John W. Burgeson
Chapter 1 (of 3)
"'If I am going to be drowned -- if I am going to be drowned -- if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees?'" So author Stephen Crane expresses the thoughts of his characters in his story "The Open Boat."
The claim, implicitly made in a work of fiction, is that of philosophical naturalism, or universal meaninglessness. Another term, from the sciences, is Evolutionary Accidentalism, or Chance (often capitalized). The claim is stated much more clearly, explicitly, in Bertrand Russell's "A Free Man's Worship." Russell writes,"Brief and powerless is Man's life; on him and all his race the slow sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way; for Man, condemned today to lose his dearest, to-morrow himself to pass through the gates of darkness ... ."
This claim that mankind exists only for a short time in a universe directed by Chance, is one I argue against in this chapter. While it is held by many people more learned than I, Russell, Sagan, Gould, Dawkins and others, I assert, in a paraphrase of Mencken, that when many learned people say a foolish thing, it remains a foolish thing.
The claim of the author, whether that author be Crane, Russell or any of the many other disciples of Accidentalism, is based on scientific grounds along with the assumption, usually left unsaid, that scientific reasoning is the only kind of reasoning that matters and that all elements of human experiences are, in principle at least, explainable by the scientific method. I dispute it on the basis of logic, on an appeal to a shared group of human non-material facts, and on the basis of a personal experience.
I begin with the argument from logic. The foundation of science dates back to a statement first made in the time of the Epicureans, possibly by Polybius or Epicurus. It reads something like this:
A modern term for this is "methodological naturalism", part and parcel of all proper science. It is sometime stated (more honestly) as "Science is a game." Another term used is "Methodological Atheism."
Now when methodological naturalism mutates into philosophical naturalism, it creates a trail of illogic. The scientist, when performing science, self-limits his study purposefully to the material. It is illogical, therefore, for the philosophical naturalist to claim science as a basis for belief. There is no scientific experiment, not now and not ever, that could in any way reveal anything beyond strict causality and a wholly material universe. One might posit a universe where magic ruled; the inhabitants thereof would simply have a much more complex book of science! We use the theory of evolution, for example, not because it is a particularly good theory in the realm of prediction, for it is not, not because it is fairly good in systematizing and explaining our world (it is), but because it is, indeed, the only theory that appears to be possible given the base starting point of methodological naturalism demanded by scientists. What it is, in fact, is an unfalsifiable "truth." It is useful, to be sure, but may, or may not, tell us anything about the real world.
A shorter way of expressing the above might be as follows: Science is all about "modelling" the physical world. It is not at all about understanding "reality" -- or finding "Truth." Thus the use of it as a ground for philosophical naturalism is simply unwarranted.
A second, somewhat similar, argument against the PN claim can be made even if we grant that "science" is a sufficient foundation. It is, I maintain, an act of hubris to make the PN claim on the basis of today's scientific knowledge. "The assured results of modern scholarship" are all too frequently shown as so much off-the-wall speculation as time and human knowledge advance. A person making such an assertion must be first cousin to the legendary U.S. Patent Office clerk who resigned his post in the 1890s on the grounds that just about all the inventions that could be made had already been made. How will the people making this claim be viewed 500 years from now? It will be interesting to watch this being played out. The WYSIWIG* assumption no longer has a place in particle physics; visualization of quantum mechanics disappeared decades ago. With some exceptions, it is the biologists, not the physicists, who so proclaim macroevolution (amoeba to University Professor) as a "fact", rather than a theory.
Now let us look at a different approach to refutation. In parallel with Unamuno's story of the peasant asking "Wherefore God," I ask, "Wherefore the universe?" I see the existence of the universe, in all its excellent complexity, as a ugly fact indelibly staining the PN claim. There is no place to put it, nothing to do with it. It just is, and that makes no sense. But wait! there is more to the universe than simply vast gobs of inanimate matter. There is animate matter. There is mankind. And within mankind, there are all sorts of non-material facts, facts which even Dr. Russell would not dispute, facts of love, and hate, and greed, and bravery, and so on. These things, I call them "res" deliberately, exist, and there is no place for them in the PN claim. So the PN claim, as it cannot account for everything, is deficient on its face and must be believed in for other reasons. "The heart has reasons that reason never knows," said Pascal. I have yet to see the this claim addressed by the PN crowd in a more than a cursory manner.
