How Apologetics Impacts Conversion: A Historical Case Study, Part 2

BY KENNETH R. SAMPLES – OCTOBER 22, 2019

How does the defense of the faith (apologetics) impact a person’s coming to embrace the faith (conversion)? As mentioned in part 1 of this four-part series, in historic Christianity the apologetics enterprise is often viewed as a tool to remove intellectual obstacles that may stand in the way of a person’s consideration and possible acceptance of the faith.

We’re examining the historical case of Augustine of Hippo (354–430) in which six specific apologetics-related factors contributed to one of the most famous conversions to the Christian faith ever. Augustine would later ascribe all of these elements to the providential grace of God at work behind the scenes of his life. These six features can be considered a broad apologetic model for how God, through his sovereign grace, prepares people for faith.

Let’s now introduce the first factor that removed a critical obstacle and thus paved the way for Augustine’s conversion to the Christian faith.

  1. Removing Philosophical Objections to Christianity

Augustine’s interaction with the philosophy of Neoplatonism (a strand of Platonic philosophy popular in the third century AD and associated with the philosopher Plotinus) helped him overcome the last vestiges of Manichaeism (a cultic religion that mixed pagan and Christian elements) in his thinking. Augustine’s materialism, which was part of Manichaean belief, kept him from envisioning the Christian God as an immaterial reality, and he struggled to understand how evil could emerge in a world made by such a supposedly benevolent God. Some philosophical concepts inherent in Neoplatonism helped answer these objections. The distinguished historian of philosophy, Frederick Copleston, explains:

At this time Augustine read certain Platonic treatises in the Latin translation of Victorinus, these treatises being most probably the Enneads of Plotinus. The effect of neo-Platonism was to free him from the shackles of materialism and to facilitate his acceptance of the idea of immaterial reality. In addition, the Plotinian conception of evil as privation rather than as something positive showed him how the problem of evil could be met without having to have recourse to the dualism of the Manichaeans. In other words, the function of neo-Platonism at this period was to render it possible for Augustine to see the reasonableness of Christianity, and he began to read the New Testament again, particularly the writings of St. Paul.1

So through the philosophical prism of Neoplatonism, Augustine came to see that materialism fails to account for the necessary conceptual, moral, and spiritual realities of life. He also came to embrace the Neoplatonic distinctive that while evil is real, it is not a substance or a stuff, but rather a privation (an absence of something good that should be in an entity). Thus, evil was not some “thing” created by God.

Augustine would later use Platonic or Neoplatonic concepts—to a certain degree—as a philosophical apparatus in order to explain and defend Christian truth claims. Though some have called Augustine a Christian Platonist philosopher and have criticized him for introducing Neoplatonic ideas into Christianity, the mature Augustine’s thinking was progressively transformed by Scripture and, thus, far less by Greek philosophy.2

As we consider Augustine’s experience as a case study, we see that elements of Neoplatonic philosophy helped remove philosophical difficulties that Augustine initially had with viewing Christianity as viably true. This shows that some aspects of pagan philosophy can serve as allies of sorts to some Christian truth claims. Thus, Augustine’s experience encourages us to become equipped to address philosophical objections to the faith.

In part 3 of this series we’ll examine other specific apologetics factors that facilitated Augustine’s move toward Christianity. Again, these factors can serve as a general model for how apologetics impacts evangelism.

Be sure to return next week to learn more about Augustine’s intellectual and spiritual transformation.

Reflections: Your Turn

Did apologetics factors impact your coming to faith in Christ? If so, visit Reflections on WordPress to share your experience in the comments.

Resources

Endnotes
  1. Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. 2 (New York: Doubleday, 1993), 42–3.
  2. Allan D. Fitzgerald, ed., Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), s.v. “Plato, Platonism,” “Plotinus, The Enneads.”

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How Apologetics Impacts Conversion: A Historical Case Study Part 1

BY KENNETH R. SAMPLES – OCTOBER 15, 2019

In historic Christianity the field of apologetics (a reasoned defense of the faith) is considered a branch of theology. Apologetics often has a close connection to evangelism (communication of the gospel message) by attempting to remove intellectual obstacles that may stand in the way of a person embracing faith (conversion).

