Paradigms that don’t fit

In my last post I mentioned in passing YEC thinker Dr Arthur Jones, who has commented here in the past and who is remarkable in being one of the only people ever to get a PhD in evolutionary biology with original research leading to anti-evolutionary conclusions. The link was intended as an introduction to him, but the essay so linked is educational in its own right. It shows a remarkable degree of perception on the stuff I discussed in the last post, given that it was written back in 1970, even before his PhD, and only eight years after Kuhn published his book on paradigm shifts in science.

I want to take a couple of things from his excellent examination of the scientific paradigm behind evolutionary theory. The first is his agreement with Justin Topp, and Thomas Kuhn, and me, that such paradigms do not arise from science. Indeed, Jones makes it clear that the commitment to a “research program” is always, ultimately, religious in the broad sense, mediated via a philosophical position.

How does a philosophy structure our scientific beliefs? I would suggest that it does so through being informed by the answers we give to three questions, questions which each practising scientist must answer even though he may not do so either explicitly or consciously:
1) What is the origin of all things?
2) What coheres and interrelates all the aspects of our experience? Whence the lawfulness of the universe?
3) What is the vantage point from which we can meaningfully view each individual fact and the integral totality of creation?

It is the answers to these questions that structure a scientist’s philosophy and his philosophy, in its turn, directs his choice of a paradigm. The thing to notice, however, is that these are religious questions for the answers we accept determine the direction of the whole of our life.

The second claim I want to borrow from Jones arises from this, in relation to the paradigm that, historically, gave rise to evolutionary thought even before evolutionary science. He divides the common world-views in our society crudely into the “Christian” and the “Humanist”, though probably nowadays “Naturalist” or “Materialist” might be more accurate for the latter.

Consider: if the aim of science is to know reality, to find unity in the multiplicity of phenomena, then how can this be achieved in line with the humanist commitment? What, in other words, can a humanist believe about reality which is consistent both with his humanism and with his belief in the attainability of unity in science? There would seem to be only one answer. Unity will only be possible if reality is a continuum, whereby each aspect is related with the others by evolution. Thus the Dutch philosopher Delfgaauw argues that ‘The idea of evolution as such is… only a direct inference from the notion that observable reality is a unity…’

I’ll try to illustrate this below. But first, it’s probably important to note that “choosing a paradigm” has only become an intelligible idea since Thomas Kuhn and others drew attention to their existence. Prior to that, scientists who, for every kind of reason, adopted a set of religious and philosophical views, naturally did their science in accordance with those views. Any choice was quite unconscious. Conversely, it follows that a scientific paradigm, or research program, is the inevitable outcome of a specific worldview, and will at some point or another clash with any other worldview. Since most people are as unaware of their own worldviews as their scientific paradigms, assuming them to be “objective” and self-evident, it has become the case that scientists have usually been blind to science’s faith commitments. As Jones says later:

Humanist scientists always, of course, mask the religious status of this dogma [of continuity] by referring to it as a ‘law’ or principle’.

Mediaeval science was for the most part soundly based on an Aristotelian-Thomist paradigm. One could generalise this as a science of natures – the natures of things being God-given, thoroughly teleological and directed to the “good” inherent in God. On that basis, God in his freedom could choose to create according to orderly patterns, or in extravagant uniqueness. The system was truly, therefore, theistic, because although order and predictability spoke of God’s wise management of his household, his free personal involvement through miracle or other discontinuous acts tended even more to his glory, and the creation of individual forms most of all.

Anti-Aristotelian, but not anti-theistic, considerations led to the rise of early-modern science. I confess to being insufficiently knowledgeable to place the start of that change in context here, but a century later on a clear divergence (and a clash) can be seen in the opposing views of Newton and Leibniz over this very question of “continuity”.

When Newton, theologically unorthodox but uncompromisingly a theist, found that his calculations suggested the solar system might eventually become gravitationally unstable, it was not (as so often suggested) a retreat from science that led him to suggest God might need to restore order. Rather it was a confirmation of his scientific paradigm, in which, because God has an active will, natural laws of gravitation or anything else ought not to form a universal continuity. After his death Laplace faulted Newton’s maths (though that story too may be a misleading myth: see here). But supposing Newton had been around, and had agreed with Laplace’s calculations, he’d have shrugged and put that matter into the “natural law” category, whilst still expecting to see God’s hand expressed in scientific anomalies elsewhere.

His opponent, Leibniz, orginated that still-touted argument that God would have been much wiser to build a self-correcting universe that didn’t require tinkering. But that only follows logically from his own scientific paradigm, based on a religious philosophy much different from Newton’s, in this case Deism.