"Golden lads and girls all must
As chimney sweeps, come to dust."
And so we must, but our physical earthly bodies only; the responsive chord in our hearts at Easter worship, the love that cannot endure separation, these speak to us with such conviction that it is difficult to take seriously the PN claim long enough to speak to it.
The final argument is one based on a certain personal experience. I am aware that such an argument can never have full strength with anyone but myself, for my experience was subjective, not repeatable, and in indescribable in more than elementary terminology. But the fact remains, about three years after I had committed myself, as best I knew how, to the Christian position, to Christ, that I had an encounter with what I must describe as the Holy Spirit. I will go no further than this, that I was convinced then, and am convinced now, that it was "real." So, Mr. Crane, Dr. Russell. et.al., I have seen the beyond, albeit dimly, and all your arguments that it does not exist are simply without meaning. Again, this argument is sufficient for me; it cannot (and should not) be sufficient for anyone else. There are those who have their own experience with the non-material; they will recognize the argument in their own terms.
* WYSIWIG -- What you see is what you get. A well respected term in the computer business, appearing in the early 1980s. If it is not yet in the newest dictionaries, it will be. (prediction).
Chapter 2 (of 3)
"'If I am going to be drowned -- if I am going to be drowned -- if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees?'" Stephen Crane expresses the claim of Philosophical Naturalism, Accidentalism, in fiction, in the thoughts of his characters in "The Open Boat," his classic short story. The claim, one of universal meaninglessness, is found more explicitly in the works of Russell, Sagan, Dawkins, and other 20th century naturalists. Carl Sagan expresses it (paraphrased) as follows in Parade magazine recently -- "The universe is all there is, was, will ever be." The philosophy is also to be found implicitly in the works of many other contemporary thinkers, such as scientists writing on the subject of philosophy, such as Gould, Eldredge, and others.
This claim, that mankind exists only for a short time in a universe governed by Accidentalism, is one I will argue in favor of in this paper. I do so as a Devil's Advocate, and I do so for several reasons. First, I have always been dissatisfied with my attempts to argue for the other side. While they satisfy me, they have been singularly unsuccessful in gaining even a recognition of possibility from two friends with whom I have carried on a many-year dialog on the subject. Second, I have come to perceive arguments of philosophy as more akin to courtroom battles than the clash of rival scientific theories. Professor Johnson's recent book, Darwin on Trial, first began to turn my thoughts in this direction. The dividing line between science, proper science, and "philosophy of science," and "philosophy of everything" is very difficult for me to understand; I have come to judge that it is likewise difficult for many other people. Thirdly, the best use of the scientific method, to which I am by nature, education and profession, irrevocably wedded, incents one always to subject one's most cherished ideas to the best arguments/data that can be brought against them. I've used this technique often in teaching Sunday School classes to college-age students, using, for instance, Russell's "Why I Am Not a Christian" as text material. Fourth, I ran across a very interesting incident of the obverse of this action in the Preface to Dawkin's "The Blind Watchmaker." On page x, these words,"A lawyer ... is paid to exercise his passion and his persuasion on behalf of a client or a cause in which he may not privately believe. I have never done this and I never will ... I never say anything that I do not believe to be right." Dawkins then relates his shock at hearing a person advocating the Creationist position and then finding out she was doing so for the challenge, that she was not a "believer." Such an attitude (Dawkin's, of course), is the antithesis of the methods of science, as I understand them. Not to mention that science is all about "what works," and not at all about belief systems, or "truth!" A classic example of this is to be found in the forward to Nicolaus Copernicus' "On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres," probably written by his friend, Andrew Osiander for the first edition of the book in 1543: "...it is not necessary that these hypotheses be true, or even probably; but it is enough if they provide a calculus which fits the observations... ."
