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Scientific Creationism, Science, and Conceptual Problems

J.P. Moreland, in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 46 (March, 1994): 2-13.

Among other things, scientists try to solve both empirical and conceptual problems. Conceptual problems, in turn, are of two basic types: internal and external. In this article, I offer a taxonomy of both types of conceptual problems that have constituted scientific practice throughout its history and argue that certain activities done by creationists fit this taxonomy nicely. I then conclude that these creationist activities cannot be faulted as being non-science or pseudo-science once we see how they fit a proper scientific pattern of addressing conceptual problems in other areas.

The history of the interaction between theology and science is a complicated affair, and it is generally recognized today that a warfare metaphor is inadequate to capture the multifaceted nature of this interaction. Nevertheless, skirmishes have been present from time to time, and in recent years we have witnessed an intense controversy over the scientific status of scientific creationism, alternatively called creation science. A number of advocates of complementarity approaches to the integration of science and theology have frowned on these skirmishes because, in their view, they represent an inadequate understanding of the nature of both science and religion.

It seems to be widely agreed by complementarity advocates and others that "creation science" is a term which resembles the term "jumbo shrimp"— it is a contradiction precisely because creation science is not science, but religion or theology masquerading as science. Thus, Robert C. Cowen, the natural science editor for the Christian Science Monitor, says this:

It is this many-faceted on-going science story [the theory of evolution] that should be told in public school biology courses. Creationists want those courses to include the possibility of—and "scientific” evidence for—a creator as well. There is no such "scientific" evidence. The concept of a supernatural creator is inherently religious. It has no place in a science class.1

Such claims are not limited to the popular media, but appear in scholarly circles as well. Michael Ruse claims that even if scientific creationism were totally successful in making its case as science, it would not yield a scientific explanation of origins. Rather, at most, it could prove that science shows that there can be no scientific explanation of origins.2


Elsewhere, Ruse states that "the creationists believe the world started miraculously. But miracles lie outside of science, which by definition deals with the natural, the repeatable, that which is governed by law."3

This view of science and theology, especially of creation science, is also widely held among evangelical scholars. John Weister asserts: "Science does not have the answers to all the world’s questions. The question of ultimate origins is an unsolved problem that transcends science. There are no data we can gather. It leads to questions of philosophy and religion, which do not fall within science’s domain."4 In a similar vein, Paul de Vries and Howard J. Van Till have stated that science requires the adoption of methodological naturalism in such a way that broad questions of philosophy like ethics, ultimate origins’ and abstract metaphysical speculation, as well as theological concepts like "God" or a "direct, miraculous act of God" are outside the bounds of science properly understood.5

Statements like these could be multiplied, and it should be obvious that they are not first-order scientific assertions that merely state that, although the hypotheses formulated by creation scientists are scientific, they have not been adequately confirmed by scientific observations and experiments, or they do not embody other epistemic virtues (e.g. simplicity, novel predictions) that a good scientific hypothesis ought to exemplify. These statements make a far deeper claim. They assert a second-order philosophical view about science, namely, that creation science is not a science at all, but something else. Thus, my assessment of the merits of these statements will draw heavily from insights in the philosophy and the history of science.

My intention here is not merely to raise another round of controversy about creation and evolution. Rather, I would argue that the nature of creation science provides an occasion for examining the much broader and more far-reaching issue of whether and how our Christian theism should affect our view of the world. As Thomas Morris has pointed out, for some time now there has been an attitude of theological anti-realism among many theologians. They believe that it is intellectually futile to bring their Christian theism to bear on questions of the nature, origin, investigation, and development of the world.6

In science, this theological anti-realism has manifested itself in the view that science and theology are non-interacting, non-competing disciplines. They are perceived as either being complementary to each other, and focusing on different realms of reality, or else as in being conflict with each other, and asking and answering very different kinds of questions.

This attitude expresses itself in the conviction that creation science is not a science. There are a number of reasons for this conviction, but, as we have seen, chief among them is the idea that broad philosophical and theological issues are outside of the realm of science. Creation science is a mistake, science must adopt methodological naturalism, and the theological concept of a miraculous act of God is not something that should be allowed to enter into the practice of scientific theory formation, explanation, or testing.

The purpose of this article is twofold. First, I want to catalog and illustrate the role that conceptual problems have played and should play in the practice of science. Regardless of the debate about the scientific status of creation science, this discussion is valuable as a corrective to the singular preoccupation with empirical problems that seems to prevail in much current discussion about science. Secondly, and more importantly, I want to make one step in an argument to the effect that creation science is a science and not a religion (a second-order issue in the philosophy of science). I will do this by examining the untenable but popular claim cited above, that creation scientists’ utilization of theological, ethical, and philosophical concepts are somehow irrelevant and inappropriate to the practice of science. In the process, I hope to show precisely how conceptual problems have entered into the controversy over creation and evolution. We will see that the mere presence of broad philosophical or theological ideas is not sufficient to signal the presence of non-science or pseudo-science.

