iSoul In the beginning is reality

Three research programmes

For Lakatos, what we think of as a ‘theory’ may actually be a succession of slightly different theories and experimental techniques developed over time, that share some common idea, or what Lakatos called their ‘hard core’. Lakatos called such changing collections ‘Research Programmes’. (1)

Here is a description of three research programmes concerned mainly with biology but also with geology and cosmology from the distant past to the present.

The Aristotelian Research Programme

Aristotle and those who followed him described a world that is largely static. Archetypes of all species were created by special act of God (or the gods) and species have not changed since then. The earth is also the same as it was from its beginning. Whether the cosmos has always existed or was created, it has never changed appreciably.

Aristotle asserted that the cosmos has always existed and was always basically the same. This was changed in later centuries to a relatively recent special creation (<10,000 years ago). In either case, it is a static world picture.

The Evolutionary Research Programme

Darwin and those who followed him described a world that is largely dynamic. All species developed from other species and the original simple organism developed somehow from inanimate matter. No special act of creation was involved. Lyell and those who followed him described an earth that is in slow continuous change with minor exceptions.

An evolutionary research programme requires that there be long ages of time for gradual changes to accumulate and produce the world of today.

The Combination Research Programme

This programme describes a world that is both static and dynamic.  Archetypes of basic kinds of organisms were created by special act of God and all species have developed from these. The earth was created and has not changed drastically except from a global flood in ancient times.

Question? Aristotelian Combination Evolution
Change? Static Both Dynamic
Continuity? Discrete Both Continuous
Initial state? Complex Both Simple
What dominates? Initial state Both Process
Change from initial state? No change Some change Complete change
Species? Fixed species From kinds to species Changing populations
Past time? Eternal or short Short or long Long
Nature or History? Nature Both History
Type of change? Catastrophic Both Gradual
Character of change? Revolutionary Both Evolutionary
God’s relation? Direct Both Indirect


Genuine Dialogue between Science and Theology

Nowadays there is increasing concern for a dialogue between science and “religion” – which usually means Christian religion. The implications of science for religion are discussed in serious tones and tomes. But if there is genuine dialogue, then the implications of religion for science should also be considered. However, there is a problem at this point: science has no way of incorporating religion – unless it operates by the methods of science, that is, unless it becomes scientific. We can see why by a dialogue like this:

Theologian Tom:  Sam, we really should talk. I’ve been reading about the theological implications of science. The boundaries between science and theology are breaking down. There should be some way that scientists and theologians can dialogue together.

Scientist Sam:  Tom, you’re right. Science has much to offer religion and scientists are often religious, too.

Tom:  One thing I don’t understand is what are the scientific implications of theology?

Sam:  Theology is about “why” and science is about “what”.  Scientific knowledge can help theology in many ways.

Tom:  But Tom, I said the implications of theology for science.  How can science best react to the conclusions of theology?

Sam:  You don’t mean that science should consider theological explanations? That would be impossible. Scientists can’t do that.

Tom:  Why not, Sam?  Theologians consider scientific explanations. Why not the other way around?

Sam:  You don’t understand, Tom. Science considers the evidence and develops explanations that are, well, scientific. There’s no place for religion in there.

Tom:  But I thought we agreed to have a dialogue about science and theology. What’s up?

Sam:  We, we just can’t do that. Scientists have rigorous scientific methods. We demand empirical proof. Theology is so, so different. We could never invoke God to explain anything.

Tom:  Then it’s up to others to take scientific theories and compare them with other explanations and decide what to do?

Sam:  Yes, take scientific theories and apply them anywhere you want.

Tom:  But I’m talking about modifying the theories to take into consideration events like miracles that science ignores or explanations like divine agency that science doesn’t consider.

Sam:  Don’t modify the theories, just apply them.

Tom:  You seem to think that science has the final word.

Sam:  Only about the natural world, Tom. We wouldn’t step on theologians feet when they talk about the spiritual world.

Tom:  But you’re supposing that reality is neatly partitioned into two worlds, and that science covers one world and theology the other. We live in a uni-verse, Tom.

Sam:  I don’t know about that. I just know that science doesn’t consider theology.

Tom:  Then you’re not able to have a two-way conversation.

Sam:  Well, I guess not.