The Accidentalism claim, whether it comes from Crane, Russell or any of many others who assert it, is based on scientific grounds along with the assumption, usually implicit, that scientific reasoning is the only kind of reasoning that counts. I intend to support this claim, arguing from (1) Science, (2) Silence, (3) Evolution and (4) by taking on several counter-arguments and showing them to be unsatisfactory.
The argument from Science is very straightforward. In the time of the ancients, cause and effect were known only vaguely, and "god" was assumed to be the cause of most phenomena, certainly most large-scale phenomena. With the advance of scientific thinking, more and more of the cause-effect relationships became understood, and the phrase "god of the gaps" emerged to describe that ever shrinking part of our world where a deity still might hold dominion. Arthur Clarke is said to have written "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," and so, as our technology advances, we find less and less place for divine action. Yes, there are yet many things we do not understand, and may never understand, much less be able to control. But all of them -- sex, emotions, even human consciousness, are explainable in theory -- we need no "god" as an explanation for any part of our universe.
The argument from silence complements the argument from science. The first is, of course, a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for the Accidentalist claim. And, in a sense, you cannot prove a negative. A being superior to us may indeed exist, although the possibility seems vanishingly small. But where is he? Silence. The history of our civilization is rife with examples of people attempting to show differently; with no exceptions every one of these which has been subjected to rational scientific investigations has failed to stand the test; those that were maliciously fraudulent exceed those which were simply carelessly measured. There is not a single "miracle" of either ancient or recent times which does not admit of a more likely natural (causal) explanation.
The argument from evolution (I use the term here in the sense of "inorganic materials to University Professor continuum") is a telling one, filling out the three-part foundation for the claim. Now that we understand quite well how a long series of chance changes may bring about both non-living "artifacts" and living organisms appearing to have been "designed by intelligence," the history of our universe is well marked out -- from fiery beginnings 6 or more billions of years ago to a uniform "heat death" billions of years hence, when all traces of our race and its habitation are dust. There are those who argue that evolution is only a theory, not a fact; let us follow that argument a bit. First of all, in the scientific sense, evolution must be a fact. There are, after all, only two competing ideas about the origin of life, evolution from inanimate material, and creation by an outside "intelligent agent." The second, we must assert is a religious concept, and thus cannot be considered at all as science. So "evolution" is all that is left! Evolution therefore, in science at least, must be a "fact."
I argue also that it must be a fact even outside the confines of the rules of science. Let us assume, for argument's sake, that there is (or was) a superior being, or beings, who came to earth, say, 6000 years ago (the date is really immaterial) and created this earth in a very short (six days) time. I will not treat the obvious argument that this being could have evolved elsewhere -- this merely pushes the essential argument backwards in time and outwards in space where we have no data. But what I will argue is that this scenario presents us with some rather overwhelming problems, such that the scenario collapses altogether, thus making evolution, again, the only viable alternative.
In 1857, Phillip Henry Gosse, a prominent scientist of that day, proposed exactly this scenario in his book, "Omphalos," the Greek word for "naval." Gosse defined two interesting terms, "Prochronic" and "Diachronic," which were the measure of time before and after the fiat creation took place. Observing that life is, after all, a never ending circle, egg -- chicken -- egg -- chicken, etc., the creation event(s) necessarily had to be a bursting into that circle at some point. So if we had visited with Adam 15 minutes after the creation event, we would have observed on him a distinct naval, a sign of a long ago (prechronic) birth event that never took place! The dentist in our group would examine teeth whose edges were partly worn from years of chewing that never occurred. The proctologist would locate lower bowel waste material from food never eaten. The logger, cutting down a tree nearby, would see rings documenting years of prechronic growth. And the fossil-hunter would find millions of skeletons of creatures that never lived! The scenario fails at this point; it is unacceptable. The god's creation is too perfect a model, it necessarily creates a false history. A few moments reflection shows it is impossible for the god to do anything else! Given any kind of sudden creation, in part or in whole, all at once or spread over eons, this must describe reality. Since it cannot, the creation hypothesis fails; evolution becomes fact.