In this four-part series we’ll take a look at how apologetics can directly impact conversion by examining the historical case of Augustine of Hippo (354–430). St. Augustine had one of the most famous conversions to Christianity in history, and various apologetic elements facilitated his coming to faith.

Augustine would later attribute all of these factors to the sovereign grace of God at work behind the scenes of his life. These six factors can be considered a broad apologetic model for how God, through his sovereign grace, prepares people for faith.

Augustine: A Case Study in How Apologetics-Related Factors Impact Christian Conversion

While Augustine was exposed to Christianity as a child by his mother, as a youth he rebelled and rejected the faith. In his famous biography, Confessions, he describes how he engaged in illicit behavior (theft) with his neighborhood friends in the city of Thagaste, North Africa. Recognizing that their rebellious son was also intellectually gifted, Augustine’s parents sent him away for advanced studies in the capital city of Carthage.

As a wayward soul away from home in a large city in the pagan Roman Empire, Augustine fell prey to a worldly lifestyle. He was entrapped by the sensual hedonism that was so prevalent in the ancient Roman world. His pursuit of answers to the big questions of life led him further away from Christianity. He studied pagan philosophy (NeoPlatonism) and religion (Manicheanism) and his rhetorical skills led him to pursue possible political power as a spokesperson in the Roman government. Yet none of these pursuits were deeply satisfying, and Augustine experienced a profound sense of existential estrangement. He wondered whether his thirst for truth and fulfillment would ever be satisfied.

In his early thirties Augustine began to experience six elements of the providential grace of God covertly at work that served an apologetics function. Let’s now outline those elements that ultimately led to Augustine’s famous conversion.

Six Apologetics-Related Factors Impacting Augustine’s Conversion (Model)

1. Removing Philosophical Objections to Christianity
2. Removing Theological and Exegetical Objections to Christianity
3. The Example of Other Believers
4. The Existential Reality of Death
5. Confronting Man’s Sinful Condition
6. The Study of Scripture

In part 2 of this series we’ll begin exploring these six specific apologetics factors in the life of Augustine. Again, these elements can serve as a general model of how apologetics impacts evangelism.

Be sure to return next week for more of Augustine’s amazing story.

Reflections: Your Turn

What apologetics factors impacted your coming to Christ? How do you use apologetics in your witness for Christ? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Resources:

  • To read Augustine’s story in his own words, see Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin, 1961).
  • For more about St. Augustine’s life and thought, see “Augustine: Theologian of Grace” in Kenneth Richard Samples, Classic Christian Thinkers: An Introduction (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2019), chap. 3.
  • For a comprehensive resource on all things Augustine, see Augustine Through the Ages.

About Reasons to Believe

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God’s Creation Testifies Of Our Spiritual Truth

By Will Myers

God is love and always with each of us. In the beginning, God created heaven and earth. This was intimately in nature as man developed math and science or just exposed to nature. God created the human mind to sense God’s Creation Equation, UspaceVspace=Q, which merely expresses that God’s perfect righteousness (Uspace) is shown in all activity (Vspace) in nature, Q. Romans 1:20 reinforces this concept:

Romans 1:20 New International Version (NIV)

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

God works to make people believe in who He has sent:

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

 

This is reflected in the Creation Equation also. All activity (Vspace) in nature (Q) and the human mind leads to the Lord Jesus (Uspace) who God has sent.” This applies to the universe also, Q. God speaks from His creation (UspaceVspace=Q).

Secular humanism has hijacked science, but God created all science and math (UspaceVspace=Q), and His ways shall prevail. Our Lord Christ Jesus is God’s perfect righteousness as implied in the Old Testament and explicitly stated in the New Testament.

From the discipline of apologetics, we believe that, in this universe, an exposure on each of us is God’s perfect righteousness (Uspace); the activity (Vspace), and nature, Q; giving us God’s creation equation, UspaceVspace=Q, suggesting Christ Jesus is God’s perfect righteousness.

