Supernatural Agency and the Modern Scientific Method

Michael A. Corey, Ph.D.


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Dr. Michael Corey received his Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion from the Union Institute; he also holds a Masters in the Philosophy of Religion and Theology from the Claremont Graduate School. mcorey1234@aol.com


Abstract

In this paper it will be argued that an appeal to supernatural agency can indeed be an appropriate and fruitful aspect of the modern scientific enterprise. This conclusion can be defended on two levels: 1) because most appeals to supernatural agency are centered around finding a sufficient explanation for secondary causes, and not primary ones, which in turn leaves the empirical domain of modern science relatively unscathed, and 2) because there are, in fact, three distinct stages to the scientific method—a theory-building stage, a data-acquisition stage, and an interpretive stage—only one (the data-acquisition stage) of which is relatively incompatible with supernatural agency as a direct explanation. The other two stages, by contrast, are entirely compatible with this general form of explanation.


Introduction

Does the concept of supernatural agency play a role in modern science? Indeed, is it even compatible with the scientific pursuit of knowledge? Most scientists and philosophers seem to think that the answer is no, as philosopher of science Stephen Meyer has pointed out:

Biologists, and scientists generally, assume the rules of science prohibit any deviation from a strictly materialistic mode of analysis. Even most physicists sympathetic to design would quickly label their intuitions "religious" or "philosophical" rather than "scientific." Science, it is assumed, must have exclusively natural causes. Since the postulation of an intelligent Designer clearly violates this methodological norm, such a postulation cannot qualify as part of a scientific theory. Thus Stephen J. Gould, refers to "scientific creationism" not just as factually mistaken but as "self-contradictory nonsense." As Basil Willey put it, "Science must be provisionally atheistic, or cease to be itself."{1}

Scientists aren’t the only ones who believe that religious matters are inherently incompatible with the scientific method. Many theists also share this belief. Consider, for instance, the following quote from Fuller Seminary professor Nancey Murphy:

Science qua science seeks naturalistic explanations for all natural processes. Christians and atheists alike must pursue scientific questions in our era without invoking a Creator….Anyone who attributes the characteristics of living things to creative intelligence has by definition stepped into the arena of either metaphysics or theology.{2}

At first glance this assertion appears to make good sense. Science does indeed seem to be centered around the exclusive pursuit of naturalistic explanations for physical phenomena. It is important to note, however, that the founding fathers of the modern scientific movement would have strongly disagreed with this conclusion. To the contrary, they believed that the concept of supernatural agency was vital to a proper understanding of the natural sciences, and indeed, it was their belief in a rational Law-Giver that initially compelled them to look for order and rationality in the cosmos.{3} However, with the advent of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, which seemed to obviate any need for a Creator in the world, scientists began to move away from theological matters in their attempt to better understand the universe in which we live.

This "flight from religion" in the scientific community continued more or less unabated into the twentieth century, where it eventually evolved into a philosophical doctrine known as methodological naturalism. Methodological naturalism is the idea that science, when done properly, cannot involve religious ideation, belief, or commitment.{4} This pervasive belief had two principal causes. The first of these is historical in nature. For once the Church began to oppose and to persecute genuine scientific inquiry in the early days of science, religious matters naturally began to be separated from scientific ones. This separation was strongly reinforced by Darwin’s theory of evolution, because it seemed to remove any need for an Intelligent Designer in the origin of life (since natural cause and effect processes, and not a Creator per se, seemed to be responsible for generating the biosphere).

This antagonism between science and religion, in turn, was further reinforced by the so-called Principle of Objectivity, which states that the only objects or processes that can properly be studied by the scientific method are those that have an empirical, objective reality (because they are the only ones that can be accurately measured). This methodological principle in itself seems to exclude the idea of God from the entire realm of scientific inquiry, because God by definition is not a physical being who can be studied and measured by scientists.

It would be premature, however, to conclude from this methodological principle that religious matters cannot play any role in the modern scientific enterprise. For while there is certainly a need for science to be objective, it doesn’t follow from this fact that supernatural agency can play no role at all in scientific matters. God doesn’t have to be involved in every aspect of the scientific method in order to be involved in some aspects of it. Another way of saying this is that it is possible, at least in principle, for God to play some role in the proper execution of the scientific method, even if He doesn’t play a role in every aspect of it.

It is in this fashion that we can provisionally accept the legitimacy of the Principle of Objectivity in modern science, while simultaneously retaining the possibility of some role for supernatural agency in the overall pursuit of science. But how can this be? How can the activities of a non-empirical being who is not amenable to physical measurement nevertheless be compatible with the scientific method, whose expressed purpose is to gain a deeper understanding of the empirical world in which we live?

The answer is twofold. First, most appeals to supernatural agency are really attempts to find a sufficient explanation for the natural cause and effect processes that we regularly observe in the universe. These causal processes are the secondary causes that most theists believe were recruited by God to create the universe and everything that is in it. This employment of secondary causation in the creation of life is duly reflected in the Biblical assertion that "the earth brought forth living creatures" (Gen. 1:24.). This provocative statement tells us in no uncertain terms that earth-based natural processes, and not God in any direct sense, were responsible for bringing forth living creatures.

Insofar, then, as most appeals to supernatural agency are merely attempts to find a sufficient explanation for the various secondary causes of nature, we don’t have to twist or otherwise corrupt any aspect of the scientific method in order to make an appeal to supernatural agency, since for the most part we aren’t directly trying to credit God with the generation of any primary causes in the world per se (apart from His creation of the universe itself and the laws of nature that operate within it); we are merely trying to incorporate God as a sufficient metaphysical explanation for the various secondary causes that are at work in the world. This allows the natural theologian to retain virtually the entire body of modern scientific information alongside her belief in God as Creator, since the natural theologian’s expressed purpose here is simply the identification of a sufficient reason or explanation for these natural phenomena.

In other words, the natural theologian isn’t trying to document the existence of an entirely new set of primary causes in the world. She is merely trying to provide a better (e.g., a more plausible and coherent) explanation for the world’s preexisting laws and processes. This is good news indeed for the scientifically-oriented theist, because it means that the notion of supernatural agency can easily be incorporated into the existing body of scientific information without any significant compromise in the latter taking place.

There is a second reason why the concept of supernatural agency is compatible with the scientific pursuit of knowledge. It is because only one aspect of the scientific method—the data-gathering stage—is not directly amenable to the immediate study of supernatural agency per se (since God is not an empirically observable being who can be studied directly in the laboratory). The two other stages of the scientific method (the theory-building stage and the data-interpretation stage) are, by contrast, entirely compatible with the notion of supernatural agency as a potential explanatory tool. God thus only needs to be excluded from a single stage of the scientific method (the data-gathering stage), because scientific information per se is religiously neutral by its very nature.{5} But even here there is some room for movement, since the phenomenon of supernatural agency can be empirically investigated in an indirect manner without any compromise in the Principle of Objectivity taking place. One simply needs to utilize an experimental design that seeks to document, through indirect means, God’s influence in the world, and this can be done by attempting to observe the empirical effects of God’s presumed influence in the world.

I am distinguishing here between two very different forms of divine action in the cosmos. In the first form, God Himself acts as an efficient cause that directly brings about certain empirical effects in the world. In the second form of divine action, God merely acts as an efficient cause for the various causal processes (or secondary causes) that comprise our world and universe. From this point of view, God acts as the cause of the various causes of events in the world, and not of the events themselves, as Charles Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus once pointed out.{6}

But if God is merely the unprovable cause of these secondary causes (which themselves are responsible for bringing about the observable events in our world), what need is there to bring Him into the explanatory landscape at all? The answer has to do with the nature of scientific explanations themselves: we need to bring God into our theories so that we can arrive at a thorough and sufficient explanation for the various scientific phenomena we’re trying to understand.

The Nature of Scientific Explanations

The question of what actually constitutes an adequate scientific explanation is surprisingly complex. For most working scientists, an adequate scientific explanation of X is considered to be one that identifies the specific natural laws and processes that are responsible for bringing about X in the world.

Nevertheless, while such a utilitarian definition might serve its limited purpose admirably—namely, that of enabling us to better understand the workings of the natural world so that we can then manipulate it to our advantage—can we consider this sort of mechanical understanding to be truly explanatory of the phenomena in question? The answer, in part, depends on what one’s expressed purpose happens to be. If one’s intention is simply to understand the naturalistic context (e.g., the mechanism) by which a given event transpires in the world, then this sort of explanation is indeed adequate to the task, because such an elucidation not only makes certain predictions possible about the future, it also makes it possible for the natural processes in question to be profitably manipulated to one’s advantage.

However, if one’s expressed goal is to understand the larger metaphysical context by which any given natural event is able to transpire in the world, then this sort of limited explanation is by no means adequate, because it leaves the secondary causes themselves unaccounted for. It is for this reason that any thorough explanation of X must include a larger metaphysical explanation for the various secondary causes that are responsible for bringing about X in the world.

What we are really referring to here is the long-standing distinction between necessary and sufficient conditions for any given physical phenomenon. The natural laws and processes that are responsible for bringing about X are surely necessary conditions for X, but they nevertheless aren’t sufficient conditions for it, because they don’t include a larger explanation for their own origin. This is where the concept of supernatural agency comes into play, for by providing a sufficient explanation for the origin of these secondary causes, it can transform a partial scientific explanation (containing only some of the necessary conditions for X) into a thorough one (containing all of the necessary conditions which together are sufficient for the elicitation of X).

A useful analogy can be made here to the question of where the automobiles in a new car showroom ultimately originate from. Since we are familiar with the nature of the auto-building process, we know that new cars ultimately come from huge automated factories. However, what would a totally na´ve observer (say from another planet) have to say about this issue? We can surmise that such a being would probably have no idea where these new cars ultimately came from. Nevertheless, by carefully observing the various events at the dealership that seem to elicit the arrival of these new cars, our na´ve friend could surmise that the following conditions would need to be met before any new cars would appear on the lot: 1) a reduced inventory of new cars at the dealership, 2) the placement of a certain number of new car orders by the management, and 3) the arrival of huge double-decker trucks carrying these mysterious automobiles.

Now, our friend would be entirely correct in claiming that these conditions were somehow necessary for the arrival of new cars at the dealership. Moreover, if he simply needed to identify some of the conditions that are necessary for the arrival of new cars on the lot, he wouldn’t need to look any further, since he would be able to make good use of these necessary conditions to predict the approximate arrival time for each shipment of new cars.

Nevertheless, it is clear that this sort of practical understanding falls far short of being a thorough explanation, despite its predictive utility. For while our friend might have been able to identify some of the conditions that are necessary for the arrival of new cars on the lot, he was still a long way from identifying all of the necessary conditions for this particular outcome, and it is clear that any thorough explanation needs to account for all of the necessary conditions for any given phenomenon.

