Science and Religious Faith Part II

A look at the work of Theodosius Dobzhanksy's classical book.

FRANK LEWIS MARSH, Ph.D, General Conference Department o! Education, Research Division

In Theodosius Dobzhanksy's classical book, Genetics and the Origin of Species, second edition, page 8, we read this assertion: "Among the present generation no informed person entertains any doubt of the validity of the evolution theory in the sense that evolu­tion has occurred."

Upon reading this assertion, I got into cor­respondence with Dr. Dobzhansky, and our dis­cussion of the truthfulness of his statement ex­tended into seven or eight letters each way. It apparently was his first contact with a believer in special creation, and after our discussion he summarized, "The belief of most scientists that if one secures enough data on a problem then anybody who is capable of and will take the trouble to become acquainted with these data will necessarily arrive at a certain conclusion, is incorrect. Evidently one can still reject the conclusion if it is distasteful. This certainly re­quires emendation of the statement on page 8 of my book." He promised that if given an op­portunity to revise his book he would correct this statement.

It was, therefore, with considerable interest that I looked into Dobzhansky's third edition of Genetics and the Origin of Species when it came from the press. Here is what I read on page 11 of his third edition: "At present, an informed and reasonable person can hardly doubt the validity of the evolution theory. The very rare exceptions (such as Marsh 1947) prove only that some people have emotional biases and preconceptions strong enough to make them reject even completely established scientific find­ings."

I suppose it would be expressing it mildly to say that I was flabbergasted. Again I wrote to my New York friend to protest the untruthful­ness of his statement. He responded pleasantly, but it would seem a bit loftily, regretted that I felt as I did about his statement, and he assured me that if given an opportunity to again revise his book, he would omit my name from this statement. I wrote again, endeavoring to make clear to him that my protest was not specifically against the use of my name but against his mis­representation of all creationists. Again I asked him, as I had done several times before, to give me even one case where I, a creationist, refused to accept "completely established scientific find­ings." But that was the end of our correspond­ence. He has not replied.

Dr. Theodosius Dobzhansky is a professor of zoology at Columbia University, one of our highest ranking modern geneticists, and the leading defender of evolution today. His asser­tions that a person, in order to be a creation­ist, must refuse "completely established scien­tific findings" carries great weight not only among the masses but also among scientists. Dr. Dobzhansky is a sincere man, but in common with most other evolutionists, he fails to perceive the vast difference between true science and the philosophy of science.

To the Greeks before the birth of Christ, philosophy and science were one, and in the Middle Ages both were bound up with religion and held in a static condition for centuries. We say that science could make no progress during the Middle Ages because of the narrow dogmatism of the Catholic Church, which main­tained its stultifying influence through effectual economic boycott of any who dared to express ideas contrary to the impossibly conservative science dogma of the church. The movement of the Renaissance, with the development of the experimental method of studying nature, led to a gradual separation of science and philosophy, and they in turn separated from religion. Sci­ence, which was then called natural philosophy, came to be based on Newtonian dynamics, while the followers of Kant and Hegel led ideal­ist philosophy away into metaphysics. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries sci­ence was considered a division of philosophy called natural philosophy, a meaning still re­tained in the academic degree Doctor of Philos­ophy, which is still granted individuals who may have done their work entirely in the field of the empirical natural sciences.

Scientists of our day speak very depreciatively of what was taught under the name of science during the Middle Ages. That was the day of the scholastic; the day of extreme worship of authority in everything. Firsthand study of na­ture was discouraged as unchristian and the time apportioned to the study of science was spent poring over ancient tomes written by such men as Aristotle and Galen, and in studying the assertions of the scholastic teachers. Any ques­tion in the mind of the student about the truth of an item of science dogma was stifled by the lofty and conclusive declaration, "The master has spoken!" The opinion of the scholastic teachers was final in determining what was cor­rect and what incorrect. Certainly scientists of our day are fully justified when they judge that that age of authority was a time when the ad­vancement of scientific truth was at a very low ebb.