There are a number of arguments which contend against the Accidentalist claim. I shall address nine of them; there are more, but these seem to be the strongest:
1. The claim makes life a joke; life has no meaning and so is not worth living.
"No meaning" is is accurate; "life a joke" is a human assessment. And whether life is worth living is a judgement each person must make for himself, at each of life's points. But the statement is not an argument against Accidentalism, it is simply a cry of pain that it is so. To such a statement, the Accidentalist must answer, "Grow up. Wishing doesn't make it so." "The meaning of life" is a valid question for all humanity, for every person, religious or not.
2. The universe does exist. If Accidentalism be true, why?
The fact that the universe does exist is true. But one may not derive any light on the meaning of that existence from the fact itself. The fact of existence makes the god hypothesis possible, nothing more.
3. There are, well documented, a variety of religious experiences, as discussed by James.
That such experiences appear to exist is disputed by no one. That fraudulent such experiences actually do exist is likewise disputed by no one. It remains only to ask if, among all the experiences reported, there may be those, at least one, which is genuine. There is, however, no way to answer that question. For those who have never had such an experience, the principle of Ockkam's Razor indicates intense skepticism, at best. For those who remember such an experience, they must continually ask themselves if they could have been fooled, or hallucinated, or otherwise simply be wrong about the memory.
4. The argument from a particular religion -- Christianity.
The historical records of Jesus Christ are sufficiently reliable to allow us to have as much confidence in his existence as, say, Julius Caesar. But generations of copyists of the biblical texts leave us with no reliable evidence at all -- evidence that would, for example, be courtroom admissible -- that the records are trustworthy. But even if they were -- suppose Jesus were among us today, were executed, and came to life again. It would be a simpler explanation to believe either he had great resuscitative powers -- or believe that the dead do not always stay dead, than to believe the claims of Christianity, that he is deity.
5. The argument from a particular religion -- Buddhism.
Buddhism is founded on an assumption which is unproven and unprovable, that of successive rebirths of the personality. Since every rebirth carries no knowledge of the previous incarnation, it is difficult to see any "self" being carried along, certainly there is none in any definitively useful sense.
6. The argument from Maya, illusion.
The Maya assumption may, indeed, be true. I may, in the words of a long ago Chinese philosopher, be a butterfly dreaming today that I am a human being, keying away at a computer keyboard. But in such a philosophy lies nothing useful to me. One must proceed in these affairs as if a material world exists, and one is part of that reality.
7. The Cartesian argument, partial illusion.
Not even Descartes really believed "I think, therefore I am" described all one could really be sure of, except in a theoretical sense. During our waking moments, few of us at any time, insobriety excepted, seriously doubt the existence of reality. Scientifically speaking, it is a question of probabilities, with some probabilities, as measured by us, being so overwhelming as to no longer be in question.
It is much like the elevator question. Which of us gives any thought at all to an elevator we take on a daily basis? Yet we know that mechanical devices do fail, and, with a little research, could even estimate our own chances of injury or death in such a failure; we don't do this. What I am arguing here is that (a) Accidentalism is either true, or not true. (b) The chance of it being not true, as measured by an intelligent human being with access to the relevant facts, is vanishingly small -- the equivalent of one elevator failure in all human history.
8. The argument from logic. Since scientists assume no supernatural in doing their work, how can no supernatural be inferred from scientists' failure to find such?
The term for this #1 rule of science is "methodological atheism," sometimes called "methodological naturalism," and it is, indeed, the foundation of all proper science. Without this assumption, it is not possible to "do" science. It is claimed that methodological naturalism has mutated into into philosophical naturalism, thence into Accidentalism. But this is not so -- that would be illogical.It is quite true that "science" forms a necessary basis for belief, but this is hardly the only basis, as argued above. It is true that there is no scientific experiment, not now and not ever, that could in any way reveal anything beyond a rigorous causality and a wholly material universe. But there are "signs" a god might do -- evidences of non-causality -- which would give us a reason to question Accidentalism. These do not exist. All such reports of such are either too remote historically to be credible, or are easily shown to be fraudulent of careless.