In other words, a complete explanation needs to identify the sufficient conditions for the elicitation of any given outcome. This is why our na´ve friend in the above example did not obtain a complete explanation for the arrival of new cars at the dealership: because he didn’t specify all of the necessary conditions for this event. He failed, for instance, to consider the single most important question with respect to the arrival of these new cars, which is this: where did the new cars themselves ultimately originate from. To the contrary, he confined himself only to those events that can be directly observed at the dealership.{7}

Most scientific explanations today are very much like this, insofar as they only tend to focus on some of the conditions that are necessary for the elicitation of certain outcomes in the physical world. This typically involves an identification of those natural laws and processes that are responsible for bringing about the desired effect. And, for the most part, working scientists are delighted to have this sort of limited explanation in hand, because it effectively enables them to do the following: 1) to better understand the world in which we live, 2) to be able to elicit certain outcomes at will through a recreation of the same conditions that originally produced the desired effect, and 3) to be able to predict future events based on this knowledge.

This sort of mechanistic understanding is clearly useful in the real world. Even so, it is still a long way off from amounting to any type of thorough explanation for the events in question. The reason for this, once again, is that limited scientific explanations typically fail to address the origin and nature of the secondary causes that were originally responsible for bringing about the explanandum. In this sense it is like the origin of cars in the above example, for whereas one might be able to document some of the necessary conditions for the arrival of new cars on the lot, such an explanation is still far from being complete and thoroughgoing, because it fails to address the ultimate origin of the new cars themselves.

By the same token, we must first attempt to explain the origin of the various secondary causes in our world before we can hope to arrive at any type of thorough explanation for the effects they produce. This is where we can make profitable use of the notion of supernatural agency in our scientific theorizing, for by providing a sufficient explanation for the origin of the various secondary causes in our world, it can help to transform our partial scientific explanations (which contain only some of the necessary conditions for X) into complete and thorough ones (which contain all of the necessary conditions which together are sufficient for the elicitation of X).

This is where the phenomenon of personal satisfaction comes into play. We all seek to have our sense of wonder and curiosity satisfied by the explanations that we regularly come into contact with in our day-to-day lives. However, some explanations are inherently more satisfying than others. It is my contention in this paper that the partial explanations of modern science aren’t nearly as satisfying to most people as the more all-encompassing explanations of theology and philosophy tend to be. The reason for this isn’t far to seek: it is hard to be satisfied by an explanation that in some sense continues to beg the real question at hand with respect to any given phenomenon.

For instance, to try to explain the origin of the new cars in the above example by referring to certain mitigating circumstances at the dealership is question-begging by its very nature. For while there is a certain limited sense in which this type of explanation might be accurate, it is far from being the whole story, because it doesn’t even attempt to address the ultimate origin of the new cars themselves. So, insofar as one’s underlying question revolves around the true origin of these cars, one will never be satisfied with any type of partial, question-begging answer.

In the same way, it is hardly satisfying to assert that the origin of the living world is to be found in the process of evolution. For while such an assertion might be true as far as it goes, it is hardly illuminating, because it refers back to something that we already know to be true: namely, that the biosphere arose in response to evolutionary causes. Therefore, using the theory of evolution to explain the origin of life is a partial explanation at best, because it leaves the origin of these evolutionary processes themselves unaccounted for.

This is why so many people find the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution to be inherently unsatisfying, and this includes a growing number of evolutionary biologists and philosophers of science. Why else would professional evolutionists such as Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins devote so much space in their books to God and to other theological matters?{8} While they may outwardly assert that they are simply trying to debunk a bogus explanation for life’s origin, their actions say otherwise. For if this were truly their primary motive, only one debunking would have been necessary to fulfill this particular function; yet, both Gould and Dawkins have devoted dozens of pages in several different books to the same theological issues.{9} This degree of literary attention belies a deeper motive; namely, that they too seem to be searching for a more complete (and hence a more satisfying) explanation of life’s origin than the one that they are publicly proclaiming.

Then again, there are those individuals who suggest that any appeal to Intelligent Design is a scientific cop-out, since it seems to supplant the empirical rigors of science with non-empirical pseudo-science.

A scientist legitimately may suggest, as Michael Behe does, that Darwinian theory does not explain everything. But to invoke, as Behe also does, the possibility of intelligent design, is a cop-out: When something is not easily understood, a scientist should dig further to understand it. You do not understand nature by invoking the supernatural.{10}

But what if, for the sake of argument, we were to assume that an Intelligent Designer had originally created the natural world itself? Would the appeal to supernatural agency then be a cop-out in this particular situation? Clearly not, because in this instance God would function as the ultimate metaphysical cause for the entire natural realm, including those laws and processes that were originally responsible for bringing about life on this planet.

In the above citation, Wolfe claims that one doesn’t understand nature by simply invoking the supernatural, but this is true only insofar as one attempts to supplant a full understanding of the world’s secondary causes with the empty assertion that "God did it"! The fallacy here is to assume that all such appeals to supernatural agency are actually trying to do this. They are not.

There is, to the contrary, a completely different type of appeal to supernatural agency that does not attempt to supplant the secondary causes of the world with empty supernatural explanations. In this type of appeal, the concept of supernatural agency is used, not in place of natural cause and effect processes, but rather in conjunction with these very same processes, where it is utilized to provide a sufficient explanation for their ultimate origin.

There is no doubt that "when something is not easily understood, a scientist should dig further to understand it,"{11} but it doesn’t follow from this that one should never make an appeal to supernatural agency in any and all possible circumstances. For what if one is trying to understand the origin of those natural cause and effect processes that ultimately led to the origin of life long ago? In this case it does indeed make sense to dig further, but this is precisely what the natural theologian is doing when she credits God with the original creation of these laws and processes. Far from being an explanatory cop-out, then, such an appeal to supernatural agency fits neatly within existing scientific protocol. For it is a well-known fact within the scientific community that all physical and mathematical systems of thought require a foundational set of unquestioned axiomatic assumptions in order to be valid. One simply has to begin somewhere in order to be able to pursue a rational course of investigation; otherwise, one will spend all of one’s time trying to establish a conceptual beginning point. This is particularly true in mathematics.

So, mathematicians and physical scientists are quite familiar with the process of choosing a set of unquestioned axioms from which they can proceed with their theorizing. But this is precisely what the natural theologian is doing when she credits God with the ultimate creation of the universe’s natural laws and causal processes. She is simply choosing an axiomatic foundation from which to proceed with her theorizing, just like physical scientists and mathematicians are used to doing in the scientific realm. This being the case, it is no more of a cop-out for the natural theologian to choose God as an axiomatic foundation than it is for the biologists to choose the evolutionary process as their axiomatic foundation.

If anything, the natural theologian’s choice of God as an axiomatic foundation is less of a cop-out than any of the axioms proposed by scientists, because only God carries within Himself a sufficient explanation for His own existence. Everything else in the universe is contingent (and hence derivative) by its very nature. That is to say, one can trace the existence of everything in the universe back to a preceding cause, and this includes all the axioms that have ever been conceived by the human mind. However, the "metaphysical buck" has to stop somewhere; otherwise, the progression of explanatory causes would extend to infinity. This is where the concept of supernatural agency has its greatest utility in the field of natural theology. For by providing a self-sufficient metaphysical foundation for the existence of the universe and everything that is in it, the idea of God provides the only axiomatic metaphysical foundation that is inherently adequate to the task.

The reason why this is so can be traced back to the Divine aseity—or God’s self-existence and complete self-sufficiency. No other being, particle, or concept can make this unique claim, because only God carries within Himself the reason for His own existence. This, of course, is true by definition. And while it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is true in fact just because it is true by definition, it is true in fact that any self-existent being or process is actually God in disguise, because God is the only being who carries within Himself the reason for His own existence.

It is this particular realization that instantly defuses Richard Dawkins’ primary criticism of natural theology. In The Blind Watchmaker Dawkins argues that the universe itself is just as likely of being self-existent as God Himself is. Accordingly, why not simply posit the universe as its own creator and be done with it?{12} It is this particular conclusion that leads Dawkins to brand the natural theologian’s argument as being "transparently feeble."{13}

The problem with this conclusion is that it commits the fallacy of "misplaced concreteness." That is, it assumes that it is possible for something other than God to be self-existent by its very nature. However, by long-standing definition, only God alone can possibly possess the miraculous property of self-existence.{14} Accordingly, if the universe itself were self-existent, it would actually be God, but this clearly seems absurd. Indeed, there is absolutely nothing about the physical universe that would lead us to believe that it is self-existent by its very nature. To the contrary, the very contingency of the universe and everything that is in it would lead us to believe the exact opposite: namely, that the entire universe is a contingent collection of objects. The fact that the universe had a concrete beginning in the Big Bang strongly supports us in this conclusion. It is very hard to see how a physical collection of objects that had a formal beginning some 15 billion years ago could possibly be self-existent by its very nature. The idea of self-existing God, on the other hand, doesn’t seem contradictory or absurd at all.

This is why Dawkins’ claim that the natural theologian’s argument is "transparently feeble" is itself transparently feeble: because he is trying to make our contingent universe itself a god. However, one simply cannot attribute the property of self-existence to material objects, or to the universe itself, in an arbitrary fashion. One can only do so with an object or being that is inherently worthy (and hence deserving) of such an attribution, and this can only be said of God Himself.

Naturalism, Scientism, and the Principle of Objectivity

The Principle of Objectivity, which is discussed at length by the French biologist Jacques Monod{15} in his book Chance and Necessity, states that the only objects that can be studied scientifically are those that have an empirical, objective reality. Naturalism is, in part, a philosophical extension to the Principle of Objectivity, insofar as it states that the basic "stuff" of science (e.g., empirically measurable material phenomena) is the only type of substance in existence. Its implicit aim is to make it seem as though the only types of substances in existence are those that science itself can study. The philosophical view known as scientism is also a generalization from the Principle of Objectivity, insofar as it claims that science is the only pathway to truth and rationality.

It is equally clear, however, that these philosophical generalizations from the Principle of Objectivity are both gratuitous and unwarranted by the existing evidence. The Principle of Objectivity is merely a methodological guideline that was originally intended to make the practice of science as practical and efficient as possible. It was never meant to be a metaphysical statement about the underlying nature of reality. It simply doesn’t follow that everything in existence is material in nature, just because material objects are the only types of entities that can be properly studied by science. To thus arrive at such a non-sequitur generalization is essentially to argue that the whole of reality happens to consist only of those empirical objects that can be studied by science. However, there is no underlying causal connection between our epistemological limitations and the basic ontological structure of the universe itself. Science may be an extraordinarily effective means of understanding the universe in which we live, but it doesn’t follow from this that the only types of entities in existence are those material objects that scientists can study.

This sort of generalization from the Principle of Objectivity probably came about as various thinkers attempted to build a worldview around the throne of modern science. In so doing, however, it may have been difficult for them to separate their own personal desire (for a single realm of material existence) from the scientific worldview they were constructing. They may have also been trying to fence out any religious threat through an across-the-board attempt to eliminate the metaphysical foundation of the religious worldview (the non-empirical spiritual realm) using the Principle of Objectivity as a putative reason.

