iSoul In the beginning is reality

From theistic science to naturalistic science, part 4

Part 3 of this series is here. This post covers Chapter Three on the Limits of Science. Note: “man of science” was the common expression for scientist in Britain until the 20th c.

p. 80 – Victorian science saw many dramatic shifts in what counted as “science,” and figures such as Huxley and Maxwell were under constant pressure to justify their work as valid and reliable. Both of them, in rather different ways, struggled to clearly articulate what they saw as the proper limits of science and how their claims fell within them. For Huxley, this took the form of his agnosticism; for Maxwell, his development of scientific models.

p. 81 – The definitive work on agnosticism is Bernard Lightman’s Origins of Agnosticism. Lightman locates the roots of agnosticism at the intersection of Hume, Kant, and Dean Henry Mansel’s 1858 Brampton lectures. Mansel’s attempt to ward off historical and literary analysis of the Bible by emphasizing man’s inability to apprehend the divine was flipped by Huxley to argue that humans could make no positive statements about God, and thus that theology could never have the persuasive force of science. Following this reasoning, he took the position that if no certain knowledge of God could be attained, then there could also never be a positive denial of God’s existence. Taking Hume and Kant’s warnings about theological certainties into account, he defended “the limitation of all knowledge or reality to the world of phenomena revealed to us by experience.”

p. 83 – He worked to show that agnosticism had a genuine philosophical pedigree, and that it had genuine enemies. Those who possessed “unqualified assurance” were explicitly targeted. In particular, theologians who claimed absolute knowledge were placed as the targets for the arrows forged by Hume, Locke, and Kant.

p. 84 – Miracles violated the key principle of agnosticism–“that we know nothing of what may be beyond phenomena”–because they tried to link experience to something beyond human reason; namely, divine action.

While [Huxley] was happy to use agnosticism as a tool to deny theists their fundamentals, he was equally committed, in principle, to applying it to his allies: “To my mind, atheism is, on purely philosophical grounds, untenable. That there is no evidence of the existence of such a being as the God of the theologians, is true enough; but strictly scientific reasoning can take us no further. Where we know nothing we can neither affirm nor deny with propriety.”

p. 87 – The scientific naturalists relentlessly trumpeted their rejection of a priori, idealist, or overly speculative reasoning in science. Huxley and his allies argued that their work, unlike that of the natural theologians, was grounded in hard empirical facts about the physical world. They constantly asserted the need to limit science to claims that grew directly out of observation and experiment, thus allowing no room for theological interference or distraction.

p. 89 – Huxley described a hypothesis as a way to extend observation, not replace it. It was supposed to be a tool that functioned analogously to empirical experience. Hypotheses were to be evaluated on the grounds of their ability to provide explanation for physical phenomena that actually were directly observed.

p. 90 – The critical issue, [Huxley] said, was the gradual willingness to put aside unverifiable hypothesis as outside the limits of science.

p. 95 – [For Huxley’s ally John Tyndall] Even religion had something to contribute to the full human experience, specifically “in the region of poetry and emotion, inward completeness and dignity to man,” but not, however, in the realm of objective knowledge.

P. 96 – [Theist A. J.] Balfour actually did not disagree that human senses and reason were limited and certainly imperfect for understanding the world–he acknowledged that both naturalists and theists accepted this. His complaint was that naturalism, on these grounds, demanded “terms of surrender to every other system of belief.” The limits of naturalistic science, he argued, thus demanded too much from too little.

Further, these limits did not allow naturalism to provide many aspects of what Balfour considered to be an adequate worldview, such as morality and aesthetics. It has no “emotional adequacy.” Imagine, he said, a “catechism of the future, purged of every element drawn from any other source than the naturalistic creed.” Its inadequacy was obvious. And worse, the limits of science imposed by naturalism allowed no justification for the principles that made science possible: reliable experience of the world, the rationality of phenomena, and the uniformity of nature. He argued persuasively that science could not provide its own first principles, and therefore was not a stand-alone epistemology of nature.

As Lightman has shown, Huxley’s response to Balfour (written in the last days of his life), was not particularly strong. … Huxley fell back on the strategy of trying to control the terms of the debate: he objected to the conflation of naturalism, agnosticism, and materialism, and denied that he or anyone else held the positions being attached.

p. 97 – Maxwell was not hesitant to declare something beyond the limits of science.

Maxwell pointed out that even with modern science, humans knew nothing more about death than our earliest ancestors.

p. 98 – Like the majority of Victorian scientists, Maxwell saw observation and experience as the foundation of the practice of science.

Maxwell was not, of course, a complete empiricist. As one of the great theorists of the century, he used mathematics and speculative analysis in amazingly successful ways.

p. 99 – Just as the scientific naturalists did, Maxwell argued that hypothesis was essential to modern science.  … Intricate theoretical models using hypothetical entities were, as discussed earlier, somewhat suspect to many Victorian natural philosophers, and Maxwell constantly felt the need to discuss their scientific legitimacy.

p. 100 – [Maxwell:] “We must therefore discover some method of investigation which allows the mind at every step to lay hold of a clear physical conception, without being committed to any theory founded on the physical science from which that conception is borrowed, so that it is neither drawn aside from the subject in pursuit of analytical subtleties, nor carried beyond the truth by a favourite hypothesis.”

p. 101 The value of [energy] dynamics was that it provided a method for analyzing a system without needing to specify all of its inner working, thus avoiding the danger of misleading or inappropriate hypotheses.

p. 102 – Restrictions necessary to fit observations needed to come naturally from within the theory; otherwise, an investigator was simply forcing his pet theory onto the facts. A good hypothesis disciplined the man of science as much as mathematics did.

