ON CHRISTIAN SCHOLARSHIP
Our general question is: how can
our university be a proper Catholic or Christian university? What would
such a university be like? This question is a really tough one in three
ways. First, as Chuck Wilber and others have pointed out, we have no
contemporary models here. We can't
look at Princeton (much as we love and admire it), to see how they
do things, as a pattern for us. Indeed, the truth is just the reverse.
One lesson to be learned from George Marsden's talk last time is that Princeton
is in an important way a failed project: at one time it was
or aimed to be or continues to be a Christian university, just as we do;
that aim, sadly enough, was not accomplished. Hence we can't take Princeton
as a model; instead, we must try to learn from its mistakes. Second, if
what we want is a Catholic or Christian university, we must, as Nathan Hatch
pointed out, dare to be different, to pursue our own path, to take the risks
involved in venturing into unmapped and unexplored territory. That isn't
easy; there are enormous pressures towards conformity. (But it is our university,
after all, and we don't have to follow the common herd.) And
thirdly, this is a multifarious, many-sided question; it has to be thought
about in connection with graduate education as well as undergraduate education;
we must think about the need for the kind of conversation mentioned by Craig
Lent--both about the need for such a conversation, and about
the appropriate topics; we have to think about curricula, about
relationships with other universities aimed in the same direction as we,
as well as about relationships with universities aimed in different directions;
we have to think about how all this bears on hiring policies; we must think
about these things and a thousand others.
I want to consider just one question out of this vast horde of questions:
how should a Christian university and how should the Christian intellectual
community think about scholarship and science? Should the kind of scholarship
and science that go on at a Catholic university differ from the sort that
goes on elsewhere? If so, in what way? I want to present one sort of view--not
with the thought that this is the whole and unvarnished truth, but as a
contribution to our conversation.
Christian thinkers going back at least to Augustine have seen human
history as involving a sort of contest, or battle, or struggle between two
implacably opposed spiritual forces. Augustine spoke of the City of God
and the Earthly City or City of the World: the Civitas Dei and
the Civitas Mundi . The
former is dedicated, in principle, to God and to his will and to his glory.
The latter is dedicated to something wholly different.
Augustine, l think, is right, but l want to develop his insights in
my own way. Indeed, we must do
this in our own way and from our own historical perspective. The precise
relationship between the City of God and the Earthly City constantly changes;
the form the Earthly City itself takes constantly changes; an account of
the fundamental loyalties and commitments of the Earthly City that was correct
in Augustine's day, now some 15 centuries ago, does not directly apply now.
Augustine was right; and the contemporary western intellectual world,
like the world of his times, is a battleground or arena in which rages a
battle for our souls. This battle, I believe, is a three-way contest. There
are three main contestants, in the contemporary western intellectual world,
and I want to try to characterize them. Of course an undertaking like this
is at best fraught with peril (and at worst arrogantly presumptuous); the
contemporary western world is a vast and amorphous affair, including an
enormous variety of people, in an enormous variety of places, with enormously
different cultural backgrounds and traditions. We all know how hard it is
to get a real sense of the intellectual climate of a past era--the
Enlightenment, say, or 13th century Europe, or 19th century America. It
is clearly muchmore difficult to come to a solid understanding
of one's own time. For these general reasons, real trepidation is very much
in order. There are also less universally applicable reasons for trepidation:
wouldn't it be the historians , not the philosophers, whose
job it is to figure out intellectual trends, take the intellectual pulse
of the time, ferret out underlying presuppositions of the whole contemporary
era? So here I should defer to the historians present, who are my betters,
if not my elders.
As I see it, therefore, there are at present three main competitors
vying for spiritual supremacy: three fundamental perspectives or ways of
thinking about what the world is like, what we ourselves are like, what
is most important about the world, what our place in it is, and what we
must do to live the good life. The first of these perspectives is Christianity
or Christian theism, or Judeo-Christian theism; here I need say little about
that. I do want to remind you, however, that this theistic perspective has
been very much on the defensive (at least in the West) ever since the Enlightenment.
In addition to the theistic perspective, then, there are fundamentally
two others. Both of these other pictures have been with us since the ancient
world; but each has received much more powerful expression in modern times.
According to the first perspective, there is no God, and we human beings
are insignificant parts of a giant cosmic machine that proceeds in majestic
indifference to us, our hopes and aspirations, our needs and desires, our
sense of fairness or fittingness. This picture is eloquently if a bit floridly
expressed in Bertrand Russell's "A Free Man's Worship"; it goes
back to Epicurus, Democritus, and others in the Ancient world and finds
magnificent expression in Lucretius' poem, De Rerum Natura :
call it `perennial Naturalism'. It is the perspective of Carl Sagan, with
his portentous incantation: "The cosmos is all there is, or has been
or will be." According to the second perspective, on the other hand,
it is we ourselves--we human beings--who are responsible for the basic structure
of the world. This notion goes back to Porthagorus, in the ancient world,
with his claim that man is the measure of all things; it finds enormously
more powerful expression in modern times in Immanuel Kant's Critque of
Pure Reason . Call it `enlightenment humanism', or `enlightenment
subjectivism', or, more descriptively, `creative anti-realism'. These two
perspectives or pictures are very different indeed; I shall say something
A. PERENNIAL NATURALISM
Perennial naturalism (`naturalism' for short), as I say, goes back to
the ancient world; naturalism is also to be found in somewhat muted form
in the medieval world (among some of the Averroists, for example). But it
was left to modernity and to contemporary times to display the most complete
and thorough manifestations of this perspective. Thomas Hobbes, the Enlightenment
Encyclopedists, and Baron D'Holbach are early modern exponents of this picture;
among our contemporaries and near contemporaries there are John Dewey, Willard
van Orman Quine, Bertrand Russell, Carl Sagan, a quite astounding number
of liberal theologians, and a host of others in and out of academia. It
is especially prevalent among those who nail their banners to the mast of
science. From this perspective, there is no God, and human beings are properly
seen as parts of nature. The way to understand what is most distinctive
about us, our ability to love, to act, to think, to use language, our humor
and playacting, our art, philosophy, literature, history, our morality,
our religion, our tendency to enlist in sometimes unlikely causes and devote
our lives to them--the fundamental way to understand all this is in terms
of our community with (non human) nature. We are best seen as parts of nature
and are to be understood in terms of our place in the natural world.
First, a trivial example. Those who endorse this view often seem to
think the way to find out how we human beings should live is to see how
the other animals manage things; this is the naturalistic equivalent of
the Biblical "Go to the ant, thou sluggard." I recently heard
a TV talk show in which a scientist was belittling traditional sexual ethics
and mores--"heterosexual pair bonding," he called it--on the grounds
that only three percent of the other animals do things this way. He didn't
say anything about plants, but no doubt even more interesting conclusions
could be drawn there. In another recent talk show, the interviewee said
that she had observed (on an unscientific day-to-day pragmatic and anecdotal
level) that cousins are often romantically attracted to each other, she
then added that she had recently discovered scientific confirmation of this
observation: human beings, she said, resemble quail (not the
former vice-president, but the bird) along these lines, and indeed quail
cousins are often attracted to each other.
A second more serious example: a couple of years ago I heard a distinguished
contemporary American philosopher reflecting on knowledge, belief, and the
whole human cognitive enterprise. The way to understand this whole situation,
he said--the way to see what is most basic and important about it--is not,
of course, to see it as one of the manifestations of the image of God, a
way in which we resemble the Lord, who is the prime knower, and who has
created us in such a way as to be finite and limited mirrors of his infinite
and unlimited perfection. This philosopher took quite a different line.
Human beings, he said, hold beliefs (and so far there is little to object
to); and these beliefs can cause them to act in certain ways. Put in more
sophisticated if less insightful terms, a person's beliefs can be part of
a causal explanation of her actions. Now how can this be? How does it happen,
how can it be that human beings are such that they can be caused to do certain
things by what they believe? How does my believing there is a beer in the
refrigerator cause or partly cause this largish, lumpy and increasingly
lethargic physical object which is my body to heave itself out of a comfortable
armchair, amble over to the refrigerator and open its door?
The answer: think of a thermostat: it too has beliefs--simpleminded
beliefs, no doubt, but still beliefs. What it believes are such things as
it's getting too hot in here , or it's too cold in here ,
or it's just right in here ; and it is easy to see how its having
those `beliefs' causes the furnace or the air conditioning to go on. And
now the basic idea: we should see human thinking and its connection with
action as a rather more complicated case of what goes on in the thermostat.
The idea was that if we think about how it goes with the thermostat, we
will have the key to understanding how it goes with human beings. Others
suggest computers: human thought is really a form of the sort of computation
done by computers. And of course this is just one example of a much broader
project: the project of seeing all that is distinctive about us--literature,
art, play, humor, music, morality, religion, science, scholarship, those
tendencies to enlist in improbable causes, even at serious cost to ourselves--the
project is to explain all of these things in terms of our community
with non human nature.