Given these underlying motivations as a backdrop, it is easy to see how it would have been tempting to generalize from the Principle of Objectivity to the whole of reality. However, the underlying character of reality is not contingent upon the nature of our epistemological limitations, nor is it a function of what is personally expedient for any given individual, or group of individuals. It is what it exists entirely apart from the affairs of human beings. This being the case, it is excessively na´ve to attempt to limit the ontological structure of the universe so that it accords with our own epistemological limitations. For just as it would be inherently wrong for a sentient hammer to see everything else in the universe as a nail, it is also wrong for epistemologically limited scientists to assert that the entire universe happens to consist only of those objects that they are presently capable of observing.

Such an assertion could never be empirically demonstrated. Indeed, there is a growing amount of evidence that seems to indicate that the ontological structure of the universe (defined here as everything in existence) is not limited to the material realm only. For not only does the non-material character of human consciousness seem to point in the direction of a non-material plane of existence, the many gaps that currently exist in our scientific understanding of the universe also point in this direction. For instance, we presently have no idea where the Big Bang came from, or why it exploded in just the right way to produce intelligent observers some 15 billion years later.{16} We have no idea where life came from or why it evolved the way it did, nor do we even the remotest inkling about what human consciousness is in and of itself. We also have no idea about why the subatomic world is arranged and calibrated in such an ideal biocentric manner. All we know is that if it were significantly different, we wouldn’t be here to discuss the fact.

Take the Pauli Exclusion Principle, for instance. It forbids two quantum particles from being in the same quantum state at the same time, and in so doing, it prevents our macro world from imploding in on itself. In spite of its life-giving importance, though, we have no idea about where the Pauli Exclusion Principle ultimately came from or why it works the way it does. The same thing applies to the quantum nature of the atom. For as Barrow and Tipler{17} point out, the existence of life is utterly dependent on the mysterious principle of quantization (which restricts electron energy levels to those discrete values that happen to be multiples of the universal energy quantum known as Planck’s constant), yet physicists have no idea where this principle came from or why it works the way it does. All they know is that without it, life would have never evolved at all, because a stable chemistry would have been impossible.{18}

And lastly, we aren’t even close to understanding how the quantum mechanical world operates, particularly with respect to the phenomenon of nonlocality (or instantaneous action at a distance). How is it possible for the action of one particle on one side of the universe to be instantaneously reflected in the behavior of another particle on the other side of the universe? In order for this to be possible, some sort of instantaneous communication is required, which in turn requires a communication speed that borders on the infinite. Such a phenomenon directly violates our modern, relativistic view of the cosmos, since it requires that we do away with the speed of light (which is one of the most sacrosanct laws in all of science) as the cosmic speed limit.

We see, then, that our universe is replete with many scientific mysteries that modern science is nowhere near understanding. In fact, there is good reason to doubt whether we’ll ever be able to understand these mysterious phenomena from a purely naturalistic point of view, not simply because of our own epistemological limitations, but also because these mysteries inherently seem to possess an explanation that somehow transcends the boundaries of normal scientific explanation. After all, what kind of empirical explanation could the Big Bang itself have?

We see, then, that a significant chunk of the natural world appears to be almost totally inexplicable from a one-world, materialist point of view. If, however, we open ourselves up to the possibility of other planes of existence besides the merely physical, these mysteries suddenly become far more comprehensible.

God and the Theory-Building Stage of the Scientific Method

Scientific theories are not spun in a vacuum. Rather, they are conceived in a larger cognitive environment that enables the universe to be viewed "scientifically"; that is, in a regular, law-like manner which is amenable to human understanding.

Remarkably, the role of God in the scientific method can be traced all the way back to the very origins of this scientific world view. As David C. Lindberg has pointed out, the conceptual foundation of modern science is theistic in nature.{19} For not only did the founding fathers of the natural sciences routinely utilize the concept of supernatural agency in their theorizing and data interpretation, they also utilized their faith in a rational Creator to justify their belief in a state of cosmic order that can be discovered and comprehended by human minds. This belief, in turn, helped to fuel the rise of modern science by leading to the general expectation of order in the universe, as well as to the initial motivation to look for that order in a rational and empirical manner.{20}

In fact, John Barrow has gone so far as to conclude that the idea of a Divine Law-Giver, as found in the world’s three major theistic religions, was essential to the development of modern science.{21} For without this idea of a supreme Law-Giver, there would have been no pressing reason to look for comprehensible scientific laws to begin with. This, according to Barrow, explains why a productive scientific enterprise was never able to develop in those cultures that did not espouse a belief in a Divine Law-Giver. This conclusion is borne out by the fact that virtually all of the founding fathers of the modern scientific method were practicing theists themselves, who were led by their belief in a Divine Creator to look for a state of comprehensible order in the universe.{22}

Paul Davies has examined this same issue from the perspective of the underlying intelligibility of nature:

The mystery that now confronts us is this: How did human beings acquire their extraordinary ability to crack the cosmic code, to solve nature’s cryptic crossword, to do science so effectively? I have mentioned that science emerged from a predominately Christian culture. According to the Christian tradition God is a rational being who made the universe as a free act of special creation, and has ordered it in a way that reflects his/her own rationality. Human beings are said to be "made in God’s image," and might therefore be considered (on one interpretation of "image") to share, albeit in grossly diminished form, some aspect of God’s own rationality. If one subscribes to this point of view it is then no surprise that we can do science, because in so doing we are exercising a form of rationality that finds a common basis in the Architect of the very natural world that we are exploring.

Early scientists such as Newton believed this. They thought that in doing science they were uncovering part of God’s rational plan for the cosmos. The laws of nature were regarded as "thoughts in the mind of God," so that by using our God-given rationality in the form of the scientific method, we are able to glimpse the mind of God. Thus they inherited a view of the world—one which actually stretches back at least to Plato—that places mind at the basis of physical reality. Given the (unexplained) existence of rational mind, the existence of a rationally ordered universe containing rational conscious beings is then no surprise.{23}

Many of science’s greatest discoveries can be traced back to some form of theistic belief. Take, for instance, the discovery of Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543) that the earth revolves around the sun, and not vice versa. Although this landmark achievement is routinely cited as supporting evidence for atheism (since it shows that the earth is not at the center of the universe), Copernicus himself was a thoroughgoing teleologist who used his theistic belief in the necessary harmony and order of the cosmos to construct a purely mechanistic view the solar system.{24} In fact, Copernicus was such a devoted anthropocentrist that he felt uneasy giving up humanity’s physical centrality in the cosmos. He was, however, able to reconcile his anthropocentrism with his heliocentric discovery by pointing out that humanity’s displacement from the center of the cosmos is infinitesimally slight when compared to the immense size of the universe.{25}

Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) also used his belief in a Divine Creator to guide him to his pioneering discovery of the nature of the planetary orbits. Believing that God had created the universe in accordance with some perfect numerological principle, Kepler used this expectation to figure out the mathematical nature of the various planetary motions.{26}

William Harvey (1578-1657) also made brilliant use of his theistic belief to figure out the nature of the human circulatory system. Harvey deliberately tried to imagine how a purposeful Creator would have constructed a system of motion in the human body, and in the end it was this sort of design-based thinking that led him to make his landmark discovery.{27}

The curious phenomenon known as "anthropic reasoning" has also contributed significantly to the influence of the Divine on scientific theorizing. With anthropic reasoning one begins with the fact of human existence and then reasons backwards to those conditions and forces that must have been necessary to bring about that existence. When this is done, one typically finds a very highly constrained set of initial conditions, the entire group of which seems to have been fine-tuned to an extraordinary degree of accuracy. This fine-tuning, in turn, is most consistent with the deliberate creative activity of an Intelligent Designer.{28}

Now, when one begins to theorize in this curious anthropic manner, the natural tendency is to begin anticipating the creative strategies of a possible Designer, and this, in turn, can lead to pioneering discoveries that probably would have never been made otherwise. Indeed, this is known to have been the case many different times in the history of science, as we just saw, for instance, with the work of Copernicus, Kepler, Newton, and Harvey.

Why is this anthropic style of reasoning so fertile? It is fertile because it leads the scientific theorist down the same "creative road" that a possible Designer would have utilized in His creation of the world and universe. Hence, when one begins to think anthropically, one implicitly begins to theorize in a design-type manner, and this designer-based reasoning, in turn, can eventually lead to exciting discoveries in the various natural sciences. This, of course, is to be expected in a universe that was actually created by an Intelligent Designer. However, it might also be expected in a universe that only looks as though it were deliberately designed and created. For if the various laws of nature can truly counterfeit the work of an Intelligent Designer, then it isn’t too much of a stretch to suggest that this counterfeiting might extend to the underlying principles and mechanisms of the physical world; so that by anticipating the activities of this counterfeit designer, one might be better able to unmask the actual principles and strategies that were employed by mindless physical processes.

Abduction

According to the founder of American pragmatism, C.S. Peirce (1839-1914), there are three types of reasoning that can be used in science: inductive, deductive, and abductive. Abductive reasoning is better known as reasoning to the best explanation, and Peirce believed that it plays an essential role in the progression of science.{29}

Abduction is the only type of reasoning that is ampliative in nature, since it is able to give us more information than is contained in the premises. As a consequence, it is the only form of reasoning "which can introduce novel ideas differing in kind from those found in the premises or explanandum. This sort of reasoning takes place at the very beginning of scientific inquiry."{30} In fact, Peirce went so far as to claim that "all the ideas of science come to it by way of abduction."{31}

Peirce described the actual process of abductive reasoning in the following manner:

Upon finding himself confronted with a phenomenon unlike what he would have expected under the circumstances, he looks over its features and notices some remarkable character or relation among them, which he at once recognizes as being characteristic of some conception with which his mind is already stored, so that a theory is suggested which would explain that which is surprising in the phenomena.{32}

Terry Pence, a philosopher from Northern Kentucky University, describes the logical format of abductive reasoning in the following manner:

The surprising fact C is observed. But if A were true, C would be a matter of course; Hence, there is reason to suspect that A is true.{33}

From this description it is clear that abductive reasoning has a strong intuitive aspect to it, insofar as it represents an "appeal to instinct"{34} that often strikes one like a flash of light. This is the "aha!" experience that is so typical of major scientific advances. The history of science is, of course, replete with this type of intuitive breakthrough, even though it can be quite fallible in nature. However, this fallibility is an inescapable part of the process of abduction itself, since reasoning to the best explanation in an intuitive manner naturally opens up an entire realm of possible explanations, only one of which usually turns out to be true.