But all too frequently among modern scien­tists we again find a serious confusion of mind over what belongs to science and what belongs to philosophy, and as a result of this confu­sion we find certain scientists demanding the same type of obeisance to authority today that caused the stagnation of science and curtailed individual freedom of opinion during the Mid­dle Ages. Illustrations of this confusion of thought are found in Dobzhansky's assertion, re­ferred to above, that a creationist, to justify his creationistic opinion, must reject completely established scientific findings; and in the fol­lowing statement in Dr. Gordon Alexander's new text in general biology we read: "Organic evolution is as fully proved as are the majority of scientific principles. The proofs for evolu­tion are not merely adequate; they are over­whelming. The fact of organic evolution is a part of the thinking of every individual who may properly call himself a biologist. Thus there is no controversy among biologists over the exist­ence of the process, although there is some dis­agreement over the methods by which it has taken place."—General Biology, p. 808. (Italics supplied.)

Thus in the opinion of these two prominent modern biologists, Dobzhansky and Alexander, creationistic scientists are labeled respectively, unscientific and improper. Such confusion in thought, even among scientific leaders, arises when men in their thinking fail to distinguish between science and philosophy. The Advent­ist has a positive contribution to make here in pointing out where this confusion lies.

The scope of empirical natural science, by the definition of scientists themselves, is that re­stricted field of knowledge which deals with ob­jective, measurable, demonstrable data of our experience. It is limited to data that are sensi­ble, that is, evidences which are subject to and dependent upon the sensory processes of our experience. It is important to bear in mind that the data of empirical science are manipulated as external to and independent of our mental action. They are merely reported and recorded as observed. These characteristics give the sci­ences their objective and universal verifiability. No personal reference or rational proposition may enter into the objectivity of their data. They must be reported and recorded for what they appear to be. The laboratory scientist is true to his profession and loyal to the truth only when he reports what he observes under the circumstances indicated. This is empirical, de­monstrable, real, or true science.

Coercive and Persuasive Evidence

Most evolutionists of our day confuse empiri­cal science with speculative science. This ap­parently comes about through a failure to recognize the fact that scientific evidence is of two kinds, coercive and persuasive. Coercive evi­dence is of a sort that can be demonstrated. No one can doubt it because it is so obviously true. An illustration here would be the existing evi­dence that we live on a round earth. Because the evidence that our earth is round is so con­clusive, that just no other explanation of it is possible, we say that it is coercive. Of such evi­dence empirical science consists. We might in­terject the thought right here that apparently no coercive evidence exists that bears directly upon the problem of origin of basic types of plants and animals.

As an illustration of the second type of evi­dence, persuasive evidence, let us take the bony structure of the forelimbs of vertebrate animals. In the arm of man we find a humerus and a radius and an ulna. Likewise in the forelimb of the horse, the cow, the pig, the cat, the dog, the whale, the bat, the turtle, the bird, in fact in all the forelimbs of all the vertebrates that have limbs, we find a humerus and radius and an ulna. Suppose before us is placed a table upon which are laid the articulated bones of forelimbs of these vertebrates. Here is objec­tive evidence of a coercive nature that the fore­limbs of all vertebrates possess a humerus and a radius and an ulna. The evolutionist and the creationist agree up to this point because they both see the evidence with their eyes and han­dle it with their hands. In truth, all vertebrates with forelegs have these three bones.

But at this point empirical science ends. The evolutionist steps up to the table, looks over the material and then says, "Here is evidence that all these animals evolved through the same early ancestors." The creationist surveys the ob­jects on the table and says, "Here is evidence of one Creator with a master plan, evidence that verifies the truth of a literal Genesis." Which scientist is correct? This is a question that empirical or real science cannot answer. Evidence of this sort, which is capable of ex­planation from at least two different points of view, is called persuasive evidence.

It is a matter of tremendous importance that every item of evidence that bears directly upon the problem of origins is of this persuasive qual­ity. Evolutionists marshal many items of evi­dence from the fields of taxonomy, morphology, embryology, physiology, paleontology, ge­ographic distribution, genetics, et cetera, but as they do this they strangely fail to notice that not one item of this evidence is coercive in na­ture. Instead, as in the instance of the bones of the forelimbs of vertebrates, each case is capable of explanation in at least two ways.

The creationist must become active in letting the world know that he accepts every item of completely established scientific findings. He ac­cepts every item, because if scientific findings are completely established then they are coer­cive in nature; that is, they are empirical, real, or demonstrable, and as such are in harmony with the literal statements of the inspired Word of God. The Author of the facts of empirical natural science and of the Scripture is one God.

