Science is not a system of thought free from metaphysical foundations. It is not a discipline that is itself, at a first order level, grounded upon its own second order methodology; in other words, science itself (and of course I am referring to the “Natural Sciences”) cannot justify its own existence as a discipline upon emperical observational grounds.
The following will be my attempt to provide an evaluative matrix through which some unsatisfied soul might have an intellectual apparatus in place that will allow him/her to critically engage the recent article written by Richard N. Ostling at Christianity Today entitled The Search For The Historical Adam. The article, in a nutshell, surveys the attempt by certain Christian scientists (like Francis Collins) to argue their belief in theistic evolution. One of the casualties of this endeavor is none other than Adam (and Eve) himself. For these Christian scientists, in order for their position to work (that is macro-evolution), Adam cannot be one of two literal original humans (the other being Eve) from whence all of humanity has descended. According to them, and the “evidence,” humanity had to have descended from multiple humanoids. Thus, the Adam and Eve story becomes a myth, an allegorical parable, intended to communicate that at some point humanity was thrust into a life of moral decline and sin — and Adam and Eve become the literary tools by which God has chosen to communicate this state of affairs. Here is how Francis Collins frames this according to Hostling (Collins is the scientist who decoded the human genome and was nominated by Obama to be head of the National Institute of Health, who is also an Evangelical Christian and spear-heading a movement that seeks to promote theistic evolution):
Collins’s 2006 bestseller, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief—which so vexed those secularist critics—reported scientific indications that anatomically modern humans emerged from primate ancestors perhaps 100,000 years ago—long before the apparent Genesis time frame—and originated with a population that numbered something like 10,000, not two individuals. Instead of the traditional belief in the specially created man and woman of Eden who were biologically different from all other creatures, Collins mused, might Genesis be presenting “a poetic and powerful allegory” about God endowing humanity with a spiritual and moral nature? “Both options are intellectually tenable,” he concluded.
The fact that Christianity Today is choosing to run a story on this illustrates the impact that this is having within the “Evangelical” community. Some are, of course, comparing this to when Copernicus and Galileo argued—against the Church—that we in fact lived in a helio-centric not geo-centric galaxy.
What I am going to do now, as I alluded to above, is to provide an apparatus through which to think about what is being communicated by folks like Francis Collins (and his foundation Biologos). It is my belief that he, and those like him, have accepted what is called Weak Scientism. The following is going to be a very long quote that will describe what that entails (Weak Scientism), and then I will follow with a brief closing comment (this is a long post, 1, 788 words). Here we go:
Scientism, expressed in the quotation by Rescher [what I quote in the post before this one] at the beginning of the chapter, is the view that science is the very paradigm of truth and rationality. If something does not square with currently well-established scientific beliefs, if it is not within the domain of entities appropriate for scientific investigation, or if it is not amenable to scientific methodology, then it is not true or rational. Everything outside of science is a matter of mere belief and subjective opinion, of which rational assessment is impossible. Science, exclusively and ideally, is our model of intellectual excellence.
Moreland and Craig briefly describe two forms of scientism, “Strong and Weak.” We will skip their comments on strong and move to their discussion on weak; since this is what I believe is applicable to the approach being followed by someone like Collins, and those like him. Here’s what they say about weak scientism:
Adovocates of weak scientism allow for the existence of truths apart from science and are even willing to grant that they can have some minimal, postive rationality status without the support of science. But advocates of weak scientism still hold that science is the most valuable, most serious and most authoritative sector of human learning. Every other intellectual activity is inferior to science. Further, there are virtually no limits to science. There is no field into which scientific research cannot shed light. To the degree that some issue or belief outside science can be given scientific support or can be reduced to science, to that degree the issue or belief becomes rationally acceptable. Thus we have an intellectual and perhaps even a moral obligation to try to use science to solve problems in other fields that, heretofore, have been untouched by scientific methodology. For example, we should try to solve problems about the mind by the methods of neurophysiology and computer science.
