This challenge comes from the first item in the Pro-Choice Action Network’s article refuting “some common misconceptions about abortion”:
Human life begins at conception. There is no scientific consensus as to when human life begins. It is a matter of philosophic opinion or religious belief. Human life is a continuum—sperm and eggs are also alive, and represent potential human beings, but virtually all sperm and eggs are wasted. Also, two-thirds of human conceptions are spontaneously aborted by nature.
What mistakes are made here? How would you argue that we can objectively know when a new human being comes into existence? Answer this challenge in the comments below, and then we’ll hear Alan’s answer on Thursday.
This past November I wrote that embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) had not led to any successful human treatments. I was wrong.
It turns out there are several clinical studies that have used stem cells derived from human embryos to successfully treat human conditions. In one case, embryonic stem cells were used to treat patients with macular degeneration and macular dystrophy. Researchers transplanted human embryonic stem cells into the affected eyes and showed measurable improvement. So, I can’t claim that that embryonic stem cells have treated zero conditions.
None of this changes the main points I make on this topic, though. Adult-derived stem cells are still the superior choice. It’s still true that adult stem cells have been far more successful at treating conditions in humans. It’s still true that it’s not necessary to clone human beings with adult stem cells. And, most importantly, it’s still true that treating conditions using adult stem cells doesn't require you to kill innocent human beings.
Given what I’ve written in the previous posts (PART 1, PART 2, PART 3 and PART 4), I think the best model of interaction between science and theology is convergence. What is convergence? Philosopher Garry DeWeese defines it this way: “Science and theology sometimes tell us different kinds of things, and sometimes the same kind of things, about the same thing (the real world). When done ideally, they will not conflict but will converge on a unified description of reality” (in his handout entitled, “The Relation Between Science and Theology”). Let us examine several important features of convergence.
First, central to the convergence model is metaphysical realism. According to this model of interaction, science and theology are concerned with metaphysical exploration, an exploration of the same theory-independent external world. As such, their claims are realist in nature with the ultimate goal of these two disciplines converging “on a unified description of reality.”
Second, a convergence model acknowledges that human knowing is not exhausted by one discipline. Science and theology tell us different kinds of things. Despite what some scientists think, science cannot account for all of reality. What of moral claims? Does science have a plausible account of immaterial moral laws that seem to press in on us with an almost irresistible incumbency? Or what of its own presuppositions? Science cannot account for them because they are philosophical in nature. Indeed, science comes to the table with a priori metaphysical commitments firmly in place. For example:
(1) the existence of a theory-independent, external world
(2) the orderly nature of the external world
(3) the existence of truth
(4) the existence of the laws of logic
(5) the existence of ethical values used in science
(6) the uniformity of nature and induction
(7) the existence of numbers
These second-order philosophical claims undergird the entire scientific enterprise. To be sure, scientific inquiry cannot get off the ground without these presuppositions in place.
Third, both science and theology attempt to provide explanations of both the meta- and minor- kind (see my discussion HERE). At times, the explanations offered in one discipline will overlap with explanations in the other. For instance, scientific investigation of the Big Bang may provide a plausible explanation of the beginning of the universe. Theology may provide a plausible explanation of the nature and character of the intelligent agent causally responsible for the Big Bang itself. And thus, they overlap. (If you recall, my prior account of explanation was broad enough to include more than just physical objects and events. Additionally, my prior account of explanation left the door open to agent causation. Thus, God as the primary causal explanation of the origin of the universe is a legitimate contender as a theological meta-explanation supported by science.) Convergence is not uneasy with such bold integration but invites more of it, knowing science and theology are attempting to get at the same reality.
This possibility of overlap between science and theology points to one of its strengths. On this view, theology is not limited to the Bible as its only text of study. Christian theology has available a second text, the “book of nature” or the natural world. Indeed, the whole of human experience, the seemingly limitless data of the physical universe ought to be included in the data of theology. At the same time, special revelation ought to be included in the data of science. This view allows for epistemic interaction and ultimately, mutual epistemic support.
Lastly, a convergence model of interaction can account for conflict between science and theology. As DeWeese states, “At any point in history, conflict is possible due to the incomplete or inaccurate theories/doctrines and descriptions in one or the other (or both) disciplines” (emphasis mine). This is not an intractable problem. As DeWeese’s claim implies, the conflict is epistemic, not metaphysical. Why think this? Affirming mutually exclusive truth claims is incompatible with a correspondence theory of truth. Logically inconsistent claims cannot be describing the same reality, and thus, conflict resolution must be epistemic. We may need to re-examine current explanations or seek new interpretations of existing data. Whatever conflict arises, we have room for hope. DeWeese again: “When conflict occurs, theology may correct science, or science may correct theology, or judgment may be withheld, with decisions made on a case-by-case basis.” A convergence approach to conflict prohibits theology’s treatment as a second-class citizen to science in its knowledge claims.
In conclusion, although science and theology resist clear lines of demarcation, we can certainly pick out clear cases of each and offer broad conceptual schemes for each that allow room for the work of integration. And the best model of integration between science and theology is convergence, where science and theology converge on a truthful description of the world.