In Deism the universe would be expected to display a completely seamless network of lawlike events because God governs it on entirely rational principles, and not at all on principles of free choice. There is no place for the arbitrary, or for miracles, in such a world of such a God – rather it is a perfectly executed clockwork automaton, and God is always “a God far off”. So to Leibniz this is “the best of all possible worlds” not because it is perfect, but because the God of Reason would necessarily make the best world he could “all things considered”, that is given the kind of engineering constraints known to human clockmakers.

Now perhaps you can see how none of these important paradigms actually agrees with the one underlying evolutionary thought. To the mediaeval Thomist, there is an essential discontinuity between each species of substance (notwithstanding secondary considerations like the “principle of plenitude”), because each was individually created by fiat. Miracle had a special place in God’s economy, and daily special providence was also an external teleological factor and thus contributed to the element of discontinuity in the cosmos. The unity of things was found only in God – and that fully discernible only through faith in Christ.

To Newton too, as a theist, as I’ve already said continuity in the cosmos was limited, despite the fundamental importance of law to his science. He too believed that creation cut across the interdependent “autonomy” of nature.

Leibniz might be thought to see the universe as a closed system. But not only was its original creation a complete exception to this (the clock did not make itself), but the ubiquity of rational law excluded chance as a factor, for chance is the opposite of reason.

In contrast, the modern evolutionary paradigm (and remember, that paradigm goes far beyond biology to a whole way of seeing the world) returns to Democritus or Epicurus in considering chance to be a creative process, something with which none of the aforementioned would concur – none saw chance as being beyond divine teleological providence or deterministic law. There is no good evidence that chance has any propensity for organisation, and good evidence that it has not.

Yet the evolutionary paradigm is not only inconsistent with previous science, but also with itself. I’ve recently pointed out that the concept of physical laws, divorced from its origin in God’s will, is hard put to it to stand scrutiny. Apart from the current empirical evidence that the cosmos came into being at the Big Bang, beyond any continuity of science or evolution, there is nothing within the paradigm to account for any cosmological origins apart from multiverse speculations that, even if granted, cannot allow an infinite regress of worlds. The same causal gap is evident in the origin of life and, to be frank, in the origin of any particular taxon one considers – evolutionary causal continuity is asserted primarily on the basis that it must be there: and it must be there why? Because the paradigm depends on such continuity as a philosophical axiom, originating from the “humanist” (so Jones) need to exclude God from the picture.

Just to expand on the last point a little, one may of course object that the progressive pattern seen in the fossil record (the nested heirarchy of the tree, bush or forest of life) leads to the certainty of evolutionary continuity, albeit that the actual record progresses invariably in stepwise manner – one just has to join the dots to reclaim the hypothetical links. But that certainty depends entirely on accepting the paradigm to begin with. The observed pattern is equally explicable (if one concedes the chronological reality of the geology) in terms of newly created but similar replacement forms (the planet becoming suited to each in turn), or individual creative “upgrades” to existing forms (which would account easily for the apparent retention of contingent genetic mutations as well as homologies). Or even evolutionary saltations of obscure origin.

The principle Natura non facit saltum” (nature does not make jumps) was Linnaeus’s restatement of the old “principle of plenitude”, but it needs to be understood that to him and the others, God is not nature, but is not absent from it, and can do as he pleases: God is implicit within the paradigm.

Now, let us turn to the Christian theistic scientist of nowadays, who rejects the Aristotelian, Newtonian or Leibnizian paradigms but works comfortably within “modern science”, inclusive of evolution. We’ll say, on the basis of the chart in Jason Topp’s BioLogos piece, that he accepts the Scriptures as authoritative, the Incarnation and atonement of Christ, the Trinitarian God, and the creeds as being essential and sufficient for Christian faith. We may add, at least for many Evangelicals sympathetic to BioLogos, that he accepts also God’s providence in answering prayer, the changing of lives through the Holy Spirit and the working of miracles at least in biblical times, and perhaps now.

The first question to ask is why on earth a scientific paradigm based on materialistic atheism should be consistent with such a religious faith, when it is inconsistent with those of Aquinas, Newton or Leibniz in the past. On first principles, it ought to clash at every point far more than Leibniz did with Newton, being based on opposite principles. If it does not clash, then that’s a remarkable phenomenon requiring some explanation.

