In the thread to my last post the following question was asked: “How are creationism and Darwinism commensurable.” In other words, what key traits do the two share, if any?
Here is my answer: With both creationism and Darwinism, the faith commitment is primary and the evidence is secondary.
Before exploring my answer further, let us define terms.
“Creationist”: In our UD glossary we provide a detailed definition of creationism. In summary, creationists hold that one can arrive at the truth of origins only by accepting the revelations of scripture as true (and typically only their interpretation of those scriptures), and all evidence is filtered through that basic faith commitment.
“Darwinist”: Darwinists believe that origins can be explained though small genetic changes in populations over time due to the impact of natural selection on the phenotypic variation among individuals in the populations. Darwinists believe that this process can be explained in purely materialist terms through the interaction of chance (random mutations) and mechanical necessity (the “law” of natural selection), and all evidence is filtered through that basic faith commitment.
“A priori”: All first principles must be accepted on faith. In the language of philosophy, all truth claims, without exception, are either “a priori” or “a posteriori.” An “a priori” truth claim is one that is prior (thus “priori”) to experience. In other words, we do not rely on experience to support a priori truth claims, because, by definition, they are independent of experience and cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed by experience. A posteriori truth claims, on the other hand, are made on the basis of experience (thus “posteriori” or “after”).
We all know that creationists have a priori faith commitments, but surely you are mistaken Barry when you say that materialist scientists operate in the realm of faith too. No, I am not.
Consider the the following syllogism which underlies all Darwinist materialism: All phenomena in the universe can be reduced to material causes. The complexity and diversity of life is a phenomenon in the universe. Therefore, it follows that the complexity and diversity of life can be reduced to material causes.
For the conclusion to be valid, the major premise must be valid. In other words, the statement “all phenomena in the universe can be reduced to material causes” must be valid. How can we know that statement is valid? The answer is that we cannot know based on experience (i.e., a posteriori) that the statement is valid. In his Logic of Scientic Discovery, Popper demonstrated that universal statements such as this are not scientific statements because there is no way to confirm them through experience. He wrote: “We cannot search the whole world in order to establish that something does not exist [in our case, a non-material phenomenon], has never existed, and will never exist. It is for precisely the same reason that strictly universal statements are not verifiable. Again, we cannot search the whole world in order to make sure that nothing exists which the law forbids.”
If we cannot know that the statement is valid on an a posteriori basis, it follows that the only way we can accept the statement, if we accept it, is on an a priori basis, and it turns out that is exactly how Darwinists accept it. That Darwinists accept materialism a priori is not news. Indeed, prominent Darwinist Richard Lewontin has been remarkably candid about it:
“We take the side of science . . . because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute.”
Richard Lewontin, Billions and billions of demons (review of The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan, 1997), The New York Review, p. 31, January 9, 1997.
We have now established beyond any reasonable doubt that both the creationist and the Darwinist start with an a priori faith commitment. The creationist is committed a priori to his interpretation of the sacred text. The Darwinist is committed a priori to metaphysical materialism.
What about my second claim that both creationists and Darwinists filter all evidence though their faith commitments?
Again, this is not hard to see for the creationist. Consider starlight. In my discussions with young earth creationists I usually ask the following question: We know for a certain fact that certain stars are a million (or a billion) light years away. It seems to follow that the light we see from that star had to start traveling towards us a least a million (or a billion) years ago. How do you reconcile that fact with your claim that the universe is only 6,000 years old?
Young earth creationists are never daunted by this question, and they have a variety of answers. These answers include “God made the light in transit” and “The speed of light was much faster in the past than it is now.”
Notice two things about the YEC answers. First, neither answer can be disconfirmed. In other words, plainly an omnipotent God can, for example, make light in transit and thereby create a 6,000 year old universe that only appears to be billions of years old. Second, the YECs have established a system that can never be falsified. Every conceivable observation can be reconciled with the theory. Therefore, the evidence really does not matter.
What about the Darwinist? Does the evidence matter to him? Here Phil Johnson has the key. In Darwin on Trial Johnson gave the most cogent explanation of Darwinist thinking I have ever seen. He said that to the Darwinist the materialism comes first, and if the materialist premise is correct then something like Darwinism simply has to be true. Thus, Darwinism follows from materialism as a matter of simple logic quite independently of the evidence. And because the conclusion has been reached independently of the evidence, any evidence will do to support it and no evidence will falsify it.
For example, Darwin’s theory predicts that the fossils of intermediate species not only will be found but that such intermediates will be the overwhelming majority of fossils. Yes, some fossils that Darwinists claim to be intermediates have been found (most famously a bird-like reptile). But those who rely on those fossils are missing the larger point. Darwin’s theory necessarily predicts that intermediate fossils will predominate the record. Yet as Gould famously admitted, the fossil record is predominated by stasis. The prediction of Darwin’s theory has been disconfirmed. Therefore, the theory is falsified right? Wrong. Darwinists respond with a variety of answers, including “The record remains incomplete even though we’ve had 150 years to supplement it” or “Darwinian gradualism really means punctuated equilibrium.”
Notice two things about the Darwinists’ answers: First, neither can be disconfirmed. For example, it is conceivable that it really is the case that all of those intermediate fossils are out there just waiting to be found. One can fill “holes” in the record with whatever one wants, and who is to say you are wrong. Second, the Darwinists have created a system that can never be falsified. Every conceivable observation can be reconciled with the theory. Therefore, the evidence really does not matter.
It is true that some Darwinsts have suggested there are certain observations that could conceivablely falsify the theory (e.g., a pre-Cambrian rabbit). Nonsense. I guaranty you that if a pre-Cambrian rabbit were found today, tomorrow a Darwinist would be tweaking the theory to accommodate it.
In conclusion, therefore, we see that Creationism and Darwinism are commensurable in that both subscribe to a faith first, evidence later paradigm.