Hebrews 1:1-2 New International Version (NIV)
God’s Final Word: His Son
1 In the past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

All scripture are liken to road maps that point us to the SON of GOD who is the only way unto GOD. Christ Jesus is Lord and Savior who is in the image of our Heavenly Father. All things work for the good for those who love God.  Amen

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AI Investigations: Philosophy Is Not Dead

BY JEFF ZWEERINK – OCTOBER 18, 2019

Why can we think about the universe when the universe cannot think about us? This simple, yet profound, question leads to fascinating philosophical, theological, and scientific investigations. Those same considerations converge in the arena of artificial intelligence research and its goal of artificial general intelligence. Artificial intelligence is a burgeoning field, but this research is not strictly a scientific endeavor. It necessarily involves philosophical reasoning that I think is reminiscent of intelligent agency behind the origin of the universe.

The pursuit of artificial general intelligence (AGI) requires that scientists figure out how to build and program a machine with capacity to contemplate things outside of itself, as well as its place within a larger context. Even more modest projects aiming for artificial narrow intelligence (ANI) that can work through open-ended problems mandate that scientists carefully consider how we think and reason.

AI conversations often highlight how fast computers perform calculations compared to humans. Clearly, programs compute faster and work through logical processes faster than we do. However, the salient question is how well can computers make decisions based on arguments derived from incomplete data that do not permit definitive conclusions? It turns out that philosophy, specifically the philosophy of argumentation, plays an integral role in describing and developing the processes for handling such situations.

Real-life Knowledge Is Usually Tentative

These AI scenarios differ from reasoning in the mathematical arena in that real-life knowledge is not monotonic. In formal (monotonic) logic, from a set of basic axioms, the conclusions drawn from those axioms become true, and the set of “known” things always grows. The nature of the formal logic disallows the possibility of contradiction or revision when new information is acquired. But rarely are the conditions required for formal logic met in everyday scenarios. Consequently, one must assess the conditions, evaluate different options for explaining the conditions, evaluate different options for how to proceed, and ultimately make a decision on the best way to proceed.

As the authors of one article state,1

. . . there are . . . a number of fundamental distinctions between the concepts “P is a formal proof that T holds” and “P is a persuasive argument for accepting T.”

Which Ethical System?

However, humans often disagree about whether an argument is persuasive or what the best course of action is. Any form of AI must figure out how to navigate the reality that most circumstances in life don’t have a single best answer and that any solution has benefits and consequences. Evaluating various benefits and consequences almost always involves some system of ethics and morals. This raises the question of what system the AI should use.

In our society, we seem to be moving in the direction that everyone determines what is right or wrong for themselves. Do we really want an AI (that might make decisions faster and respond more quickly that humans) making decisions with a subjective moral code? Suppose an AI makes a decision that results in someone’s injury or death. Who do we hold accountable? Can the AI be held responsible, or would the creator of the AI?

Maybe a Completely Rational, Incredibly Powerful Machine Is Not the Best Option

We assume that creating an AGI would work out something like Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Although Data was physically more capable than the crew of the Enterprise in almost every way (strength, intelligence, speed, etc), he always seemed to know when to submit to the authority of his superiors. The creators of the Star Trek universe can write things however they like, but a powerful intelligence in real life would pose quite a dilemma. If Data has a genuine awareness of self, how does he choose to submit—especially when he knows his superiors’ decisions are incorrect? Human history is littered with examples of people who became powerful enough to impose their will on others (with great destruction resulting). The very thing we hope AI will do (perform human tasks with superhuman skills) also provides the platform to rain destruction upon us. This possibility brings us back to the previous point. How would we instill a set of values and ethics into such a machine, and how would we choose which values and ethics to use?

Here’s where I see a parallel between AI research and cosmology. Some scientists investigating the history and origin of the universe have claimed that philosophy is dead (or at least rather worthless) because only science has the proper tools to provide the answers we seek. But a brief look into the pursuit of AI reveals the naivety of such a statement. Well-established philosophical principles, including ethical considerations, are helping guide the development of basic AI capabilities (short of self-awareness) and the goal of any AGI will require further philosophical and theological input. In this way, it seems to me that a wise pursuit of AGI provides an argument for the existence of God. That is, the very questions researchers (physicists, astronomers) ask assume philosophical reasoning. Did the universe begin to exist? Has it existed forever? These are concepts. Thus, a study of nature does not furnish these questions, but intelligent, nonartificial agents created in the image of a superintelligent Being are equipped to ask them.