The form this perspective takes in our own day is broadly evolutionary:
we are to try to understand basic human phenomena by way of their origin
in random genetic mutation or some other source of variability, and their
perpetuation by way of natural selection. Consider sociobiological explanations
of love, for example: love between men and women, between parents and children,
love for one's friends, of one's students, love of church, college, country--love
in all its diverse manifestations and infinite variety. Taken thus broadly,
love is a most significant human phenomenon and an enormously powerful force
in our lives. And how are we to think of love on the sort of evolutionary
account in question? Well, the basic idea is that love arose, ultimately
and originally, by way of some source of genetic variability (random genetic
mutation, maybe); it persisted via natural selection because it has or had
survival value. Male and female human beings, like male and female hippopotami,
get together to have children (colts) and stay together to raise them; this
has survival value. Once we see that point, we understand that sort of love
and see its basic significance and the same goes for these other varieties
and manifestations of love. And that, fundamentally, is what there is to
say about love.
From a theistic or Christian perspective, of course, this is hopelessly
inadequate as an account of the significance and place of love in the world.
The fact is love reflects the basic structure and nature of the universe;
for God himself, the first being of the universe, is love, and we love because
he has created us in his image. From the naturalistic perspective, furthermore,
what goes for love goes for those other distinctively human phenomena: art,
literature, music; play and humor; science, philosophy and mathematics;
our tendency to see the world from a religious perspective, our inclinations
towards morality, and so on. All these things are to be understood in terms
of our community with non human nature. All of these are to be seen as arising,
finally, by way of the mechanisms driving evolution, and are to be understood
in terms of their place in evolutionary history.
Perennial naturalism has made enormous inroads into Western culture;
indeed, Oxford philosopher John Lucas thinks that it is the contemporary
orthodoxy. In support of Lucas' claim, we might note, as I mentioned above,
the astonishing fact that perennial naturalism has a considerable following
among allegedly Christian theologians. Thus Harvard theologian Gordon Kaufman
suggests that in this modern nuclear age, we can no longer think of God
as the transcendent creator of the heavens and the earth; we must think
of Him instead, says Kaufman, as "the historical evolutionary force
that has brought us all into being."
(Perhaps one may be pardoned for wondering what the nuclear age has to do
with whether God is the transcendent creator, or just an historical evolutionary
force; we can imagine an earlier village skeptic making a similar remark
about, say, the invention of the steam engine, or perhaps the long bow,
or the catapult, or the wheel.)
Perennial naturalism is particularly popular among those--scientists
or others--who take a high view of modern science. Perennial naturalism
also constantly influences and, as I see it, corrupts Christian thinking.
Christians who think about science, for example, sometimes say that science
can't take any account of God in giving its explanations; science is necessarily
restricted, both in its subject matter and in its explanations and accounts,
to the natural world. But why think a thing like that? Of course the claim
might be merely verbal: "the word `science,'" it might be said,
"is to be defined as an empirical and experimental account of the natural
world that is restricted, both in its subject matter and its conclusions,
to the natural world." But then the question would be: should Christians
engage in science? Or more exactly, in trying to understand ourselves and
our world should they engage only in science, so defined? Why
shouldn't they instead or in addition engage in a parallel explanatory activity
that takes account of all that we know, including such facts
as that human beings were created by the Lord in his image, that they have
fallen into sin, and the like? Presumably these truths will be important
with respect to empirical studies of humanity, in thinking, for example,
about aggression, altruism, and other topics studied in the human sciences.
It is hard to overestimate the dominance and influence of perennial
naturalism in our universities. Yet I think Lucas errs in promoting it to
the status of the contemporary orthodoxy although it is indeed orthodoxy
among those who put their trust in science. But there is another basic way
of looking at the world that is, I think, nearly as influential--and just
as antithetical to Christianity. Perennial naturalism gets fierce competition
from Enlightenment humanism, or, as I shall call it, creative anti-realism.
B. CREATIVE ANTI-REALISM
Here the fundamental idea--in sharp contrast to naturalism--is that
we human beings, in some deep and important way, are ourselves
responsible for the structure and nature of the world; it is we ,
fundamentally, who are the architects of the universe. This view received
magnificent if obscure expression in Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure
Reason . Kant did not deny, of course, that there really are such
things as mountains, horses, planets and stars. Instead, his characteristic
claim is that their existence and their fundamental structure have been
conferred upon them by the conceptual activity of persons--not by the conceptual
activity of a personal God, but by our conceptual activity,
the conceptual activity of us human beings. According to this view, the
whole world of experience-- the world of trees and planets and dinosaurs
and stars--receives its basic structure from the constituting activity of
mind. Such fundamental structures of the world as those of space and time,
object and property, number, truth and falsehood, possibility and necessity
and even existence and nonexistence--these are not to be found in the world
as such (do not characterize those dinge an sich ), but are
somehow constituted by our own mental or conceptual activity. They are contributions
from our side; they are not to be found in the things in themselves. We
impose them on the world; we do not discover them there. Were
there no persons like ourselves engaging in conceptual, noetic activities,
there would be nothing in space and time, nothing displaying object-property
structure, nothing that is true or false, possible or impossible, no kinds
of things coming in a certain number--nothing like this at all.
We might think it impossible that the things we know--houses and horses,
cabbages and kings, planets and stars--should be there at all but fail to
be in space-time, fail to display object property structure, and fail to
conform to the category of existence; indeed, we may think it impossible
that there be a thing of any sort that doesn't have properties
and doesn't exist. If so, then Kant's view implies that there would be nothing
at all if it weren't for the creative structuring activity of persons like
us. Of course, I don't say Kant clearly drew this conclusion;
indeed, he may have obscurely drawn the opposite conclusion: that is part
of his charm. But the fundamental thrust of Kant's self-styled
Copernican Revolution is that the things in the world owe their basic structure
and perhaps their very existence to the noetic activity of our minds. Or
perhaps I should say not minds but mind ; for whether, on Kant's
view, there is just one transcendental ego or several is, of course, a vexed
question, as are most questions of Kantian exegesis. Indeed, this question
is more than vexed; given Kant's view that quantity, number, is a human
category imposed on the world, there is presumably no number n, finite
or infinite, such that the answer to the question "How many of those
transcendental egos are there?" is n.
Until you feel the grip of this sort of way of looking at things, it
can seem a bit presumptuous, not to say preposterous. Did we structure or
create the heavens and the earth? Some of us think there were animals--dinosaurs,
let's say--roaming the earth before human beings had so much as put in an
appearance; how could it be that those dinosaurs owed their structure to
our noetic activity? What did we do to give them the structure
they enjoyed? And what about all those stars and planets we have never so
much as heard of: how have we managed to structure them? When did we do
all this? Did we structure ourselves in this way too? And if the way things
are is thus up to us and our structuring activity, why don't we improve
things a bit?
Creative anti-realism can seem a bit hard to swallow; nevertheless it
is widely accepted and an astonishingly important force in the contemporary
western intellectual world. Vast stretches of contemporary Continental philosophy,
for example, are anti-realist. There is Existentialism, according to which,
at least in its Sartian varieties, each of us structures or creates the
world by way of her own decisions. There is also contemporary Heideggerian
hermeneutical philosophy of various stripes; there is contemporary French
philosophy, much of which beggars description, but insofar as anything at
all is clear about it, is clearly anti-realist. In Anglo-American philosophy,
there is the creative anti-realism of Hilary Putnam and Nelson Goodman and
their followers; there is the reflection of continental anti-realism in
such American philosophers as Richard Rorty; and perhaps most important,
there is the linguistic anti-realism of Wittgenstein and his many followers.
It is characteristic of all of these to hold that we human beings are somehow
responsible for the way the world is--by way of our linguistic or more broadly
symbolic activity, or by way of our decisions, or in some other way. And
of course creative anti-realism is not limited to philosophy; it has made
deep inroads in many areas of the humanities and even into law.
Like perennial naturalism, creative anti-realism is to be found even
in theology, which is heavily under the influence of Kant. Indeed, it is
a bit naive to say that it is found even in theology; in the
sort of theology that, according to its exponents, is the most up to date
and au courant , these notions run absolutely riot. Creative
anti-realism is developed (if I may speak loosely) in theological fashion
in Don Cupitt's book Creation out of Nothing . The blurb on
the back of the book nicely sums up its main claim:
The consequence of all this is that divine and human creativity
come to be seen as coinciding in the present moment. The creation of the
world happens all of the time, in and through us, as language surges up
within us and pours out of us to form and reform the world of experience.
Reality ... is effected by language ....
This is said to be "a philosophy of religion for the future" (we
may hope the very distant future) and "a genuine alternative to pietism
and fundamentalism" (as well, we might add, as to any other form of
Christianity). The same view has made its way into physics or at least the
philosophy of physics. It is said that there is no reality until we make
the requisite observations; there is no such thing as reality in itself
and unobserved, or if there is, it is nothing at all like anything we can
make sense of. In ethics, this view takes the form of the idea that no moral
law can be binding on me unless I myself (or perhaps my society) issue or
set that law.