Generating new entities at will was precisely the sort of unscientific move that Maxwell was working so hard to avoid. He needed to convince his readers that his imagination was not out of control, speculating beyond acceptable limits. He said we should be reassured by evidence from multiple scientific disciplines pointing the same way, providing good reason to be confident in the hypothesis.

p. 106 – This suggests that Maxwell was thinking of a sort of graduated ladder of speculation–the more steps of hypothesis necessary to link an idea to observation, the less scientific the idea. As such ideas drifted from the anchor of experience, and became more reliant on reason and imagination, they could become misleading. He cautioned the reader not to confuse well-verified concepts and illustrative models.

p. 107 – A major feature of Maxwell’s scientific boundaries was that a hypothesis must be provisional.

p. 108 – [Maxwell:] “I have been carried by the penetrating insight and forcible expression of Dr. Tyndall into that sanctuary of minuteness and of power where molecules obey the laws of their existence, clash together in fierce collision, or grapple in yet more fierce embrace, bui8lding up in secret the forms of visible things … But who will lead me into that still more hidden and dimmer region where Thought weds Fact, where the mental operation of the mathematician and the physical action of the molecules are seen in the true relation? Does not the way to it pass through the very den of the metaphysician, strewed with the remains of former explorers, and abhorred by every man of science?”

“In our daily work we are led up to questions the same in kind with those of metaphysics; and we approach them, not trusting to the native penetrating power of our own minds, but trained by a long-continued adjustment of our modes of thought to the facts of external nature.”

p. 110 – Maxwell was clearly a highly synthetic thinker, and the threads of [Scottish] Common Sense, Whewellian Cambridge, and Boolean philosophy can all be seen in his articulation of the limits of science.

[Maxwell’s] vision of a divine creator who had wrapped the natural world in mystery while revealing selected portions, which was so important for his pursuit of unified laws, can be seen here as well. His evangelical God, wholly other, chose to make some aspects of the world understandable to humans despite their fallen and fallible nature. Maxwell’s sense of the divine gave him a deep appreciation that much of the world would always remain unknown while maintaining the prospect of sound knowledge.

p. 111 – Both Maxwell and Huxley stressed the importance of observation and empiricism while acknowledging the inherent limitations of human perception. Each was, in an important sense, a channel for Kantian-influenced epistemology. Both worried about the danger of rampant speculation and unverified hypotheses while also accepting the need for theory. Both saw theory as the tool that allowed science to provide deeper understanding of the unseen world, whether microscopic, invisible, or far in the past. Scientific knowledge was reliable, but necessarily incomplete, and was always vulnerable to the weakness of human reason and emotion. Natural philosophers needed physical and conceptual tools to discipline their minds and senses. Huxley and the scientific naturalists presented that views as methods for preventing theological and dogmatic intrusion into proper science. However, these limits were, at the least, deeply compatible with Maxwell’s evangelical outlook. Their similar limitations of hypothesis and scientific statement were arrived at via quite different approaches and justifications.

p. 116 – [Tyndall:] “Be careful, above all things, of professing to see in the phenomena of the material world the evidences of the Divine pleasure or displeasure.” It was the theists, he said, who tried to go beyond the limits of science.

p. 118 – As he often did, Huxley appealed to the narrative of scientific progress to imagine a time when there would be newly understood laws that would move molecular transformation back inside the boundaries of science. “It seems safe to prophesy that the hypothesis of the evolution of the elements from a primitive matter will, in the future, play no less a part in the history of science than the atomic hypothesis, which, to begin with, had no greater, if so great, an empirical foundation.”

From theistic science to naturalistic science, part 3

Part 2 of this series is here. This post covers the last section of Chapter Two, which is on miracles. I offer some comments of my own at the end.

p. 71 – Miracles

Building on this reading of uniformity, the scientific naturalists thought they had one attack for which there was no counter. Miracles, they said, were the essence of Christianity. And a miracle, it seemed, must be a violation of a natural law, and therefore a violation of uniformity, and thus cannot be consonant with science. Taking a position on miracles, then, forced one into either the theistic or naturalistic camp. This was a maneuver emphasized repeatedly by Victorian scientific naturalists, many of whom were directly inspired by David Hume.

During and after the Reformation, the general Protestant view was that miracles had been limited to biblical times, and could no longer be found. This was a strategic move to differentiate them from superstitious Catholics calling for their saints’ protection, and also to anchor the Bible’s authority over ecclesiastical tradition–only it had true miracles. This position came under scrutiny for theological reasons from, among others, John Henry Newman and Horace Bushnell, who wanted to abandon the limitation of miracles to biblical times and accept modern ones.

