Socrates had a habit of asking difficult and annoying questions. He was eventually told to leave on his feet or feet-first. Plato made a record of the Dialogues of Socrates and wrote much material on his own, too, as well as passing on the torch to Aristotle. Much of what we attribute to the Greeks philosophically we owe to Socrates and Plato his student. Plato through his dialogues with Socrates did touch on the transcendent and there is a sense of his sensing an "ideal" or what I would call a divine or a supernatural aspect to existence.
Aristotle questioned and reasoned and poked and prodded into almost every area of learning. To some extent we give him credit for the scientific method of investigation, but his weakness was his methodology. He would decide what he thought was true, then set about to investigate in order to prove that his thesis was correct. Aristotle, like Socrates, asked one too many question and made one too many statements that were not favorable to the ruling paradigm and he, too, was asked to leave life a bit early. Now the ruling paradigm doesn't kill you, they just kill your career, so I suppose we have made a bit of progress there.
Too often, we refer to "the Greeks" and their mindset and in doing so miss the point that they were in fact of varied mindset and ideas. Greeks during their heyday certainly valued rational thought and discussion but they also valued fame and power and pleasure and quite often put morality at or near the bottom of the priority list. We could attribute hedonism to the Greeks just as easily as we could any virtue. "The Greeks" valued reason and found ways to investigate every facet of human behavior, amplify it and attribute it to one or more imaginary "gods", many of whom were simply ancestors converted into semi-deities by men who only half believed in them. They were the primary playwrights and authors of the Western world in their time.
Many philosophers have considered the supernatural world invisible to man to be a greater reality. Some are left grasping at the edges of understanding the Creator God. The difficulty of comprehending a supernatural world for the natural man was of great interest to Plato, and Socrates compared those who were satisfied with a materialistic view of the world as blind men living in a cave of evil and ignorance. They were men without muses, without a sense of a greater dimension to life. A pity that Paul the Apostle walked among the Greeks some 400 years too late for Socrates and Plato to hear the Gospel, which both men were discussing to some extent without a good knowledge of Hebrew scripture.
Aristotle decidedly came down on the side of Axiomatic study of the world, a view in which one proposed a hypothesis and held onto it doggedly until it was proven correct. His determination that the Universe was Geocentric ruled science until the findings of Galileo and Copernicus were finally accepted by the scientific community and the Church (Catholic Church). It was he that proposed the four elements of matter plus the aether of the Universe and it was he who was to some extent the father of individual scientific disciplines. Virtually everything Aristotle believed we now know to be wrong, but much of his findings were the beginning of further research and understanding. Aristotle provided the Western world a foundation for scientific discovery and considering the ability he had to investigate the world his findings were brilliant. Aristotle proposed a worldview that was groundbreaking in its fullness, even if faulty.
I do not deny that Socrates and Plato and Aristotle were not brilliant minds, men of action and vision, nor do I deny their rightful place in history in areas of philosophy and math and science. I would say, however, that it is time that the world move on and allow them their historical "props" while moving science on to the foundational methodology of Bacon instead. ID folks, as far as they go, tend to agree with Creationists on this point. Yes, another article for your enjoyment:
Brazos Press, Grand Rapids, MI, 2007
For all of history, the fundamental issue in the creation-evolution conflict has been philosophical presuppositions, not empirical evidence or ‘brute facts’. Creationists have been pointing this out for many years, with varying degrees of effectiveness. To their credit, the modern Intelligent Design movement has recognized this same point, and for almost twenty years now, has explicitly made philosophical argumentation central in the debate over Darwinism. Phillip Johnson played an important role in bringing the philosophy of naturalism out into the open and onto the dissecting table with his best-selling Darwin on Trial, the book usually credited with launching the modern ID movement.1 Distinctions between ‘methodological naturalism’ and ‘metaphysical naturalism’ became key points of debate.2 Biophysicist Cornelius Hunter has added to this understanding by authoring several books focused on the history of Darwinism and design.3 His latest work, Science’s Blind Spot, turns the tables completely on naturalism, this time in the realm of history, arguing that Darwinism is religious and ID is empirical. This thesis is not new in the ID literature, but Hunter’s way of saying it is.
Bacon vs DescartesHunter begins with a trip back in history. He doesn’t simply start with Darwin in the 19th century. He goes back almost three hundred years further by profiling two leading philosophers of science in the early days of the scientific revolution: Francis Bacon and René Descartes. The differences and similarities in approach between these two philosophical giants is a microcosm of the rest of the book.
René Descartes stood for rationalism. Descartes, like Bacon, rebelled against stifling Aristotelianism and was an eager advocate for an empirical approach to nature. But Descartes’ empiricism turned out very different from Bacon’s empiricism. Bacon would collect voluminous data before venturing any hypothesis; Descartes would assert hypotheses before collecting data. Descartes and his followers emphasized the creation of hypotheses to explain phenomena, which must themselves be in terms of natural processes (naturalistic). The important difference between Descartes and Bacon was that in the Cartesian system, hypotheses came first. Several hypotheses could then be compared against nature to see which one might be the more probable explanation. But this still meant that the hypotheses were going to be read back into nature, rather than looking to nature to develop hypotheses. At its worst, Descartes effectively replaced the axioms of Aristotle with axioms of his own.