9. It is asserted by some that Accidentalism is unfounded because our knowledge is yet to scanty to determine such a philosophy. Now it is quite true that our knowledge is limited. All indications are that our knowledge base will continue to expand tremendously in the coming years. Indeed, few limitations are in sight! But it is not true that our foundations of knowledge are in question. Einstein's work did not overthrow Newton, it merely modified his work at the extremes of measurement. Quantum theory did not overthrow Faraday's work, it only established that the sub-atomic world had a complexity beyond anything the 19th century scientists could measure. We stand today, as Lewis and Clark in 1804, at the frontier of a vast uncharted wilderness of scientific exploration. But we already know much of what we will discover. Lewis and Clarke found many wonders -- but they did not find dragons, wizards and witches, space aliens, or, indeed, anything which could not have been described quite perfectly in an 1803 printed text. So we have no reason to expect that, for example, 200 years from now we will have discovered Mars is made from green cheese, or that the planet Saturn is an optical illusion, or that a race of little green people inhabits the earth below, or any such. Nor do we expect to find a god.
In summary, there is a claim of Philosophical Naturalism and I have argued in its favor on four counts, from the findings of science, from the silence of any possible god, from the fact of evolution and in nine points of rebuttal against arguments common to Accidentalism's opponents. I rest my case.
Chapter 3 (of 3)
I make no apologies for continuing this topic, Accidentalism, for I am convinced that it is the most important one in all philosophy. If Accidentalism, as expressed in the works of Russell and others, be true, than all other topics possible to the philosophic mind, indeed, all other topics possible to any mind, are noise, signifying nothing, as the bard puts it. Indeed, were I personally convinced of the correctness of Russell's essay, "A Free Man's Worship," I would, I believe, cease to have interest in almost everything else in life -- hedonism, "eat, drink and be merry" would be the only path I could see worth pursuing. Much of my reading of Russell, in fact, has been to try (unsuccessfully) to determine why it was he did not come to the same conclusion! Likewise the writings of Gould, Dawkins, and others.
In chapter 1 I argued against the accidentalist claim; in the second chapter,as "advocatus diaboli," I argued in its behalf. In this chapter I will again argue against it, on two counts, (1) that humanity has transcendental attributes, and (2) the intellectual bankruptness of evolution theory. My focus on these two arguments will be different than the remarks in chapter 1. I will conclude (3) by addressing (very briefly) the arguments in favor of the PN position which appeared in chapter 2.
(1) Arguments that Humanity has transcendental attributes
It has been observed (by many) that our race can be described as "value-creating" organisms, and, in that single attribute, a sharp differentiation between mankind and other members of the animal kingdom can be observed. Certainly, the portrayal is without serious controversy. Most of us "collect things," attributing value to small bits of colored paper (stamps), or seashells, or figurines, or books, or, more intangibly, to learning, education or skills. We ascribe mysterious values to a collection of paid athletes smashing one another on a green field every Sunday in pursuit of a small inflated bag of pigskin. We drive ourselves incessantly in pursuit of these values, values unrelated to either survival or procreation. Is this activity accidental? It does not appear so. Rather, the activity seems to reflect a never-ending search for something -- for meaning. Accidentalism has no explanation for such activities. Why search for meaning at all? What does your life, and mine, mean? We "know," deep within us, that the answer is not null.
In like manner, humanity is separated from animals by being able to contemplate the intangible. Not just the "isn't now," a dog can wish for a bone, but the "never has been," and certainly not the "never could be." It is unlikely a dog ever seriously considered painting a picture. What answer has accidentalism here? It has none.