Huxley chose miracles as the subject for some of his famous battles with Gladstone, and developed his ideas further in his book on Hume. He argued that an observation of an apparently miraculous event (say, the unsupported floating of lead in midair) would be no evidence that the laws of nature had been suspended. A man of science would then simply investigate to find the hitherto-concealed laws that allowed such a a thing to happen. Humanity’s limited experience with the world would inevitably lead to gaps, but those gaps could not be used to show divine intervention…

p. 72 – Usually even a small amount of thought could provide naturalistic explanations for otherwise mysterious events, such as miraculous healings. He warned against anyone declaring an event to be impossible on the grounds of natural law, as that would play into the hands of “ecclesiastical apologists” and their worship of absolute statements. One could say an event was improbable, but even the most extraordinary events did not threaten the laws of nature.

Huxley’s typical approach to addressing miracles was distinctly Humean–instead of questioning whether the miracle occurred, or could have occurred, he questioned the witnesses and the reliability of their account. … Only an expert committed to naturalism could be a reliable witness.

The next move was a brilliant use by Huxley of the social context of his listeners. Of course, he said, everyone in his audience was a good Protestant who would never believe Catholic medieval miracles. And yet, “if you do not believe in these miracles recounted by a witness whose character and competency are firmly established, whose sincerity cannot be doubted, and who appeals to his sovereign and other contemporaries as witnesses of the truth of what he says, in a document of which a MS. copy exists, probably dating within a century of the author’s death, why do you profess to believe in stories of a like character, which are found in documents of the dates and the authorship of which nothing is certainly determined, and no known copies of which come within two or three centuries of the events they record?”

These “stories of a like character” were, of course, the Gospels. Huxley stressed that knowledge of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John was essentially zero when compared to knowledge of Eginhard. He thus trapped his audience into either siding with Catholic superstition or admitting the unreliability of the New Testament.

p. 75 – There was widespread agreement among theistic scientists that (as with Huxley) apparent violations of natural law were illusory. Many other Christians agreed–Frederick Temple declared, “There may be instances where this Order is apparently broken, but really maintained, because one physical is absorbed in a higher.” That is, an event that appeared to be outside the laws of nature actually was lawful, but it simply obeyed a law of which humans were not yet aware.

What, then, of the supernatural? Would not religious believers need violations of natural law to be assured of the existence of supernatural forces? One of the prices of this strategy was that, in an important sense, the category of the supernatural faded away (or was at least redefined).

p. 76 – So far, these theists were in almost complete agreement with Huxley and Tyndall. Did that not hem them into precisely the dilemma of choosing between uniformity and divine action? They replied strongly in the negative: God could still watch over his creation and enact his plans, but through natural laws, not with interruptions of the natural order. … The deity could manipulate natural laws in a variety of ways without violating their essence, and could produce any of the fantastic events recorded in scripture. This idea had a long genealogy in Christianity going back to Augustine.

p. 77 – Frederick Temple argued that even if science were to someday give an explanation of all the miracles in the Bible, it would not at all change their role in revelation. The miracle could be in their timing, or intent, or effect, rather than in the breach of uniformity. This fit well with a traditional Protestant distinction between miracles, which required an objective witness to provide proof of supernaturalism, and special providence, which appeared to be normal events–excepts when viewed through the eyes of faith. So this move would essentially eliminate the category of formal miracles and subsume all divine actions under special providence.

Discussion: The theists lost the debate on miracles by either (1) accepting Hume’s definition of miracles as violations of the laws of nature, or (2) accepting that God’s laws for creation were all “natural” with no supernatural laws or no supernatural laws that could affect the natural world. I think the solution for theists is to reject Hume’s definition of a miracle, and emphasize that God has laws for all of creation, which includes both natural and supernatural/spiritual worlds.

Miracles should be defined as of two types: (a) transcendent miracles, such as the creation of something from nothing, which exhibit the transcendence of God, and (b) the operation of supernatural laws that affect the natural world. We divide creation into natural and supernatural worlds but there is one reality, and what happens in one can affect what happens in the other. These supernatural laws are beyond the purview of empirical science, but empirical science can and should recognize that theology based on revelation provides legitimate knowledge of supernatural reality.

From theistic science to naturalistic science, part 2

Part 1 of this series is here. The excerpts below barely do justice to what is in the book.

Chapter Two is on the uniformity of natural laws, also called the uniformity of nature.

p. 34 – … the assumption that the universe was governed by uninterrupted laws was a fundamental part of natural philosophy. By the end of the nineteenth century, Huxley and his allies were using this concept as a bludgeon to drive theism out of science, and it continues to be used so today under the rubric of scientific naturalism. It is impossible, say the naturalists, for divine action or intervention to have any role in a world that runs by uniform natural laws.

p. 35 – The critical point is to understand that uniformity was a core principle of science throughout the nineteenth century for both theists and naturalists, despite each group claiming it as uniquely theirs.

The Victorian case for theistic laws of nature was laid out most clearly and influentially by the Reverend Baden Powell in his 1838 The Connexion of Natural and Divine Truth.

p. 36 – … the uniformity of nature itself was evidence for a divine creator. A universe in which natural laws were uniform and regular was one that was clearly designed to be that way.

Reducing God to only a “confession of ignorance,” as in the case of Newton’s arguments for planetary stability, was bad science and bad religion. Why? Because it allowed for violations of uniformity, which was critical for both …

p. 37 – “To speak of apparent anomalies and interruptions as special indications of the Deity, is altogether a mistake. In truth, so far as the anomalous character of any phenomenon can affect the inference of presiding Intelligence at all, it would rather tend to diminish and detract from that evidence.”