Perennial naturalism and creative anti-realism are related in an interesting
manner: the first vastly underestimates the place of human beings in the
universe, and the second vastly overestimates it. According to the first,
human beings are essentially no more than complicated machines, with no
real creativity, in an important sense we can't really act at all, any more
than can a spark plug, or coffee grinder, or a tractor. We are not ourselves
the origin of any causal chains. According to the second, by contrast, we
human beings, insofar as we confer its basic structure upon the world, really
take the place of God. What there is and what it is like is really up to
us, and a result of our activity.
In addition to theism, then, the two basic pictures or perspectives
at present and in the West, as I see it, are naturalism and creative anti-realism.
But here I must call attention to a couple of important complications. First,
I say that on these anti-realist views, it is we, we the speakers of language,
or the users of symbols, or the thinkers of categorizing thoughts, or the
makers of basic decisions, who are responsible for the fundamental lineaments
of reality; in the words of Protagoras, "Man is the measure of all
things." But often a rather different moral is drawn from some of the
same considerations. Suppose you think our world is somehow created or structured
by human beings. You may then note that human beings apparently do not all
construct the same worlds. Your Lebenswelt may
be quite different from mine; Jerry Falwell, Carl Sagan and Richard Rorty
don't seem to inhabit the same Lebenswelt at all; they think
very differently about the world; which one, then (if any), represents the
world as it really is, i.e., as we have really constructed it?
Here it is an easy step to another characteristically contemporary thought:
the thought that there simply isn't any such thing as the
way the world is, no such thing as objective truth, or a way the world is
that is the same for all of us. Rather, there is my version of reality,
the way I've somehow structured things, and your version, and many other
versions: and what is true in one version need not be true in another. As
Marlowe's Dr. Faustus says, "Man is the measure of all things; I am
a man; therefore I am the measure of all things."
But then there isn't any such thing as truth simpliciter . There
is no such thing as the way the world is; there are instead
many different versions, perhaps as many different versions as there are
persons; and each at bottom is as acceptable as any other. (From a Christian
perspective, part of what is involved here, of course, is the age-old drive
on the part of fallen humankind for autonomy and independence: autonomy
and independence, among other things, with respect to the demands of God.)
Thus a proposition really could be, as our students are fond
of saying, true for me but false for you. Perhaps you have always thought
of this notion as a peculiarly sophomoric confusion; but in fact it fits
well with this formidable and important if lamentable way of thinking. The
whole idea of an objective truth, the same for all of us, on this view,
is an illusion, or a bourgeois plot, or a sexist imposition, or a silly
mistake. Thus does anti-realism breed relativism. And this relativism is
perhaps the most prominent form, nowadays, of creative anti-realism.
In some ways this seems quite a comedown from the view that there is
indeed a way the world is, and its being that way is owing to our activity.
Still, there is a deep connection: on each view, whatever there is by way
of truth is of our own making. The same ambiguity is to be found in Protagoras
himself. "Man is the measure of all things": we can take this
as the thought that there is a certain way the world is, and it is that
way because of what we human beings--all human beings--do, or we can take
it as the idea that each of some more limited group of persons--perhaps
even each individual person--is the measure of all things. Then there would
be no one way everything is, but only different versions for different individuals.
This form of creative antirealism, like the previous ones, suffers, I think,
from deep problems with self-referential incoherence; but I don't here have
the time to explain why I think so.
A second complication: Alasdair MacIntyre pointed out (personal communication)
that my account here omits a very important cadre of contemporary academics
and intellectuals. There are many intellectuals who think of themselves
as having no firm commitments at all; they float free of all commitment
and intellectual allegiance. They are like people without a country, without
a settled or established home or neighborhood; in Kant's figure, they are
like roaming nomads, a threat to settled and civilized ways of intellectual
life. Not only don't they display commitment; they disdain commitment as
naive or ill-informed, a failure to understand, a foolish failure to see
something obvious and important. So, said MacIntyre, they aren't committed
either to the perennial naturalism of which I spoke, or to one or another
form of anti-realism; they aren't committed to anything at all. But they
are nonetheless a most important part of the contemporary picture.
This is both true and important. MacIntyre is quite right; the attitude
he describes is indeed common among intellectuals and in academia. As a
matter of fact, there is a deep connection between anti-realism and relativism,
on the one hand, and this intellectual anomie or nomadism (or
whatever we propose to call it), on the other. Maybe it goes as follows.
The dialectic begins with some version of Kantian anti-realism: the fundamental
lineaments of the world are due to us and our structuring activity and are
not pant of the dinge an sich . The next step is relativism:
it is noted that different people hold very different views as to what the
world is like; the result is the notion that there isn't any one
way things are like (a way which is due somehow to our noetic activity)
but a whole host of different versions (as Nelson Goodman calls
them), perhaps as many as there are persons. On this view there isn't any
such thing as a proposition's being true simpliciter : what
there is is a proposition's being true in a version or from
a perspective. (And so what is true for me might not be true for you.)
To `see' this point, however, is, in a way, to see through any sort
of commitment with respect to intellectual life. Commitment
goes with the idea that there really is such a thing as truth; to be committed
to something is to hold that it is true, not just in some version, but
simpliciter or absolutely--i.e., not merely true with respect
to some other discourse or version, or with respect to what one or another
group of human beings think or do. To be committed to something is to think
it is true , not just true relative to what you or someone believes.
But once you `see' (as you think) that there isn't any such thing as truth
as such, then you are likely to think you also see the futility, the foolishness,
the pitiable self-deluded nature of intellectual commitment. You will then
think the only path of wisdom is that of the roaming, free-floating intellectual
who has seen through the pretensions or naiveté of those who do make
serious intellectual and moral commitments. (And you may indeed go so far
as to join Richard Rorty in thinking such people insane --in
which case, presumably, they ought not to be allowed to vote or take full
part in the liberal society, and perhaps should be confined to its Gulags
pending `recovery' from the seizure.) As MacIntyre observes, this lack of
commitment, this seeing through the pitiful self-delusion of commitment
is rampant in academia; it is, I think, close to the beating heart (or perhaps
the central mushy core) of contemporary deconstruction.
So we have, as I said, three major perspectives, three wholly different
and deeply opposed perspectives: Christian theism, perennial naturalism,
and creative anti-realism with its progeny of relativism and anti-commitment.
But of course what we also have, as William James said in a different connection,
is a blooming, buzzing confusion. The above description is only a first
approximation, accurate only within an order or two of magnitude; much fine
tuning is necessary. These perspectives flow together and mingle in a thousand
different ways. Each calls out a sort of reaction to itself; there can very
well be a sort of dialectic or development within a given paradigm or way
of thinking; there are of course channels of influence flowing between them.
These three main perspectives or total ways of looking at man and the world
can be found in every conceivable and inconceivable sort of combination
and mixture. There are many crosscurrents and eddies and halfway houses;
people think and act in accordance with these basic ways of looking at things
without being at all clearly aware of them, having at best a sort of dim
apprehension of them. Thus, for example, those who adopt this skeptical,
ironic, detached anti-commitment with respect to the great questions, don't
all themselves do so out of the motivation I suggest as to what really underlies
it--i.e., that "seeing through" the more committed stances. It
can be or start as simple imitation of one's elders and betters; this is
the cool way to think, or the way the second year grad students think, or
the way my teachers or the people at Harvard think. Our ways of thinking
are as much arrived at by imitation of those we admire as by reasoned reflection.
As we saw above, ironically enough, both perennial naturalism and creative
anti-realism (with its progeny of relativism and anti-commitment) find contemporary
expression in allegedly Christian theology. These ways of thinking are touted
as the truly up-to-date and with-it way to look at these matters, and as
the up-to-date way of being a Christian. It is indeed a common human characteristic
to claim that now finally we have achieved the truth (or the correct attitude
to take, given that there is no truth) denied our fathers. But here there
is another sort of irony: these positions go back, clearly enough, all the
way to the ancient world; as a matter of fact they antedate classical Christianity.
What is new and with-it about them is only the attempt to palm them off
as developments or forms--indeed, the intellectually most viable forms--of
Christianity . This is new and with-it, all right, but it is also
preposterous. It is about as sensible as trying to palm off say the Nicene
Creed, say, or the Heidelberg Catechism as the newest and most with-it way
of being an atheist.
I trust it unnecessary to point out that these ways of thinking are
not just alternatives to Christianity; they run profoundly
counter to it. From a Christian perspective the naturalist is,
of course, deeply mistaken in rejecting or ignoring God. That is bad enough;
but in so doing he also cuts himself off from the possibility of properly
understanding ourselves and the world. And as for creative anti-realism
the idea that it is really we human beings who have made or structured the
world, from a Christian perspective, is no more than a piece of silly foolishness,
less heroically Promethean than laughably Quixotic;
and the idea that there is no truth here is no less absurd from a Christian
perspective. These ways of thinking, then, are predominant, pervasive, and
deeply ingrained in our culture; they are also deeply antagonistic to a
Christian way of looking at the world. And the sad truth is that these ways
of thinking, at the moment, have the upper hand in our universities and
in intellectual culture generally.