Theological naturalismDescartes did recognize that his hypotheses might not be true, but he hoped that they might be useful.4 What he did not seem to realize was the extent to which his presuppositions might be unconsciously limiting the types of hypotheses that would be proposed, so that scientists never would arrive at the real truth. And this is exactly what happened, Hunter suggests, for in the years to come, many scientists and philosophers absolutized Descartes’ most fundamental axiom—that only natural explanations can be legitimate hypotheses. This proposition became entrenched, not by scientific progress, but by rationalistic reasoning—specifically, theological rationalistic reasoning.
The path to theological naturalism was charted over the course of several centuries. First came the ‘greater God’ argument. Hunter starts with Thomas Burnet, who wrote in 1685 that it was theologically preferable for God to create a cosmic ‘clock’ that runs on its own, rather than have a universe requiring any divine interventions. Hume’s (thoroughly discredited5 ) argument against miracles a century later only strengthened the force of Burnet’s logic. This argument—that divine efficiency equals a ‘greater God’—was frequently repeated over the years, and remains today a basic tenet of theistic evolution.6
Second, deists tended to emphasize nature as the superior (if not the only) revelation of God in the world. So, as the young Immanuel Kant argued, natural laws must obey God ‘in and of themselves’, mechanistically. The alternative, Kant thought, would be the absurd situation of natural laws disobeying God unless coerced. This, in turn, would downgrade the efficacy of natural revelation. However, the biblical view of natural laws is that they are descriptions of God upholding His creation in an orderly way, rather than prescriptions.
Third, many theological writers suggested that nature must be mechanistic in order to save God from the problem of evil in the world. Hume argued that if God was directly involved in the world, then He would be responsible for evil. So, to save God, naturalism must be true.
Hunter emphasizes that the common thread for each of these lines of thought is that ostensibly scientific naturalism was adopted for theological reasons. Hunter recognizes that the shift to naturalism as the basic philosophy of science was not entirely bereft of empirical discourse. But even when the arguments are framed in terms of science, Hunter finds theological axioms as the driving force.
For instance, Bernoulli and Kant interpreted the empirical, observed order in the solar system as evidence of naturalism. How did they arrive at this conclusion? By injecting the theological premise that if God had directly acted, He would have acted without restraints on His creativity. So the fact that planets move on the ecliptic was considered evidence that God did not put them there (p. 57). If God had no restraints on His creativity, then it was assumed he would have placed planets going in every direction. In another example, Burnet observed the ‘lack of a pattern in the moon’s craters and earth’s coastlines and concluded that [an] unguided mechanism was responsible’ (p. 58). Again, a theological premise was necessary for the conclusion: Burnet assumed God would make things in an orderly manner. Ironically, the conclusion that God did not act was proven to different people from the exact opposite situation.
The modern rationalistsUp to this point, Hunter has provided a very valuable historical refutation to the notion that naturalism was itself a scientific discovery. It was, instead, a rationalist construct, based usually on (pseudo-)theological grounds, imposed on science. It is not hard to anticipate where Hunter is going with this. Sure enough, Darwin followed the same procedure as so many who had gone before. Naturalistic explanations were sought, and very often the evidence for the naturalistic explanation was that God would not have done it that way. ‘Darwin could not actually explain how the wing or leg of a bat could have arisen, but he knew how they could not have arisen’ (p. 72).
For instance, homology has been touted as a key evidence for evolution, from Darwin to the present. Yet in light of modern genetics, the argument is collapsing, for many homologous structures do not share the same genetic pathways in development. Hence, they could not have been derived from a common ancestor (pp. 81–82). Convergent evolution is a similar anomaly from the opposite direction. Where evolutionists are confident that particular animals did not share a common ancestry for most of their development, it remains puzzling why so many biological features are recurrent (pp. 84–86).
Hunter notes that the position of the modern Darwinists is just like so many other proponents of rationalistic theories of the past. The theory is as much a fact as the observations, ‘so problems are interpreted as unanswered questions,’ without ever questioning the rationalistic ‘universal criteria’ (p. 136). The Darwinist rationalists focus on the many observations that fit neatly within the theory, but ignore the anomalies. But, in Hunter’s words,
‘science cannot be replaced by statistics. Indeed, often it seems that the exceptions, the anomalies, are what stimulate interesting and important scientific discovery. … The rare failure is more interesting than the common success. Rather than use statistics to rationalize unexplained observations, science needs to focus in on such observations’ (p. 96).
Modern empiricistsSo, what might a science look like that does not take rationalism for granted? In his final chapter, Hunter suggests that it would be a ‘moderate empiricism,’ in the tradition of Francis Bacon. It would be suspicious of a priori assumptions, cautious in putting forward theories until sufficient empirical data (experiments and observations) are collected, and never overly devoted to a particular theory (pp. 137–140). Hunter emphasizes that this is a more uncertain path to take: ‘The empirical approach is much less certain about the form … [and] truthfulness of the result. Problems are complicated, and humanity is not always up to solving them completely’ (p. 137). The advantage is that because moderate empiricism is severed from preconceived notions, it can discover more about the real world. ‘The empirical approach is not as tidy as the rational approach. But it also does not constrain itself to preconceived notions. It is more amenable to new and unexpected results’ (p. 137). ‘It makes no sense to constrain the methodology of an investigation into the unknown’ (p. 139).