[Maxwell’s] award winning investigation of Saturn’s rings began with a statement that is was inconceivable that terrestrial mechanics might not apply to distant planets.

“I think each individual man should do all he can to impress his own mind with the extent, the order, and the unity of the universe, and should carry these ideas with him as he reads such passages as the 1st Chap. of the Ep. to Colossians …”

Maxwell instructed his students that once they understood the constancy and universality of natural laws, they would “begin to understand the position of man as the appointed lord over the works of Creation and to comprehend the fundamental principles on which his dominion depends, which are these–To know, to submit to, and to fulfill, the laws which the Author of the Universe has appointed.”

p. 41 – If nature were like a book, then there was a single argument–a common thread holding together the text that could be used to interpret and understand the whole.

p. 42 – Maxwell’s claim that laws were “parts of one universal system” was arguing that there was a plan to the interrelationship of natural laws.

p. 43 – Warning off the scientific naturalists, [Maxwell] declared that “no theory of evolution can be formed to account for the similarity of molecules, for evolution necessarily implies continuous change, and the molecule is incapable of growth or decay, of generation or destruction.”

Paley emphasized complexity as the indicator of God’s hand; Maxwell emphasized unity.

p. 44 – Maxwell did not think that any hypothesis proved, or was proved by any specific religious statements. He was willing to make broad, general claims about the theology of nature (such as in his molecules lecture), but was quite hesitant to directly link particular scientific ideas to any part of religious doctrine …

p. 45 – Science was expected to advance and change rapidly in a way religion (specifically Christianity) was not. Maxwell was concerned to protect both science and religion from this mismatch. … Harmonization of science and religion should instead rely on broad theological truths (e.g., God as benevolent creator) and broad scientific guidelines (e.g., physical forces are fundamentally unified).

p. 48 – John Brooke has argued that an “archetypical evangelical scientist” would probably have a biblically informed philosophy of nature, be averse to speculative hypothesis due to humility before God, be sensitive to the uses and limitations of natural theology, and insist on harmony between true science and true religion. An important distinction to be made when thinking about evangelical science is between natural theology (in the sense of grounding religious truths in the natural world) and a theology of nature (recognition of the role of God in nature). The evangelicals preferred the latter …

p. 49 – Such evangelical theologies of nature often critiqued Paley for not accepting the “dysfunctional aspect of creation,” and integrated visions of sin and evil.

p. 52 – In sum: far from uniformity being antithetical to religious thinking, many scientists and philosophers concluded that uniformity only made sense in a theistic world. Without an ordering force (i.e., God), one would expect the universe to be a mishmash of chaotic events. The only guarantee for constancy of the laws of nature was the intent of the lawgiver.

Huxley worked from the axiom that any role for the divine in the natural world made uniformity impossible.

p. 55 – This declaration of uniformity in the living world, sometimes hidden, was a common point agreed upon by both Huxley and theists. Beginning with this emphasis was a strategy that would become quite frequent for him, reiterating that everyone agreed on the importance of natural laws and uniform processes. Then came his paring away of Owen’s work–his opponent’s practice might appear to follow these rules, but in fact should be seen as quite different.

Such theistic science was marked [by Huxley] as being preempirical and dogmatic. And this was not simply a matter of terminology or metaphysical preference, Huxley warned. It led directly to incorrect scientific practice, such as [Owen’s] seeing unwarranted similarities between skulls and vertebrae.

Adrian Desmond and other scholars have noted that Huxley’s opposition to Owen’s archetypes carried with it a side effect: hostility to the idea that species undergo progressive change and adaptation. He came to associate the claim that creatures changed significantly over time with idealist theism, and worked hard to show that the fossil record demonstrated that animals largely persisted in form. [ironic!]

Huxley linked directly this divine inference with the idea of biological structures being adapted to a purpose.

p. 58 – Any hesitancy [Huxley] felt regarding the details of Darwin’s theory was obscured in the ensuing public debate. Instead, Darwin became the emblem for his naturalistic worldview. His anonymous review in the Times laid out his plan to use the Origin to demonstrate what uniform, non-theistic science should look like. Quickly dismissing the possibility of a literally correct Genesis, he also declared that any direct act of creation was not a part of science. Divine action was not only placed in complete opposition to natural law, but the replacement of the first by the second was described as the chief marker of the development of science…

Darwin was credited with finally bringing the living world under the jurisdiction of laws of nature, and extending uniformity to all things.

p. 60 Briefly, belief in theistic evolution–that is, evolution guided, planned, or supported in some way by God–was widespread, and many theists commented on how Darwin’s ideas had extended uniformity throughout the world of life. Temple stated: “Once more, the doctrine of Evolution restores to the science of Nature the unity which we should expect in the creation of God.”

Unsurprisingly, the scientific naturalists rejected this interpretation completely..

p. 61 – [Huxley] often used the idea that laws were just regularities (and therefor had no ontological reality) as a weapon against theists presenting natural laws as God-given.