Endnotes
  1. T. J. M. Bench-Capon and Paul E. Dunne, “Argumentation in Artificial Intelligence,” Artificial Intelligence 171, nos. 10–15 (2007): 619–41, doi:10.1016/j.artint.2007.05.001.

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

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Scientists Reverse the Aging Process: Exploring the Theological Implications

BY FAZALE RANA – OCTOBER 30, 2019

During those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them.

Revelation 9:6

I make dad noises now.

When I sit down, when I stand up, when I get out of bed, when I get into bed, when I bend over to pick up something from the ground, and when I straighten up again, I find myself involuntarily making noises—grunting sounds.

I guess it is all part of the aging process. My body isn’t quite what it used to be. If someone offered me an elixir that could turn back time and reverse the aging process, I would take it without hesitation. It’s no fun growing old.

Well, I just might get my wish, thanks to the work of a research team from the US and Canada. These researchers demonstrated that they could disrupt the aging process and, in fact, reverse the biological clock in humans.1

This advance is nothing short of stunning. It opens up exciting—and disquieting—biomedical possibilities rife with ethical and theological ramifications. The work has other interesting implications, as well. It can be marshaled to demonstrate the scientific credibility of the Old Testament by making scientific sense of the long life spans of the patriarchs listed in the Genesis 5 and 11 genealogies.

Some Biological Consequences of Aging

Involuntary grunting is not the worse part of aging, by far. There are other more serious consequences, such as loss of immune function. Senescence (aging) of the immune system can contribute to the onset of cancer and increased susceptibility to pathogens. It can also lead to wide-scale inflammation. None of these are good.

As we age, our thymus decreases in size. And this size reduction hampers immune system function. Situated between the heart and sternum, the thymus plays a role in maturation of white blood cells, key components of the immune system. As the thymus shrinks with age, the immune system loses its capacity to generate sufficient levels of white blood cells, rendering older adults vulnerable to infections and cancers.

A Strategy to Improve Immune Function

Previous studies in laboratory animals have shown that administering growth hormone enlarges the thymus and, consequently, improves immune function. The research team reasoned that the same effect would be seen in human patients. But due to at least one of its negative side effects, the team couldn’t simply administer growth hormone without other considerations. Growth hormone lowers insulin levels and leads to a form of type 2 diabetes. To prevent this adverse effect, the researchers also administered two drugs commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes.

blog__inline--scientists-reverse-the-aging-process-1

Figure 1: The Structure of Human Growth Hormone. Image credit: Shutterstock

To test this idea, the researchers performed a small-scale clinical trial. The study began with ten men (finishing with nine) between the ages of 51 and 65. The volunteers self-administered the drug cocktail three to four times a week for a year. During the course of the study, the researchers monitored white blood cell levels and thymus size. They observed a rejuvenation of the immune system (based on the count of white blood cells in the blood). They also noticed changes in the thymus, with fatty deposits disappearing and thymus tissue returning.

Reversing the Aging Process

As an afterthought, the researchers decided to test the patient’s blood using an epigenetic clock that measures biological age. To their surprise, the researchers discovered that the drug cocktail reversed the biological age of the study participants by two years, compared to their chronological age. In other words, even though the patients gained one year in their chronological age during the course of the study, their bodies became younger, based on biological markers, by two years. This age reversal lasted for six months after the trial ended.

Thus, for the first time ever, researchers have been able to extend human life expectancy through an aging-intervention therapy. And while the increase in life expectancy was limited, this accomplishment serves as a harbinger of things to come, making the prospects of dramatically extending human life expectancy significantly closer to a reality.

This groundbreaking work carries significant biomedical, ethical, and theological implications, which I will address below. But the breakthrough is equally fascinating to me because it can be used to garner scientific support for Genesis 5 and 11.

Anti-Aging Technology and Biblical Long Life Spans

The mere assertion that humans could live for hundreds of years as described in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 is, for many people, nothing short of absurd. Compounding this seeming absurdity is the claim in Genesis 6:3, which describes God intervening to shorten human life spans from about 900 to about 120 years. How can this dramatic change in human life spans be scientifically rational?