Then there is altruism. A person will sacrifice his own best interests for another. Sometimes for an unknown another. Sometimes for a non-human another (Save Willy!). Again, why do this, why does the attribute exist at all, if all is chance? In my visits to the nursing home where my mother-in-law lives, I often see an elderly man at table, patiently feeding his Altzeimer-stricken wife her meal. Of what value is such an action, if all is chance? More to the point, why would such an irrational action take place at all?
We observe that animals are mostly guided by instinct, humans by learning, experiences, speech and writing. Why should such exist at all, in a world governed by chance? Instinct might be allowed in such a universe; not the converse.
Then there are the transcendental activities of history, art, music and ethics. A dog can probably hear a Mozart concerto better than a human, but is hardly capable of appreciation. We value and admire beauty -- to what end? Dawkins personifies the "selfish gene," but such an approach is sophistry. Another invents "Gaia," a conscious planet, but even should such a thing be true, it would not help the accidentalist's cause. Again, there is no answer to these activities in the philosophy of accidentalism.
Human consciousness (self-awareness) is a real problem for accidentalism. Julian Jaynes wrote a brilliant book, "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind," which argues for the emergence of consciousness a few thousand years ago. His base assumption is accidentalism, and with that assumption, he has portrayed as good a scenario as can be done with our present knowledge base. Reading the book is like reading science-fiction, one must suspend critical facilities to imagine whole civilizations, going about their business of living, with nobody in the civilization "self aware." A race of organic robots. Robots creating art, painting pictures, worshipping, yet without consciousness. It boggles my mind! I prefer Gosse's unvisualizable fiat creation scenario to this one, where visualizability may be present, and even a "mechanism," of sorts, but not believability.
There is more. There is humankind's capability for rational thought, there is our moral consciousness, our aesthetic sense expressed outside of the arts, our mystical sense, our sense of shame, our propensity for wearing body coverings independent of climactic requirements. Most of all, there is the presence of "sin." One does not have to be religious to recognize the existence of this fact (the Greek word used in the N.T. means "missing the mark) of the universe. And only humanity seems to have it! Chance? Or something more diabolical?
Perhaps, and just perhaps, if the transcendental attributes of humanity were only a minor part of human consciousness, one might be swayed by the accidentalist's arguments. But they play no minor role -- they are, in almost every person, the most important part of existence. Hume's observation that his philosophy was "cold," illustrates the point. A skeptic, to be fully human, has to know how far to extend that skepticism, and when to abandon it. Russell, Dawkins, and others have never learned this. Our transcendentalism is "us." Without it, we are uninteresting curiosities.
(2) Arguments from the bankruptness of evolution theory
Evolution, of course, is a fact. That's the easy statement. But what does it mean? Well, evolution as describing the changes of the English "peppered moth," or the finch populations described by Darwin, or bacteria adaptations to antibiotics; all these are empirical facts. The extension of these facts to account for all life on earth, from inorganic chemicals to humanity is the subject under discussion. In what follows, I mean that extension by the word "evolution." And I discuss these affairs philosophically, not scientifically!
When Darwin (and Wallace) conceived their brilliant theory, and brilliant it most certainly was, it was not the idea of "maggot to man" they developed, that had been around for centuries in one form or another. Gosse himself, in his 1857 book, "Omphalos," had commented on the idea. What Darwin did was propose a mechanism, "Variation of Organisms combined with Survival of the Fittest." The concept had progressed through many phases since 1859, and always the problem of mechanisms was key to the arguments. The theory survived and is "revealed truth" in many quarters today because of books such as "Omphalos," which seemed to show that no rational alternatives to evolution could exist scientifically.
Not being a theologian, I will not address the subject from that viewpoint, except to note that there appear to be a substantial number of religious people whose reputations and honesty cannot be questioned, who have no problems with the evolution concept religiously. What I will do, however, is look at the theory from a scientific viewpoint (remember that I am still writing philosophically, not as a scientist), and argue that it is, at best, a useful working hypothesis; at worst, as some modern authors such as Phillip Johnson argue, an actual impediment to scientific progress.