It is crucial to keep in mind what I am and am not attempting to accomplish in this article. First, I make no first-order scientific claim that any particular creationist model, e.g. young earth creationism, is scientifically adequate. Thus, arguments to the effect that young earth creationism has been falsified or that creationism taken as a research program has not proven fruitful are beside the point. My concern is whether or not some form of creationism should be regarded as science in the first place, instead of religion masquerading as science.

Second, I am not attempting to defend the scientific status of creationism against every criticism in sight, nor am I trying to build a positive picture of what some fully developed creationist model would look like. Rather, I am trying to show that once we look at how internal and external conceptual problems have properly entered into the practice of science throughout its history, we have a precedent for thinking that when advocates of some version of creationism appeal to theological, philosophical, or ethical concepts as part of their intellectual practices, they have not necessarily stopped doing science and started doing something else. Instead, such utilizations of theological, philosophical, and ethical propositions by creationists fit a clearly defined typology that has been part of science for some time. Only someone out of touch with the nature and importance of conceptual problems for science could think otherwise.

In my view, this "methodological naturalist" understanding of science and religion is a mistake. One source of this mistake is a preoccupation with the more empirical aspects of science and a concomitant failure to appreciate the role that conceptual problems have played throughout the history of science.

There are two broad strategies we could take regarding the scientific status of creation science. The first is negative. We could argue that there is no adequate line of demarcation between science and nonscience/pseudoscience, no set of necessary and sufficient conditions for something to count as scientific. Therefore, we cannot state principles that rule out creation science. Given the fact that creationist theories were regarded as scientific by a significant number of scientists and philosophers of science until this century, we could argue that the burden of proof is on anyone who wishes to change the way creation science is classified, and this burden of proof has not been met.7

Now, I think it is generally acknowledged that no line of demarcation has been, or perhaps, can be, formulated. For this reason, philosophers of science as diverse as realist Ernan McMullin and antirealist Larry Laudan have agreed that creation science cannot be judged unscientific in this sense.8

Contrary to thinkers like Ruse, I agree with McMullin and Laudan in holding that this negative argument is correct. But the issue need not be left here, for there is a second, more positive line of defense for the claim that creation science is a science. This approach tries to show that creation science’s appeals to philosophical or theological ideas can be, and often have been, part of the practice of science itself, and thus are not irrelevant and inappropriate. This strategy will be the focus of the arguments that follow. I will begin by offering a characterization of creation science, and then will examine the nature and role of conceptual problems and how they shed light on the scientific status of creation science.

As a working definition of creation science, let us use the one expressed in the famous creation science trial (McLean v. Arkansas) in Little Rock, Arkansas in December of 1981.

Creation-science means the scientific evidences for creation and inferences from those scientific evidences. Creation-science includes the scientific evidences and related inferences that indicate: (1) Sudden creation of the universe, energy, and life from nothing; (2) The insufficiency of mutation and natural selection in bringing about the development of all living kinds from a single organism; (3) Changes only within fixed limits of originally created kinds of plants and animals; (4) Separate ancestry for man and apes; (5) Explanation of the earth’s geology by catastrophism, including the occurrence of a worldwide flood, and (6) A relatively recent inception of the earth and living kinds.9

While this characterization of creation science will do for our purposes, one thing should be pointed out. The essence of creation science theories is not located in points (5) and (6) above. Progressive creationists do not think that a universal flood (and catastrophism in general) can adequately explain the earth’s geology Further, progressive creationists favor the generally accepted dating of the Big Bang, the origin of the solar system and earth, and of life on earth.

But progressive creationists still hold to creationist theories because they, like their "young earth" creationist counterparts, deny the adequacy of theistic evolution and hold that a personal agent of great power and intelligence has intervened in the actual history of the cosmos through primary, agent causation (e.g the origin of the universe, first life, and basic, "kinds" of living things, including man).10 Further, they believe that this position is rationally defensible.11

It is best to see progressive creationism and/or young earth creation-science as ways of specifying creationism as a research program. Such a research program recognizes the legitimacy of allowing theological propositions to aid us in formulating, testing, and evaluating scientific theories, in explaining scientific data, and solving various problems relevant to science.

The Nature of Conceptual Problems

Larry Laudan has given a great deal of attention to analyzing the nature and role of conceptual problems in the history of science, perhaps more than any other philosopher of science.12 According to Laudan, science involves analyzing, clarifying, and solving empirical and conceptual problems. Empirical problems are first-order problems about objects in some domain (e.g. chemical phenomena in acid/base reactions) and are, in general, anything about the observable world that strikes us as odd and in need of explanation. They come in three major types: unsolved problems (those not adequately solved by any theory), solved problems (those that rival theories have solved, perhaps in different ways), and anomalous problems (those a particular theory has not solved, but at least one rival has solved).