The second question to ask is whether, no such conflict being perceived, the explanation may be that the Christian’s paradigm is even more internally conflicted and incoherent than the pure materialist paradigm. This would result either in muddled thinking, or in the more or less strict compartmentalisation of the world into the “scientific” and the “religious”, the dividing wall disguising the incoherence. Eddie Robinson pressed the “compartmentalisation” argument over on the “anti-science” BioLogos thread. But it’s also, perhaps, inherent in the first line of Jason Topp’s table, where he says of the evolutionary creation research program:

Science and religion are different but both essential resources for a coherent understanding of the world.

But if they are different, where is the point of connection that renders them coherent? Not, I would suggest, within the prevailing evolutionary paradigm.

Leibniz was consistent, at least, in not granting the possibility of miracles in a law-driven universe, and this rejection of the supernatural has been a feature of intellectual life since, until recently. In my own youth there was a tendency even within the Church to try and explain miracles “scientifically”, that is as non-miracles. Scientific rationalism (so-called – the naturalistic materialistic paradigm is the better term) was the basis of this, and one would have been hard put to it in the middle of the last century to find a scientist who claimed to be a Christian but had no problem accepting miracles.

From the point of view of theology, today’s greater acceptance that God is a God of miracle, especially regarding the Resurrection of Christ, is a welcome move towards orthodoxy. But it’s completely inconsistent with any paradigm for science in which the universe is held to be a closed system of continuous causation; and so belief in miracles logically demands a change to that paradigm, or ones worldview will lapse into incoherence. You can’t simply pretend that in the religious world miracles happen, but in the scientific world they don’t, because it’s the same world.

Likewise it is intellectually dishonest to wave a union flag for God’s will and purpose for creation in one hand, and wave a jolly roger in the other hand for chance, necessity and undirected evolution in the other. They must be brought together or face incoherence, and if they are brought together, then design will always trump chance, the latter becoming merely an instrument of the former. Evolutionary theory cannot engage with true theism and remain unchanged.

In short, unless theistic evolution/evolutionary creation reformulates the paradigm by which it pursues science in order to reflect, fully and truly, the Christian worldview, and then remodels its concept of evolution according to that paradigm, it will merely be making ingenious rationalisations to evade the need for such a change. On the one hand materialists will despise it for its retention of an indistinct “creationism”, and on the other Christians will despise it for compromising doctrine.

I want to add a word or two on how far one should distinguish Justin Topp’s categories of YEC, OEC and EC as being, or requiring, separate “research programs”. Arthur Jones, seeing the need for truthfulness to the Christian revelation, remains committed to Young Earth Creationism, and I greatly respect his reasoning. I see the same need, but disagree with the modern literalistic hermeneutic of Scripture, and don’t believe that Scripture ever intended to teach a young earth and fixity of species in its original context. But that is a disagreement, in the end, about the understanding of history: the biblical theology of creation, with its metaphysical and theological implications, and the kind of paradigm for doing science that follows from those faith commitments, are pretty much identical. I can say “Amen” to every point Arthur makes, on those scores. So, I believe, could any Old Earth Creationist.

There are certainly problems needing serious thought if the transformation of species is included in ones “system” – problems about universals like “species” and their natures, as well as a whole rethink on what the evidence actually suggests has happened over the course of time, if random contingency is no longer assumed axiomatically. If, like Newton’s, ones science were no longer seeking a universe without discontinuities (which are the inevitable mark of an active God “near at hand” as well as “far off”), then things would inevitably be messier in theory. They would, though, be no less messy in practice since, if the discontinuities are actually there, you’ll seek the connections in vain).

But better a messy truth than a simple lie.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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6 Responses to Paradigms that don’t fit

  1. Cath Olic says:

    Jon,

    Well done.
    I was following and applauding probably every bit of this piece.

    However, close to the end, you wrote:
    “I see the same need, but disagree with the modern literalistic hermeneutic of Scripture, and don’t believe that Scripture ever intended to teach a young earth and **fixity of species** in its original context. **But that is a disagreement, in the end, about the understanding of history**: the biblical theology of creation, with its metaphysical and theological implications, and the kind of paradigm for doing science that follows from those faith commitments, are pretty much identical.”

    First, up until here, your piece seemed to support the worldview of fixity (vs. evolutionary continuity).
    Second, you seem to imply there’s not a problem (only a disagreement) with misunderstanding history, with misunderstanding what actually happened.

    You also wrote: “They must be brought together or face incoherence, and if they are brought together, then design will always trump chance, **the latter becoming merely an instrument of the former.**”

    I’m not sure I follow. And I have a feeling millions of combating words have been written, and millions more will be written, on what that means.

