Creation and Evolution Blog

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Discusses creation and evolution, mostly from a creation perspective.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Methodological Materialism and Philosophic Materialism

In my other blog I talked about the problems with using materialist assumptions in the investigation of past history. This is a reply to the first comment on that blog entry. While this entry can probably stand apart from that, it would probably be beneficial to read the article and the comments first.

Not everything scientists say represents "science"

I agree with this statement. However, I would say that anything that is commonly represented in scientific literature and commonly in college-level introductory texts does.

If science has the *ability* to include nonmaterial (supernatural) causation, please feel free to tell me how.

First of all, you are equating all forms of non-material causation with supernatural causation. This is not necessarily the case. Intelligent causation is part of our everyday experience (short demonstration on why intelligent causation is necessary at the end of this post).

There are many creationists who believe God acts not by subverting any laws of physics, but by simply applying intelligent causation to more parts of the material world than we are able to.

The inclusion of intelligent causation in science is precisely what Intelligent Design is all about. It is primarily a descriptive/inferential approach, precisely because if something was fully predictable then it would not classify as intelligent causation. However, ID examines the patterns of design used by designers. Many people incorrectly think that ID is limitted to discussion about the existence or non-existence of intelligent causation in the formation of biology. While there are many in ID who focus on this, ID is actually much wider. In fact, Dembski's original book on the subject, The Design Inference made mention of the biological applications only in passing.

As the science of ID is only beginning, there is not a thorough methodology that has been yet refined. But that is precisely what the operation of ID intends.

The philosophy of science presupposes that matter is all there is, *for the purpose of falsifiability and experiment*. If we did not presuppose this, we could speculate that angels cause the transformation of Pb to Au (or a *real* chemical transformation, like CO2 to HCO3-).

Just to point out, the involvement or non-inolvement of angels in a specific chemical transformation is irrelevant. If we repeatedly experimented too find that CO2 transformed into HCO3- when in solution, the calculations would be correct _whether or not_ there was supernatural intervention. The assumption of materialism is not even necessary for this experimentation (though this is not a case I would object to).

Let's say that there are material and non-material forces engaged in causation. The methodological materialism for present events could still be useful in the following way:

If I do an experiment repeatedly, and there are non-material and material causes involved, to the extent that I there is material causes involved, I would have consistent results. The consistency is the result of the laws binding the universe. If there were inconsistency, it would be classified as experimental error. Thus, when examining law-like behavior of experiments, you have a pretty good idea that the law-like behavior is material causes. Whether your experimental error is the result of bad instrumentation, unknown factors, or intelligent causation cannot be differentiated in this simple scenario.

Now, the question I proposed was, can science exclude modes of causation and still claim to have come up with a definitive history?

Let's separate causes -- we will use A for material causes, B for chance causes, C for intelligent causes, and D for supernatural causes.

Now, I think I have shown above why the existence of C does not affect experimentation. In fact, D does not affect experimentation precisely because of which God is in control (before Christianity, God _was_ viewed as haphazard, and therefore there _was_ no reason to assume that the universe was orderly -- it was Christianity that provided the theology that allowed science to move forward).

So, the existence of C and D will not necessarily affect the ability of scientists to do experiments. Now, let's look into past history.

If the universe had a beginning, that beginning must necessarily make use of D. If there was a beginning point, then it's cause must necessarily have been supernatural, precisely because there were no natural causes in existence. Now, let's suppose for a minute that the universe _did_ have a beginning. Let's say that beginning was 10 trillion years ago. Let's then say we have a scientist, X, who is trying to describe events 9 trillion years ago. Is he able to accurately do so? Perhaps. Now, let's say that he goes back 11 trillion years. Is he able to accurately do so? No longer. By ignoring D in causitive history, his attempts to go back accurately are restricted by supernatural intervention at 10 trillion years ago. Any definitive statements he may make without including D would be summarily false.

Now, let's talk about C (intelligent causation). The naturre of intelligent causes is that it produces order from chaos (see this article that I wrote on the subject). The claim of origin-of-life studies is that the order produced came simply from a happenstance interaction of chemicals in the right place at the right time. Many argue that this is causally insufficient. That the _nature_ of what is produced in life _requires_ an intelligent cause (whether human or supernatural). We have never been able to reproduce this, or even come close, which, while not proving the case, seems to strengthen it. It seems that the _more_ we know about the process of life, the _less_ likely it seems.