Conceptual problems are also part of the practice of science. These come in two basic types. First, internal conceptual problems arise when the concepts within a theory appear to be logically inconsistent’ vague and unclear, or circularly defined, when the definition of some phenomenon in a scientific theory is hard to harmonize with an ordinary language or philosophical definition of that phenomenon, or when the concepts in a theory seem to classify some phenomenon in a problematic way. Second, external conceptual problems arise for a scientific theory, T, when T conflicts with some doctrine of another theory, T’, originating in some discipline outside of science, when T’ and its doctrines are well founded rationally, regardless of what discipline T’ is associated with. T may be logically inconsistent with T’ or the two may conflict in a lesser way by being jointly implausible (though still logically consistent)—that is, by being merely compatible, but not mutually reinforcing and explanatory.

No useful generalizations can be made about the epistemic impact of a conceptual problem on a particular scientific theory. In rare cases, the problem may count decisively against the theory. More likely, the problem will simply tend to count against the theory to a greater or lesser degree. Only a case-by-case analysis can we, at least in principle, determine how a particular conceptual problem should be weighed in assessing the rationality of accepting, withholding, or abandoning a particular scientific theory.

There are several different kinds of internal and external conceptual problems. The following discussion is a classification and illustration of some of the different kinds of conceptual problems which, as we shall see later, figure into the creation science controversy. It is important to keep in mind that the illustrations to follow are just that—illustrations. I am not presenting a defense of them as considerations that won the day; in fact, I do not always agree with the point being made by the examples, and I am not offering a full-blown characterization of these cases. My point is merely to illustrate the types of conceptual problems which have entered into the very fabric of science throughout its history.

Before we examine types of conceptual problems, one final point should be made. It may be the case that solving empirical and conceptual problems constitutes science, regardless of whether problem solving is understood in a realist or anti-realist way. I am inclined to believe that this is so. But this is a strong thesis, and I do not need it to make my case. For it may be that science is a set of practices, goals, values, methods, and so forth that merely bear family resemblances to one another. In this case, if it can be shown that solving internal and external conceptual problems has been and is an appropriate part of scientific practice, then the utilization of such problems by advocates of creation science does not by itself signal something irrelevant and inappropriate.

The taxonomy which follows is an attempt to show that creation scientists have raised certain conceptual problems which they believe to be anomalous for evolutionary theories and not for creationist theories, and that the types of conceptual problems utilized are consistent with those present throughout the history of science. It may be that evolutionary theories solve these problems and it may be that creationist theories do not. That discussion is beyond the scope of this article’s present concern. Instead, I will focus on the epistemically prior issue of the legitimacy of such conceptual problems in the first place.

Types of Internal Conceptual Problems

1. The concepts of a theory appear to be contradictory, circularly defined, vague, or unclear. An example of this would be the wave/particle nature of electromagnetic radiation and the wave nature of matter. Some have argued that these concepts appear to be self-contradictory or vague, and attempts have been made to clarify them or to show different ways to understand them.

Another example is the discovery of the electron by J. J. Thomson near the end of the nineteenth century. At that time there was a debate between German and British scientists over the nature of electricity, the former favoring an aether wave view and the latter favoring a particle picture. Earlier in the century, Michael Faraday had conducted various electrolysis experiments—experiments in which electric currents are passed through a water solution of decomposable compounds. He had shown that the amount of product liberated by such experiments is proportional to the amount of electricity introduced into solution, and that the same amount of electricity liberates masses of products proportional to chemically equivalent weights. The point here is not merely that these data tended to falsify the aether wave view. (This would be an empirical problem.) Rather, these data raised internal conceptual problems for aether wave theories because those theories had no clear way to picture or represent the causal mechanisms responsible for those data. Faraday and others of his day had no clear way to understand these results because of conceptual problems resulting from tying the results to their metaphysical picture of electricity as a continuous field or wave. Thomson offered conceptual clarity by changing the conceptual apparatus of electron theory from a wave theory to a particle theory.

2. Internal conceptual problems that arise in attempts to elucidate the relationship between a scientific definition of a term and a philosophical or ordinary language definition of that term create conflicts. As an example of this type of conceptual problem, consider the use of operational definitions in scientific theories. Once such a definition is formulated, it is not always clear how to take it. Should the ordinary language term be reduced to the _operational definition? Should the operational definition be taken as the main test for the presence of what is designated by the ordinary language term? Should the operational definition be seen as the empirical and/or quantifiable content of the ordinary language definition?

For example, when a psychologist defines "depression," "intelligence," or the "normal, functional family," these are often defined in operational terms, perhaps by reference to a standard test of some sort. Conceptual problems arise in trying to understand precisely what these terms really mean and how they should be related to philosophical or ordinary language counterparts.