    I won’t belabor these points further right now. You noted “…if one concedes the chronological reality of the geology.” Perhaps it will all boil down to what I consider to be the last crumbling pillar of evolution: Time and its measurement.

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Cath Olic

      On your 3 points:

      (1) I think Arthur’s description of the “evolutionary” paradigm, which was the template on which I built the piece, is about continuity, not fixity: the difference is about gradualism, ie infinitesimal change, rather than change itself – gradualism I’ve openly doubted here on my own behalf, from the fossil record amongst other things. I don’t agree with YECs, though, that Scripture speaks to that – “after their kinds” is about abundance and consistency, not biological fixity. “What’s the text for?” is my watchword there.

      (2) You’re right that I think the detailed history of creation isn’t the crucial issue addressed in Genesis, and that’s why great theologians down the ages have held different interpretations and remained orthodox. However, the denial that God is the sole creator of all things is a fundamental issue.

      (3) I say this as it were on behalf of an “evolutionary creationist” who says that God creates through the Darwinian process of mutation and natural selection (or some equivalent process involving “chance”). Both Aquinas and Reformed theologians agree that chance exists in the world, in the sense of what is unpredictable to us, but they also agree that chance is entirely subject to God’s determining providenceL it isn’t chance to him. That is validated by Scriptural examples like the guy who drew a bow “at a venture” and fulfilled God’s prophecy by killing the king.

      Thus I can agree with someone like population geneticist David Wilcox who calls chance “God’s creative signature”, or with William Dembski who says: “When intelligence acts, it has probabilistic side-effects. Accordingly, chance is no longer sui generis but becomes a probabilistic side effect of intelligence.” That’s the sense in which I mean “Design trumps chance”.

      But what I can’t agree with is the person who implies that God works through “chance” that is unfathomable even to him, as if he were creating with a set of dice. Much theistic evolution seems to get precious close to that, and it’s completely incoherent, as well as being a denial of creation doctrine.

      On the last point – we all bring our experience to bear in forming our worldview. I was just never convinced by the “scientific” arguments in favour of a young earth, either through re-interpretation of the science to invalidate the various dating systems, nor by the “created with appearance of age” idea.

      In a separate argument, I think on hermeneutic grounds that Scripture doesn’t intend to teach a chronology of creation at all, though it does intend an (approximate) chronology for Adam and his descendants. So I have no reason at all to argue for a young earth, though it wouldn’t bother me for one moment if I turned out to be wrong. Surprised, but not bothered – we’ll all get some surprises on the last day, I’ll wager.

  2. Cath Olic says:

    (1)
    “I think Arthur’s description of the “evolutionary” paradigm, which was the template on which I built the piece, is about continuity, not fixity: the difference is about gradualism, ie infinitesimal change…”

    But, for example, you quote Jones as saying “What, in other words, can a humanist believe about reality which is consistent both with his humanism and with his belief in the attainability of unity in science? There would seem to be only one answer. Unity will only be possible if reality is a **continuum, whereby each aspect is related with the others by evolution.**”
    and “Humanist scientists always, of course, mask the religious status of this **dogma [of continuity]** by referring to it as a ‘law’ or principle’.”

    Whether Jones speaks to “gradualism”, I don’t know. I just know “gradualism” wasn’t used in this article. Regardless, whether Man descended from “monkeys” and “mice” through infinitesimal changes or massive mutations, the result is the same: no fixity.

    “I don’t agree with YECs, though, that Scripture speaks to that – “after their kinds” is about abundance and consistency, not biological fixity. “What’s the text for?” is my watchword there.”

    I guess my watchword(s) would be something like “timeless common sense.” The Jews were no dummies and they lived a lot closer to nature, with its numbers and diversity, than we do. Why God would have thought Moses and the Jews would need the words of Genesis 1 to inform them of the abundance of plant, animal and human life, I have no idea. I don’t think Moses and his hearers did either.

    (2)
    “You’re right that I think the detailed history of creation isn’t the crucial issue addressed in Genesis, and that’s why great theologians down the ages have held different interpretations and remained orthodox. However, the denial that God is the sole creator of all things is a fundamental issue.”

    Yes, it’s certainly a fundamental issue, and it can be taught in a few words, as you just did. And as the Bible often does (e.g. Isaiah 42:5, John 1:3).

    (3)
    “I say this as it were on behalf of an “evolutionary creationist” who says that God creates through the Darwinian process of mutation and natural selection (or some equivalent process involving “chance”).”

    Do you think your words (“…design will always trump chance, the latter becoming merely an instrument of the former.”) could cause some disagreements and confusion, even among the “evolutionary creationist” community?

    I have a funny feeling they might.