Now, let's look at universal common ancestry. The reason that UCA is assumed is because of assumptions about how the origin-of-life worked, which includes the assumption of non-intelligent causes at work. Without intelligent causes, most agree that the origin-of-life is an unlikely event. UCA is believed because it is believed that the origin of single-celled life is unlikely, and the formation of multicelled life initiially is impossible. While the origin-of-life is very unlikely (or impossible) without intelligent causation, with a sufficient intelligent cause it is no longer unlikely. Therefore, if an intelligent cause is at work in creating life, there is no reason to assume common ancestry. The origin of life is no longer extremely difficult, because there is a causitive force capable of producing it. In addition, this would mean that to determine the existence of common ancestry of two animals, you would have to distinguish between homologies that are the result of ancestry, and homologies that are the result of design patterns or design constraints (Google for "Berra's Blunder" for more information on this). Their time sequence in the geologic column would not necessarily be one of ancestry, but could equally be the result of creative acts. In addition, there is no reason to restrict life creation to single-celled animals. Multicellular life could equally be created as an independent root of ancestry. This all holds even if you assume a human designer of life. For example, if scientists were able to create life from scratch, then we would have an instance of a new root of ancestry that noone would disagree with. And there is no reason that, with more knowledge, a scientist could not create multicellular life as well (of course, this assumes that life consists entirely of matter, which, at least for some classes of life, I disagree with, but it is irrelevant to the current line of argumentation).

Therefore, the idea of common ancestry is based totally on the presupposition that there was not an intelligent cause that brought about life.

In addition to these, there are many supernatural (well, also possibly just an unusual application of intelligent causes -- but we'll stick with D for the time being) events in history that Christians claim to have occurred. Now, while it is true theoretically that a supernatural being could have done anything, including created the world last Thursday with each of us having longer memories, that is not the claim of Christianity. The claim of Christianity is that the important supernatural occurrences have been recorded for us, both by revelation and by historical witness. The main instances of this relevant for our discussion is (a) Creation, and (b) the flood. Now, Dawkins has made the claim that there is overwhelming evidence for evolution even as much as there is for the Roman empire. While many cultures have records of the Roman empire, it is difficult to find any culture in any remote part of the world that has not heard of the flood. There is no linguistic, geographic, or cultural boundary that has not heard of the flood. While being more in the distant past than the Roman Empire, and therefore the records themselves are poorer and very skewed, there is amazing commonality, with many cultures having independently established the date of the flood as well as Noah as their most recent common ancestor.

Now, if a worldwide flood has occurred, there would be geological evidence. There is either abundant evidence of the flood, or none whatsoever. I don't have time to argue it here, but John Baumgardner makes a short case for why the Paleozoic and Mesozoic sediments seem to be the result of a worldwide catastrophe. If the Pal. and Mes. sediments are not the result of catastrophism, then there is no evidence. If they are, there is abundant evidence.

So, while I have not proven the case for creationism, I think I have shown the following:

(a) the differences between material, intelligent, and supernatural causes, and their impact on scientific experimentation
(b) leaving out a method of causation in consideration will lead one to erroneous results (also my arguments from here)
(c) many of the basics of evolution (such as common ancestry) exist by _assuming_ that life does not require intelligent causation
(d) the God that Christians worship is a God of order, and there exists a specific record of important interventions

And by looking at all of these together, I think we can agree that applying methodological materialism to the past necessarily is the same as philosophic materialism.


I think that intelligent causation being separate from material causes is an obvious feature of everyday life. Here is my short attempt of making my case. The question is, do you believe in _choice_ as a real possibility, not just an illusion. If your answer is "no", then I can see how intelligent causation could be denied, but not if you answered "yes".

Material causes can come in one of two varieties. First, there is the lawful mechanistic version. If all action of the world is purely lawful and mechanistic, then you have no choice. Your choices are 100% predetermined by the environment, with no hope whatsoever for you to make a real choice to do something different. No matter how complex the material causes are, they are still out of your control -- you are completely, 100% defined by the material causes impacting you. Now, if you add in chance causes, the results are not much better. Now, your choices are either completely prechosen or haphazard. That means that any choice you make is simply haphazard. You can't make an intelligent choice, only a haphazard and partially pre-determined one. The only way for "choice" to be a legitimate idea is for there to be more in our mind than strictly material and chance causes. This is intelligent causation. It is _required_ for choice to be a legitimate concept. Obviously intelligent causes are limitted by physical law, but they are not wholly determined by them. Also, since, as I've shown, intelligent causes cannot be the combination of chance and material causes, that means that the origin of intelligent causes cannot be material causes, but must include intelligent causes, too. Therefore, intelligent causes must have pre-existed intelligent life on earth. Thus, to assume that there is no intelligent causes involved in the creation of life means that either (a) choice has no meaning, or (b) methodological materialism is insufficient for studying life history.

Congratulations! You are the second recipient of the coveted Clever Beyond Measure Stupid Blog of the Week award!
I thought you might be interested in watching "Debating Darwin" at from the Institute of Ideas conference.
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