3. Internal conceptual problems which arise when assessing the categorical aspects of scientific claims. Usually, scientific theories treat a particular phenomenon as an example of a certain category of thing. For example, heat used to be treated as an example of the category of substance. Later, heat was placed in the category of quality, and later still, in the category of quantity. The idea of color has undergone a similar categorical shift. One of the things which is closely related to categorical classification is the nature of identity. Different identity conditions are associated with alternative categorical classifications: "compositional stuff," "functional stuff a a quality-thing," a "quantity-thing a . Thus, philosophical clarity is needed to bring out identity conditions and other metaphysical aspects involved in the categorical classifications explicitly or implicitly involved in scientific theories.

In addition to internal conceptual problems, there are external conceptual problems which arise in conjunction with scientific theories. There are three main types of external conceptual problems.

Types of External Conceptual Problems

1. External conceptual problems which are logically inconsistent with a particular scientific theory. Two examples adequately illustrate this type of external conceptual problem. The first involves action at a distance. As is well known, most Newtonians postulated two kinds of forces: the force of impact and gravitational force which operates at a distance. From the time of Descartes to the present, arguments have been raised against the idea of a force defined as action at a distance. They include: (1) reality is a plenum and forces between two bodies are to be understood in terms of efficient, mechanical causes resulting from the impact of particles intervening between the two bodies in question; (2) our best philosophical understanding of causation requires the contiguity of cause and effect in space and time; and (3) a theory with one type of force is simpler than a theory with two types of forces.

A second example comes from the late J. L. Mackie.13 Mackie raised philosophical arguments against the special relativity idea that there is no such thing as an absolute reference frame for absolute rest and motion. If Mackie is correct, then there is such a thing as absolute space, contrary to what the special theory of relativity asserts.

2. External conceptual problems may arise for a scientific theory y that theory is taken to be the whole story about some phenomenon and such a posture undercuts one of the necessary preconditions for a scientific realist construal of that theory. Roughly, scientific realism is the view that science progresses towards truer and truer theories about the theory-independent world and that science does so in a rationally justifiable way. A number of philosophers of science have listed what they take to be necessary preconditions for a realist understanding of science, e.g. the existence and knowability of a theory-independent world, the ability of language to refer to that world, the laws of logic, and so forth.

Now, if a scientific theory undercuts one of the necessary preconditions of science itself, then that theory would be guilty of self-referential inconsistency. For example, Keith Lehrer has argued that certain varieties of physicalism regarding the mind/body problem are self-refuting.14 Thus, if various physicalist theories of mind are offered in a reductive way as the whole show, as it were, then Lehrer and other have argued that these theories make normative, non-natural rationality impossible. Thus, they make science itself impossible, including physicalist theories of mind.

3. External conceptual problems may arise when some scientific theory T, while strictly consistent with some theory in a discipline outside science, T’, still tends to count against T’. An example of this could be the use of teleological explanations which treat living organisms as goal-directed systems. It has been widely argued that evolutionary theory tends to count against the use of such explanations and, more otologically, against the presence of entelechies in organisms, even though the two are not mutually incompatible.

Perhaps I have now said enough about the nature of conceptual problems to give an idea of how they have figured into the practice of science. It is important to keep in mind the fact that conceptual problems arise in a field like logic, metaphysics, ethics, theology, and many other branches of study. But here we find that after they have surfaced, they become part of the very fabric of science itself. Why? Because part of scientific practice is the confirmation of scientific laws and theories, and confirmation involves assessing the rationality of accepting a given theory in light of all of the relevant evidence. Part of the relevant evidence is the way the theory solves the internal and external conceptual problems associated with it and its rivals. After all, it is no accident that philosophers are advancing models of evolutionary ethics and epistemology. These are attempts to work out an evolutionary research program and they illustrate the fact that science is not intellectually isolated from other cognitive concerns.

Conceptual Problems and Creation Science

Creation science cannot be adequately understood without examining it in light of the role conceptual problems play in creationist positions. The following are some illustrations of the kinds of internal and external conceptual problems associated with creation science’s criticisms of evolutionary theory, , which are claimed to support creationism. Creationists argue that these problems present difficulties for evolutionary theory but are not problems for creationism. Again, the point here is not to develop the illustrations, or even to argue that they are individually or collectively decisive, but simply to show that conceptual problems are problems which creation science and evolutionary theory must solve, and they are aspects of the confirmation of creation science and the disconfirmation of evolutionary theory. Therefore, conceptual problems play the same role in the creation/evolution debate that they have in theory adjudication in other areas of science throughout its history.

Internal Conceptual Problems

Type One. The first type of internal conceptual problem mentioned above has involved problems with a theory’s actual concepts. There are several examples of this type of conceptual problem involved in assessing evolutionary theory. First, problems have arisen with certain understandings of the mechanism of evolutionary development which utilize the idea of "survival of the fittest." Some scientists have claimed that evolution promotes the survival of the fittest, but when asked what the ~fittest" were, the answer was that the "fittest" were those which survived. But this seems to imply a problem of circularity with at least one aspect within evolutionary theory, and attempts have been made to redefine the goal of evolution (e.g., the selection of those organisms that are reproductively favorable) and the idea of fitness to avoid circularity.