    “But what I can’t agree with is the person who implies that God works through “chance” that is unfathomable even to him, as if he were creating with a set of dice. Much theistic evolution seems to get precious close to that, and it’s completely incoherent, as well as being a denial of creation doctrine.”

    And what is the “creation doctrine” for you? Just that God created all things, details may follow but are irrelevant or unneeded?

    “In a separate argument, I think on hermeneutic grounds that Scripture doesn’t intend to teach a chronology of creation at all, though it does intend an (approximate) chronology for Adam and his descendants.”

    Please keep in mind, if you ever see a good academic discussion, actually ANY academic discussion, on how Genesis 1:14 relates to the other “timing” verses in the chapter, please try let me know here. Thanks.

  3. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    A brief one – my interpretation of Arthur Jones leans heavily on knowing his longstanding interest in the old concept “the Great Chain of Being” as one root of Darwinian thinking. There are a couple of my pieces on that if you use “search”, so not worth expounding here, but that’s why I don’t think fixity is his main interest in the article. Also his PhD study was on the many varieties of cichlid fish, which he believes to one “kind” that has diversified massively.

    “Why God would have thought Moses and the Jews would need the words of Genesis 1 to inform them of the abundance of plant, animal and human life, I have no idea.” I have – abundance and fertility was a fundamental component of God’s Covenant with Israel, which in turn was a restoration of the generosity of the creation in Genesis. “Go forth and multiply, fill the earth…” A theme recurring throughout both Testaments: Many people, a safe territory, abundant provision and the presence of God. In Revelation that becomes a countless multitude, a new heavens and a new earth, and God dwelling with men. Reminders of abundance lead to thanksgiving for now, hope for the future and obedience to the covenant.

    Disagreements and confusion – the latter I hope not, but if so further explanation covers it. Disagreement I can’t avoid: it’s how issues are explored.

    “What is creation doctrine for you.” A one sentence answer would not do justice to it, since (to oversimplify) most of what isn’t about redemption in the Bible is about creation. This whole site aims to explore biblical creation doctrine in its ramifications, and origins are only one element of that. But if you want my most complete exploration, I did a 6-part series starting here.

  4. ArthurJones says:

    Hi Jon,

    Just yesterday I thought that I haven’t checked your blog for a long time and really must have a look, especially having greatly appreciated so many of your postings I studied before. And now I find recent blogs referring to me! Let me say that I greatly appreciate the fairness and the accuracy with which you report my views – not something I am used to generally. I didn’t even know my 1970 paper was available online, so I am grateful for now having a pdf on file. I am also amazed (and somewhat humbled) to find that there is very little in that paper I would want to change now, over 45 years later!

    Not that we don’t have disagreements, of course. Having spent my last five years before retirement teaching theology at degree level and taking the opportunity that gave me to update my studies in hermeneutics generally, and the exegesis of Genesis in particular (Walton, Collins et al) I have come across nothing that challenges a basically YEC approach, though my approach is more nuanced than many. But we are off to Nepal again in a few weeks, so any engagement with the relevant blogs will have to wait. I still need to respond to replies to some of my previous contributions, but I’ll probably have to forget them. I expect opportunities will arise again in future. I just don’t know how so many bloggers (yourself included) have the time to do so much – but I am glad you do!

    • Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

      Hi Arthur – good to hear from you again.

      It’s good to know that you feel I have been fair and accurate. I always want to be so, but it’s easy to misconstrue people.

      As for disagreements, they’re both inevitable and, in some cases, relatively insignificant. There are disagreements, there are fundamentally incompatible principles and there are culture wars. We’d both disagree with some of Augustine’s particular understanding of Genesis, but I suspect would agree with his famous quotation in City of God about the profundity of the passage, the many opinions it generates, the need for the reader’s “tact” – and that they need not be “widely departing from the rule of faith.”

      My concern is that many recent interpretations fail on that last point, and it’s usually because they allow the “evolutionary paradigm” discussed in the OP to govern the rule of faith. For my own part, I don’t think acceptance of deep time necessarily gives any house-room to that paradigm, and I conclude (in contrast to you, I suppose) that it is not actually denied in Scripture. To me there’s a profound difference between Francis Collins and John Walton on that score.

      As to having enough time to blog, retirement helps, hyperactivity contributes, and stubbornly refusing to take on other valid commitments clinches it (Os Guinness talking on “the vocation of the believer” was a big influence there.”

      I hope Nepal goes well. I always think of that country through the lens of Pete Harris, who introduced me to one of the early believers there, after his return to university (a lifetime ago, it seems).

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