Huxley publically declared himself to be an adherent of evolution in 1868.

p. 64 – [Huxley] was certainly deeply committed to denying any barrier between the organic and inorganic world.

p. 68 – Over time Huxley attacked theistic laws far less, and increasingly targeted scriptural literalism in science as the chief enemy. “As the geologist of my young days wrote, he had one eye upon fact, and the other on Genesis; at present, he wisely keeps both eyes on fact, and ignores the pentateuchal mythology altogether.” This was likely a strategy to make his work more palatable to moderates, and to make uniform laws a wedge issue; men of science were pressured to either agree with him or ally themselves with the radical literalists. This also helped sharped the distinction he often drew between religion and theology, fingering the dogmatic theologians as the real opposition. In his last two decades he structured his attacks more carefully to claim uniformity as a wholly naturalistic category fundamentally opposed to theological conceptions of nature.

p. 69 – [Huxley] increasingly presented naturalism and supernaturalism as a zero-sum game, making any allegiance to natural laws seem to be a division from religion.

p. 70 – Theology, not religious belief per se, was the enemy. Theology was the intruder on science. Slavish literal interpretation of the Bible was one of its weapons. And most dramatically, these absurd beliefs had come to an end, thus marking any further resistance as antiquated and ridiculous. Uniformity was proposed as synonymous with rationalism, progress, and naturalism.

Science, as a complete scheme of the universe could have no interaction with theology other than accepting its surrender.

[There follows a section on miracles, which I will cover in a separate post.]


p. 79 – A theistic guarantee for uniformity was the standard, and when Huxley’s circle pushed for a novel approach, they were the ones who needed to justify that it could provide the same foundations as the old approach. They argued that naturalistic practice adhered just a closely to uniformity as theistic, even as they stressed that theism was incompatible with uniformity. By following existing practices (though they claimed to be completely new), the naturalists could move into existing scientific institutions, projects, and journals without serious disruptions.

From theistic science to naturalistic science, part 1

Huxley’s Church and Maxwell’s Demon: From Theistic Science to Naturalistic Science by Matthew Stanley (Univ. of Chicago Press, Nov. 2014) is basically the first book to tell the story of how science was redefined in the 19th century. Most people don’t know it even happened and few know how. I bought a copy of this book and will give some excerpts and comments here.

Every paragraph of the Introduction is worth excerpting but let me pick a few key points. He starts with the contemporary debate initiated by the intelligent design movement, which criticizes the adoption of naturalism by the scientific community, then introduces his main theme:

p.2 – Naturalism has a history. The existential connection of naturalism with science is a relatively recent development. Further, naturalism has a specific birthplace. Despite naturalism’s high profile in modern American courts, its roots are in Victorian Britain. It was not until the end of the Victorian period (1837-1901) that naturalism became a common way to think about science, and it was a distinctively British creation. Regardless of this late and local appearance, naturalistic science has come to be seen as universal and eternal. Somehow the long-standing practice of nonnaturalistic science has been forgotten.

p.3 – The naturalists had to fight for their definition of science.

The history of naturalism in a broader conceptual sense is more controversial. It is complicated by a frequently drawn distinction between “methodological” naturalism and “metaphysical” or “ontological” naturalism.

p.3 – In the Victorian period, naturalism was only one possibility of how to practice science. Because science today is naturalistic, it is easy to overestimate the influence of scientific naturalists in the past.  … Far more central was the tradition of practicing science in close embrace with Christianity. This had been the standard in Britain since the days of Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton.

I will refer to this tradition as “theistic science.” Its practitioners were overwhelmingly Christian (and largely Protestant), but the term Christian science would be confusing for obvious reasons. … Theistic science, like naturalistic science, should be considered in terms of methodology, not in terms of particular theoretical allegiances. Theistic science was a way to do science. This is not a story about science versus religion. All parties discussed here, theist and naturalist, cared deeply about science and wanted it to thrive. Rather, the question was about how religious ideas and values should appear in scientific practice, if at all.

p.4 – The core of this book explores the relationship between the methodological values of theistic and naturalistic science: that is, the foundational principles on which scientific researchers were expected to base their work. As already discussed, our modern expectation is that theism should dramatically change the way science is done. Here I will argue that this was not the case in Victorian Britain, the birthplace of scientific naturalism. Instead, both theistic and naturalistic science held virtually identical methodological values. While this is remarkable on its own, it is even stranger when we see that each group argued that proper scientific methodology could only be justified in their worldview.

p.5 – To explore these issues, this book will focus on one major representative from each of the theist and naturalist camps, with supporting figures appearing as necessary. … Naturalistic will be represented by T. H. Huxley (1825-95), pioneering biologist, iconoclastic science educator, and public spokesman for science. He was one of the major figures in creating and propagating naturalistic science, and was closely involved with virtually all the strategies, forces, and social developments that eventually led to the dominance of naturalism. Theistic science will be examined through James Clerk Maxwell (1831-79), the physicist whose work revolutionized electricity, magnetism, thermodynamics, and optics. Maxwell’s contributions to science have survived the test of time, and as a conservative evangelical, he cannot be dismissed as someone who was not genuinely religious. He was a product of the long-standing tradition of theistic science that Huxley sought to overthrow, and helps demonstrate the powerful social, cultural, and intellectual forces that made that tradition productive.

Despite precedents in France, scientific naturalism in the modern sense was a peculiarly Victorian creation, and we need to understand the particulars of religion and science that made it possible. … [p.6]The established Church of England dominated intellectual and educational life in many ways, both propagating theistic science and providing the impetus for the development of naturalistic science. Despite Anglican power, this was an age of increasing religious diversity, which provided important resources for the growth of naturalistic science. The scientific naturalists sought not only to battle established religion, but also to set up their worldview as an alternative framework for a full intellectual and cultural life. Huxley wanted not only a new science, but a new church.