The point here is not that the problem has not been solved or even that it was ever sufficient by itself to justify abandonment of evolutionary theory. Rather, the point is that when an objection of this type was raised it was not an example of an empirical problem with evolutionary theory (as would be problems with gaps in the fossil record), but rather it was a type of internal conceptual problem.

Michael Denton has argued that in order to justify an evolutionary transition from A to B which involved intermediate forms, one must discover intermediates which bridge that transition or construct plausible hypothetical pathways for that transiffon.15 Denton, argues, however, that many of these transitions are so problematic, e.g. that between a reptilian scale and an avian feather, that conceptual problems of vagueness and unclarity arise for any hypothetical pathway. Again, the point is not the first-order issue of whether or not Denton’s objection has adequate rejoinders. Rather, the point is that this type of criticism is an example of an internal conceptual problem.

Roughly this same type of argument has been raised against origin of life experiments. Bradley, Thaxton, and Olsen have claimed that prebiotic soup experiments involve illegitimate investigator interference at crucial times in order to guide natural processes down specific nonrandom pathways.16 In the absence of such interference, they claim that no conceivable mechanism could have accomplished the right effect.

One final example should suffice here. Creationists claim that the universe had a beginning through the production of the first event by means of agent causation. Stephen Hawking has claimed that many people find the idea of a first event objectionable because it "smacks of divine intervenffon.”17 Hawking’s own view involves the proposal that space and time might form a closed surface without a boundary. William Lane Craig has argued that Hawking’s model involves serious internal conceptual problems, e.g. a World Ensemble ontology (our world is a fluctuation of super-space in which all physically possible worlds are embedded), a B series view of time, and the replacement of real time with imaginary time (the square root of -1 is used as a coordinate of the time dimension)."18

Type Two. This type of internal conceptual problem involves relating a scientific definition to an ordinary language or philosophical definition. The following two examples illustrate how this type of problem has entered into creation/evolution discussions. First, questions have been raised about the use of "information" in DNA and in ordinary language. It has been argued that if information is given a scientific definition,, say as specified complexity, configurational entropy, or the number of instructions required to specify the structure in question, then DNA bears a very close analogy to human language. Some claim that since the latter signals the presence of meaning (e.g. propositions, concepts), and since meaning comes from intelligent minds, then information in DNA signals the presence of a Mind behind it.19

Consider a second example. E. Mayr has claimed that evolutionary theory is incompatible with the essentialism of thinkers like Aristotle and Plato (roughly the view that a class of organisms will be constituted by an essence or nature possessed by all and only members of that class).20 Evolutionary definitions of taxonomic concepts, e.g. Homo sapiens, regard essences or types as unreal abstractions, and only individual and variable members of populations are real. Philosophers who embrace the existence of essences and real natural kinds could argue as follows. If evolutionary theory in general, and definitions of species in particular, tend to make essentialism unreasonable, then if there are good reasons to be an essentialist regarding living organisms, these reasons tend to count against evolutionary theory. This type of objection is raised by clarifying a scientific definition of a species and relating it to a philosophical essentialist definition.

Type Three. The third type of internal conceptual problem mentioned above involves assessing the categorical aspects of scientific claims. The following example illustrates the tendency in evolutionary theory to classify organisms as property things (structured stuff, or wholes, where the parts are "prior to" their wholes). Richard J. Connell has argued that scientific explanation tends to emphasize efficient and material causes, be physicalistic, reductionistic, and mechanistic in its orientation to macro-objects (e.g. living organisms), and thus, treats them like property-things or aggregates (roughly the view that organisms are structured stuffs with emergent properties, whose parts are prior to those organisms taken as wholes, and for which a machine metaphor is an adequate explanatory model).21

Paul Churchland and D. M. Armstrong have argued that evolutionary theory is incompatible with any form of dualism, especially substance dualism.22 If they are right, then organisms are property-things. Now, if someone thinks there are good grounds for classifying organisms as substance-things (deep unities where the wholes are "prior to" their parts), then it would constitute an internal conceptual problem for evolutionary theory, raised by analyzing the categorical classification of organisms most compatible with that theory.23

External Conceptual Problems

Type One. This type of problem involves an intellectual idea initially raised in a domain outside of science which, if rational or true, would be logically inconsistent with evolutionary theory. Two examples will serve to illustrate this type of problem.

If evolutionary theory is extended, as it often is, to include issues involved in the origin of the universe, then the following issue arises. Philosophical arguments can be given which show that it is reasonable to claim that the universe began a finite time ago as a result of agent causation. Support for the beginning of the universe involves, among other things, presenting philosophical problems with the existence and/or traversability of an actual infinite, both of which would be involved in coming to the present moment from a beginningless universe. Support for the agent causation view involves, among other things, showing state-state causation to be inadequate to generate a first event from a timeless, immutable state of affairs otologically prior to the first event.24 These arguments have been offered as support of creationist ideas of creation and against certain evolutionary models of the universe.