D. ARE SCIENCE AND SCHOLARSHIP NEUTRAL?
The first thing to see is that the answer is No; science and scholarship
are not neutral with respect to this struggle for our souls. It isn't as
if the main areas of scholarship are neutral with respect to this struggle,
with religious or spiritual disagreement rearing its ugly head only when
it comes, say, to religion itself. The facts are very different: the world
of scholarship is intimately involved in the battle between these opposing
views; contemporary scholarship is rife with projects, doctrines, and research
programs that reflect one or another of these ways of thinking. At present,
the sad fact is that very many of these projects reflect the fundamentally
nonChristian ways of thinking I have been mentioning. There are hundreds
of examples: I shall give just a few, and each of you can add your own.
First, creative anti-realism, with its accompanying entourage of relativism
and anticommitment, is a dominating force in the humanities. Contemporary
philosophy, for example, is overrun with varieties of relativism and anti-realism.
One widely popular version of relativism is Richard Rorty's notion that
truth is what my peers will let me get away with
saying. On this view what is true for me, naturally enough, might be false
for you; my peers might let me get away with saying
something that your peers won't let you get away
with saying: for we may have different peers. (And even if we had the
same peers, there is no reason why they would be obliged to let
you and me get away with saying the same things.) Although this view is
extremely influential and very much au courant and up-to-date,
it has consequences that are, to put it mildly, peculiar. For example, most
of us think the Chinese authorities did something monstrous in murdering
those hundreds of young people in Tienanmen Square; they then compounded
their wickedness by denying that they had done it. On Rorty's view, however,
this is perhaps an uncharitable misunderstanding. What the authorities were
really doing, in denying that they had murdered those students, was something
wholly praiseworthy: they were trying to bring it about that the alleged
massacre never happened. For they were trying to see to it that their peers
would let them get away with saying that the massacre never happened; if
they were successful, then (on the Rortian view) it would have been true
that it never happened, in which case, of course, it would never have happened.
So in denying that they did this horrifying thing, they were trying to make
it true that it had never happened; and who can fault them
for that? The same goes for those contemporary neo-Nazis who claim that
there was no holocaust; from a Rortian perspective, they are only trying
to see to it that such an appalling event never happened; why should we
hold that against them? Instead of blaming them, we should
cheer them on.
This way of thinking has real possibilities for dealing with poverty
and disease: if only we let each other get away with saying that there isn't
any poverty and disease--no cancer or AIDS, let's say--then it would be
true that there isn't any; and if it were true that there isn't
any, then of course there wouldn't be any. That seems vastly
cheaper and less cumbersome than the conventional methods of fighting poverty
and disease. At a more personal level, if you have done something wrong,
it is not too late: lie about it, thus bringing it about that your peers
will let you get away with saying that you didn't do it; then it will be
true both that you didn't do it, and, as an added bonus, that you didn't
even lie about it. One hopes Rorty is just joshing the rest of us. (But
As you would expect, there are very many examples of this sort in philosophy.
But the main point to see here is that this isn't just a problem for philosophers
and maybe theologians: examples of these kinds can be found across most
of the intellectual and disciplinary spectrum, and I shall give some examples
from other fields. Here, of course I run a risk; I am reasonably well acquainted
with philosophy (and even that is less than wholly uncontroversial among
my colleagues), but am venturing out on an interdisciplinary limb in mentioning
examples from other fields. Still, it needs to be done. So my second example
is presented by structuralism, poststructuralism and deconstructionism in
literary studies. All of these, at bottom, pay homage to the notion that
we human beings are the source of truth, the source of the way the world
is, if indeed there is any such thing as truth or the way the world is.
Sometimes this is explicit and clear, as in Roland Barthes:
Once the Author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes
quite futile. To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text,
to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing.... In precisely
this way literature (it would be better from now on to say writing )
by refusing to assign a secret, an ultimate meaning, to the text (and to
the world as text) liberates what may be called an antitheological activity,
an activity that is truly revolutionary since to refuse to fix meaning is,
in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases--reason, science, law.
The move from structuralism to post-structuralism and deconstruction,
furthermore, nicely recapitulates the move from Kantian anti-realism to
relativism. According to the structuralist, we human beings constitute and
structure the world by language, and do so communally ; there
are deep common structures involved in us all by which we structure our
world. The poststructuralists and deconstructionists, noting in their incisive
way that different people structure the world differently, insist that there
aren't any such common structures; it is every woman for herself; each of
us structures her own world her own way. Put thus baldly and held up to
the clear light of day, these views may seem to be hard to take seriously.
But the fact is they can be deeply seductive: for first, they ordinarily
aren't put clearly and usually aren't held up to the clear light of day;
and second, they come in versions--Wittgensteinian anti-realism, for example--that
are vastly more subtle and thus vastly more enticing.
A third example is from science more narrowly so called. Consider The
Grand Evolutionary Myth (GEM). According to this story, organic life somehow
arose from nonliving matter by way of purely natural means and by virtue
of the workings of the fundamental regularities of physics and chemistry.
Once life began, all the vast profusion of contemporary flora and fauna
arose from those early ancestors by way of common descent. The enormous
contemporary variety of life arose through such processes as natural selection
operating on such sources of genetic variability as random genetic mutation,
genetic drift and the like. I call this story a myth not because I do not
believe it (although I do not believe it) but because it plays a certain
kind of quasi-religious role in contemporary culture: it is a shared way
of understanding ourselves at the deep level of religion, a deep interpretation
of ourselves to ourselves, a way of telling us why we are here, where we
come from, and where we are going.
Now it is certainly possible--epistemically possible,
anyway,--that GEM is true; God could have done things in this way. Certain
parts of this story, however, are to say the least epistemically shaky.
For example, we hardly have so much as decent hints as to how life could
have arisen from inorganic matter just by way of the regularities known
to physics and chemistry. (Darwin
found this question deeply troubling;
at present the problem is vastly more difficult than it was in Darwin's
day, now that some of the stunning complexity of even the simplest forms
of life has been revealed.) No doubt God could have done things that way
if he had chosen to; but at present it looks as if he didn't choose to.
So suppose we separate off this thesis about the origin of life. Suppose
we use the term `evolution' to denote the much weaker claim that all contemporary
forms of life are genealogically related. According to this claim, you and
the flowers in your garden share common ancestors, though we may have to
go back quite a ways to find them. (So perhaps herbicide is a sort of fratricide.)
Many contemporary experts and spokespersons--Francisco Ayala, Richard Dawkins,
Stephen Gould, William Provine, and Philip Spieth, for example--unite in
declaring that evolution is no mere theory, but established fact. According
to them, this story is not just a virtual certainty, but a
real certainty. This
is as solid and firmly established, they say, as that the earth is round
and revolves around the sun. (All of those I mentioned explicitly make the
comparison with that astronomical fact.) Not only is it declared to be wholly
certain; if you venture to suggest that it isn't absolutely
certain, if you raise doubts or call it into question, or are less than
certain about it, you are likely to be howled down; you will probably be
declared an ignorant fundamentalist obscurantist or worse. In fact, this
isn't merely probable ; you have already been so-called:
in a recent review in the New York Times , Richard Dawkins,
an Oxford biologist of impeccable credentials, claims that "It is absolutely
safe to say that if you meet someone who claims nor to believe in evolution,
that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I'd rather not
consider that)." (Dawkins indulgently adds that "You are probably
not stupid, insane or wicked, and ignorance is not a crime . . . .")
Now what is the source of these strident declarations of certainty,
these animadversions on the character or sanity of those who think otherwise?
Given the spotty character of the evidence--a fossil record displaying sudden
appearance and subsequent stasis and few if any genuine examples of macroevolution--these
claims of certainty seem at best wildly excessive. From a Christian perspective,
evolution isn't remotely as certain as all that. Take as evidence what the
Christian knows as a Christian together with the scientific evidence--the
fossil evidence, the experimental evidence, and the like: it is at best
absurd exaggeration to say that, relative to that evidence, evolution is
as certain as that the earth is round. The theist knows that God created
the heavens and the earth and all that they contain; she knows, therefore,
that in one way or another God has created all the vast diversity of contemporary
plant and animal life. But of course she isn't thereby committed to any
particular way in which God did this. He could have done it
by broadly evolutionary means; but on the other hand he could have done
it in some totally different way. For example, he could have done it by
directly creating certain kinds of creatures--human beings, or
bacteria, or for that matter sparrows and houseflies--as many Christians
over the centuries have thought. Alternatively, he could have done it the
way Augustine suggests: by implanting, seeds, potentialities of various
kinds in the world, so that the various kinds of creatures would later arise,
although not by way of genealogical interrelatedness. Both of these suggestions
are incompatible with the evolutionary story. And given theism and the evidence
it is absurd to say that evolution (understood as above) is a rock-ribbed
certainty, so that only a fool or a knave could reject it.
