongly religious agenda. . . . "/The religion/: The religious faith that permeated the `Cosmos' series is modern Western naturalism -- the perspec- tive formed by the wedding of materialistic monism (there is only one form of reality: matter) and exclusivist scientism (there is only one way to learn about reality: natural science). Sagan quoted Democritus of Abdera as saying, `Nothing exists but atoms and the void.' Standing solidly in the materialist tradition of Democritus, Sagan of Brooklyn opened `Cosmos' with the fundamental tenet of naturalistic religion, `The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.' The physical universe was asserted to be the only reality; it was assumed that there exists no being or realm that transcends the material world. "As the only reality, the Cosmos must serve to inspire whatever religious stirrings we humans experience. thus, immediately following the opening statement of the material- ist creed, Sagan declared: `Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us -- there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.'" "/The agenda/: . . . "/1. to imply that a naturalistic religious perspective is warranted by natural science./ "More by persistent implication than by candid statement, `Cosmos' very effectively promoted the idea that a natural- istic /world view/ (a perspective on all of reality) is but a simple, logical extension of the scientific /world picture/ (a description of the physical universe only). Typical of this approach is the argument that if the physical universe displays an intelligible unity and coherence, then the `god- hypothesis' is unnecessary; and if unnecessary, then to be discarded -- surgically removed by Ockham's razor of philo- sophical economy. In a discussion concerning the early Greek discovery of patterned behavior that is accessible to empirical investigation, Sagan performed some of this surgery. `The Babylonian Marduk and the Greek Zeus was each considered master of the sky and king of the gods. You might decide that Marduk and Zeus were really the same. You might also decide, since they had quite different attributes, that one of them was merely invented by the priests. But if one, why not both? `And so it was that the great idea arose, the realization that there might be a way to know the world without the god hypothesis; that there might be prin- ciples, forces, laws of nature through which the world could be understood without attributing the fall of every sparrow to a direct interventions of Zeus.' [Sagan, /Cosmos/, p. 176.] Note carefully the essential element in this argument: If there are intelligible regularities of physical /behavior/ that can be discovered by empirical science, then the idea of divine /governance/ must be eliminated. Instead of enter- taining the idea that divine governance is orderly and noncapricious in character, Sagan chose to eliminate the concept of divine governance entirely. Clearly, that was a religious choice, not a scientific conclusion. . . . "/2. To assert that this naturalistic religion has triumphed over all forms of theistic religion./ "On numerous occasions `Cosmos' declared the naturalistic perspective to be superior to any form of theism. Natural- ism, presumably based solely on the results of empirical science, was alleged to provide superior answers to the same questions as those addressed by theism, presumably based only on human imagination, superstition and fear. Were this the case, then, naturalism would provide us with keener insights concerning our identity -- who we are. Listen to some of the triumphalist rhetoric to be found in `Cosmos': `We are, almost all of us, descended from people who responded to the dangers of existence by inventing stories about unpredictable or disgruntled deities. For a long time the human instinct to understand was thwarted by facile religious explanations. [/Cosmos/, pp. 173-4.] `For thousands of years humans were oppressed -- as some of us still are -- by the notion that the universe is a marionette whose strings are pulled by a god or gods, unseen and inscrutable.'" [/Cosmos/p. 174.] . . . "/3. To promote the hope that a naturalistic religious perspective will inspire in the human race a loyalty to the Cosmos and a commitment to care for the preservation of both self and environment./ "In a number of places Sagan expressed an admirable concern for conserving natural resources and for maintaining a high-quality environment for human life. Recognizing the cost of putting that concern into action, Sagan said: `Our generation must choose. Which do we value more? Short term profits or the long term habitability of our own planetary home? . . . If a visitor arrived from another world, what account would we give of our stewardship of the planet Earth?'[Cosmos, Episode 4] But Sagan's use of terms like /value/ and /stewardship/ raise some interesting questions. On what basis is /value/ determined? To whom are we responsible as /stewards/? A naturalistic religious perspective requires that the answers to these questions be found entirely within the physical universe. Consistent with his dream of a scientifically informed Utopia based solely on a cosmic consciousness, Sagan asserted that, `Humans everywhere share the same goals when the context is large enough. And the study of the Cosmos provides the largest possible context.'[Cosmos, p. 333.] Having excluded deity from the real world, Sagan must rely on the physical universe as the sole source of significance and as the sole object of one's loyalties." Epilogue -- Folk Science: The Face Behind the Mask "How can naturalistic folk science by distinguished from authentic natural science in the popular literature? We suggest that the following three questions be addressed to the literature under scrutiny: "/1. What categories are of principal concern?/ If a particular discussion is carefully limited to questions regarding the inherent intelligibility of the physical universe and its constituent parts, it is functioning solidly within the restricted domain of natural science. But if, on the other hand, the principal concerns include some of the basic tenets of naturalism -- no deity, no divine action in the world, no transcendent source of value or purpose -- the material is likely to be naturalistic folk science. . . . "/2. Is the distinction between origin and formation made clear?/ As we discussed in chapter one, natural science can fruitfully investigate the formation of various structures within the physical world, but it is incapable of dealing with the ultimate origin of existence, which is, once again, a metaphysical-religious matter. . . . "/3. Is the distinction between behavior and governance made clear?/ In the absence of a clear delineation of the difference between the scientific description of a thing's /behavior/ and the identification of the source of the /governance/ of that behavior, natural science is likely to be perceived as if it were a competitor to any theistic perspective. The concept of a physical system would then function as a rival to the concept of divine governance." * OLX 2.1 TD * Life has a lot of undocumented features.


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