The second example is very important. Suppose someone held to the following two propositions:

  1. The Bible is the Word of God and it teaches the truth on all matters of which it speaks.
  2. The Bible, properly interpreted, teaches (among other things) certain truths that run counter to evolutionary theory and which are consistent with creationist theories

Suppose further that this person had a list of good, rational arguments for these two propositions. In support of (1), he or she lists arguments from prophecy, history, archaeology, and other areas of science for the contention that the Bible is a divinely inspired book and it is rational to trust it when it speaks on any matter, science included. In support of (2), he or she offers detailed arguments from hermeneutical theory, linguistics, comparative ancient Near Eastern studies, and so forth.

In the case just cited, such an individual would have reasons, perhaps good reasons, for believing that the general theory of evolution, in its current or recognizably future forms, is false and that creationism will be vindicated. As Laudan has argued from his studies in the history of science:

Thus, contrary to common belief, it can be rational to raise philosophical and religious objections against a particular theory or research tradition, if the latter runs counter to a well-established part of our general Weltbild—even if that Weltbild is not "scientific" (in the usual sense of the word).25

Type Two. This type of external conceptual problem focuses on a scientific theory which, if taken as the whole of some phenomenon, undercuts a necessary precondition for science itself (understood in a realist way), and thus, makes the scientific theory self-referentially inconsistent. Even Darwin mused about why one ought to trust the deliverances of the mind if it were a mere product of a blind process of natural selection and survival…

A prominent example of this kind of external conceptual problem involves focusing on the nature of rationality itself. Even Darwin mused about why one ought to trust the deliverances of the mind if it were a mere product of a blind process of natural selection and survival, and recent thinkers like Stanley L. Jaki have echoed these sentiments.26 A number of arguments have been associated with this type of problem, but they all cite some necessary feature of rationality itself which, it is argued, is incompatible with an evolutionary account of the origin and nature of our faculties.

Some of these features are as follows: the need for libertarian freedom to make sense out of rational obligation; an epistemological commitment to internalism and normative, nonnatural ideas of ration- the need for an enduring "I" and absolute identity through change to make sense out of rational inferences a mental faculty of intuition to be able to "see" the laws of logic; intentionality as an irreducibly mental property in order to have thoughts (beliefs, experiences! about the world; and an agent view of the self to account for episodes of purposeful or intentional action involved in reflection. The point is that these features presuppose (1) substance dualism (2) agent causation (3) faculties designed to be appropriate "truth gatherers" in one’s noetic environment, and not faculties shaped by survival value (in which case, inverted qualia and related problems indicate that systematic delusion is underdetermined vis a vis possession of truth so far as survival is concerned).

Again, the details of these and counter-arguments are not of primary importance here. Suffice it to say that if someone claims to be justified in the belief that evolutionary theory is inconsistent with the existence of rationality, including scientific rationality, then evolutionary theory could be faulted as being self-referentially inconsistent.

Type Three. The final type of external conceptual problem listed above is one in which evolutionary theory is logically consistent with some rational doctrine outside science, but the two are not mutually reinforcing, epistemically speaking, and one tends to count against the other.

The main example of this type of external conceptual problem is the existence of what might be called common sense, objectivist morality. Suppose someone believed the following:

  1. Virtue theory coupled with a de-ontological view of ethical rules is part of an overall analysis of morality.
  2. Moral statements are objectively true in terms of a correspondence theory of truth which, in turn, implies the existence on nonnatural moral properties.
  3. Humans have intrinsic worth and dignity qua human beings in a way not shared by lower animals, which have lesser value and lesser moral rights.
  4. Moral intuitionism is true and there must be a faculty of moral intuition for there to be moral knowledge.
  5. Moral obligation presupposes libertarian freedom which, in turn, makes sense if substance dualism is true.

These comments illustrate the fact that one could claim that the common sense, objectivist moral view is true and rational, and that such a view is hard to square with an evolutionary account of the nature and origin of the cosmos, especially Homo sapiens.

Now, a number of thinkers have argued that this view of morality, while strictly consistent with an evolutionary naturalism, nonetheless is odd and is an unlikely "dangler," given evolutionary naturalism. For example, David Hull makes the following observation:

The implications of moving species from the metaphysical category that can appropriately be characterized in terms of "natures" to a category for which such characterizations are inappropriate are extensive and fundamental. If species evolved in anything like the way that Darwin thought they did, then they cannot possibly have the sort of natures that traditional philosophers claimed they did. If species in general lack natures, then so does Homo sapiens as a biological species. If Homo sapiens lacks a nature, then no reference to biology can be made to support one’s claims about "human nature." Perhaps all people are "persons," share the same "personhood," etc., but such claims must be explicated and defended with no reference to biology. Because so many moral, ethical, and political theories depend on some notion or other of human nature, Darwin’s theory brought into question all these theories. The implications are not entailments. One can always dissociate "Homo sapiens" from "human being," but the result is a much less plausible position.27