So why that insistence on certainty and the refusal to tolerate any
dissent? The answer can be seen, I think, when we realize that what you
properly think about these claims of certainty depends in part on how you
think about theism. If you reject theism in favor of naturalism, this evolutionary
story is the only visible answer to the question, "Where did all this
enormous variety of flora and fauna come from? How did it get here?"
Even if the fossil record is at best spotty and at worst disconfirming,
even if there are anomalies of other sorts, this story is the only answer
on offer (from a naturalistic perspective) to these questions; so objections
will not be brooked.
A Christian, therefore, has a certain freedom denied her naturalist
counterpart: she can follow the evidence
where it leads. If it seems to suggest that God did something special in
creating human beings (in such a way that they are not genealogically related
to the rest of creation), or reptiles
or whatever, then there is nothing to prevent her from believing that God
did just that. From a naturalistic perspective, on the other hand, evolution
is vastly more likely and has vastly more to be said for it. First, there
is the evaluation of the scientific evidence itself some of this evidence
is much stronger taken within a naturalistic context than taken within a
theistic context. For example, given that life arose by chance,
without direction by God, the fact that all living creatures employ the
same genetic code strongly suggests a common origin for all living creatures.
Again, given the enormous difficulty of seeing how life could have arisen
even once by natural, nonteleological means, it is vastly unlikely
that it arose in that way more than once; but if it arose only once, then
the thesis of common ancestry follows.
But second, from a naturalistic perspective evolution is the only game
in town. It is the only available answer to the question, "How did
it all happen? How did all of these forms of life get here? Where did this
vast profusion of life come from? And what accounts for the apparent design
(Hume's "nice adjustment of means to ends") to be found throughout
all of living nature ?" A Christian has an easy answer to those questions:
The Lord has created life in all its forms, and they got here by way of
his creative activity; and as for the appearance of design, that is only
to be expected, since living creatures are, in fact, designed. But the naturalist
has a vastly more difficult row to hoe. How did life get started and how
did it come to assume its present multifarious forms? It is monumentally
implausible to think these forms just popped into existence; that goes contrary
to all our experience. So how did it happen? The evolutionary story gives
the answer. Somehow life arose from nonliving matter by way of purely natural
means, without the direction of God or anyone else; and once life started,
all the vast profusion of contemporary plant and animal life arose from
those early ancestors by way of common descent, driven by random variation
and natural selection. To return to Richard Dawkins:
All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature
is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. A
true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans
their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind's eye. Natural
selection, the blind, unconscious automatic process which Darwin discovered,
and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently
purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and
no mind's eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight,
no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature,
it is the blind watchmaker.
Here we have a nice summary (complete with the obligatory bit of as-we-now-knowism)
of the role played by evolution in naturalistic thought. Dawkins once made
a telling remark to A. J. Ayer at one of those candle-lit, elegant and bibulous
Oxford dinners: "Although atheism might have been logically tenable
before Darwin," said he, "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually
fulfilled atheist." And here
Dawkins seems to me to be quite correct. I don't mean to endorse his claim
that it is possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist; I myself
believe that claim to be false. The point about evolution, however, is that
it is a plausible effort to remove one of the major embarrassments for the
atheist. Evolution is an essential part of any reasonably complete
naturalistic way of thinking; it plugs a very large gap in such ways of
thinking; hence the pious devotion to it, the suggestions that doubts about
it should not be aired in public, and the venom and abuse with which dissent
is greeted. In contemporary academia, evolution has become an idol of the
tribe; it serves as a shibboleth, a litmus test distinguishing the benighted
fundamentalist goats from the enlightened and properly acculturated sheep.
It plays that mythic role.
The point here can be put like this: the probability of the whole grand
evolutionary story is quite different for the theist than for the naturalist.
The probability of this story with respect to the evidence together with
the views a theist typically holds, is much lower than its
probability with respect to evidence together with the views the naturalist
typically holds. So the way in which evolution is not religiously neutral
is not that it is incompatible with Christian teaching; it is rather that
it is much more probable with respect to naturalism and the evidence than
it is with respect to theism and that evidence.
And my point: the Christian community must recognize that there is vastly
more to the role played by evolution in contemporary academia than a sort
of straightforward science which has the same credentials viewed from any
A third example from the same area, but with a different twist: prominent
writers on evolution--for example, Dawkins, Futuyma , Gould, Provine and
Simpson, unite in declaring that evolutionary biology shows that human beings
are the result of chance processes, and hence have not been designed, by
God or anyone else. Gould writes: "Before Darwin, we thought that a
benevolent God had created us." After Darwin, though, says Gould, we
realize that "No intervening spirit watches lovingly over the affairs
of nature (though Newton's clock-winding god might have set up the machinery
at the beginning of time and then let it run). No vital forces propel evolutionary
change. And whatever we think of God, his existence is not manifest in the
products of nature." Gould's sentiments are stated more clearly by
By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind,
uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual
explanations of the life processes superfluous. Together with Marx's materialistic
theory of history and society and Freud's attribution of human behavior
to processes over which we have little control, Darwin's theory of evolution
was a crucial plank in the platform of mechanism and materialism--of much
of science, in short--that has since been the stage of most Western thought.
Clearer yet, perhaps, is George Gaylord Simpson:
Although many details remain to be worked out, it is already
evident that all the objective phenomena of the history of life can be explained
by purely naturalistic or, in a proper sense of the sometimes abused word,
materialistic factors. They are readily explicable on the basis of differential
reproduction in populations (the main factor in the modern conception of
natural selection) and of the mainly random interplay of the known processes
of heredity.... Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that
did not have him in mind.
These prominent scientists unite in declaring that modern evolutionary thought
has shown or given us reason to believe that human beings are in an important
way, merely accidental; there wasn't any plan, any foresight, any mind,
any mind's eye involved in their coming into being. But of course no Christian
theist could take that seriously for a moment. Human beings have been created,
and created in the image of God. No doubt God could have created us via
evolutionary processes; if he did it that way however, then he must have
guided, orchestrated, directed the processes by which he brought about his
designs. We might say, of course, that strictly speaking, when these people
make these declarations, they are not speaking as scientists and are not
doing science. Perhaps so, perhaps not (it has become increasingly difficult
to draw a line between science and other activities); in either case we
have deep involvement of the science in question with the spiritual struggle
Augustine points out; in either case that involvement must be noted and
dealt with by the Christian intellectual community, and in particular by
the part of the Christian intellectual community involved in the science
Another example. Herbert Simian won a Nobel Prize in economics, but
is currently professor of computer studies and psychology at Carnegie-Mellon.
In a recent article, "A Mechanism for Social Selection and Successful
Altruism," he addresses the
topic of altruism: why, he asks, do people like Mother Teresa, or the Scottish
missionary, Eric Liddel, or the Little Sisters of the Poor, or the Jesuit
missionaries of the 17th century, or the Methodist missionaries of the 19th--why
do these people do the things that they do? Why do they devote their time,
and energy, and indeed their entire lives to the welfare of other people?
Of course, it isn't only the great saints of the world that display this
impulse; most of us do so to one degree or another. Many of us give money
to help feed and clothe people we have never met; we support missionaries
in foreign countries; we try, perhaps in feckless and fumbling ways, to
do what we can to help the widow and orphan.
Now how, says Simian, can we account for this kind of behavior? The
rational way to behave, he says, is to act or try to act in such
a way as to increase one's personal fitness, i.e., to act so as to increase
the probability that one's genes will be widely disseminated in the next
and subsequent generation, thus doing well in the evolutionary derby.
A paradigm of rational behavior, conceived Simon's way, was reported in
the South Bend Tribune of December 21, 1991 (dateline Alexandria
(Va.)): "Cecil B. Jacobson, an infertility specialist, was accused
of using his own sperm to impregnate his patients; he may have fathered
as many as 75 children, a prosecutor said Friday." Unlike Jacobson,
however, such people as Mother Teresa and Thomas Aquinas cheerfully ignore
the short or long-term fate of their genes; what is the explanation of this
The answer, says Simian, is two mechanisms: "docility" and
Docile persons tend to learn and believe what they perceive
others in the society want them to learn and believe. Thus the content of
what is learned will not be fully screened for its contribution to personal
fitness (p. 1666).