What is significant for our purposes here is that Peirce did not believe that the process of abductive reasoning in science necessarily precludes the supernatural from the explanans. For Peirce, then, "there is no essential hostility between the most essential aspect of scientific reasoning and broadly theistic conclusions."{35}

Terry Pence brilliantly argues this very point in an article entitled "Charles S. Peirce, Scientific Method, and God."{36} In fact, Pence goes so far as to claim that as far as Peirce was concerenced, abductive inferences which appeal to God as an explanation are inherently as legitimate as any scientific explanation."{37} How can this be, given the fact that God is an invisible, non-empirical (and therefore non-measurable) entity? The answer, of course, is that many of the objects that are studied by science are in fact invisible, and are therefore not directly measurable. Peirce himself made this very point in a review of one of William James’ books:

Nor is it in the least true that physicists confine themselves to such a "strictly positivistic point of view." Students of heat are not deterred by the impossibility of directly observing molecules from considering and accepting the kinetic theory; students of light do not brand speculation on the luminiferous ether as metaphysical; and the substantiality of matter itself is called in question in the vortex theory, which is nevertheless considered as perfectly germane to physics. All these are "attempts to explain phenomenally given elements as products of deeper-lying entities." In fact this phrase describes, as well as loose language can, the general character of scientific hypotheses."{38}

Indeed, what does it really mean for an object to be "empirically measurable"? Does it not refer to any object that is empirically detectable by the various scientific instruments that are currently available? But if this is so, then the essential limitation with respect to "empirical measurability" can be seen to lie, not in the nature of the objects themselves, but rather in the essential limitations surrounding our measuring instruments. This would become readily apparent if someone were to invent a machine that could empirically detect the existence of "objects" in the spiritual realm. If this were actually possible, then the non-physical objects of the spiritual realm would suddenly become "empirical" in nature, because they would then be capable of being measured by our instrumentation.

From this point of view, then, there is no such thing as a non-empirical object per se; there are only objects that cannot yet be measured by human scientists. . However, once these instruments are invented, these "non-empirical" realms will suddenly become "empirical," because at that point they will be amenable to empirical measurement. It follows from this assertion that everything in existence is ultimately "empirical" in nature, insofar as everything has some sort of reality that eventually can, at least in principle, become amenable to human measurement. Hence, the true locus of an object’s possible empirical nature lies, not in the nature of the object itself, but rather in the nature of our own measuring limitations. Accordingly, if we had instruments that could accurately measure the nature of everything in all planes of existence, then everything would be empirical in nature, and therefore open to empirical scientific inquiry.

But if this is so (e.g., if the empirical or non-empirical nature of any given object is to be found in our own limitations, and not within the nature of the objects themselves), then why should we exclude entire realms from scientific consideration, just because we cannot yet directly measure their existence? I am not, of course, referring here to the data-gathering stage of the scientific method, because we can obviously only accumulate data on objects and processes that are empirically measurable. I am referring instead to stages one and three of the scientific method, in which scientific theories are first conceived and then, following an interim stage of data-accumulation, a final stage in which the data are interpreted. One can easily appeal to the existence of these other non-empirical realms when one is initially forging a scientific theory, or later, when one is interpreting the data that has been empirically acquired.

It therefore makes no sense to exclude, simply on the basis of our own measuring limitations, an entire (possible) realm of existence from scientific perusal. For it is abundantly clear that we live in a unified universe, in which everything that exists (including the non-physical realm) somehow interacts with everything else to form a single, interconnected whole. This being the case, everything that exists (and not simply everything that can presently be measured) should be a fundamental part of our scientific pursuit for truth, since in the end, the behavior of everything we can observe is intimately affected by the whole of reality, and not just the limited part physical part of reality that we can presently observe. So, to restrict our scientific explorations to only those objects that can currently be measured is thus to severely limit the depth and breadth of our understanding of the universe in which we live.

We can readily see the effect of this epistemological limitation in many different areas of modern science. Take Bell’s Theorem for instance. It postulates the existence of a mysterious quantum phenomenon known as "nonlocality," in which it is possible for two particles to somehow be connected to one another in a direct causal manner, so that a change in the momentum of one particle will be instantaneously reflected in the behavior of the other particle, even though the two particles might exist on opposite ends of the universe. Incredible as it may seem, this quantum nonlocality has been experimentally verified time and time again, yet there is no available principle in our current scientific repertoire to account for this "spooky" action at a distance (as Einstein once called it).

To the contrary, quantum nonlocality breaks one of the most fundamental "laws" in all of science; namely, that of the speed of light as the cosmic "speed limit." According to Einstein’s theory of relativity (which itself has been experimentally verified many, many different times in the previous century), nothing in the entire universe can travel faster than light. The curious behavior of objects traveling near the speed of light explicitly forbids anything from traveling at precisely the speed of light, because at that point, the mass of even the "tiniest" object suddenly becomes infinite.

But if nothing at all can travel faster than light, how is it possible for two particles to be in direct causal contact with one another, even though they happen to exist on opposite sides of the universe? Obviously it must be possible for something in the universe to travel faster than light, because the phenomenon of quantum nonlocality requires there to be an instantaneous connection between particles that have been causally linked with one another. It is at this point that we can begin to detect the existence (and subsequent influence) of another plane of reality in the universe above and beyond the physical one that we live in. And while it might represent just another unseen dimension in the physical realm, it might just as easily represent another plane of reality altogether (such as the spiritual plane) that somehow is able to interact with the physical realm so as to produce the "paradoxical" nonlocal effects that we observe. But such effects are only paradoxical as long as we restrict the scope of our scientific inquiry to the realm of the physically measurable. However, once we broaden our scope to include the whole of reality, then what formerly seemed paradoxical can now be seen to be directly indicative of another (non-physical) plane of reality that is somehow causally interacting with the plane of reality that we can presently observe. This is why it is imperative that we broaden the scope of our scientific inquiry to include the whole of reality: because the holistic nature of the universe directly implies that there is a significant causal interaction taking place between everything that exists, and not just between those aspects of reality that we can now observe and measure. This means that, to the extent that any of these other realms actually exist, we can expect them to be causally interacting with those physical events that we can observe and measure. This would explain the "paradoxical" of quantum nonlocality and a whole host of other "mysterious" physical phenomena.

But if this is indeed the case, it is self-defeating for scientists to restrict their scope of inquiry to the realm of the physical measurable only, for to do so is to instantly eliminate entire realms of efficient causation from consideration. To the extent that these other realms exist at all, we can feel safe in assuming—in response to the holistic nature of modern quantum theory--that they will somehow be interacting with, and therefore that they will be causally influencing, the events that we can observe in the universe, just like the moon’s unseen gravitational field is able to causally influence the earth’s tidal motions from afar. The many mysterious "paradoxes" that are known to exist throughout the scientific realm provide compelling evidence that our physically measurable world is somehow being causally impinged upon by other non-empirical realms of existence beyond our own.{39}

We mustn’t, however, make the mistake of assuming that the possible existence of these other non-empirical realms is totally beyond the reach of scientific investigation. To the contrary, it is possible to compensate for this lack of direct measurability by devising experiments that are cleverly designed to detect the effects of this unseen realm. For while unseen objects and processes may not be directly measurable in the laboratory, they nevertheless can have important effects on that part of reality that we can observe and measure. So, by carefully designing an experiment to take advantage of this empirically observable effect, we can indirectly document the existence of unseen objects and processes, which in turn makes it possible for us, at least in principle, to examine the phenomenon of supernatural agency from a scientific point of view.

We see, then, that there are two ways in which an object or process can be empirical in nature, and therefore open to scientific investigation. On the one hand, it can be directly empirical in nature, which is to say that it can be directly detected and measured in the laboratory. At the same time, though, it is also possible for an object or process to be indirectly empirical in nature as well. This would be the case if the object or process itself was invisible, but yet somehow was able to impinge upon our empirical world in a directly measurable way. In this case, the object or process itself would not be directly empirical; it would, however, be indirectly empirical, since it would be capable of causally impinging upon the physical world in a way that can be measured and otherwise documented.

The ghostlike subatomic particle known as the neutrino provides a good case in point. For years particle physicists postulated the hypothetical existence of the neutrino, on the basis of their preexisting theory of subatomic particles. However, due to the postulated nature of the neutrino itself (it travels near the speed of light, interacts very weakly with ordinary "baryonic" matter, and may or may not have any rest mass), it was impossible to directly detect the existence of even a single neutrino.{40} In response to this challenge, several very clever experiments were proposed that were designed to compensate for the complete lack of direct empirical information about the neutrino. This was accomplished by substituting indirect empirical information for direct information. Researchers simply devised a situation in which they were able to indirectly document the existence of the neutrino by directly measuring its projected effects on known physical processes. They were able to do this using what they already had inferred (from their preexisting quantum theory) to be true about the neutrino.

Although they had to wait for a supernova explosion to transpire before they would have a good sample of neutrinos to study (since supernova explosions are believed to be accompanied by a mammoth neutrino release), they got precisely what they were looking for in the great supernova event of 1987. And, remarkably enough, they were indeed able to indirectly document the existence and nature of the neutrino from that one event, even though the neutrino itself is invisible and not directly amenable to empirical scientific study. They were able to do this through a clever, indirect means, by circuitously inferring the neutrino’s most probable qualities from its general pattern of interaction with the surrounding environment.

Now, if scientists can document the existence of invisible particles in this indirect fashion, can they not also study other types of invisible objects in this same indirect manner? I, for one, believe that they can. And it is this indirect mode of study that can, in turn, open up certain aspects of the invisible religious realm to rigorous scientific investigation.

Getting back to Peirce’s ideas concerning abduction, or reasoning to the best explanation, we are now in a position to agree with Terry Pence’s conclusion that Peirce wholeheartedly believed that supernatural agency can and should play an important role in the modern scientific method. For not only did Peirce not believe that supernatural agency was somehow precluded by abductive reasoning, he actually went so far as to conclude that reasoning to the best explanation often requires a direct appeal to such supernatural causation, as his article on abduction entitled "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God" well illustrates.{41}

Peirce also believed that the notion of supernatural agency is inherently able to meet the "simplicity criterion" as well. For whereas the inclusion of God into the physical realm might seem to multiply causes needlessly (since it superficially seems to be simpler to remain entirely within the physical realm when one begins to invoke causes), Peirce had a different idea. He didn’t believe that the criterion of simplicity could be reduced solely to numbers alone, e.g., he didn’t believe that the "fewest is always the truest."{42} Rather, Peirce preferred to believe in what Pence has called "natural simplicity," which can be used to describe hypotheses that are more facile, natural, and in accordance with human instinct.{43} So, according to Peirce, it isn’t merely the number of ingredients in a scientific hypothesis that determines its degree of simplicity; it is also the degree to which it is natural, facile, and in accordance with human instinct that determines its true simplicity. And, it is with this revised definition of the simplicity criterion in hand that Peirce is able to claim that, in many instances, supernatural agency is the simplest of all possible explanations. Why? Because when one uses abduction to reason to the best possible explanation, one can quickly see that for many different types of scientific phenomena (such as the origin of the Big Bang), the use of the "God Hypothesis" is easily the simplest conceivable explanation, since it is the one that is most natural, most facile, and most in accordance with human instinct.

The Data-Gathering Stage

It is the data-gathering stage of the scientific method in which one is obliged to respect the Principle of Objectivity in all its ramifications. This means that a researcher, qua scientist, can only study those objects and processes that can produce measurable empirical effects in the world. There are two ways this can happen. On the one hand, the object or process itself can be objectively observable, in which case it will be directly amenable to empirical measurement. On the other hand, the object or process might be invisible, in which case it will only be amenable to scientific study in an indirect fashion, by noting the effects that it has on our empirically measurable world, especially in response to deliberate scientific manipulation.