Intelligent Design represents moderate empiricism today, Hunter says. It rules out nothing a priori, and is dedicated to considering all the evidence. The Darwinists are bothered by this, Hunter says, because they cannot understand an approach which is so radically different from their own, an approach without a firm rationalistic structure. But this is precisely ID’s strength. ‘Unfortunately’, Hunter writes, ‘there is a common misunderstanding that intelligent design is opposed to all naturalistic explanations. Nothing could be further from the truth. Intelligent design is opposed, however, to simple-minded, dogmatic blinders when we are dealing with complex problems’ (p. 147).
Hunter’s book is a valuable corrective to the all-too-common belief that Darwinism, with its concomitant naturalism, is a scientific discovery. Hunter’s historical survey of rationalistic theories puts Darwinism in proper perspective. More interesting, perhaps, is Hunter’s endorsement of Bacon and ‘moderate empiricism’. How a Christian might understand this position is worth considering at some length.
Presuppositions and axioms: are Christians rationalists?‘Moderate empiricism’ is a philosophically and theologically ‘loaded’ issue. A Christian should not embrace Hunter’s position carelessly. It follows, to some extent, Bacon’s naïve idea that religion should not precondition results, and that science could not speak to religion. This is a position that has been thoroughly discredited by history: either a theologically-informed science will operate, or an anti-theological science develops.7 This in itself should be a warning signal.
In response, we will take for granted the position of orthodox Christianity that the Christian does have a duty to acknowledge God in every sphere of life, and should not partition his thought life between the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’. But this does not turn us into ‘rationalists’.
In evaluating ‘moderate empiricism’, we should recognize that it is impossible to actually abandon all presuppositions in favour of completely open possibility—impossible to do that and still live with the results, that is. For instance, suppose one gave up the presupposition of regularity in the universe. There would then be no reason to suppose that the experiment you did yesterday would turn out the same today, or that the sun would rise again. All prediction would be destroyed. The fact of the matter is that a host of presuppositions is required to even carry on a rational conversation: presuppositions about the nature of logic, about the existence of other minds, and about the regularity of nature, to name a few. Hunter could never advocate an abandonment of all presuppositions.
So how do we distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate constructs ‘imposed’ on science? This subject needs to be handled carefully, for both empiricist and rationalist positions are problematic. In walking a fine line between extremes, a very helpful distinction could be made between rationalistic ‘axioms’, and ‘presuppositions’ necessary for all reasoning, including science itself.
An ‘axiom’ is the term Hunter uses for the rationalistic propositions or premises assumed a priori to be true and then used as the filter for determining the truthfulness of other investigations. But in contrast, we can call the Christian’s pre-theoretical commitment to the existence of a Triune Creator God and to Scripture a ‘presupposition’.
It should also be added that the Christian’s choice of presuppositions are not fideistic or arbitrary. They are supported by a powerful argument that upon Christian presuppositions alone is reasoning possible; a presupposition of the God of Scripture is necessary for any meaning at all. Without the existence of the God of Scripture, there would be no reason to suppose that logic actually works, that the laws we observe in the universe are consistent, and that our minds correspond to reality. This means that every act of scientific inquiry rests on suppositions that are religious, and the functionality of science is only explicable from a biblical Christian worldview.
We thus have good reason to hold to the authority of Scripture even when doing our science—indeed, especially when doing science. As philosopher Alvin Plantinga pointed out, if we know Scripture to be true, then it only makes sense to apply this knowledge to every sphere, creating a Christian worldview-conscious science.8 This is very different from the rationalist imposition of naturalism on science, for in our case, we argue that our presuppositions are necessarily true if science itself is true. If we indeed have a presupposition that must necessarily be as true as the science itself, it would be foolish to maintain an ‘I don’t know’ agnosticism on the issue.
Science to the glory of God?A presuppositional analysis can prevent Christians from making an unwise choice between rationalism and empiricism. But a new question can be raised at this point. What is the actual position of ID on this issue? Hunter’s comments about ID are not particularly analytical, and often could be read just as easily as either describing ID as it as, or prescribing what ID ought to be. Either way, the book’s last sentences are thought provoking: ‘Intelligent design is not about proving religion. It is about analyzing the workings of nature without religious constraint’ (p. 147).
On the one hand, we can opt to support ID’s ideal of a completely free inquiry, with God/Intelligence as one option among many, equally respectable, options. On the other hand, Christians can work to develop a presuppositionally biblical approach to science, an approach that conducts scientific inquiry on the foundations of a biblical epistemology. For the Christian, I think that the choice is clear: we are charged to do all things to the glory of God. With this being the case, we can appreciate the work that ID has done to dethrone naturalism, but as Christians, we should not do our science with the goal merely of making ‘the supernatural’ or ‘intelligence’ (and maybe ‘God’) an ‘option’.