When scientists like Dobzhansky come to be­lieve that creationists, in order to keep their theory intact, reject completely established sci­entific findings, they are confusing the two lev­els of science. They confuse empirical science, which exists at the ground level in the demon­strable realm with the more nebulous upper level of science, which is not coercive in nature but speculative or philosophical. When scien­tists become unable to distinguish between co­ercive, or real, evidence and speculative expla­nations of evidence, science has reached a new low and its future is dark indeed. Such a state of affairs would constitute a second Dark Ages.

The sad state into which so many of the sci­entists of our day have fallen has resulted from their refusal to accept the Scriptures as man's Guidebook. As far back as the eighteenth cen­tury and especially in the nineteenth century the empirical sciences set up house for them­selves, followed their own data and devised their own methodology. The sciences became increasingly proud of their achievements in the natural sphere of operation. They made bold to make pronouncements on philosophical and religious issues. Thus the sciences left their le­gitimate sphere at the empirical level and en­tered into a scientism in which the sciences claimed for themselves the whole sphere of hu­man knowledge. In the opinion of scientists religious faith, far from being considered a source of knowledge, became at best an asylum for ignorance.

Many scientists of our day with little or no respect for the Bible as an inspired book, and with belief in the autonomous nature of the hu­man mind, claim for their research more than the data and the circumstances permit. They bring to their data a structure of thought that leads them to an interpretation not contained in the data themselves. They work upon pre­suppositions that have determinative signifi­cance for their conclusions until their research often carries them far beyond the conclusions justified by their study.

The scientist working in the sphere of em­pirical science will get the same results be he Communist, Moslem, or Christian. The depar­ture occurs at the speculative level, and the non-Christian student of science will fail to recog­nize his relation to his Creator and will substi­tute for that conscious relationship an autonomy which will condition his interpretation accord­ingly.

True, the results of empirical science will consist of lists of observed, measured, and dem­onstrated facts, which of themselves may ac­complish little in helping man to understand the world in which he lives. These facts must be dealt with at the higher or speculative level, sorted, and drawn into generalizations which will make natural things reasonable, under­standable, and suggestive of further investiga­tions. The non-Christian scientist with his false confidence in the autonomy of the mind of man is like a vessel at sea with sails fully spread in a stiff breeze but with his ship provided with neither chart, compass, nor rudder. His aca­demic cry is, "Let the facts lead where they will!" and urged on by a god of deceit, he even concludes that these facts indicate that the Bible is not an inspired book.

But the Adventist student of science realizes that facts do not lead where they will in any mind. Rather, the thought structure directs the facts. Therefore, placing his faith in the Bible as a book that contains those basic items of in­formation which are essential to man in build­ing a correct philosophy, the Adventist student of science lays as his foundation the assertions of Holy Writ. It is at this higher level of science --the speculative level—that evolutionists and creationists part company. They both accept all the facts of empirical or established science, but in deciding upon the significance of these demonstrable facts they must, as gentlemen, agree to disagree.

The regrettable thing is that any scientist should brand another scientist unscientific merely because the latter in the realm of specu­lative or persuasive science comes to a differ­ent conclusion. Evolutionists of our day have set up their opinions as authority in the realm of the persuasive, and emulating the unfortu­nate example set by the dogmatic scholastics of the Middle Ages, they declare any divergent opinion to be heretical or unscientific. Unless modern scientists can clean house here and clear their thinking with regard to the vast dif­ference between real science and speculative science, the discovery of natural truth is headed downward into a second Dark Ages and the raucous cry "The master has spoken" again will echo dismally from the walls of the prison house of natural science.

The creationistic nature student enjoys great satisfaction as he builds his philosophy of nature upon the assertions of the Bible. It is only in the light of these great verities that inanimate and animate nature can be understood today. Only in the light of creation, the entrance of sin, the controversy between Christ and Satan, and redemption only through the death of Christ, can the face of nature be understood today. The Adventist understands our natural laws and processes to be manifestations of the power of God. God instituted these laws and processes in the beginning, and since that time has used them as His instruments in the maintenance of the natural world. The great biolo­gist, Louis Pasteur said, "I pray as I work in my laboratory." The Adventist approaches nature with the same reverence, for is not his whole objective an endeavor to think the thoughts of God after Him?.

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FRANK LEWIS MARSH, Ph.D, General Conference Department o! Education, Research Division

February 1959

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