In Chapter One – Religious Lives, the author gives brief bios of Maxwell and Huxley: Maxwell was born into an aristocratic Scottish family, had an avid interest in how things worked, studied in Cambridge, had an intense conversion experience, was comfortable with established and dissenting (e.g., Baptist) churches, and died suddenly in 1879. Huxley had to make his own way in the world, was mostly self-taught, supported himself (and his family) mostly by writing, was well-versed in the Bible, and was a life-long opponent of established churches and their influence. Some excerpts:

p.14 – Natural theology was overwhelmingly the standard context for the practice of science in the early nineteenth century.

p. 24 – Huxley and friends began an assault against the Anglican Church’s control that would last decades. They wanted to ensure, however, that their attacks were not misconstrued. They emphasized that they were not against religion, they were against theology. Most of the scientific naturalists had religious upbringings and maintained their Christian values of sincerity, honesty, moral earnestness, and respect for the Bible.

p.25 – [Huxley’s] critique of the old aristocracy with a new meritocracy was exactly what those young men of science hoped for.

This sense of religion as apart from theology was usually characterized in a Romantic fashion, emphasizing emotion and feeling instead of reason.

p.26 – Real religion, based on emotion, could remain untouched by science.

The naturalists made the case that this kind of religion was not their invention, but was rather the true religion that had been disguised by centuries of clergy. … In particular, religion’s purity was opposed to the corruption of the Anglican Church. They saw their attacks as part of a “New Reformation” intended to restore that pure Christianity.

p.28 – Darwin gently probed Huxley’s views on species change, only to be rebuffed by Huxley’s strong feelings about the fixity of species. But when the Origin appeared, Huxley swore his loyalty despite his reservations about the truth of natural selection. What he was fascinated by was not so much the content of the book as its purely naturalistic approach to the living world. As Ruth Barton has argued, “Huxley’s defence of Darwin was less a defence of Darwin than the kind of theory he propounded.”

p. 29 – The debates over Darwin became set in the public imagination as an epic battle between science and theology.

p.30 – It may be too strong to say that the scientific naturalists engaged in a conspiracy to take over science — but it is close.

p.31 – The debaters did not see the struggle as between science and religion, but rather between theistic and naturalistic views of science.

American Republic to American Empire

The Roman Republic lasted almost five centuries (509 to 27 BC) before becoming the Roman Empire. The American Republic (aka USA) has taken a little over two centuries before becoming the American Empire. In what ways has this already happened?

(1) The “judicial usurpation of politics” — i.e., the overruling of the legislative process by the personal opinions of Supreme Court justices. In the earlier years of the republic the judicial branch focused on enforcing the provisions of the Constitution without regard to their own opinions of those laws. In the later years justices started substituting their personal opinions for the text of the Constitution, or what is equivalent, resorting to tortuous interpretations of the text which embodied their personal opinions. Then justices began to ignore the Constitution and made judgments from their own opinions, at first when the populace was divided. Finally, they took on the power to review the intent of all legislation and reject anything that was contrary to their personal opinions. No one was able to stop them.

(2) The “rise of the imperial presidency” — i.e., ignoring the legislative process by the personal opinions of the President. In the earlier years of the republic the executive branch focused on enforcing the provisions of the Constitution and the laws of Congress without regard to their own opinions of those laws. In the later years Presidents started substituting their own personal opinions and taking actions without regard for their legality. This was first seen in the use of the armed services for waging war apart from any declaration of war by Congress. It was expanded to the issuance of regulations without authorizing legislation and the making of treaties without confirmation by the Senate. It would then be possible for Presidents to postpone or cancel elections and declare themselves President beyond their term or for life.

(3) The permanently obstructed legislature — The degree to which Congress has been divided is greater than the degree of agreement required to pass legislation. The Framers purposely made the Congress both the most powerful branch of government but also its most divided in order that the power of Congress would be limited. However, as the populace became more divided Congress reflected that division and became increasingly unable to agree on even basic legislation such as an annual budget. With the power of Congress blocked, the other branches of government were able to fill the gap by going beyond the written Constitution and legislation.

(4) With Congress increasingly impotent, the voice of the people was only heard in the election of the President, which became increasingly the election of a strongman or caudillo, as they are called in Latin America. The people came to expect that they were electing a strongman rather than a President (literally, one who presides). The republic faded into the background as politicians were denounced, that is, people rejected those who followed a democratic process with its time-consuming compromises and back-room deals. As the phoniness of politicians was replaced by direct leadership, politics became the process of electing an autocrat to take charge. The empire was born.

Darwin’s theory and Huxley’s science

It is common to read statements like this: “For the vast majority of biologists, the debate over whether evolution occurs took place in the 19th century and has long been settled–evolution won.” (1) The problem with this statement is that it was a philosophical debate, not a scientific debate that won in the 19th century. And philosophical debates are never really settled.

Charles Darwin in his 1859 Origin of Species presented his “theory of descent with modification through natural selection” (later called evolution) in which he argued that universal common descent by natural selection was possible. He contrasted his theory with an alternative he called “the theory of independent acts of creation”. He was careful not to press his case too far, and basically claimed that a theory of evolution was a possible alternative to one version of a theory of creation. Since he avoided controversy, he left it to others to defend his theory in public.