As I discuss in Who Was Adam?, advances in the biochemistry of aging provide a response to these challenging questions. Scientists have uncovered several distinct biochemical mechanisms that either cause, or are associated with, senescence. Even subtle changes in cellular chemistry can increase life expectancy by nearly 50 percent. These discoveries point to several possible ways that God could have allowed long life spans and then altered human life expectancy—simply by “tweaking” human biochemistry.

Thanks to these advances, biogerontologists have become confident that in the near future, they will be able to interrupt the aging process by direct intervention through altered diet, drug treatment, and gene manipulation. Some biogerontologists such as Aubrey de Grey don’t think it is out of the realm of possibility to extend human life expectancy to several hundred years—about the length of time the Bible claims that the patriarchs lived. The recent study by the US and Canadian investigators seems to validate de Grey’s view.

So, if biogerontologists can alter life spans—maybe someday on the order of hundreds of years—then the Genesis 5 and 11 genealogies no longer appear to be fantastical. And, if we can intervene in our own biology to alter life spans, how much easier must it be for God to do so?

Ethical Concerns

As mentioned, I would be tempted to take an anti-aging elixir if I knew it would work. And so would many others. What could possibly be wrong with wanting to live a longer, healthier, and more productive life? In fact, disrupting—and even reversing—the aging process would offer benefits to society by potentially reducing medical costs associated with age-related diseases such as dementia, cancer, heart disease, and stroke.

Yet, these biomedical advances in anti-aging therapies do hold the potential to change who we are as human beings. Even a brief moment of reflection makes it plain that wide-scale use of anti-aging treatments could bring about fundamental changes to economies, to society, and to families and put demands on limited planetary resources. In the end, anti-aging technologies may well be unsustainable, undesirable, and unwise. (For a more detailed discussion of the ethical issues surrounding anti-aging technology check out the book I cowrote with Kenneth Samples, Humans 2.0.)

Anti-Aging Therapies and Transhumanism

Many people rightly recognize the ethical concerns surrounding applications of anti-aging therapies, but a growing number see these technologies in a different light. They view them as paving the way to an exciting and hopeful future. The increasingly real prospects of extending human life expectancy by disrupting the aging process or even reversing the effects of aging are the types of advances (along with breakthroughs in CRISPR gene editing and computer-brain interfaces) that fuel an intellectual movement called transhumanism.

This idea has long been on the fringes of respected academic thought, but recently transhumanism has propelled its way into the scientific, philosophical, and cultural mainstreams. Advocates of the transhumanist vision maintain that humanity has an obligation to use advances in biotechnology and bioengineering to correct our biological flaws—to augment our physical, intellectual, and psychological capabilities beyond our natural limits. Perhaps there are no greater biological limitations that human beings experience than those caused by aging bodies and the diseases associated with the aging process.

blog__inline--scientists-reverse-the-aging-process-2

Figure 2: Transhumanism. Image credit: Shutterstock

Transhumanists see science and technology as the means to alleviate pain and suffering and to promote human flourishing. They note, in the case of aging, the pain, suffering, and loss associated with senescence in human beings. But the biotechnology we need to fulfill the transhumanist vision is now within grasp.

Anti-Aging as a Source of Hope and Salvation?

Using science and technology to mitigate pain and suffering and to drive human progress is nothing new. But transhumanists desire more. They advocate that we should use advances in biotechnology and bioengineering for the self-directed evolution of our species. They seek to fulfill the grand vision of creating new and improved versions of human beings and ushering in a posthuman future. In effect, transhumanists desire to create a utopia of our own design.

In fact, many transhumanists go one step further, arguing that advances in gene editing, computer-brain interfaces, and anti-aging technologies could extend our life expectancy, perhaps even indefinitely, and allow us to attain a practical immortality. In this way, transhumanism displays its religious element. Here science and technology serve as the means for salvation.

Transhumanism: a False Gospel?

But can transhumanism truly deliver on its promises of a utopian future and practical immortality?

In Humans 2.0, Kenneth Samples and I delineate a number of reasons why transhumanism is a false gospel, destined to disappoint, not fulfill, our desire for immortality and utopia. I won’t elaborate on those reasons here. But simply recognizing the many ethical concerns surrounding anti-aging technologies (and gene editing and computer-brain interfaces) highlights the real risks connected to pursuing a transhumanist future. If we don’t carefully consider these concerns, we might create a dystopian future, not a utopian world.