Not that advocates of weak scientism are not merely claiming that, for example, belief that the universe had a beginning, supported by good philosophical and theological arguments, gains extra support if that belief also has good scientific arguments for it. This claim is relatively uncontroversial because, usually, if some belief has a few good supporting arguments and later gains more good supporting arguments, then this will increase the rationality of the belief in question. But that is not what weak scientism imples, because this point cuts both ways. For it will equally be the case that good philosophical and theological arguments for a beginning of the universe will increase the rationality of such a belief initially supported only by scientific arguments. Advocates of weak scientism are claiming that fields outside science gain in they are given scientific support and not vice versa. . . . If weak scientism is true, then the conversation between theology and science will be a monologue with theology listening to science and waiting for science to give it support.
Here now, the authors of my reference (Moreland and Craig) give argument for why scientism (strong or weak) is not a sound methodology or approach:
[F]irst, scientism (in both forms) does not adequately allow for the task of stating and defending the necessary presuppositions for science itself to be practiced (assuming scientific realism). Thus scientism shows itself to be a foe and not a friend of science.
Science cannot be practiced in thin air. In fact, science itself presupposes a number of substantive philosophical theses which must be assumed if science is even going to get off the runway. Now each of these assumptions has been challenged, and the task of stating and defending these assumptions is one of the tasks of philosophy. The conclusions of science cannot be more certain than the presuppositions it rests on and uses to reach those conclusions.
[W]eak scientism misconstrues their strength in its view that scientific propositions have greater epistemic authority than those of other fields like philosophy. This would mean that the conclusions of science are more certain than the philosophical presuppositions used to justify and reach those conclusions, and that is absurd. In this regard, the following statement by John Kekes strikes at the heart of weak scientism:
A successful argument for science being the paradigm of rationality must be based on the demonstration that the presuppositions of science are preferable to other presuppositions. That demonstration requires showing that science, relying on these presuppositions, is better at solving some problems and acheiving some ideals than its competitors. But showing that cannot be the task of science. It is, in fact, one task of philosophy. Thus the enterprise of justifying the presuppositions of science by showing that with their help science is the best way of solving certain problems and acheiving some ideals is a necessary precondition of the justification of science. Hence philosophy, and not science, is a stronger candidate for being the very paradigm of rationality.
Here is a list of some of the philosophical presuppositions of science: (1) the existence of a theory-independent, external world; (2) the orderly nature of the external world; (3) the knowability of the external world; (4) the existence of truth; (5) the laws of logic; (6) the reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties to serve as truth gatherers and as a source of justified beliefs in our intellectual environment; (7) the adequacy of language to describe the world; (8) the existence of values used in science (e.g. “test theories fairly and report test results honestly”); (9) the uniformity of nature and induction; (10) the existence of numbers. (J. P. Moreland & William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations For A Christian Worldview, 346-48)
I would contend that Collins, and those who are proposing that Adam and Eve are not real historical people, are operating from a weak scientism as just described. They have placed science over scripture in a monological way, so that scripture becomes science’s wax-nose. Whichever way the “empirical” data portends to go, so must scripture in regards to what scripture writers presuppose for many of their theological arguments to hold (like Paul’s 1st/2nd Adam motif etc. or the Lukan account of Jesus’ lineage as the son of God in Luke 3). As the writers above highlight though, science itself is available for serious critical scrutiny. That is, its very existence as a dicipline is itself grounded upon non-emperical assumptions. This, at least, should humble those who would make the very audacious claims that they are making about what the scriptures teach themselves. This is not similar to heliocentrism, because the issue under concern did not have to do with something of the magnitude that this current issue presents. The heliocentrism issue certainly had to do with some interpretive issues and church authority in that period; but it does not parallel the theological impact that this current proposal (about Adam) could have both theologically and exegetically. Nevertheless, my primary point with this post was to provide something to evaluate the approach that I believe Collins & co. have taken. I believe that they are weak scientists. And thus I believe their approach is “weak!” I am not at all persuaded by their general premises and theory. They have made multiple inductive and interpretive steps, shaped by their prior committment to said assumptions [like some of those 10 points listed above by Moreland and Craig], in order to arrive at the conclusions that they have about the historicity of Adam and Eve. Yet, the assumptions that have helped to inform their conclusions are themselves assumptions that are not self-evident, and are certainly not “scientific.” At the very least they should be much more circumspect in their presentation and conclusions given the gravity of their proposal.