George Mavrodes has argued that the existence of common sense, objectivist moral properties is queer and unlikely, given a naturalistic account of the world and human beings.28 David Solomon has noted arguments to the effect that virtue theory makes sense against a backdrop of essentialism and a broadly teleological view of nature, especially human nature, and that such a backdrop is unlikely, given a modern scientific view of the nature and development of the cosmos, including man.29 Helga Kuhse and Peter Singer claim that the common sense view of the intrinsic, special dignity of being human is guilty of an indefensible speciesism, and part of their argument is that this view is unreasonable in light of evolutionary theory.30 These comments illustrate the fact that one could claim that the common sense, objectivist moral view is true and rational, and that such a view is hard to square with an evolutionary account of the nature and origin of the cosmos, especially Homo sapiens.

In sum, various types of internal and external problems have been part of scientific theory assessment throughout the history of science, and the same can be said for creationist and evolutionary theories. Science is not an airtight set of disciplines completely isolated from other fields, and problems which originate in other disciplines can enter into the very fabric of science itself as part of the assessment of a scientific theory.31 To claim this much is to simply observe the fact that other fields interact with science in various and complicated ways, and sometimes they become part of science itself.32 Creation science may fail to be science for some other reason, but not because of its attempt to pose and solve conceptual problems. For as we have seen, raising and solving such problems are parts of the legitimate business of science.

The second-order philosophical claim that versions of creationism, e.g. creation science, are not a science but religion simply because creationist theories utilize broad philosophical and theological concepts cannot be sustained. There is no widely accepted set of necessary and sufficient conditions which constitute a line of demarcation between science and nonscience/pseudoscience that can be used to place creation science in the latter camp. Further, by focusing on the nature and role of conceptual problems as part of the very practice of scientific explanation and confirmation, we see that creation science is an attempt to respond to those problems thought to be problematic for an evolutionary research program.

It would seem, then, that creationist theories like creation science cannot be labeled non-science or pseudo-science by simply citing the presence of philosophical, ethical, and theological conceptual issues within creationist theories. It may be that creationist theories, while scientific, are not as rationally acceptable as their evolutionary rivals. But that, of course, is a different matter altogether.33



1 Robert C. Cowen, "Science Is What Can Be Argued, Not What Is Believed," The Baltimore Sun, July 8, 1987, Section B, p. 8.

2 Michael Ruse, Darwinism Defended (Reading, Mass.: AddisonWesley, 1982), p. 322.

3 Michael Ruse, Darwinism Defended, p. 322. Cf David Hull’s review of Phillip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial in Nature 352 (August 8, 1991) pp. 485-86.

4 John Weister, "Should Public Schools Teach Creation Science," Christianity Today 32 (September 18, 1987): p. 50.

5 Paul de Vries, "Naturalism in the Natural Sciences: A Christian Perspective," Christian Scholar’s Review 15 (1986): pp. 388-96; Howard J. Van TiU, Robert E. Snow, John H. Stek, Davis A. Young, Portraits of Creation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990); Howard J. Van Till, "When Faith and Reason Cooperate," Christian Scholar’s Review 21 (September 1991): pp. 33-45.

6 Thomas V. Morris, ed., Divine & Human Action: Essays in the Metaphysics of Theism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988), pp. 2-5.

7 As Philip Kitcher noted: "Moreover, variants of creationism were supported by a number of eminent nineteenth-century scientists ….These creationists trusted that their theories would accord with the Bible, interpreted in what they saw as a correct way. However, that fact does not affect the scientific status of those theories. Even postulating an unobserved Creator need be no more unscientific than postulating unobservable particles. What matters is the character of the proposals and the ways in which they are articulated and defended. The great scientific creationists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries offered problem-solving strategies for many of the questions addressed by evolutionary theory." See his Abusing Science: The Case Against Creationism (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1982), p. 125.

8 Norman Geisler, The Creator in the Courtroom (Milford, MI: Mott Media, 1982), p. 176.

9 Ernan McMullin,, "Introduction: Evolution and Creation," in Evolution and Creation, ed. Ernan McMullin (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985), p. 46, Larry Laudan, "Commentary: Science at the Bar—Causes for Concern," Science, Technology, and Human Values 7 (FaU 1982) pp. 16-19. Cf. Michael Ruse, ""Response to the Commentary: Pro Judice," Science, Technology, and Human Values 7 (FaU 1982) pp. 19-23; Larry Laudan, "More on Creationism," Science, Technology, and Human Values 8 (Winter 1983): pp. 36-38.

10 For a survey of different views of creation and God’s causal activity in creation/evolution discussions in the middle of the nineteenth century, see Neal C. Gillespie, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), pp. 19-40.