The mere risk of this type of unintended future should give us pause for thought about turning to science and technology for our salvation. As theologian Ronald Cole-Turner so aptly put it:

“We need to be aware that technology, precisely because of its beneficial power, can lead us to the erroneous notion that the only problems to which it is worth paying attention involve engineering. When we let this happen, we reduce human yearning for salvation to a mere desire for enhancement, a lesser salvation that we can control rather than the true salvation for which we must also wait.”2

Resources

Endnotes
  1. Gregory M. Fahy et al., “Reversal of Epigenetic Aging and Immunosenescent Trends in Humans,” Aging Cell (September 8, 2019): e13028, doi:10.1111/acel.13028.
  2. “Transhumanism and Christianity,” in Transhumanism and Transcendence: Christian Hope in an Age of Technological Enhancement, ed. Ronald Cole-Turner (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2011), 201.

About Reasons to Believe

RTB’s mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research—including the very latest discoveries—consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature. Learn More »

Support Reasons to Believe

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Is Supernatural Causation Compatible with Science?

BY PAUL LORENZINI – OCTOBER 11, 2019

When defenders of naturalistic evolution state their case, they frequently begin with the claim that their theory is “scientific.” Alternative views, especially those that would invoke supernatural causation, are pejoratively dismissed as “pseudoscience,” pseudo because they falsely claim to have scientific legitimacy. Given science’s respected status, this becomes a powerful rhetorical device to marginalize Christian claims that life on Earth involved the supernatural intervention of God.

This view played a critically important role in the 2005 case of Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District.1 Attempts to require the teaching of “Intelligent Design” (ID) were opposed by many parents who claimed it was a subterfuge for bringing religious teachings into the classroom. Ruling in favor of the plaintiffs, Judge John E. Jones of the District Court in the Middle District of Pennsylvania concluded that ID should not be taught in the public schools because, among other reasons, “ID is not science.” Why? Because it “violates the age-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation.”

But are there any such “age-old ground rules”? Can science not legitimately consider the possibility of supernatural causation? It turns out this so-called “age-old rule” has been discredited, leaving science no basis for excluding supernatural causation.

Development of Science’s “Ground Rules”

When thinker Francis Bacon conceived of what we now call the scientific method in his Novum Organon (1620), it is correct to say he believed any testable hypothesis must be derived from our physical sense experience. This is what we call the method of induction. One starts with data and generalizes toward a hypothesis from the data, then tests the hypothesis. It is a methodology that would, indeed, seem to exclude supernatural causation.

During the next two centuries the notion grew that science, grounded in this methodology, could purge humanity from the distortions of religion and superstition. In the nineteenth century, this idea took the form of positivism, a view vigorously embraced by a group of like-minded scientists and philosophers in the early twentieth century known as the Vienna Circle. Positivism is based on the claim, following Bacon, that the only source of positive knowledge of the world is information we derive from our physical senses. No scientific hypothesis is valid, on this view, unless it is derived from data that can be directly observed, measured, or reproduced. These ideas, having been stirred through much of the nineteenth century, were influential enough that as they spread during the early twentieth century, “an intellectual hegemony of positivism was beginning to be established” in American universities.2

By the mid-twentieth century, however, it became clear that the positivist model was running into problems. It was neither defensible philosophically, nor did it accurately describe how scientists function in practice. As philosopher Richard Bernstein wrote in 1976: “There is not a single major thesis advanced by either nineteenth-century positivists or the Vienna Circle that has not been devastatingly criticized when measured by the positivist’s own standards for philosophical argument.”3 In commenting on Berstein’s remarks, Donald Schon observes “[a]mong philosophers of science no one wants any longer to be called a positivist.”4

The underlying problem goes back to Bacon’s assumption that science operates exclusively on the principle of induction, the idea that any testable hypothesis must be derived from our sense experience. It doesn’t. Induction is certainly one way to form a hypothesis, but it is not exclusive. In practice there is no prescribed method scientists use for developing hypotheses—they are often products of our imaginative and creative minds.