I take as given the present estimated age of the earth and the universe. While some interesting factual discrepancies exist to call these large (to us) numbers into question, all such data appears to admit of other explanations than a "young earth." On the other hand, the evidences for an "old earth" are rather overwhelming!
There appear to be four separate, each very strong, arguments against the "maggot to man" evolutionary hypothesis. This not being a paper on this subject, I will be as brief as possible (but no briefer) on each argument.
a. Evolution has no discernible mechanism.
Darwin knew nothing of radiation, and cell mutations, but this cause is generally held today to be the evolutionary mechanism. Fred Hoyle likened it to a lightning bolt hitting a junkyard and creating a 747; that seems to be overstating the objections somewhat! What is known is this: mutations are 1000 to 1 (or more) to be injurious. In cases where they are not, there has never been an observation of a change which resulted in a more complex species being developed. Generations of radiated fruit flies (experiments date back to 1927) produced some pretty strange looking fruit flies. But that is all, left alone, the colonies reverted to type. This was true even when sub-colonies consisting only of the mutants were created!
Evolution along a horizontal plane is certainly possible, and has been demonstrated many times. Sugar beets today have three to four times the sugar content of their ancestors of the early 19th century. Dogs are bred to enhance one or another useful (?) attribute. But there are always limits, and new kinds of organisms do not emerge.
A creation alternative has no problem here. A creation hypothesis, however, must have (by the rules of science) a non-supernatural cause! In the (present) absence of positive SETI data, it seems impossibly difficult to conceive of one. So, science is stymied.
b. Why are there species at all? Why is there not simply a progression of living organisms, with complete intermediaries between "dog" and "cat," for example? Again, a creation alternative has no problem with this. Both "fiat" and "progressive" creationists see this as reasonable.
c. The fossil record shows an "abrupt appearance" of organisms about 320 to 340 MY ago. This fact is more consistent with some kind of creation process, than evolution. Even the "punctuated equilibrium" models of Gould and Eldredge.
d. Evolution is, without question, an unfolding of life from the simple to the complex. The 2nd most absolute law of physics is the second law of thermodynamics, from the complex (ordered) to the simple (random). There is an absolute contrast here, and only by postulating a "vitalism force" (see the French biologist, Grassi) can the two be reconciled. But a "vitalism force" has about as much physical meaning as the human soul!
While there are other arguments that could be adduced, the four above -- any one of the four above -- ought to be sufficient to call the evolution story, philosophically, into question. But there must be a credible alternative! Fiat creation, ala Gosse, is one such alternative. It "violates" Ockkam's principle of the razor. It clearly violates the dictum of science -- that there be no supernatural. Is there another alternative? I think there is.
As there are two kinds of evolution, chance and theistic, there are also two creation possibilities, fiat and progressive. Bernard Ramm discussed the second of these in his 1955 book, "The Christian View of Science and Scripture." He postulated a series of "small" creations, over millions of years, and showed that such a scenario did no violence nor harm to any of the sciences, nor to religious views (excepting those of the fiat creationists).
Progressive creation is the answer that "makes the most sense" to me. And if creation, then teleogy. Not accidentalism. Again, to stress the point, this is a philosophical, not a scientific, position.
I will make a prediction. What keeps progressive creation from gaining serious recognition today are two things: (1) it is still supernatural (2) there have been no findings (to date) of "creation residues," that is -- as scrap materials necessarily are to be found around a new house, so some scrap materials may have been used in the creation processes.
This is going to change. SETI (The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) is expanding its search patterns by nearly an order of magnitude every ten years. Sooner or later they will "find" a signal unexplainable except by ascribing intelligence to the sender. This, whether or not there is an actual sender, by the way. About that time the evolutionary concept will be pushed out into space and backward in time and a hypothesis of natural progressive creation will arise. What will we say, then, about the builders of our world? Six things come to mind, no, seven:
1. They were technologically advanced beyond us
2. They were at least as intelligent as we are, maybe more.
3. They were at least as creative as we are.
4. They had a sense of humor.
5. They were tidy workers. Left little or no scrap.
6. They worked cooperatively (Symbiosis, etc.)
7. Most important. They were non-supernatural beings. This last one, of course, because we must obey science's first rule, "Ascribe nothing to the gods." (Epicurius, circa 200 B.C.)