11 It is sometimes objected that the idea of a grouping described as "kind" is religious and not scientific. But this is simply false. Just because "kind" occurs in the Bible does not mean that the term is any more religious than other terms that occur in the Bible, e.g. terms for mathematical numbers, cattle the sun, and so on. A better point would be to claim that "kind" is vague. But this, by itself, does not make "kind" a non-scientific term. Science often uses general, vague terms. Creationists do need to make their use of "kind" more precise, e.g. by giving it operational content, but when they do they will not transform a religious concept to a scientific one, but rather, a vague scientific concept into a more precise one.

12 Cf. Larry Laudan, Progress and Its Problems (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977). Problem solving is central for Laudan’s anti-realist approach to science. According to him the basic unit of scientific progress and rationality is the solved problem. Scientific rationality is defined in terms of scientific progress, and scientific progress is defined in terms of problem-solving effectiveness. Since I have realist leanings in the philosophy of science, I do not share Laudan’s overall approach to the nature and role of problems in science. But my differences with Laudan are not essential to my thesis, because I agree with his contention that conceptual problems have been and ought to be part of science.

13 JL Mackie, "Three Steps Towards Absolutism," in Space, Time, and Causality, ed. Richard Swinburne (Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel, 1983), pp. 3-22.

14 Keith Lehrer, Knowledge (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974), pp. 236-49

15 Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (London: Burnett Books, 1985), pp. 55-68 157-232.

16 Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley, Roger L. Olsen, The Mystery of Life’s Origin (New York: Philosophical Library, 1984), pp. 99-112.

17 Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (New York: Bantam Books, 1988), p. 46.

18 William Lane Craig, "What Place, Then, For A Creator?: Hawking on God and Creation,"," British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 49 (1990): 473-91.

19 Cf.. Hubert P. Yockey, "Self Organization Origin of Life Scenarios and Information Theory," Journal of Theoretical Biology 91 (1981): pp. 13-16; "A Calculation of the Probability of Spontaneous Biogenesis by Information Theory," Journal of Theoretical Biology 67 (1977): pp. 377-98.

20 E. Mayr, Populations, Species, and Evolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970), p. 4.

21 See Richard J. Connell, Substance and Modern Science (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988).

22 See Paul M. Churchland, Matter and Consciousness (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1984), p. 21, D. M. Armstrong, A Materialist Theory of Mind (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1968), p. 30. These statements show how conceptual problems can enter into the scientific evaluation of a theory: one man’s modus ponens is another’s modus tollens.

23 Cf. George Bealer, "The Philosophical Limits of Scientific Essentialism," in Philosophical Perspectives, Vol. 1: Metaphysics, 1987, ed. James E. Tomberlin (Atascadero, Calif.:.: Ridgeview 1987), pp. 289-365.

24 Cf. J. P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987), pp. 15-42

25 Larry Laudan, Progress and Its Problems, p. 124.

26 Stanley L. Jaki, Angels, Apes, and Men (La Salle, III.: Sherwood Sugden, 1983), pp. 51-72.

27 David Hull, The Metaphysics of Evolution (Albany, NY: State University of New York, 1989), pp. 74-75.

28 George I. Mavrodes, "Religion and the Queerness of Morality," in Rationality, Religious Belief, & Moral Commitment. eds. Robert Audi, William J. Wainwright (Ithaca, N. Y.: Cornell University Press, 1986), pp. 213-226.

29 David Solomon, "Internal Objections to Virtue Ethics," in Midwest Studies in Philosophy X111: Ethical Theory: Character and Virtue, eds. Peter A. French, Theodore E. Uehling, Jr., and Howard K Wettstein (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), pp. 430 431.

30 Helga Kuhse, Peter Singer, Should The Baby Live? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), pp. 118-139.

31 lt may be thought that I have been guilty of an inconsistency in the following way. I have agreed that there is no line of demarcation between science and non-science and yet I have argued that we can recognize clear cases of science and dear examples where conceptual problems have been appropriate parts of scientific practice. But an inconsistency only follows from these claims if we adopt epistemological methodism, that is, roughly the idea that we cannot know or justifiably believe p unless we already have criteria for (1) how it is that we know or justifiably believe p in the first place and (2) how it is that we can know or justifiably believe that the case at hand can be classified as an example of p and not something else. However, I do not hold to epistemological methodism. I am a particularist, and I believe clear cases of science and of appropriate utilizations of conceptual problems can be recognized prior to any clear, general criteria. Indeed, it is the cases which serve as a court of appeal for competing criteria, not vice versa.

32 It is beside the point that some people believe that theistic evolution is a way to adjust evolutionary theory so as to accommodate some of these conceptual problems. Other thinkers believe that creationist theories are better alternatives than theistic evolution, all things being considered (e.g. Biblical exegesis, the demand for primary agent causality regarding the origin of the universe, first life, various basic kinds of life, and man). But even if they are wrong, the point here is that these conceptual problems illumine the scientific status of creation-science, not that creation-science is the best scientific theory available, though I believe that to be the case as well.

33 I wish to thank Del Ratzsch and Steve Meyer for their helpful comments on an earlier draft of this paper.