The idea is that a Mother Teresa or a Thomas Aquinas displays "bounded
rationality"; they are unable to distinguish socially prescribed behavior
that contributes to fitness from altruistic behavior (socially prescribed
behavior which does not). As a result they fail to acquire the personally
advantageous learning that provides that increment d of fitness
without, sadly enough, suffering that decrement c exacted by
altruistic behavior. They acquiesce unthinkingly in what society tells them
is the right way to behave; and they don't quite have the smarts needed
to make their own independent evaluation of the likely bearing of such behavior
on the fate of their genes. If they did make such an independent
evaluation (and were rational enough to avoid silly mistakes) they would
presumably see that this sort of behavior does not contribute to personal
fitness, drop it like a hot potato, and get right to work on their expected
number of progeny.
Because of bounded rationality, the docile individual will often be unable
to distinguish socially prescribed behavior that contributes to fitness
from altruistic behavior [i.e., socially prescribed behavior that does not
contribute to fitness--AP]. In fact, docility will reduce the inclination
to evaluate independently the contributions of behavior to fitness. . .
. By virtue of bounded rationality, the docile person cannot acquire the
personally advantageous learning that provides the increment, d ,
of fitness without acquiring also the altruistic behaviors that cost the
decrement, c (p. 1667).
Clearly no Christian could accept this account as even a beginning of
a viable explanation of the altruistic behavior of the Mother Teresas of
this world. From a Christian perspective, this doesn't even miss the mark;
it isn't close enough to be a miss. Behaving as Mother Teresa does is not
a display of "bounded rationality"--as if, if she thought through
the matter with greater clarity and penetration, she would cease this kind
of behavior and instead turn her attention to her expected number of progeny.
Her behavior displays a Christ-like spirit; she is reflecting in her limited
human way the magnificent splendor of Christ's sacrificial action in the
Atonement. (No doubt she is also laying up treasure in heaven.) Indeed,
is there anything a human being can do that is more rational
than what she does? From a Christian perspective, the idea that her behavior
is irrational (and so irrational that it needs to be explained in terms
of such mechanisms as unusual docility and limited rationality!) is hard
to take seriously. First, from that perspective, behavior of the sort engaged
in by Mother Teresa is anything but a manifestation of `limited rationality'.
On the contrary: her behavior is vastly more rational than that of someone
who, like Cecil Jacobson, devotes his best efforts to seeing to it that
his genes are represented in excelsis in the next and subsequent
generations. And second, the account of rationality--that an action is rational
for me if and only if it increases my fitness--is also incompatible with
So here is an example of a scientific theory that is clearly not neutral
with respect to Christian commitment. Of course, someone might say that
the sort of thing represented by Simon's article isn't really science; but
can we sensibly make that claim in these post-Kuhnian days? It gets called
`science' by scientists and others; it gets grants from the National Science
Foundation; it involves experiments, mathematical models, and the attention,
customary in science, to the fit between model and data; it is written in
that stiff, impersonal style common to scientific writing; can we sensibly
say, then, that it really isn't science?
A fifth example, this one from physics: `fine-tuning' in cosmology.
Starting in the late sixties and early seventies, astrophysicists and others
noted that several of the basic physical constants must fall within very
narrow limits if there is to be the development of intelligent life--at
any rate in a way anything like the way in which we think it actually happened.
Thus Car and Rees:
The basic features of galaxies, stars, planets and the everyday
world are essentially determined by a few microphysical constants and by
the effects of gravitation. . . . several aspects of our Universe--some
which seem to be prerequisites for the evolution of any form of life--depend
rather delicately on apparent `coincidences' among the physical constants.
For example, if the force of gravity were even slightly stronger, all stars
would be blue giants; if even slightly weaker, all would be red dwarfs;
in neither case could life have developed.
The same goes for the weak and strong nuclear forces; if either had been
even slightly different, life, at any rate life of the sort we have, could
probably not have developed.
Even more interesting in this connection is the so-called flatness
problem: the existence of life also seems to depend very delicately upon
the rate at which the universe is expanding. Thus Stephen Hawking:
..reduction of the rate of expansion by one part in 10\12 at
the time when the temperature of the Universe was 10\10 K would have resulted
in the Universe's starting to recollapse when its radius was only 1/3000
of the present value and the temperature was still 10,000 K
--much too warm for comfort. Hawking concludes that life is possible only
because the universe is expanding at just the rate required to avoid recollapse.
At an earlier time, the fine-tuning had to be even more remarkable:
...we know that there has to have been a very close balance
between the competing effect of explosive expansion and gravitational contraction
which, at the very earliest epoch about which we can even pretend to speak
(called the Planck time, 10\-43 sec. after the big bang), would have corresponded
to the incredible degree of accuracy represented by a deviation in their
ratio from unity by only one part in 10 to the sixtieth.
These are striking facts; one sympathizes with Paul Davies: "the fact
that these relations are necessary for our existence is one of the most
fascinating discoveries of modern science."
Now one reaction to these apparent enormous coincidences is to see them
as substantiating the theistic claim that the universe has been created
by a personal God and as offering the material for a properly restrained
theistic argument. Another is
to claim that none of this ought to be seen as requiring explanation: after
all, no matter how things had been, it would have been exceedingly improbable
that they be that way. Appropriately taken, that is perhaps right; but how
is it relevant? We are playing poker, each time I deal I get four aces and
one wild card; you get suspicious; I allay your suspicions by pointing out
that my getting these cards each time I deal is no less probable than any
other equally specific distribution over the relevant number of deals. Would
that explanation play in Dodge City or Tombstone?
Still another reaction is to invoke the Anthropic Principle ,
which is exceedingly hard to understand and comes in several varieties but
(in the version that makes most sense) seems to point out that a necessary
condition of anyone observing these values of the cosmological constants
is that those constants have very nearly the values they do
have; we are here to observe these constants only because they have the
values they do have. Again, this seems right, but what does it explain?
It still seems puzzling that these values should have been just as they
are. Why weren't they something quite different? One cannot explain this
by pointing out that we are indeed here--anymore than I can "explain"
the fact that God decided to create me (instead of passing me over in favor
of someone else) by pointing out that if God had not thus decided, I wouldn't
have been here to raise the question.
But the reaction that most interests me here is still different, and
Spatially homogeneous models can be divided into three classes:
those which have less than the escape velocity (i.e., those whose rate of
expansion is insufficient to prevent them from recollapsing), those which
have just the escape velocity, and those which have more than the escape
velocity. Models of the first class exist only for a finite time, and therefore
do not approach arbitrarily near to isotropy. We have shown that models
of the third class do in general tend to isotropy at arbitrarily large times.
Those models of the second class which are sufficiently near to the Robertson-Walker
models do in general tend to isotropy, but this class is of measure zero
in the space of all homogeneous models. It therefore seems that one cannot
explain the isotropy of the universe without postulating special initial
The idea here is clear: those values for the cosmological constants and
the rate of expansion in our universe are indeed puzzling and
in need of explanation. The explanation is just that there are infinitely
many different universes, displaying all possible combinations of initial
conditions and values for the fundamental constants; and, of course, it
is not surprising that we should occupy one of the universes in which these
values permit the development of intelligent life.
I suppose there would have to be at least uncountably many such universes,
on the Hawking hypothesis, since presumably there is a real interval about
1 such that for any real number r in that interval, the ratio
between the effect of explosive expansion and gravitational contraction
could have been r .
The most attractive answer would seem to come from the Dickie-Carter
idea that there is a very large number of universes, with all possible combinations
of initial data and values of the fundamental constants. In those universes
with less than the escape velocity, small density perturbations will not
have time to develop into galaxies and stars before the universe recollapses.
In those universes with more than the escape velocity, small density perturbations
would still have more than the escape velocity, and so would not form bound
systems. It is only in those universes which have very nearly the escape
velocity that one could expect galaxies to develop, and we have found that
such universes will in general approach isotropy. Since it would seem that
the existence of galaxies is a necessary condition for the development of
intelligent life, the answer to the question "why is the universe isotropic?"
is "because we are here."
To make my point, I could stop here; but in the interests of being
au courant and up-to-date, I mention a couple of further developments
to this ongoing and fascinating story.
Beginning in 1980, Alan Guth suggested a solution to this alleged problem
that is interestingly related to the Hawking-Collins many universe suggestion.
According to Guth, we needn't suppose there is more than one universe; that
one universe, however, is enormously larger than the observable
universe of some 10 billion light-years in diameter. The observable universe
shrinks to a tiny, nearly minuscule corner of the whole universe. Guth's
model, however, was subject to certain problems; a successor has been proposed
by A. D. Linde. In this model,
the universe consists in a vast number of mini-universes; these mini-universes
are enormously larger than our observable universe; and different mini-universes
display different initial conditions; indeed, "the laws of low-energy
physics and even the dimensionality of space-time may be different in each
of many universes.
The point I'd like to make can be put as follows. Consider the 1973
Hawking-Collins suggestion, or the more recent Linde suggestion. Suppose,
furthermore, that the principal motivation for putting forward such suggestions
is that they avoid the cosmic coincidences; on these theories there is nothing
noteworthy about our universe's displaying the values it does; all values
get realized somewhere or other, and, of course, we human observers would
be found only where the values are such as to permit life. In other words,
suppose the motivation for putting forward these theories is what McMullin
calls the "Principle of Indifference." This principle isn't easy
to state exactly; but part of its basic idea is that physical theory should
avoid anything like those cosmic coincidences, these apparent fine-tunings.