In these last two posts, we will move toward the convergence of science and theology in providing knowledge of reality. However, before we discuss the proper relationship between science and theology, we must recognize an obstacle: definitions. When we talk about science and theology, we must know what we mean by each. This is no easy task.
As I mentioned in PART 3, there are no necessary or sufficient set of conditions for something to count as science. Theology suffers the same definitional difficulty. Just as we cannot draw a clear line of demarcation between science and non-science, we cannot do so between theology and non-theology. Certainly, clear cases or non-cases of both science and theology can be identified, but this can be done without a clear definition of either.
Instead, it may be best to think of both as “cluster” concepts. That is, science and theology consist of a collection of disciplines, activities, and practices. Within science there are various sub-disciplines (like biology or physics), there are various methods employed, and there is overlap amongst scientific sub-disciplines as well as with non-scientific disciplines. Likewise, within theology there are various sub-disciplines (like eschatology or philosophical theology), there are various approaches to theological inquiry, and there is overlap. Again, the collection of common features in either science or theology does not constitute a set of necessary or sufficient conditions. Nonetheless, we must move the discussion forward in order to propose a model of interaction.
With the definitional difficulty in mind, I offer broad but working definitions for science and for theology. First, science may be thought of as “a particular way of knowing based on human interpretation in natural categories of publicly observable…data obtained by sense interaction with the [natural] world” (Richard H. Bube, “Seven Patterns for Relating Science and Theology,” Michael Bauman, ed., Man and Creation: Perspectives on Science and Theology, p. 76).
Theology may be thought of as “a way of knowing [about the natural and supernatural realms] based on the human interpretation of the Bible and human experience in relationship with God” (J.J. Smart, “Religion and Science,” Encyclopedia of Philosophy, p. 14). Notice the important commonality in both definitions: science and theology are sources of knowledge about the natural world.
Tomorrow, we'll bring this discussion to a close by proposing a model of interaction for science and theology.
In my first two posts of this series (PART 1 and PART 2), I laid a foundation with an epistemological account of the nature of explanations. Given that account, let us move to a more specific question: What constitutes a scientific explanation?
This is a difficult question because science notoriously resists definition. There is no accepted list of necessary and sufficient conditions that constitute an adequate definition of science. To demonstrate this problem, let us examine a highly popular feature often proposed as necessary and sufficient for an explanation to count as scientific. Many scientists and philosophers of science point to falsifiability as a feature that demarcates science from non-science. There are, however, a number of reasons that count against this criterion.
First, J.P. Moreland points out that “the nature of falsifiability in science is often difficult to clarify” (Christianity and the Nature of Science, p. 33). Science rarely tests propositions or theories in isolation. Any number of theories may be in play during experimentation. But what if the scientist’s observation does not correspond with his predictions? Which theory in play has been falsified? Has the entire cluster of theories been falsified?
There is a second problem with falsification. In our account of explanation, we made a distinction between meta- and minor-explanations, a distinction clearly evident in science. I may hold to some evolutionary meta-explanation regarding the origin and existence of biological life, but at the same time hold to minor-explanations (e.g. that a particular feature of a certain bacteria confers upon the organism some survival advantage) that may fall under umbrella meta-explanation. While the minor-explanations may be easier to falsify, broad meta-explanations are very difficult to falsify as they may encompass entire clusters of minor-explanations. Certainly, falsifiability is relevant to scientific explanations but it cannot constitute a necessary or sufficient condition.
What then are we to do? How do we differentiate between mere explanation and scientific explanation? We may find some progress in identifying a cluster of features that would make an explanation scientific rather than historical or sociological, et al. However, we recognize that taken individually or collectively they would not constitute necessary or sufficient conditions.
First, scientific explanations should exhibit correct deductive or inductive argumentation. The explanadum should be explained by inferring it from the explanans.
Second, scientific explanations should be empirically accurate. Observation, prediction, and experimentation are foundational to scientific inquiry. Positive empirical testing leads to important observations. Important observations lead to law-like generalizations. And continuing scientific testing provides important justification or disconfirmation of scientific explanations. Thus, scientific explanations should cohere with available empirical evidence (anomalies not withstanding).
Third, scientific explanations should include generalizations about laws. Over time, certain scientific predictions are confirmed through observation or experimentation. Given enough justification, they can be taken to demonstrate certain patterns of regularity within the world. From such regularities, scientists can deduce law-like generalizations that are causally responsible for those regularities. And those laws can guide further fruitful scientific investigation.
I have given an account of explanation that is narrow enough to be useful, yet broad enough to be adequate for all disciplines. Although we cannot list necessary and sufficient conditions for what counts as scientific explanation, we can outline a cluster of features that help in this task. We are now in a good position to consider the nature of interaction between science and theology and to follow evidence from both disciplines wherever it may lead us.
Yesterday, I began a series of posts aimed at demonstrating how science and religion converge to explain reality. I began by exploring the nature of explanations. Today, I will continue that exploration and then lay out the benefits of my account.