Many scientists and philosophers of science, however, routinely overlook the fact that science can profitably study, in the above-stated manner, those invisible objects and processes that are not directly observable in any type of empirical fashion. Instead, they tend to generalize from the need for at least one part of the data-acquisition stage to be empirically observable to something very different: the need for the object or process itself to be comprised of the same sort of material "stuff" that our larger world consists of. However, it doesn’t at all follow that the objects and processes being studied by science must themselves be constructed of material building blocks, just because there is an underlying epistemological need for something in the scientific method to be empirically measurable.

In fact, there are two ways in which this need for objective measurability in science can be satisfied: either the object or process itself must be empirically measurable, or else it must be capable of eliciting some sort of measurable effect in the world. However, there are two general classes of invisible phenomena that can elicit measurable effects in the world: 1) materially-based objects and processes, such as the proton or neutrino, and 2) non-materially-based objects and processes, such as God. Now, there is no necessary reason why the objects of our scientific study must themselves be constructed of the same type of physical substance that happens to comprise the remainder of our empirically observable world. To draw such a conclusion, based on the underlying need for objective measurability in science, is to commit a profound category mistake, because it confuses one category of explanation (a methodological one based on the need for empirical measurability in science) for a completely different category (an ontological one based on the need for the objects themselves to have the same sort of material constitution that helps to define objective observability). But methodology isn’t ontology, so it makes no sense at all to try to extend the methodological need for objectivity in science all the way out to the ontological status of the objects and processes themselves that are being studied.

It is through this fallacious conclusion that atheistic scientists and philosophers have attempted to banish supernatural agency from the realm of genuine scientific investigation. They would have us believe that God cannot be the proper object of scientific study, since He is purportedly a non-material Being who cannot be measured empirically. This is why so many scientists scoff at the idea of including supernatural agency in the modern scientific method: because they believe that they are committed to studying only those objects and processes that can be empirically measured and documented.{44}

It is this particular methodological limitation that is routinely used to justify the exclusion of non-material causes and explanations from the scientific realm. This argument can be stated as follows:

  1. Science is, by definition, the study of those natural objects and processes that can be empirically measured, either directly (through direct observation and subsequent measurement) or indirectly (by observing and measuring, in an indirect fashion, the effect that some invisible object or process has on that part of the world that we can directly observe).
  2. Supernatural agency is, by definition, a non-material cause and explanation.
  3. Therefore, supernatural agency cannot be a part of any legitimate science.

This conclusion is non-sequitur, for two reasons. First, as we just saw, it doesn’t follow that the underlying composition of an object that is to be studied scientifically must itself be material in nature, just because the process of empirical measurement happens to be materially based. Secondly, it doesn’t follow that the interpretation of empirical data must itself be empirical in nature, just because the data must be empirical in order to be "real science." We are distinguishing here between: a) the nature of the data itself, and b) the subsequent interpretation of that data. Surely there is no necessary connection between the need for objective data in science, and the subsequent need for a similarly objective interpretation of that data.

We are talking here about two distinct aspects of the modern scientific method, the first pertaining to the process of data-acquisition, and the second pertaining to the subsequent interpretation of that data. Moreover, because these two aspects are fundamentally (and hence methodologically) distinct from one another, we cannot expect to apply the same epistemological limitations indiscriminately to both of them. But this is precisely what the anti-theistic proponents of methodological naturalism have done: they have conflated the two distinct aspects of the scientific method into a single all-encompassing process that reflects the same set of epistemological restrictions. But an empirical measurement of an objective process is not the same sort of activity as the subsequent interpretation of the data that is produced in this manner. Objective measurement is inherently precise, and it is naturally restricted to the empirical world only. The process of data interpretation, by contrast, extends throughout the unlimited range of the human imagination, so it isn’t nearly so epistemologically limited. However, by attempting to restrict the content of "true science" to the empirical realm only, methodological naturalists are conflating two epistemologically and methodologically distinct parts of the scientific method, and in so doing they are guilty of committing a severe category mistake.

There is no necessary reason at all why an objective phenomenon has to have a similarly objective interpretation or explanation. Indeed, not only is it possible for such an objective phenomenon to have a legitimate non-objective interpretation, it is also quite likely overall, given the current absence of any genuine empirical explanations in the scientific world. For while there is a towering overabundance of empirical data in all of the natural sciences, there simultaneously is, curiously enough, a complete lack of any authentic empirical explanations for that data. Now, we wouldn’t expect this to be the case at all if the ultimate cause of our empirical world happened to be empirical in nature. To the contrary, we would expect the universe to be replete with empirical explanations in this particular instance, but such is not the case.

Indeed, we would be hard-pressed to come up with a single empirical explanation of an objective phenomenon in our world. The startling fact of the matter is that there are no satisfying empirical explanations of empirical phenomena in the scientific world, and this is despite our current overabundance of empirical data. We don’t have the slightest idea about where life ultimately came from, why it evolved the way it did, or what consciousness is in and of itself. All we have are empirical descriptions of objective phenomena, and while these descriptions might be eminently useful, they are still a far cry from being authentic empirical explanations per se.

Of course, it doesn’t necessarily follow that there will never be any all-encompassing empirical explanations in the scientific world, just because we haven’t found any yet. It is possible that this sort of breakthrough is just around the corner. Even so, we would still expect to find, on the basis of our current overabundance of empirical data, at least a few of these empirical explanations in our current understanding of the world, but we have not. This conspicuous absence appears to be much more consistent with the proposition that the ultimate cause (and hence the ultimate explanation) of our empirical existence is quite literally "not of this world." This would, course, explain why we cannot come up with any all-encompassing empirical explanations for the various components of the natural sciences—because such explanations do not exist in the first place.

But even if we agree to restrict the subject matter of science to the empirical world only, we can still make credible references to the agency of an Intelligent Designer, because this empirical requirement only applies to the process of observation itself; it doesn’t necessary apply to the actual object or process that is being measured. Accordingly, scientists can profitably study particles and forces which are themselves invisible, without any compromise in the Principle of Objectivity taking place, and they routinely do so by studying the effects that these invisible objects and processes have on the observable world. By the same token, it is possible, at least in principle, to indirectly measure the effects of certain religious entities in our empirical realm. For just as the invisible neutrino (which may not have any rest mass at all) was discovered by a series of clever experiments that were designed to indirectly document its existence through its effect on the objectively observable world, so too can we document the existence of an invisible God indirectly through the effects that are routinely displayed in the physical world.

Take the healing properties of prayer, for example. While we may not be able to directly measure the spiritual source of this healing (e.g., God), we can nevertheless devise controlled experiments that can indirectly document the healing power of prayer, and we can do so in a scientific manner. For while the spiritual source of this healing might be invisible, the effects of the healing are empirically measurable. We can therefore test the legitimacy of this religious belief in a totally "scientific" (e.g., empirical) manner, by devising experiments in which certain measurable changes in the empirical world are predicted in response to the act of praying. For instance, we can divide a test population into two groups. One group is prayed for and the other (control) group is not. The results can then be rigorously evaluated for their statistical significance.

The physician-turned-philosopher Larry Dossey has done precisely this. In an intriguing series of books and articles, Dossey has assembled an impressive list of scientific experiments that conclusively demonstrate the healing power of prayer.

These experiments are no less scientific because they postulate the existence of an unseen spiritual realm through which prayer can act. For while they might be predicated on the prior existence of this invisible world, they are nevertheless able to make testable predictions because the effects of prayer can be empirically measured in the real world. The non-empirical nature of God is thus a Red Herring when it comes to the appropriateness of supernatural agency in the modern scientific method, because experiments can obviously be devised that can manipulate this unseen power in such a way that objectively measurable changes can be produced. In this case, the existence of an unseen spiritual power is indirectly confirmed, in the same way that the existence of many invisible subatomic particles have also been experimentally confirmed over the years.

This leads us to the third stage of the modern scientific method, since it involves the philosophical interpretation of empirical data that has already been acquired.

The Data-Interpretation Stage

The idea of supernatural agency is very much at home in the third stage of the scientific method, as we saw in the previous section, since one can profitably utilize non-empirical explanans in the subsequent interpretation of empirical data without any violation to the Principle of Objectivity. For while the quest for objectivity rightfully resides in the nature of the observed data, there is no need to hold one’s explanation for the data to a similar epistemological standard. Why not? Because there is no necessary one-to-one correlation between an empirical observation and a larger empirical explanation for this observation. Put another way, there will always be explanations for empirical data that are not empirical in nature.

Take the origin of the universe, for example. According to the most recent cosmological model, absolutely nothing—not even time or space—preceded the Big Bang.{45} Moreover, a large amount of empirical evidence indicates that the Big Bang itself was a very real event. Here, then, we have an empirically documented event that has no larger empirical explanation. Moreover, it isn’t as though this lack of an empirical explanation is simply the result of our scientific ignorance. To the contrary, an empirical explanation for the Big Bang does not seem to be possible in principle, because all of our theories and measuring abilities break down completely at the so-called Planck time, when the universe was only 10-43 seconds old (due to the inability of material particles to carry information beyond this point). This appears to be an absolute epistemological limit in our study of the past, so it doesn’t appear likely that human science will ever transcend it. But even if we eventually do gain the ability to look all the way back to the absolute beginning of the cosmos, we will still never be able to document an empirical explanation for the Big Bang, because any such empirical explanation presupposes the prior existence of space and time, which were themselves created in the Big Bang.

The same epistemological limitation exists in quantum mechanics as well. For whereas we might be able to empirically document the behavior of a quantum system, we do not appear to be capable of putting forth an empirical explanation for this quantum behavior. And once again, this inability does not appear to be a function of our own limited measuring capacities. Rather, it appears to be built in to the quantum system itself. The best that we can say at this point is that any such quantum event is due to chance, and nothing more, but this is a far cry from being a true empirical explanation.

Of course, this lack of empirical explanations for empirical data doesn’t deter scientists and philosophers from proposing non-empirical explanations for the events in question. This is good science, because the lack of an empirical explanation should not, in itself, preclude us from trying to find a good, rational explanation for the phenomena we are trying to understand. Indeed, for all we know, a non-empirical explanation for empirical data that is arrived at in this rational manner could eventually lead us to discover a suitable empirical explanation for the data we are trying to understand.

The upshot here is that good, empirically-based science can allow for the proffering of non-empirical explanations for empirical data. And it is precisely here, of course, that the concept of supernatural agency can properly and profitably be included in the modern scientific method.