Now a theist, so it seems to me, needn't be at all impressed by this
principle. If God created the world, why shouldn't it display singularities
or fine-tunings, or `coincidences' of that sort? Why think we don't have
a proper physical theory until we get rid of such things? If there were
two theories that were empirically equivalent or nearly so, one of them
involving violations of the Principle of Indifference and the other involving
the postulation of uncountably many other universes or an enormous number
of mini-universes, the theist might well prefer the first on grounds of
economy. Here again, there may well be a difference between the epistemic
probability of a Hawking-like many universe theory on theism and the evidence
on the one hand, and the epistemic probability of such a theory on naturalism
and that evidence on the other.
So here we have some examples: each is an example showing that scientific
theory and scholarly effort are often not, in the specified ways, religiously
or metaphysically neutral. There will of course be many more (and they will
be much more obvious and abundant in the humanities and human sciences than
in physics and chemistry). Consider, for example, contemporary cognitive
science: the area including cognitive psychology, artificial intelligence,
and philosophy of mind. This is a whole congeries of research projects (or
perhaps one vast research project with many subprojects) dedicated to the
attempt to give a naturalistic account of the phenomena of mind: such mental
phenomena as consciousness, desire, belief, intentionality, and the like.
These research projects have turned up much that is fascinating and useful
and informative. But the fundamental quest--the effort to give naturalistic
accounts of mental phenomena--is at least questionable from a theistic perspective;
the theist won't, of course, feel the need of a naturalistic account of
mind. Or consider Jean Piaget (that great Swiss psychologist) and his claim
that a seven-year-old child whose cognitive faculties are functioning properly
will believe that everything in the universe has a purpose in some grand
overarching plan or design; a mature person whose faculties are functioning
properly, however, will learn to "think scientifically" and realize
that everything has either a natural cause or happens by chance.
Or consider Biblical scholarship, surely an area where one would not expect
issues of this sort to rear their ugly heads. That expectation, sadly enough",
is disappointed. Many Scripture scholars tell us that a properly pursued
project in this area must conform to certain standards of `objectivity';
this means that in pursuing such projects, the scholar must bracket or set
aside any theological assumption--for example, the traditional Christian
idea that the Bible has special divine authority, or is a revelation to
mankind from the Lord. Thus, for example, John Collins, recently of Notre
Dame: "Critical method is incompatible with confessional faith insofar
as the latter requires us to accept specific conclusions on dogmatic grounds."
And Barnabas Lindars, a well-known New Testament scholar, seems to suggest
that it is somehow wrong or improper to rely upon what one knows or believes
by faith in Biblical interpretation:
There are in fact two reasons why many scholars are very cautious
about miracle stories. ..... The second reason is historical. The religious
literature of the ancient world is full of miracle stories, and we cannot
believe them all. It is not open to a scholar to decide that, just because
he is a believing Christian, he will accept all the Gospel miracles at their
face value, but at the same time he will repudiate miracles attributed to
Isis. All such accounts have to be scrutinized with equal detachment.
So many more examples could be given--from psychology, sociology, economics--across
the length and breadth of the academic disciplines; and many of you are
of course much better qualified than I to point them out. Scholarship and
science are not neutral, but are deeply involved in the struggle between
Christian theism, perennial naturalism and creative anti-realism. And the
unhappy fact is that at present (and in our part of the world) it is the
latter two that are in the ascendancy. Christian theism has perhaps made
some small steps back in recent years; but it is surely the minority opinion
among our colleagues in Western universities.
E. WHAT SHOULD CHRISTIANS DO?
What must Christians do about this unhappy fact; how ought they to react
to it? In many ways, no doubt; but I want to call brief attention to one
of these ways. Christians, and especially Christian academics, must become
very serious about Christian scholarship. Two kinds in particular are needed.
First, we need consciousness raising, Christian cultural criticism. The
Christian community as a whole must be aware of the facts I was arguing
for above; it must be attuned to them, sensitive to them. We must see that
intellectual culture is indeed involved in this contest for basic human
allegiance. It isn't enough to make the occasional ceremonial reference
(at opening convocations, perhaps) to Christian or Catholic intellectual
life. We must really understand that there is a battle here,
and we must know who and what the main contestants are and how this contest
pervades the various scholarly disciplines. These perspectives are seductive;
these are widespread; they are the majority views in the universities and
in intellectual culture generally in the West. We live in a world dominated
by them; we imbibe them with our mother's milk; it is easy to embrace them
and their projects in a sort of unthoughtful, unselfconscious way, just
because they do dominate our intellectual culture. But these
perspectives are also deeply inimical to Christianity; these ways of thinking
distort our views of ourselves and the world. To the degree that we are
not aware of them and do not understand their allegiances, they make for
confusion, and for lack of intellectual and spiritual wholeness and integrity
among us Christians. Christians of all sorts, Catholic, Protestant, and
Orthodox, must be aware of these things. Indeed, believers in God of all
sorts--Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others--must be aware of these things.
And second, we must work at the various areas of science and scholarship
in a way that is appropriate from a Christian or more broadly theistic point
of view. We shouldn't assume, automatically, that it is appropriate for
Christians to work at the disciplines in the same way as the rest of the
academic world. Take a given area of scholarship: philosophy, let's say,
or history, or psychology, or anthropology, or economics, or sociology;
in working at these areas, shouldn't we take for granted the Christian answer
to the large questions about God and creation, and then go on from that
perspective to address the narrower questions of that discipline? Or is
that somehow illicit or ill-advised? Put it another way: to what sort of
premises can we properly appeal in working out the answers to the questions
raised in a given area of scholarly or scientific inquiry? Can we properly
appeal to what we know as Christians? In psychology (which I mention because
it is an area in which I am unencumbered by a knowledge of the relevant
facts): must the Christian community accept the basic structure and presuppositions
of the contemporary practice of that discipline in trying to come to an
understanding of its subject matter? Must Christian psychologists appeal
only to premises accepted by all parties to the discussion, whether Christian
or not? I should think not. Why should we limit and handicap ourselves in
Consider love, once more, love in all its multitudinous manifestations.
When a Christian psychologist addresses this phenomenon, can she properly
take into account what she knows as a Christian--that, for example, we are
created in God's image, that God himself is love, that our
loving is something like a reflection of his? Or how shall we understand
the sense of beauty we human beings share? We exulted in those marvelous,
golden, luminous days of autumn a few months ago; Kathleen Battles or a
Mozart concerto can bring tears to our eyes. How shall we think about this
sensitivity to beauty on our part? How shall we understand this phenomenon?
No doubt some will tell us that it arose, somehow, by way of genetic mutation;
its significance is to be seen in the fact that it turned out, somehow,
to be adaptive, to contribute to fitness, or to be somehow connected with
something that was adaptive. But if we take for granted a Christian explanatory
background, we might come up with an entirely different view. What we need
here is scholarship that takes account of all that we know, and thus takes
account of what we know as Christians. The same holds for a Christian psychologist
attempting to understand aggression and hate in all their forms: she should
take account of the reality of sin.
Indeed, the same holds for a thousand different topics and concerns.
If we need to understand love, or knowledge, or aggression, or our sense
of beauty, or humor, or our moral sense, or our origins, or a thousand other
things--if it is important to our intellectual and spiritual health to understand
these things, then what we must do, obviously enough, is use all
that we know, not just some limited segment of it. Why should we be buffaloed
(or cowed) into trying to understand these things from a naturalistic perspective?
So the central argument here is simplicity itself: as Christians we need
and want answers to the sorts of questions that arise in the theoretical
and interpretative disciplines; in an enormous number of such cases, what
we know as Christians is crucially relevant to coming to a proper understanding;
therefore we Christians should pursue these disciplines from a specifically
By way of conclusion, then: contemporary scholarship is an arena in
which a fundamentally religious conflict is being played out: the struggle
is between a theistic perspective, on the one hand, and perennial naturalism
and creative anti-realism (along with the relativism and anti-commitment
it spawns) on the other. These last dominate contemporary scholarship; furthermore
they are deeply opposed to the Christian perspective. What the Christian
and theistic community needs, therefore, is first, Christian cultural criticism,
and second, Christian scholarship.
There are of course medieval models; but their circumstances
were enormously different from ours, so different, indeed, as to make it
impossible for us to learn much from them on this topic.
See in particular book 14, chapter 28, of The City
My way of developing them has been influenced by the
Dutch Augustinian tradition associated in particular with the work of Abraham
Kuyper (the last prime minister who was also a really first-rate theologian).
See his Calvinism: Six Stone Foundation Lectures (Grand Rapids:
Eerdmans, 1943) and his Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology (New
York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898), especially pp. 59-181.