Thomas Henry Huxley is universally acknowledged as the leading defender of Darwin’s theory in the years after the publication of the Origin of Species. But he did much more. His main defense consisted in asserting that Darwin’s theory of evolution was science and the alternative theory of creation was not. He even claimed that evolution was the only possible scientific theory that explained the diversity of life.

Huxley framed his defense of the theory of evolution and put-down of any theory of creation in terms that avoided the appearance of redefining science, but that was what he was doing. He argued that science must be agnostic about non-empirical forms of knowledge, especially claims for God and the supernatural. This was an argument for what today is known as naturalism. Such a philosophy was already on the rise, with positivism, materialism, and secularism.

Not only were the alternatives to naturalism deprecated, they were considered pseudo-science. But if any theory of creation was not science, then Carl Linnaeus was not doing science when he developed his taxonomy, in which he endeavored to discover all of the created kinds of organisms. Somehow mathematics would still be available to Huxley’s science despite it being a non-empirical form of knowledge.

Another aspect of the controversy was the change in the status of the clergy. One of Huxley’s goals was to remove the clergy from influence over education. As the sciences became professionalized, Huxley was successful in keeping the clergy out. The result was that a thoroughly naturalistic science became ascendant in the universities.

Thus began the strategy of promoting naturalism under the guise of science. It was so successful that people to this day don’t know science was ever otherwise. Such is the historical ignorance of our time that such ideas reign virtually unchallenged.

Methodological creationism and naturalism

Methodological naturalism is considered a strategy for conducting natural science, in which naturalism is temporarily assumed but not affirmed as a metaphysical reality. But for those who reject metaphysical naturalism, it is unacceptable to assume a falsehood for any purpose, except to prove that it leads to absurdity. For example, it would be nonsense for a mathematician to assume “1 = 2”, prove a theorem, and then return to “1 ≠ 2” because that way one could prove any and every statement.

What is reasonable is the bypass, which works like this: transform the problem, solve the problem, then reverse transform the solution. See Bypasses: A Simple Approach to Complexity by Z. A. Melzak (Wiley, 1983). Symbolically, this is S-1TS where S and S-1 represent the transform and its inverse and T represents the operation in the transformed domain. This is also how an analogy works.

A simple example is the technique of completing the square to solve a quadratic equation: start with equation ax² + bx + c = 0, transform it into a square (x + b/2a)² = –c + b²/4a, solve this by taking square roots, then transform the solution back.

The bypass works for a one-to-one transform because it is invertible, but it does not work with a one-to-many or many-to-one transform because they are not invertible. Since the transform “1 = 2” maps 1 and 2 to the same number, it is not invertible and so won’t work as a bypass.

Something similar is at work with the attempt to use methodological naturalism as a bypass: reality is mapped to “nature” by either excluding anything non-natural (supernatural) or by mapping anything non-natural to something in nature. The former transform is clearly not invertible but the latter is not either because it means that something in nature has two sources or explanations, one natural and one non-natural, which is a many-to-one mapping.

There is an alternative method available, which could be called methodological creationism. It transforms everything natural into its corresponding creation and everything non-natural into an act of the man Jesus of Nazareth. This transformation can be inverted since it is a one-to-one mapping. For example, organisms can be mapped to creatures, which can be reversed mapped at the end. Non-natural acts of creation can be mapped to acts of the man Jesus of Nazareth, which can be reverse mapped at the end.

An advantage of methodological creationism is that creative acts are no longer in a separate domain from everyday reality because they are mapped to the acts of a particular human being, whom people can know or read about. One need not speculate about the actions of a mysterious spirit being but may reference the actions of a particular man, and so have reasonable expectations about what this man would or would not do. This allows a systematic science to be built up by the usual scientific methods of data collection, inference, hypothesis, and testing.

Terminology for space and time

I’ve written about terminology and used new terms before, for example, Movement and dimensions. I want to take another look at coining new terms needed for studying movement and the symmetry of space and time. In what follows, the term pace is given an expanded definition, the term cadencity is new, and the term retardation is given a new sense.

Consider these parallel terms, defined with respect to a frame of reference:

Speed is the time rate of change of position of a body without regard to direction [The McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Physics, Third Edition]. By position is meant the spatial position. By time rate of change is meant the rate of change per unit of time displacement.

Pace is the space rate of change of temporal position of a body without regard to temporal direction. By space rate of change is meant the rate of change per unit of space (length) displacement.

The term pace comes from walking and cycling, for example: “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines brisk walking as being at a pace of three miles per hour or more (but not racewalking) or roughly 20 minutes per mile. That equates to about five kilometers per hour or 12 minutes per kilometer.” verywell

The time mean speed is the arithmetic average speed of objects passing a point in space during a period of time. The space mean speed is the arithmetic average speed of objects at a point in time over a length of space. If speeds are constant, it is the same as the harmonic average of objects passing a point in space during a period of time.

Velocity (ve∙loc′∙i∙ty) is the time rate of change of position of a body; it is a vector quantity having direction as well as magnitude [The McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Physics, Third Edition]. By position is meant the spatial position. By time rate of change is meant the rate of change in space (length) per unit of time displacement. By direction is meant spatial direction. It is equivalent to a specification of the speed and direction of motion (e.g. 60 km/h toward the east, i.e., toward eastern places). Velocity is from Latin velocitas, speed, swiftness, rapidity.

