Culture & Ethics Icon Culture & Ethics

The Role of Creation in Science: The Real Story, a Breath of Fresh Air

In a recent article at the Classical Conversations web site, Jonathan Bartlett authored an interesting commentary on creation as a concept for and catalyst to scientific inquiry and advance with “The Doctrine of Creation and the Making of Modern Biology.” Given the persistent claim by so-called “defenders” of quality science education such as Eugenie Scott, Paul Hanle, and others that only natural processes functioning via unbroken natural laws in nonpurposeful ways counts as science and that anything else is a “science stopper,” everyone–especially those least likely to do so–would do well to take page from Bartlett’s page of history.

Jonathan Bartlett is quite right, of course; science owes much more to teleology and creation than materialism, randomness, and chance. This is not to suggest that stochastic processes don’t occur in the natural world, but as a prompt to scientific inquiry it has been notably lacking as a motivational force in history. In fact, definitive evidence for wholly materialistic explanations for complex features of nature is simply not there. As an example, consider Louis Pasteur (1822-1895). He surely struck a blow against abiogenesis when he demonstrated that life begets life, and yet the enthusiasts for abiogenic explanations for the origin of life persist despite all evidence to the contrary. This seems close to Einstein’s definition of insanity–“doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

But what of the doctrine of creation? Of course creationism comes in many forms–young earth, old earth, progressive. Some are Christian, others are not. Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), co-discoverer of natural selection, had his own brand of non-Christian theistic creationism with his New Thoughts on Evolution (1910). Casting an even wider net is intelligent design, which rather minimally states that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected cause such as natural selection. Thus, strictly speaking, ID is a far more modest formulation than creationism, and it is possible to be an ID proponent without being a creationist. Nevertheless, as Bartlett demonstrates, the concept of creation has served as an extremely fruitful lens through which countless scientists of the past have peered, from Francesco Redi (1626-1697), widely regarded as the first experimenter in biology to discredit abiogenesis or spontaneous generation, to the Augustinian monk Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), who laid the foundations of modern genetics and, interestingly enough, wrote against Charles Darwin.

The assertion that only methodological naturalism counts as science has been ably challenged by Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, and others. Craig has pointed out that the “refusal to admit nonnaturalistic hypotheses into the pool of live explanatory options is an expression of methodological naturalism. The claim that evolutionary theory presupposes naturalism [a special pleading of Darwinism and neo-Darwinism] should then be understood as the claim that evolutionary theory’s current status as the best explanation of biological complexity is propped up by methodological naturalism. What is striking about methodological naturalism,” Craig continues, “is that it is a philosophical, not a scientific, viewpoint. It is not an issue to which scientific evidence is relevant; it is about the philosophy of science. As such, it is notoriously difficult to justify.”

In this context assertions regarding the need to reject any and all so-called creationist counters to such a philosophy is mere dogmatism. Such dogmatism is not only bad science, it is, as Bartlett so readily demonstrates, bad history of science as well. Although Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton showed this nearly twenty years ago in their book The Soul of Scienceit is always good to keep pointing this out. We need to remember that beyond science itself metaphysical constructs about it are rooted in the culture and that culture is controlled by those power brokers (intellectual and otherwise) who give voice to its history. Bad metaphysics about the philosophy of science are typically supported by ill-founded and erroneous constructions of its history. Whenever accuracy takes precedence over ideology it is a breath of fresh air and a real boon to education everywhere. Thanks to all the Jonathan Bartletts of this world fighting against the polluting suffocations of materialistic reductionism in whatever form!

Michael Flannery

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Michael A. Flannery is professor emeritus of UAB Libraries, University of Alabama at Birmingham. He holds degrees in library science from the University of Kentucky and history from California State University, Dominguez Hills. He has written and taught extensively on the history of medicine and science. His most recent research interest has been on the co-discoverer of natural selection, Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913). He has edited Alfred Russel Wallace’s Theory of Intelligent Evolution: How Wallace’s World of Life Challenged Darwinism (Erasmus Press, 2008) and authored Alfred Russel Wallace: A Rediscovered Life (Discovery Institute Press, 2011). His research and work on Wallace continues.