See J.J.C. Smart: Our Place in the Universe (Oxford:
Blackwell, 1989) for a simple and clear statement of a naturalistic view.
Theology for a Nuclear Age (Manchester: Manchester
University Press, 1985), p. 43.
See Philip Johnson's "Nihilism and the End of Law"
in First Things , March 1993.
Quoted in David Lyle Jeffrey "Caveat Lector :
Structuralism, Deconstructionism, and Ideology", The Christian Scholar's
Review , June, 1988.
There are other important presuppositions of our age,
and it isn't easy to see just how they fit with the above two. The Enlightenment
demand for freedom and autonomy, of course, fits well with creative anti-realism;
indeed the latter is just the former taken, as we sometimes say, to its
logical conclusion. But what about such characteristically contemporary
ideas as that religion is properly a private matter, and should not intrude
into scholarship, politics, and the other important arenas? How does that
fit in with either or both of the above two? Or is it simply another disconnected
idea? And the positivistic idea that science is all there is to know: this
goes, somehow, with naturalism, but how exactly? Furthermore, there are
various halfway houses between the two main views. For example, there is
fact, on the one hand, and value on the other. We are responsible for value:
for interpretation, understanding, significance, and the like. On the other
hand, there is the world of fact; this owes nothing to us and our activity.
The humanities, then (broadly), are the realm of value and are such that
what is true or right there is our own doing; the natural sciences, broadly,
go the other way. A sort of truce, an uneasy compromise.
Roland Barthes, Image-Music Text , Tr. Stephen
Heath (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), p. 147.
Here I leave to one side the teachings of early Genesis,
since I am not sure just how those teachings bear on the issue at hand.
See my "When Faith and Reason Clash," p. 000, and "Evolution,
Neutrality, and Antecedent Probability," p. 000.
In the 60's Harold Urey showed that amino acids could
arise under what may have been the conditions of earth before life; this
generated a sizable but temporary burst of dithyrambic optimism. The optimism
dissipated when the enormous distance between amino acids and the simplest
forms of life sank in, and when there was little or no progress in showing
how that distance could have been traversed.
"It is mere rubbish, thinking at present of the
origin of life; one might as well think of the origin of matter." Letter
from Darwin to Hooker, The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin ,
vol. 2, ed. Francis Darwin (New York: Appleton, 1967), p. 202.
Evolution, says Francisco J. Ayala, is as certain as
"the roundness of the earth, the motions of the planets, and the molecular
constitution of matter." "The Theory of Evolution: Recent Successes
and Challenges," in Evolution and Creation , ed. Eman McMullin
(Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985), p. 60. According to
Stephen J. Gould, evolution is an established fact, not a mere theory; and
no sensible person who was acquainted with the evidence could demur. "Evolution
as Fact and Theory" in Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes (New
York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1980), pp. 254-55. According to Richard Dawkins,
the theory of evolution is as certainly true as that the earth goes around
the sun. This astronomical comparison apparently suggests itself to many;
in "Evolutionary Biology and the Study of Human Nature" (presented
at a consultation on Cosmology and Theology sponsored by the Presbyterian
(USA) Church in Dec., 1987) Philip Spieth claims that "A century and
a quarter after the publication of The Origin of Species , biologists
can say with confidence that universal genealogical relatedness is a conclusion
of science that is as firmly established as the revolution of the earth
about the sun." And Michael Ruse adds his nuanced and modulated view
that "evolution is Fact, Fact, FACT!."
And, of course, part of the evidence, for a Christian,
will be the Biblical evidence. I myself think that the Biblical evidence
for a special creation of human beings is fairly strong.
0f course, it is possible both that God both did something
special in creating human beingsand that they are genealogically
related to the rest of the living world.
The Blind Watchmaker (London and New York:
W.W. Norton & Co. 1986), p. 5.
Ibid., pp. 6 and 7.
Another related issue here: George Gaylord Simpson
(The Meaning of Evolution pp. 344-45 (rev. ea., 1967), Douglas
Futuyma (Evolutionary Biology , p. 3 (2nd edition, 1986)), Richard
Dawkins (The Blind Watchmaker , p. 21) Stephen Gould (Wonderful
Life: the Burgess Shale and the nature of history ) and many others
unite in declaring that contemporary evolutionary biology shows that life
generally and human life in particular are the upshots of processes involving
a substantial degree of randomness or chance; hence they have not been designed
by anyone, including God, if there is such a person. (Gould and Simpson
suggest that possibly God started the whole process.) If this is indeed
true, then the theories to which they refer would be straightforwardly incompatible
with the Christian doctrine that God created man in his own image. Fortunately
we need see no such conflict: the processes to which they refer, in particular
random generic mutation, need not be seen as random in a sense that implies
being unguided or unorchestrated by God. They can instead be random in the
sense of unpredictable, or not a part of the organism's proper function.
Of course, my point is not that you can't accept evolution
without accepting naturalism. Obviously you can; evolution doesn't entail
naturalism; it is logically possible (obviously enough) that God should
have created life in such a way that the thesis of universal common ancestry
is true. My point is that the contemporary allegiance to evolution and the
claims of certainty on its behalf arise out of its mythic function,
rather than out of a sober inspection of evidence that has the same evidential
bearing for a Christian as for someone committed to naturalism.
Douglas Futuyma, Evolutionary Biology ,
(2nd edition, 1986), p. 3.
George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution
(rev. ea., 1967), pp. 344-45.
Science vol. 250 (December, 1990), pp.
More simply, says Simian, "Fitness simply means
expected number of progeny" (p. 1665). That this is the rational way
to conduct one's life is somehow seen as a consequence of evolutionary theory.
But even if evolutionary theory is in fact true, does this alleged consequence
really follow? Perhaps my having lots of progeny is in some way best for
my genes; but why should I be especially interested in that? Couldn't I
sensibly be concerned with my welfare, not theirs?
"The Anthropic Principle and the Structure of
the Physical World" (Nature , 1979), p. 605.
Brandon Carter, "Large Number Coincidences and
the Anthropic Principle in Cosmology", in M. S. Longair, ed, Confrontation
of Cosmological Theories with Observational Data , 1979, p. 72.
Carter concludes that if the strength of gravity were even slightly different,
habitable planets would not exist.
"The Anisotropy of the Universe at Large Times"
in Longair, p. 285.
John Polkinghorne, Science and Creation: the Search
for Understanding (Boston: New Science Library; New York: Random
House, 1989), p. 22.
P. C. W. Davies, The Accidental Universe ,
1982, p. 111. Davies adds that
All this prompts the question of why, from the infinite range
of possible values that nature could have selected for the fundamental constants,
and from the infinite variety of initial conditions that could have characterized
the primeval universe, the actual values and conditions conspire to produce
the particular range of very special features that we observe. For clearly
the universe is a very special place: exceedingly uniform on a large scale,
yet not so precisely uniform that galaxies could not form; ...an expansion
rate tuned to the energy content to unbelievable accuracy; values for the
strengths of its forces that permit nuclei to exist, yet do not burn up
all the cosmic hydrogen, and many more apparent accidents of fortune.
E.g., see Polkinghorne, p. 23.
Martin Gardner distinguishes the Weak Anthropic Principle
(WAP), the Strong Anthropic Principle (SAP), the Future Anthropic Principle
(FAP), the Participatory Anthropic Principle (PAP), and the Completely Ridiculous
Anthropic Principle; see his "WAP, SAP, FAP AND PAP," New York
Review of Books , May 8, 1987.
C. B. Colling and S. W. Hawking, "Why is the Universe
Isotropic?" The Astrophysical Journal , March 1, 1973,
There is a hint of some of the confusion surrounding
the anthropic principle in the last sentence: "Because we are here"
isn't an answer to the question, "Why is the universe isotropic?"
although "Only because the universe is isotropic" may be an answer
to the question, "Why are we here?" There are other problems with
this suggestion as an explanation: see John Earman "The Sap Also Rises:
A Critical Examination of the Anthropic Principle American Philosophical
Quarterly , October, 1987, pp. 314-l5.
A story that is well told in Ernan McMullin's "Fine-tuning
the Universe?" presently unpublished. In this and the next paragraph
I am following McMullin's version of this story.
Alan Guth, "Inflationary Universes: A Possible
Solution to the Horizon and Flatness Problems", Physical Review
D , 23, 1981, pp. 347-56.
"The inflationary universe," Reports on
Progress in Physics , vol. 47, pp. 925-86, and "Particle physics
and inflationary cosmology," Physics Today , September
1987, pp. 61-68.
The Child's Conception of Physical Causality
(London: Kegan Paul, 1930).
See his "Is Critical Biblical Theology Possible?"
in The Hebrew Bible and its Interpreters , ed. William Henry
Propp, Baruch Halpern, and David Freedman (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns,
1990), p. 1 ff.
Theology , March, 1986, p. 91.
Department of Philosophy