The alternative to induction is the method of deduction. Here one starts with a generalized hypothesis and works toward specifics. Philosopher Karl Popper, a critic of induction, argued “[t]here is no logical method of having new ideas . . . every discovery contains an ‘irrational element’, or a ‘creative intuition.’” He reinforced his argument with quotes from Einstein: “There is no logical path leading to these . . . laws. They can only be reached by intuition, based upon something like an intellectual love of the objects of experience.”5 Popper’s assertion is that the hypotheses scientists test are not products of some disciplined method of organizing data, but rather products of the creative human mind.

Bertrand Russell expressed the issue more pointedly:

Bacon’s inductive method is faulty through insufficient emphasis on hypothesis. He hoped that mere orderly arrangement of data would make the right hypothesis obvious, but this is seldom the case . . . so far no method has been found which would make it possible to invent hypothesis by rule.6

 

The Essence of Science Is Testing Hypotheses

Science does not really care about the source of the hypothesis. It is concerned about testing ideas once they take the form of a hypothesis. The hypothesis is then tested by the rigid standards of science to determine if it fits what we observe in the surrounding universe. These methods cannot always prove the hypothesis is true—science cannot prove God, for example. But testing can determine if a particular hypothesis is false.

Yet old ideas die hard. In his historical review of positivism, the late German philosopher Oswald Hanfling writes:

… even if the parent plant is dead, many of its seeds are alive and active in one form or another. In an interview in 1979, A.J. Ayer, a leading philosopher of our time, who had been an advocate of logical positivism in the 1930s, was asked what he now saw as its main defects. He replied: ‘I suppose the most important . . . was that nearly all of it was false.’ Yet this did not prevent him from admitting shortly afterwards that he still believed in ‘the same general approach.’7

Thus positivism remains a foil, if a flawed one, used by defenders of naturalistic evolution to discredit Christian views of creation.8

When Reasons to Believe offers its testable creation model, the “test” is a scientific one: is the model consistent with that which we observe in the universe? If it is not, the model can be said to be falsified. If it is, it does not mean the model is proven (verified), but it does mean it cannot be discarded as inconsistent with that which we observe through legitimate science. The more tests the model passes, the more one can say it is grounded in good science.

When advocates of naturalistic evolution offer their model, they too are operating in this realm. They propose a hypothesis then test it by comparing its predictions with that which we observe in the universe. Both approaches employ sound science in the way we want science to operate—as a tool for finding truth and testing truth claims against observations of the natural realm. To be sure, that process itself is fraught with its own complications as philosophers of science debate what ultimate truths can or cannot be asserted once one forms a hypothesis.9 But the starting point is always the hypothesis.

Naturalistic evolution and the RTB creation model are two competing hypotheses that differ in many fundamentals. Science, functioning properly, can and should be willing to test both hypotheses against our observations of the universe in an effort to understand which model better explains the whole of reality. To discard the RTB model because it permits supernatural causation is both irrational and “unscientific” in that it excludes possible answers to big questions with no justification in science for doing so. Perhaps it’s time to discard the “age-old ground rules” of science in favor of a new ground rule for testing all hypotheses.

Endnotes
  1. Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District400 F. Supp. 2d 707 (M.D. Pa. 2005).
  2. Donald A. Schon, The Reflective Practitioner (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 32–34.
  3. Richard J. Bernstein, The Restructuring of Social and Political Theory (San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976), 207, quoted in Schon, The Reflective Practitioner, 48–49.
  4. Schon, The Reflective Practitioner, 49.
  5. Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (New York: Routledge Classics, 2002, originally published in 1935), 8–9.
  6. Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy (London: Routledge Classics, 1996, first published in 1946), 529.
  7. See Oswald Hanfling, chap 5, in Routledge History of Philosophy, Volume IX: Philosophy of Science, Logic, and Mathematics in the Twentieth Century, ed. Stuart G. Shanker (New York: Routledge, 1996), 193–94.
  8. The misuse of positivism is not exclusively a problem for Christians. See Allen S. Lee, “Positivism: A Discredited Model of Science Still in Use in the Study and Practice of Management,” SSRN (September 1987), doi:10.2139/ssrn.2622718.
  9. See Kyle Stanford, “Underdetermination of Scientific Theory,” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017), ed. Edward N. Zalta, https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2017/entries/scientific-underdetermination/.

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