Indeed, there is a very real sense in which theological explanations are more "scientific" than scientific explanations themselves are! This can be seen from the very nature of what constitutes an explanation:

Explanations are answers to why-questions. If one is asked to explain an action that she has performed, she will tell why she performed it, listing as explanans her reasons, her intentions, or the external forces that constrained her. Or, in order to explain the fact or explanandum that two magnets move together in a certain manner, one will give an account of why they did so, referring to the laws of magnetic attraction and the way that these particular magnets were aligned.{46}

But if an explanation is an answer to a why-question, then it follows that much of science is only partially explanatory at best, since scientists typically are only able to answer how-questions about the natural world. And if they should attempt to answer a why-question, it is usually only in terms of explaining how something took place. True explanations, or why things exist or transpire the way they do, are thus beyond the ken of modern empirical science, as the following quote from Paul Davies well illustrates:

I should like to…[address] the question of whether, in my scheme, science can explain the emergence of life, consciousness, and intelligent beings who can come to know the laws that have produced them. I have argued that, given the laws of nature, evolutionary processes can do the rest, without the need to invoke a God who intervenes either sporadically or continually to guide evolutionary progress. As I understand the discipline of science, its job is to explain the world on the basis of laws. The question of the nature of the laws themselves lies outside the scope of the scientific enterprise as it is customarily defined. This does not mean that it is worthless to inquire into the nature of the laws. However, that inquiry, while it might be pursued in a scientific spirit, properly belongs to the subject of metaphysics and not science. So a scientist might claim, quite correctly, that the remarkableness of the above mentioned emergence occurs entirely in accordance with the laws of nature. But is it thereby explained? In the narrow scientific sense it is explained, but this limited notion of explanation is unlikely to satisfy many people. We want to know why the laws of nature are what they are, and in particular why they are so ingenious and felicitous that they enable matter and energy to self-organize in the unexpectedly remarkable way I have described, a way suggestive of design or purpose (in some suitably modified sense). To me, it points to a deeper level of explanation than just accepting the laws as a brute fact. Whether this deeper level can legitimately be called God is for others to decide.{47}

In his examination of the anthropic issue, G.F.R. Ellis addresses this same issue:

The essential possibilities that arise in the anthropic issue are, (a) it can be interpreted in terms of a selection principle, but then there must be an ensemble of universe states in which it can act; one needs to account for the existence of this ensemble of universes, and give some hint of how the proposal could be confirmed; and no ultimate explanation is considered. Alternatively, (b) it can plausibly be interpreted in fundamental terms as either due to pure chance, or else as purposeful design. In the former case we a complete but unsatisfying explanation; in the latter case there is nothing more for science per se to say (from the scientific viewpoint, it will have occurred just by chance, for science itself does not have room for a designer).

If we look at the situation from a purely scientific basis, we end up without any solid resolution, basically because science attains reasonable certainty by limiting its considerations to restricted aspects of reality; even if it occasionally strays into the area, it is not designed to deal with ultimate causation. Thus something like a religious viewpoint is required to make progress, because religion is indeed concerned with ultimate issues…..[The] anthropic question can be viewed in this [religious] way without there being an incompatibility with science, and….indeed, a far more satisfactory overall view is attained [in this manner] than if we restrict our considerations to the purely scientific.{48}

In short, science itself is only capable of proffering limited explanations of the natural world, because it focuses primarily on answering how-questions, and not the deeper why-questions that characterize ultimate explanations. It is for this reason that theology indeed qualifies as the "queen of the sciences" after all, because it is the only human discipline that is capable of generating satisfying, ultimate explanations of the natural world. In this sense theology is truly "super" to all the other natural sciences, as Nancey Murphey points out:

The best approach is to argue that theology is a science (or very science-like), but that it deals with reality at a higher level of complexity than do the other sciences—it takes its place at the top of the hierarchy of sciences. A somewhat similar view is that of Wolfhart Pannenberg, who argues that theology is the science that provides the most all-encompassing context for the other sciences.{49}

To some readers it may come as a shock to see theology described as a science, but there is a very real sense in which this is indeed true. For insofar as science seeks to understand the nature of the universe and everything that is in it, and insofar as theology concerns itself with ultimate explanations, then theology really is a science after all, because it seeks to understand the whole of reality from the largest possible vantage point. This is the manner in which it can rightfully be said that theology is the "queen of the sciences": because theology does indeed provide an all-encompassing context for the other sciences, through its emphasis on answering the why-questions of human existence. It is in this manner that theology is able to address the whole of reality.

The natural sciences, by contrast, are only able to address a portion of reality (the empirically observable portion) because this is in keeping with our own epistemological limitations. For while the natural sciences might endeavor in principle to understand the whole of reality, they are not able to follow through with this desire, because of our limited ability to measure, and to otherwise manipulate, the real world.

Nevertheless, it is hard to draw a firm line between science and non-science, despite our emphasis on the Principle of Objectivity, because the empirical explanations of science are typically question-begging by their very nature, insofar as they tend to beg the deeper question of why the empirical observations of science are the way they are. For the most part, scientific explanations tend to be only partial in nature, since they tend to focus primarily on how natural processes operate in the universe. But discerning how some natural process works is a far cry from discerning why it exists in the first place.

It is thus no accident that the human mind tends to migrate from how-explanations towards why-explanations, for as Philip Clayton{50} has pointed out, the most complete explanations tend to describe why things are the way they are in the universe, and not just how things operate. This is why the empirical explanations of modern science tend to point away from themselves, and towards the deeper question of why the natural world is the way it is—because the human mind naturally tends to seek out full and comprehensive why-explanations to natural phenomena. This is why we can say that the empirical observations of modern science regularly tend to give way to a scientifically-oriented metaphysics--because only metaphysical explanations of this sort are able to address the why-questions that are regularly brought up by our scientific inquiries. It is also why there is a sense in which theology is a more robust intellectual endeavor than any of the natural sciences: because only theological explications are able to rise to the level of a complete explanation, since they alone are able to address the why-questions that we humans are so naturally curious about.{51}

In effect, then, there are two principal aspects to the modern scientific method: an empirically-based aspect, which is centered around the gathering of objectively measurable data, and a more philosophical aspect, which is centered around the interpretation of this data. Earlier in the history of science these two aspects were not distinct from one another. Instead, they both formed a larger discipline known as "natural philosophy." Today, however, with our emphasis on epistemological reductionism, we have endeavored to separate the empirical aspects of science from its more philosophical aspects, and it is precisely here that the question of God’s role in science has its principal origin.

It is thus only because of our own epistemological limitations that the natural sciences are methodologically limited to the empirically measurable aspects of the cosmos only. If it weren’t for this limitation, then the entire domain of reality—including the spiritual realm—would be open to scientific investigation, because in this case the whole of reality would be empirically measurable, at least in principle.

Let us suppose, then, for the sake of discussion, that some day in the future we are able to construct instruments that can reliably detect, and empirically measure, the spiritual realm in all of its manifestations. What would scientists then endeavor to study? They would, of course, naturally gravitate towards studying the metaphysical origin of the entire natural realm (insofar as one actually exists), because this would, in turn, give them the deepest possible understanding of where the universe ultimately came from and why intelligent life evolved on this planet.{52} But this is just another way of saying that they would (in this hypothetical instance) endeavor to study God the Creator in all of His glory. This is yet another reason why theology is the "queen of the sciences" after all: because it is concerned primarily with understanding the King of all existence, who is none other than the Father of all the natural sciences.

Supernatural Agency and the Definition of Science

I have tried to argue in this paper that there are three major stages in the execution of the modern scientific method (the theory-building stage, the data-gathering stage, and the interpretation of data stage), only one of which is more or less restricted as far as the phenomenon of supernatural agency is concerned (the data-gathering stage). The tendency of the scientific community, up until now, has been to extend this epistemological limitation to the other two stages of the scientific method as well, even though such a generalization isn’t logically justifiable. But surely it doesn’t follow that every stage of the scientific method must be closed to non-empirical religious issues, just because part of one stage happens to be. To the contrary, the idea of supernatural agency can be properly and profitably utilized in the other two stages of the scientific method, and it can even be appropriate in stage two if we limit ourselves to an indirect study of the divine (since such an indirect study relies on the effects that a supernatural being might have on our empirically observable world).

Indeed, the notion of supernatural agency has been associated with the scientific method since the very origins of modern science itself. For without their belief in a Divine Law-Giver, the founding fathers of the modern scientific movement would have had no reason to look for discernible order in the universe to begin with.

Of course, it doesn’t follow from this historical fact that an Intelligent Designer must exist. On the other hand, there is always the ever-present possibility that a supernatural Being did in fact create the universe and everything that is in it. If true, this would easily constitute the single most important datum in our scientific search for truth. This being the case, it would be unwise to totally exclude the concept of supernatural agency from the execution of the modern scientific method. To the contrary, scientists should remain open to the possibility of Intelligent Design in the universe, again because of the ever-present possibility that it will turn out to be true. And, if it is true, then God will have been responsible for creating the very subject matter of science, which in turn would render Him Creator and Sustainer of the entire physical realm.

Of course, this is one of the main questions that is at issue here; namely, whether such a Creator does in fact exist or not. But while we may not be able to prove{53} the existence of God in any absolute fashion, we can nevertheless lean in the direction of the known physical data{54} and postulate the possible existence of an Intelligent Designer. Once this is done, we can then proceed to build our theories around the possible existence of such a Being, in order to see what they might be comprised of. Then, once we carry out our empirical experiments, we can compare our results with what we would expect to be true if God actually existed. If the fit is close, then we will have obtained even more evidence that our universe was intelligently designed after all. However, if the fit is poor, we will have obtained evidence for the opposite state of affairs; namely, for a universe that was not created by an Intelligent Being.

Although there is widespread disagreement amongst scientists and philosophers of science as to what actually constitutes "true science," several key criteria have been cited in recent years as being basic to the scientific pursuit for understanding. Significantly, the idea of supernatural agency is not at odds with the majority of these criteria.

For instance, the purpose of science, at its most fundamental level, is to uncover what is true about the universe in which we live. At this basic level, science is entirely open to the possibility of an Intelligent Designer, because insofar as God actually exists, then the deepest scientific truth of them all would be that the universe has actually been created by an intelligent and purposive being.

This being so, how should we then judge the merits of theological explanations that purport to explain physical phenomena? According to electrical engineer and computer scientist Paul Penfield, Jr., theological explanations should be judged according to several of the same criteria that apply to scientific explanations:

The concept of God is often invoked to explain phenomena. If the phenomenon is one that has a scientific explanation, then it is possible to compare the scientific merits of the two explanations, one based on science and the other or God or, more generally, on faith.

The nature of what constitutes a good scientific theory is not universally understood. As a result, sometimes reasoning based on faith is seriously promoted as scientific. Scientists tend to judge scientific theories on their accuracy, simplicity, and suggestiveness. Any faith-based theory that is represented as scientific should be subjected to those three criteria Not all phenomena can be successfully explained by science. In some cases a scientific explanation is possible but not yet available. In others, such explanations will never exist. In still others, people will have different opinions as to whether and when such explanations will be developed.

In cases where science does not (yet) have a needed answer, what are we to do? We scientists use scientific theories as long as they seem to do the job. In the same spirit, we can use arguments based on faith so long as they seem to work, and as long as we keep in mind the assumptions made.

