On how not to be a creationist…

A: That’s quite a cute baby you’ve got there, buddy.

B: Thanks, man. What can I say? We’re really blessed.

A: Oh, look at the creationist here. Every good gift….

B: Ha-ha. Creationist, huh? Would the Darwinist in the house prefer I say that we enjoy our randomly spawned blob of humanoid tissue?

A: Whoa, I’m not a “Darwinist.” Darwinism is just shorthand for a theory that I believe is true. I just like science.

B: Me, too, but in that case, I’m not a “creationist.” I accept scientific evidence; I just don’t inflate any of it into an overarching worldview.

A: But at the very least you should include the theory of natural selection in your worldview. Otherwise, you’re a creationist, no?

B: Within its proper limits, any theory can find its place in my view of things. But to hear you talk, “Darwinism” is an intellectually binding universal truth–which is why I call you a Darwinist. Nothing makes sense without Darwin, right?

A: Okay, I see your point, but I’m not treating Darwin like a mystical guru. I just think that any modern understanding of the world requires embracing his fundamental discovery–

B: The theory of descent by modification.

A: Yes. Like it or not, that’s just a given for rational people these days.

B: Be that as it may, here’s my litmus test for overblown Darwinism: Do you agree that everything makes sense after Darwin and nothing makes sense before him?

A: Well… that’s a pretty strong position–

B: Which I call Darwinism.

A: Okay, but I’m not that kind of Darwinist, no. I just think that Darwin’s findings provide an essential theoretical insight which all future science–and public policy, among other things–just has to take into account.

B: Right, and in that sense, I’m a creationist!

A: How do you mean?

B: I believe that the fundamental insight of theism–and Christianity, specifically–provides an essential insight which all metaphysics, morality, politics, and even science must take into account.

A: Hmmm… go on.

B: I mean, holding to theism–and being a Christian–doesn’t mean that the best scientific (or empirical) explanation of, say, my son’s conception and birth is simply, “God did it.” But it does mean that the most intelligible and complete explanation of it derives from the fundamental truth that God’s existence and creative power grounds conditions for whatever the scientific explanation of birth turns out to be–including the way in which natural selection throws light on it. It’s called a “layered explanation“–

A: Slow down, what?

B: A layered explanation. Okay, well, here’s an example, I don’t know if it will help. How do you answer the question why a fire is burning in the backyard?

A: Science!

B: Yes and no. For a physicist, the answer is to describe, at the molecular level, the processes of combustion and heat convection.

A: Science again! Heh.

B: No doubt, but a more common–and perhaps even a more reasonable–explanation is to say how the wood got there and caught fire to begin with: “I gathered and lit the wood to toast marshmallows to eat.”

A: So… one layer of explanation doesn’t necessarily exclude another, deeper one, you’re saying?

B: Right. Here’s another example: When a king declares war on a rival nation, he utters a number of syntactically and phonetically complex signs, which a linguist, or even a physicist, could analyze to the minutest detail, without ever invoking the king’s psychology, much less God–

A: Okay…

B: And yet, no one in the rival nation, or in the king’s nation, for that matter, would consider those “scientific” analyses an adequate explanation of “what just happened.” The lower-level, reductionist explanations not only presuppose a higher, formal unity–the king’s expressed intent as an entire intelligible act–but also an order of finality–or orderly causation–which mysteriously motivates entire armies and thousands of death in a way that merely random sound waves could never do.

A: So… you’re saying that God is like the king, and humans are like the linguists?

B: More or less, yes–only, God is, you might say, waging war on chaos and indeterminacy by ordering the potential variability of matter and energy into a universally intelligible formal order, which scientists like to call “the laws of nature.”

A: Science wins again!

B: The way things work, as far as our low-level, bit-by-bit analysis shows us–just like the way the king’s decree works in the world–presupposes a higher unity and depends on God’s holding together the law-like relationship between causes and effects.

A: Uhhmm, kind of lost me, dude, but I think I get it.

B: It’s not exactly rocket science, you know.

A: What a relief. Anyway, to turn the tables: As a creationist–

B: Mm-hmm…

A: –you’d say that nothing makes sense without, or “before,” God and everything makes sense “after” believing in God?

B: In a way, yes–simply because the fundamental “theory,” if you will, of a theistic universe, grounds my further belief that there is a coherent world that can be made sense of by humans in the first place.

A: Whoa.

B: Remember, because the layers of explanation do not necessarily clash, I can simultaneously say that my son is a creation directly from the hand of God, and that such and such biological processes were involved in God’s handiwork.

A: Layered explanation.

B: Bingo. The people in that nation I made up can both say that “the king declared war, full stop” and that “the king uttered such and such sounds, generating such and such amounts of energy, etc.,” because the latter explanation is just a more precise explanation of the first explanation. However, if that latter, reductionist explanation is limited strictly to itself, it becomes unintelligible, cut off from the larger intelligible order in which we live and breath, since it only makes sense as an analysis of something logically prior to and metaphysically “bigger than” the contingent scientific details.

A: A bit of a mouthful, no?

B: My bad. I don’t get to have conversations like these so often in a house of babies.

A: I feel your pain.

B: I’m just trying to clarify my–well, let me try again.

A: Be my guest.

B: The decree rolling off the king’s tongue can be analyzed as minutely as you like, from a scientific, empirical perspective, just as my belief that my son, so to speak, “rolled out of the hand of God” can be analyzed as minutely and empirically as you like. The details are just the way in which the larger act happened. No amount of detailed reductive analysis will ever do away with the larger, antecedent reality of the intelligible and personal act itself.

A: So no matter how well we understand the nuts and bolts the cosmos, it never negates the fact that there is a larger, intelligible order in which those nuts and bolt fit into. That ultimate order is supposed to be the sign of God’s power, right?

B: I couldn’t have said it better myself.

A: And it would make no sense to say that the minute analysis did away with or “refuted” the larger “event” of creation, since the details presuppose the larger order, which can only be known by an act of metaphysical, um, faith in an intelligible, humanly accessible cosmos–or something, right?

B: Right! And yet… there’s more.

A: Oh, great. I think I need another PBR.

B: Well, see, if my son’s existence is just as randomly evolved as everything in the universe–which is a possibility Darwinism, as a supposedly total account of nature, must admit–then I must also admit that even the (Darwinian) laws explaining his existence are just as random and just as mutable, and therefore just as unreliable as absolute, ultimate explanations of the cosmos.

A: Ohhhhkayyy…

B: And all the while, I must blindly believe that those laws truly reflect the cosmos, which can never fit under any empirical tool, and can never be reduced to a perfect logical equation.

A: Whoa, too deep for being next to a baby crib on a Saturday afternoon. Let’s just say I was right, and that you are a creationist, okay?

B: In the right sense, of course!

A: Still… at least I can respect your explanation of it. It’s interesting, I’ll give you that much.

B: I don’t get a lot of sleep. Now let me get you that PBR.

A: Awesome. And while you’re at it, get help, quick–it looks like something not so random just evolved into your son’s diaper.

About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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4 Responses to On how not to be a creationist…

  1. Flambeaux says:

    I’ll admit it. I’m lost.

  2. To prove his brilliant, never-before-discovered, shockingly-revoluntionary theory, Darwin first went and interviewed all of Britain’s top notch dog breeders…

    (Darwin aside, brilliant post)

  3. B.C. That was so well done that even ABS got it. Thank you.

  4. Tamsin says:

    “layered explanations”. very nice. in the beginning was the Word…

    “because the layers of explanation do not necessarily clash, I can simultaneously say that my son is a creation directly from the hand of God, and that such and such biological processes were involved in God’s handiwork.” yes.

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