Philosophically, as always, number 7 will be up for grabs.
(3) Comments on the arguments in chapter 2.
a) The argument from Science. While the unexplained remains, all things are "potentially" explainable in scientific terms. Thus "god" is not necessary.
This is not an argument, but an assumption statement. There is absolutely no way to test it; one "uses it" in science, but it is not a "belief" statement. It is a statement that all the matter and energy in the cosmos is, in principle, ultimately reducible to a set of physical, chemical, and nuclear reactions. It is an assumption, and has no argumentative value. It is "Rule #1 of science," and valuable as such. It has no bearing on any philosophical statement.
b) The argument from silence. God does not speak.
The Christian answer, Christ's resurrection from the dead, was demonstrated long ago, and the evidence for it has been sufficient proof for many people. It is interesting to note that acceptance of this proof appears to be as successful among the highly educated as among those with little or no schooling. This is in line with one's expectations that a god who really cherished everybody would not so arrange things so that only the highly educated could figure it out!
Does God continue to speak today? I think "yes." The resurrection event is far remote to our times, true. But the clear message today continues to be what it always was -- "Seek, and you will find." One need not "believe" in the resurrection as much as to say -- "I am willing to believe." God will speak to such a person; he will not invade a closed mind.
c) The argument from evolution (in the sense of "inorganic matter to University Professor continuum"). The argument is gated upon the assertion that we now understand very well how a long series of chance changes may bring about both non-living "artifacts" and living organisms appearing to have been "designed by intelligence." The fact is, of course, that we still understand only in part -- in a very small part indeed! Assertions to the contrary are wind whistling. And I have this bridge I want to sell... .
The sub-argument against instantaneous creation, with the appearance of age (Gosse's arguments), also fails. Gosse may or may not be right; there is no way to test his hypothesis. We are uncomfortable with it on two counts, 1) it violates Ockkam's razor and 2) it is not visualizable. One would wish a theory to follow both, of course, but sometimes ugly facts don't allow it to happen. Some parts of quanum theory are neither as simple as we would wish them to be, nor are they visualizable in images we can handle. But the equations work, and so we accept them.
Brief comments on the last nine items in paper #2:
1. The Accidentalist claim makes life a joke; life has no meaning and so is not worth living. We agree, and assert the contrary when accidentalism is rejected. Sorry guys, I KNOW my life has meaning.
2. The universe does exist. We agree that this fact has no light to shine on the god hypothesis.
3. There are, well documented, a variety of religious experiences, as discussed by James. Many are fraudulent. They may all be. I must assert that mine, at least, is genuine. Your mileage may vary.
4. The argument from a particular religion -- Christianity.
The purpose of the resurrection was not so much to "prove" the place of Christ to us, as to open our eyes to the possibility that his deity might be real. The proof of the matter comes later, as God interacts with us, and we with him, individualistically and non-scientifically.
5. The argument from a particular religion -- Buddhism.
No argument here.
6. The argument from Maya, illusion. Nor here.
7. The Cartesian argument, partial illusion.
We agree with the argument: reality does exist.
We disagree with the assertion that accidentalism is proven to be part of that reality beyond any reasonable doubt.
8. The argument from logic. Since scientists assume no supernatural in doing their work, how can no supernatural be inferred from scientists' failure to find such?
We stand on this argument.
9. Insufficient knowledge. We stand on this argument.
In summary, there is a claim of Philosophical Naturalism and I have argued against it on two counts, the arguments based on humanity's transcendental attributes and arguments surrounding the unsatisfactory state of evolution theory. In the end, of course, most people believe what they want to believe. I hope, but I don't really know, that I am not one such. I work on this. King David once wrote, "The heart is deceitfully dishonest... ." One must understand that human attribute, and struggle against it, all the days of one's life.
John Burgeson. 1995