Without this kind of approach we would be severely limited in what we could do. Much of the work of many professions, including engineering, deals with human nature, for which we have no scientific theories. In addition, science itself rests on assumptions about nature and the rational thought process that are not, in the final analysis, provable. Finally, we scientists are ourselves humans, and so our activities "off the job" require dealing with matters for which no scientific theory will work.{55}

In other words, the notion of supernatural agency isn’t inherently precluded by the presumed nature of scientific inquiry. Indeed, when we examine the four principal criteria that are routinely utilized to help define true science, we see that the basic idea of supernatural agency isn’t precluded by any of them.{56}

For instance, a theory that purports to be scientific must be capable of explaining certain aspects of the world according to a self-consistent logical structure.{57} The concept of supernatural agency is quite consistent with this criterion, because it does indeed explain the existence and nature of the empirical world according to a self-consistent logical structure.

The philosopher Michael Ruse has expanded on this particular criterion by arguing that a theory must also explain by reference to natural law before it can be considered to be true science.{58} However, many appeals to supernatural agency do indeed make reference to natural law. This is especially true for those theists who believe that God acts in the world, at least in part, through the laws of nature that He designed and created. Even Darwin himself believed that God acts in the world through these "secondary causes," but insofar as this is true, then there is some degree of explanatory equivalence between appeals to supernatural agency and appeals to natural law. This is just another way of saying that as long as God acts in the world through secondary causes, then any concomitant appeal to supernatural agency as an explanatory mechanism is essentially an appeal to natural law, since the latter can be construed as being one of God’s chief creative tools.

Indeed, there is a very real sense in which God’s every action is an instantiation of the natural law of cause and effect. We can define the word "natural" here to be "that exists naturally apart from the works of human beings." From this point of view, who or what could possibly be more "natural" than the self-existent Creator of the universe who has existed for all eternity? This is a being whose very essence is to exist naturally, so there couldn’t possibly be a more perfect example of that which is natural in the universe. Moreover, we can also say that each effect and every that God brings about in the universe is either directly or indirectly elicited by the preceding cause of His own will to act.

It follows, then, that each of God’s actions in the world are mediated by the natural law of cause and effect. This is an important realization for our purposes, because it means that God’s actions in the world are compatible, at least in principle, with one of the chief hallmarks of the scientific method; namely, the desire to study those natural processes that obey the law of cause and effect.

Going one step further, the natural theologian sees God as being the metaphysical origin of all natural laws. This is an important point, because modern science hasn’t even approached an understanding of where the laws of nature themselves ultimately come from. Instead, scientists simply assume the prior existence of these laws as axiomatic and work from there. However, such a maneuver only begs the real question that is at issue here, which is this: where did the laws themselves ultimately come from, and why do they have the specific character that they do? It isn’t enough to simply take the existence of these laws for granted, because it is the very origin and nature of these laws that we really want to know about. Therefore, to attempt to explain any given event in terms of the workings of natural law is almost tautological in its lack of explanatory utility, because we already know that virtually all natural phenomena are mediated by natural law. Of course, it always helps to identify any specific natural laws or other physical mechanisms by which certain events take transpire in the universe, but this is still a long way from being a genuine explanation, because it fails to address the origin of the natural laws themselves.

Genuine scientific theories are also said to be predictive, testable, and hence falsifiable.{59} But here too we find that appeals to supernatural agency are indeed capable of generating coherent predictions about the natural world. For instance, if we are going to utilize the concept of Intelligent Design to help explain the origin of information in the DNA molecule, we can predict the existence of a single all-encompassing evolutionary program inside that genome that directed the evolution of all life on earth.{60} We can make this prediction because only an intelligent designer could have been responsible for infusing this sort of evolutionary program into the genome long ago.

This prediction has the advantage of being both empirically testable and falsifiable. We simply need to study the informational content of the genome in painstaking detail, in order to learn whether or not such an evolutionary program actually exists. If such a program is ever discovered, it will go a long way towards confirming the theory of origins that initially gave rise to this prediction. By the same token, though, if such a program is never found, despite years of rigorous searching, then at least one part of the "design hypothesis" will have been empirically falsified; namely, that part which predicted the possible existence of an evolutionary program deep inside the genome.

Real science is also said to be tentative in nature, since it can never achieve absolute certainty about anything (except for the certainty that we will never have absolute certainty). Supernatural agency fits in nicely here as well, because the very openness of the modern scientific perspective lends itself beautifully to the ever-present possibility that an unseen Being is somehow responsible for the characteristics and behavior of the physical world, of which we are an important part. And lastly, the idea of supernatural agency fits in well with two of the three main stages of the modern scientific method. The idea of God can be used very effectively, and without embarrassment, in both the theory-building stage and the data interpretation stage of modern science. Why? Because the Principle of Objectivity only applies in the second stage of the scientific method, which is the data-gathering stage. The other two stages are open to any and all self-consistent explanatory principles that can be supported by the strength of the empirical data, and this clearly includes the idea of God as designer.

Philip Kitcher has come up with three additional criteria that seem to underlie all forms of successful science, and interestingly enough, the notion of supernatural agency is easily compatible with all three.{61} Kitcher’s first requirement is independent testability, which is "achieved when it is possible to test auxiliary hypotheses independent of the particular cases for which they are introduced"{62} This requirement poses no problem at all for supernatural agency, since any experiment that involves the divine will nevertheless be independently testable, since it will necessary revolve around empirical measurements that can always be duplicated, at least in principle.

What I am essentially saying here is that for the most part, experimental designs that revolve around the concept of supernatural agency are really no different from any other type of experimental design, since they all are empirically based and hence repeatable. How can this be, when the very nature of supernatural agency is non-empirical (and hence non-measurable)? The answer is simply that most appeals to supernatural agency in modern science have nothing directly to do with the data itself; rather, they have to do with the general orientation of scientific theories, as well as with the ex post facto interpretation of the observed data. In other words, rather than trying to attribute any given set of observations directly to the actions of an Intelligent Designer, we are simply trying to find a sufficient explanation for the empirical data that we have already observed.

The implicit assumption here is that God works primarily through secondary causation, and not directly through miraculous fiat. Insofar as this is so, then most scientific appeals to supernatural agency can be reduced to the following complaint; namely, that the particular instance of secondary causation that is being studied is itself causally insufficient and hence inadequate as a general explanation, insofar as it seems to be incapable, in and of itself, to account for the phenomenon in question. It is at this point that the role of supernatural agency can be resorted to, not as a primary cause of the phenomenon in question, but rather as a larger metaphysical cause for the secondary cause being studied.

Take the fine-tuned, "anthropic" nature of the various Big Bang "coincidences," for example. Since modern science is only capable of measuring the various empirical parameters that happen to comprise these anthropic coincidences, this is precisely what it does. The end result of this empirical investigation is the production of a vast body of empirical data that carefully describes how the universe evolved in such a finely-tuned, anthropic direction. It is at this point that a major problem develops, since these anthropic coincidences do not seem to be capable of carrying within themselves the reason for their own fine-tuned existence. Something more intuitively seems to be required, which in this case would amount to a sufficient reason for the initial appearance of these anthropic events.

Much of science revolves around this search for sufficient reasons and explanations. However, there are many instances in which a sufficient reason for a given phenomenon is not to be found solely with the natural cause and effect processes that gave rise to it. It is at this point that the concept of supernatural agency can be properly invoked, not as a primary cause for the observed phenomena, but as a sufficient explanation for the secondary causes that originally produced the phenomenon. It is in this fashion that we can transcend the accusation that we are resorting to a God-of-the-gaps explanation, since we would not be using God as a primary (e.g., direct) cause for the vast majority of observed phenomena. Rather, we would be using Him as a sufficient explanation for the various secondary causes which themselves lead to the observed phenomena.

This is a critical distinction that goes a long way towards legitimizing the inclusion of supernatural agency in the modern scientific method. The question thus becomes one of explanatory satisfaction: are we satisfied with the empirically-based explanations that have been given in the various natural sciences, or do we think that something more is required to produce a sufficient reason or explanation of the phenomena in question? In terms of the anthropic coincidences that eventually led to our own existence, it is clear that the various cause and effect processes that led up to these coincidences are themselves incapable of accounting for the observed phenomena (e.g., the fine-tuned precision of the different coincidences themselves). So, while these secondary causes were clearly necessary for the development of these anthropic coincidences, it doesn’t follow from this that they were also sufficient for their development. To the contrary, these secondary causes themselves do not appear to be a sufficient explanation for these anthropic coincidences. This is why we feel compelled to look elsewhere for a sufficient explanation: because mindless cause and effect processes do not seem to be capable of generating the fine-tuned, goal-directed precision that was needed to make our universe fit for supporting human life.

This is where the invocation of supernatural agency in the evolution of the universe becomes scientifically and methodologically appropriate. It is appropriate, not because God is being used as a direct explanation for these anthropic coincidences, but rather because God is being used as an indirect explanation for them. In other words, it is appropriate because God is being used as a direct explanation for the secondary causes that are being studied, which is the same thing as saying that we are using God to help us arrive at a sufficient explanation for the events in question.

Indeed, by focusing our attention on secondary causes, and not primary ones, we are going a long way towards legitimizing the inclusion of supernatural agency in modern science, because in so doing we aren’t trying to credit a non-material cause (e.g., God) with the production of certain empirical effects; we are merely trying to find a sufficient explanation for the various secondary causes that modern science has documented. The advantage of this methodological maneuver is that it does not require the practicing scientist to abandon the Principle of Objectivity if he or she wants to make an appeal to supernatural agency. To the contrary, it keeps the content of our scientific pursuit for knowledge anchored squarely in the material realm, so that it is no longer necessary for scientists and philosophers to fear that they will be abandoning science if they try to make an appeal to supernatural agency.

This same rationale also explains why the concept of supernatural agency is consistent with Kitcher’s other two criteria for a successful science, which are: 1) theoretical unification (or "the result of applying a small family of problem-solving strategies to a broad class of cases") and 2) fecundity (when new lines of investigation eventually grow out of a theory’s incompleteness).{63} For as long as those experimental designs that make an appeal to supernatural agency are methodologically similar or identical to those that do not make such an appeal, then the same qualities that characterize a successful science will also characterize those instances of science that make an appeal to God. This means that a theistically-oriented science will be characterized by theoretical unification and fecundity just as much as a non-theistically-oriented science.

The founding fathers of the modern scientific movement wouldn’t have been surprised in the least by this conclusion. In fact, they would have actually expected it, because they regarded the Creator as the chief unifying feature of the entire natural realm.