Cadencity (ca∙den′∙ci∙ty) is the space rate of change of temporal position of a body; it is a vector quantity having temporal direction as well as magnitude. By space rate of change is meant the rate of change in time per unit of space (length) displacement. It is equivalent to a specification of the pace and direction of motion (e.g. 60 min/km toward the east, i.e., toward eastern events). Cadencity relates to pace and is based on cadence + ity, cf. Fr., e.g., le projet Cadencité.

Acceleration is the rate of change of velocity with respect to time [The McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Physics, Third Edition]. Time means the time displacement. Acceleration is from Latin acceleratus, past participle of accelerare “to hasten, quicken,” from ad– “to” [toward] + celerare “hasten”. Negative acceleration is deceleration.

Retardation (re∙tar∙da′∙tion) is the rate of change of cadencity with respect to space (length). Space means the length displacement. The word retardation is appropriate because the greater the retardation, the slower the movement. Negative retardation is detardation.

Guidelines for addressing controversial issues

Controversies are a staple of today’s world, whether on the news media or the minds of people dealing with changes and counter-changes, or charges and counter-charges. In most cases reporting of controversies is very poor. Partisans have a difficult time even understanding their opponents and make points that are often irrelevant. What follows are some guidelines for handling controversial issues that draw from my experience with issues such as abortion, homosexuality, intelligent design, and the creation-evolution controversy.

Informal fallacies to avoid

Arguing against a position that your opponents don’t hold. This is surprisingly common. It may make points with your side but is irrelevant to genuine argument and confuses those on the sidelines. Check out your opponents before arguing against them.

Arguing against a position held only by fringe elements of your opponents. This is also very common. There are always those on the fringe who have foolish ideas and are easily criticized, but so what? Arguing against fringe elements may make your opponents look bad but doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. And they can make you look bad in the same way, so it accomplishes nothing.

Arguing against a position that is a poor way of expressing your opponents’ position. This is very common. People usually express their opponents’ position in their own words, which can be a way of showing that you understand the matter. But what if you’re wrong? Your opponents can simply say you’re arguing against someone else.

Insulting your opponents. Insults are so common they almost need not be mentioned. After all, what’s a controversial issue without insults? You may not even be aware of some insults, either by insensitivity or casual use of negative language. But your opponents can use the same tactic on you, and may be better at it. Trading insults accomplishes nothing good.

A good response

It is good to assume good intentions of your opponents. Much heat and little light characterize much writing and speaking about controversial issues. You may not like your opponents, you may even be suspicious of your opponents, but unless you have specific evidence of ill intent by leading advocates you oppose, don’t go there.

It is good to quote your opponents on their position, rather than only using your own words. You will need to put things in your own words but first quote your opponents so everyone can see you are not making this up. You should at least try to get their position right. This may be the most difficult part because you and your opponents see things so differently. But at least show you are trying.

It is good to focus on the most common argument that your opponents use. This is where the crossfire is focused. Whether it’s a strong or weak argument, your opponents have a favorite argument that is repeated over and over. It’s your task to take it apart and show how it is false or weak or non-persuasive.

The best response

It is best to assume the best of your opponents. You will garner good-will by assuming the best in others. For one thing it makes you look good. For another it is the right thing to do. Opportunities to speak will open up because of your gentlemanly or ladylike behavior.

It is best to quote your opponents liberally, being careful of their context. Go over something they have written and show in detail where it breaks down. Use their own words against them, without ignoring their context. That is a powerful and focused argument.

It is best to focus on the most persuasive argument your opponents have. Go after the best argument your opponents can muster and, if you can knock it down, your opponents will be permanently weakened if not defeated. Let there be a battle of your best against their best. That is the best way to settle an issue.

Seminar presentation

I’ll be a speaker this weekend at the Genesis Seminar in Bridgeville, Pa (near Pittsburgh). The keynote speaker is Dr. Andrew Steinmann of Concordia University, Chicago. The title of my presentation is History and Philosophy of the Science of Origins, in which I will try to organize a diversity of material in history, philosophy, science, and biblical studies.

I see a dialogue/dialectic between two opposites/extremes, represented by these two lists:

(a) Genealogy, generations, chronicle, narrative, diachrony, history, process, society, time

(b) Logic, principles, philosophy, theory, exact science, synchrony, structure, universe, space

Where does theology fit in this? Exegetical and historical theology fit with (a) and systematic theology fits with (b).

Where does biology fit in this? Platonic, Scholastic, scala naturae, fixed-species biology fits with (a) and Aristotle (not Aristotelian), developmental, adaptive, evolutionary biology with (b).

There is also a both-and (c) to go with this either-or of extremes:

(c) mean, moderate, combination, synthesis, duality, complementarity, space-time

In science (c) is the convergence of increasing precision, the duality of particle and wave, the synthesis of space and time.

Theologically (c) is the Old and New Testaments, Law and Gospel, direct and indirect creation, Word and Spirit, and the Trinity as a unity-of-duality.

Biologically (c) is a combination of process and structure, variation and permanence, bottom-up and top-down classifications.

The Bible is remarkably balanced version of (c).