A distinction can be made between meta-explanations and minor-explanations (I take my cue for this distinction from Del Ratzsch’s discussion of maxi-theories and mini-theories in Science & Its Limits, pp. 63-72). Meta-explanations refer to explanations that provide broad conceptual frameworks. Minor-explanations refer to more detailed or specific explanations within a meta-explanation.
Minor-explanations are small in scope and may merely deal with explanandum within a sub-field of a particular discipline. Minor-explanations are more fluid and subject to lower levels of justification both for and against. Taken alone, their explanatory relevance may be minimal as they fail to address explicitly or adequately the most important questions within a discipline.
Meta-explanations are those which are wide in scope and may encompass a host of more narrow explanations. The justificatory requirements for meta-explanations are higher, requiring greater amounts of data and evidence than a minor-explanation. However, they also require stronger defeaters and counter evidence to overturn them. This conceptual scheme helps one see how a number of minor-explanations can be brought under the umbrella of a single meta-explanation to provide explanatory coherence and a deeper, more comprehensive explanation.
I see two benefits to my account of explanations. First, my account has the advantage of disciplinary neutrality or cross-disciplinary applicability. Whether one’s area of study is science, philosophy, history, psychology or even auto-mechanics, explanations are sought. My second-order philosophical account of explanation undergirds all first-order claims in other disciplines. For instance, the auto mechanic will have meta-explanations consisting of minor-explanations, all the while invoking causality, which account for the proper operation of automatic transmissions in cars. In the same manner, a psychologist may employ a Jungian meta-explanation to account for human action.
A second benefit of my account of explanation is its openness to logical contingency as well as to the logical necessity empiricists want to jettison. Again, my second-order philosophical account of explanation does not limit first-order logical claims in other disciplines.
Tomorrow we’ll look at the nature of scientific explanation.
Must science and religion always be in conflict? Are they completely unrelated realms of inquiry? Or can they converge to help us discover the nature of reality? Over the course of this week, I will explore the nature of explanations and scientific explanations, and then discuss the relationship between science and theology.
Let's start with some epistemology, shall we? We need an account of the nature of explanation. Human beings are rational creatures by nature and thus have an inherent need to understand the world around them. But what kinds of explanations satisfy the human knower?
An explanation gets at the fundamental question of “Why?” While human beings ask "what" questions (“What happened in the Steelers-Bengals game yesterday?”) and "how" questions (“How did Troy Polamalu become a Hall-of-Fame caliber player?”), human inquiry almost never stops there, particularly with the most important questions of life. But merely stating that an explanation seeks an answer to why questions is much too broad to be helpful. The parent who asks why her two-year old child was lost to cancer may be looking for consolation rather than a reasoned explanation. More precision in our account of explanation is needed.
At the most basic level, an explanation has two components: the explanandum and the explanans. The explanadum is that which needs to be explained, such as an event or object, and the explanans is that which does the explaining, such as sentences put together in a coherent form. For instance, let us take event E to stand for my 3-year-old son’s act of hitting my 7-year-old daughter (note the frequency of E has no bearing on my illustration). E constitutes the explanadum and as even philosophically untrained parents know, requires an explanans. Why did my son Jonah hit his sister? The explanans, L, may come in the form of a carefully constructed linguistic utterance. Jonah may say (and actually has said!), “Daddy, I hit Ella because she is a bad guy.” A satisfactory explanans ends further analysis. Given L, my need for an answer to why E occurred is satisfied and my investigation ceases (Of course, proper moral justification for Jonah’s actions is another question altogether).
Again, our account of explanation cannot stop here or else it is too minimal. A further question arises. What amounts to an adequate explanans? Explanations are often framed in terms of causes. A cause can be defined minimally as something’s bringing about an effect and is an important explanatory feature. Any explanans must appeal to some form of causation.
We can distinguish between two types of causes, as another illustration about my children will demonstrate. Let us take explanadum MR to stand for my 11-year old daughter’s messy room. What explanantia are live options? It seems to me I have two. When I ask Paige why her room is messy, she may reply that a magnitude 7.0 earthquake caused all of her clothes to fly out of their dresser drawers and land on the floor in chaotic piles. Thus, an adequate explanans for MR could be an event. However, my daughter may confess she was the one who threw her clothes into chaotic piles on the ground. Thus, a second explanans for MR could be the actions of an agent. Either event-causation or agent-causation provides sufficient explanantia.
It is important to note my brief discussion of causation does not limit causality to a relation between events. Rather, I am open to causality entailing dispositional states within a rational agent. I grant that a key distinction can be made between causes and reasons (for further analysis of reasons and causes, see Robert Audi’s book, Practical Reasoning, or William Alston’s article, “Wants, Actions, and Causal Explanations” in Intentionality, Minds, and Perception). However, reasons can provide a causal account of some explanadum. A dispositional state, such as believing cleanliness is not a form of godliness, can causally motivate the actions of an agent and thus, be causally sufficient. I resist all such moves to push causality outside of the realm of agency and confine it to a relation between events.