The Methodological Equivalence of Design Theory and Neo-Darwinian Evolutionism

With all this talk about the inherent compatibility between supernatural agency and the modern scientific method, the reader might be surprised to learn that, contrary to popular belief, there are no good criteria that can reliably be utilized to help demarcate science from non-science.{64} Indeed, there is now a consensus amongst those philosophers of science who are working in this area that such an attempt to demarcate science from non-science is both "intractable and ill-conceived."{65} In fact, as philosopher of science Stephen C. Meyer points out, there is a surprising methodological equivalence between the design hypothesis and the neo-Darwinian idea of descent with modification.{66}

In order to make his point, Meyer first goes to great lengths to conclusively demonstrate how and why all attempts to demarcate science from non-science ultimately fail. Meyer examines each of the criteria that have traditionally been used to demarcate science from non-science (such as Popper’s falsifiability criterion and the positivistic emphasis on empirical verifiability) and he finds them all wanting.{67} For not only do these alleged criteria fail to effectively demarcate real science from pseudo-science, we sometimes find good scientific theories that exhibit pseudo-scientific properties:

Many theories that have been repudiated on evidential grounds epress the very epistemic and methodological virtues (testability, falsifiability, observability, etc.) that have been alleged to characterize true science. Many theories that are held in high esteem lack some of the allegedly necessary and sufficient features of proper science. As a result, with few exceptions most contemporary philosophers of science regard the question "What methods distinguish science from non-science?" as both intractable and uninteresting. What, after all, is in a name? Certainly not automatic epistemic warrant or authority. Thus philosophers of science have increasingly realized that the real issue is not whether a theory is scientific but whether it is true or warranted by the evidence….

The question of whether a theory is scientific is really a red herring. What we want to know is not whether a theory is scientific but whether a theory is true or false, well confirmed or not, worthy of our belief or not. One can not decide the truth of a theory or the warrant for believing a theory to be true by applying a set of abstract criteria that purport to tell in advance how all good scientific theories are constructed or what they will in general look like.{68}

The philosopher of science Larry Laudan agrees that demarcationist arguments have failed completely. "If we could stand up on the side of reason," Laudan argues, "we ought to drop terms like "pseudo-science."….They do only emotive work for us.{69} The upshot of this realization, according to Meyer, is that "one cannot define in such a way as to confer automatic epistemic authority on favored theories simply because they happen to manifest features alleged to characterize all ‘true science.’ When evaluating the warrant or truth claims of theories, we cannot substitute abstractions about the nature of science for empirical evaluation."{70} Meyer concludes from this that:

A stalemate" exists in our analysis of [theistic] design and [neo-Darwinian] descent. Neither can automatically qualify as science; neither can be necessarily disqualified either. The a priori methodological merit of design and descent are indistinguishable if no agreed criteria exist by which to judge their merits.{71}

This is a radical conclusion indeed, which Meyer proceeds to document with several powerful arguments. For instance, it is often claimed that the neo-Darwinian account of life’s origin is scientific in nature because it makes an explicit reference to natural law, whereas the theistic account, on the other hand, is supposed to be unscientific because it allegedly makes no such reference to natural law.

This is a flawed conclusion for several reasons. First and foremost, as Meyer reminds us, natural laws are not explanations.{72} They merely describe the regularities of nature; they do not explain why these regularities happen.{73} Secondly, not all scientific explanations make reference to natural law:

While scientists may often use laws to assess or enhance the plausibility of explanations of particular events, analysis of the logical requirements of explanation has made clear that the citation of laws is not necessary to many such explanations. Instead, many such explanations of particular events or facts, especially in the historical sciences, depend primarily, even exclusively, upon the specification of past causal conditions and events rather than laws to do what might be called the "explanatory work." That is, citing past causal events often explains a particular event better than, and sometimes without reference to, a law or regularity in nature.{74}

Meyer is distinguishing here between empirical science and historical science. With empirical science, of course, there is an emphasis on observability, repeatability, and testability. With historical science, on the other hand, these criteria are difficult or impossible to attain, because the causal event that one is trying to explain is buried deep in the past. Therefore, one must rely on a different set of criteria to evaluate scientific theories that are historical in nature; namely, the specification of past causal conditions, along with the events that they are supposed to have elicited. This is why laws aren’t used in many historical explanations: because "many particular events come into existence via a series of events that will not regularly occur. In such cases laws are not relevant to explaining the contrast between the event that has occurred and what could have or might have ordinarily been expected to occur."{75}

The crucial point here is that the science of origins is historical by its very nature. Therefore, appeals to natural law won’t generally be as useful in the science of origins as the elucidation of specific causes and events that led up to the origin of life. This not only puts both theistic design and non-theistic descent in the same overall branch of science, it also helps to level the "playing field" between these two disciplines, since the historical sciences are by their nature amenable in principal to one-time, theistic-type causes.

At this point the demarcationist might object to a theistic science of origins because a supernatural cause seems to imply a miraculous contradiction or violation of natural law, which in turn would seem to make science impossible. However, it doesn’t at all follow that a cause initiated by a supernatural agent will violate or contradict natural law. Any given law might be transcended by supernatural agency, but such transcendence might well result from the use of a higher (and therefore more sophisticated) natural law. To a technologically na´ve person from the first century, for instance, using a telephone to talk to someone in real time on the other side of the world would seem to involve a miraculous contradiction or violation of natural law, but such is not the case at all. With the advent of modern technology, we can easily transcend the "lower" laws of nature with higher laws, thereby feigning a miraculous violation of natural law. But clearly no such violation has occurred in this instance: it only seems like a miracle has occurred because the higher laws of nature are able to make it look as though certain lower laws have been violated, when in fact they have not.

By the same token, the postulation of supernatural agency in the origin of life need not involve a miraculous{76} violation of natural law; only the transcending of a lower law with a higher one. Meyer agrees that "the action of agency (whether divine or human) need not violate the laws of nature; in most cases it merely changes the initial and boundary conditions on which the laws of nature operate."{77}

It is also regularly claimed that the unobservable nature of the Designer automatically renders Him inaccessible to empirical study, just as it also makes any resulting theories that are based on design untestable. But we have already seen how observability as such is not an essential prerequisite of true science, since much of science is based on the process of inferring the existence of unobservable particles and forces from the observable parts of our world.

Moreover, as Meyer points out, "unobservability does not preclude testability":

Claims about unobservables are routinely tested in science indirectly against observable phenomena. That is, the existence of unobservable entities is established by testing the explanatory power that would result if a given hypothetical entity (i.e., an unobservable) were accepted as actual. This process usually involves some assessment of the established or theoretically plausible causal powers of a given unobservable entity. In any case, many scientific theories must be evaluated indirectly by comparing their explanatory power against competing hypotheses.{78}

Meyer concludes his exhaustive coverage of this area by noting that "an unexpected equivalence emerges when design and descent are evaluated against their ability to meet specific demarcation criteria."

The demand that the theoretical entities necessary to origins theories must be directly observable if they are to be considered testable and scientific would, in applied universally and disinterestedly, require the exclusion not only of design but also of descent. Those who insist on the joint criteria of observability and testability, conceived in a positivistic sense, promulgate a definition of correct science that evolutionary theory manifestly cannot meet. If, however, a less severe standard of testability is allowed, the original reason for excluding design evaporates. Here an analysis of specific attempts to apply demarcation criteria against design actually demonstrates a methodological equivalence between design and descent.{79}

This methodological equivalence has two ramifications that are relevant for our purposes in this paper. First and foremost, since no good reason has yet been proposed that would exclude design from science, Meyer concludes that design should be afforded the same scientific status that is possessed by the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution. Secondly, this methodological equivalence means that the science of origins should be just as open to the possibility of design as it is to the various neo-Darwinian postulates:

A rational historical biology must not only address the question "Which materialistic or naturalistic evolutionary scenario provides the most adequate explanation of biological complexity?" but also the question "Does a strictly materialistic evolutionary scenario or one involving intelligent agency or some other theory best explain the origin of biological complexity, given all relevant evidence?" To insist otherwise is to insist that materialism holds a metaphysically privileged position. Since there seems no reason to concede that assumption, I see no reason to concede that origins theories must be strictly naturalistic.{80}

Supernatural Agency and the God-of-the-Gaps

The chief criticism that has been levied against the inclusion of supernatural agency in modern science has to do with the ignorance factor. Both scientists and philosophers alike are afraid that we will be giving in to ignorance if and when we begin making scientific appeals to supernatural agency.

The received view within scientific and academic circles generally is that science is on safest ground when it remains committed to naturalistic explanation. To invoke a Designer is seen as a serious compromise not only of scientific endeavor generally but also of scientific integrity. The worry is always that by invoking the supernatural, we give in to ignorance and superstition. A well-known Sidney Harris cartoon makes the point well. Two scientists are standing at a blackboard. A course of calculations is interrupted by the phrase "Then a miracle occurs." In the caption, one of the scientists asks the other whether he might not be more explicit on this last point.{81}

There is no question that inappropriate appeals to supernatural agency are scientifically stultifying. Recent history has confirmed the truth of this assertion, because modern science has indeed discovered natural causes for many phenomena that were believed to be beyond scientific explanation just a few short years ago. But does it follow from this that all appeals to supernatural agency are inappropriate, just because many of them are presently known to be? Of course not. It is quite possible for there to appropriate appeals to supernatural agency in modern science, even if we can name a thousand instances where such an appeal is flagrantly inappropriate.

This being the case, how are we to differentiate appropriate appeals to supernatural agency from inappropriate ones? As William Dembski{82} points out, we can take the lead from a statement made by the great astronomer Edwin Hubble in his book The Realm of the Nebulae:

Not until the empirical resources are exhausted need we pass on to the dreamy realms of speculation.

This is a mission-critical statement as far as my message in this paper is concerned, because it lays the essential groundwork for distinguishing between appropriate appeals to supernatural agency and inappropriate ones (which end up being appeals to the dreaded God-of-the-gaps). We can make this distinction based the criterion of whether or not we have exhausted the full range of naturalistic explanations for any given phenomenon, as Dembski explains:

Methodological naturalism confuses appeals to God that mask our ignorance of natural causes with appeals to God that arise because we have exhausted the full range of possible natural causes….When Hubble wrote…[the above-quoted] line in the 1930s, he clearly believed that our empirical resources would not be exhausted and that our entrance into the dreamy realms of speculation could be postponed indefinitely…..Nevertheless, Hubble’s statement is a concession. What’s more, it is a non-vacuous concession, because empirical resources come in limited supplies and do get exhausted. Moreover, as soon as empirical resources are exhausted, naturalistic explanation loses its monopoly as the only legitimate explanatory strategy for science.{83}

Of course, it is impossible to know for a certainty that one has indeed exhausted the full range of naturalistic explanations, for unless we could somehow be omniscient, there is always the chance that we will end up finding a naturalistic explanation for any given phenomenon. This is why we should never block the road of (non-destructive) scientific inquiry: because it is important that we continue searching for empirical causes, since we’ll never know for sure whether or not we’ve exhausted the full range of naturalistic explanations.

By the same token, though, it is also quite possible that we have exceeded the full range of naturalistic explanations in certain areas of science, for as Dembski reminds us, "empirical resources come in limited supplies and do get exhausted."{84} And while we may not be able to tell for a certainty whether or not this finite supply has been exceeded, what we can say is that if this finite supply is ever exceeded with respect to any particular phenomenon, modern science will be totally incapable of arriving at an adequate explanation without first making an appeal to supernatural agency.

It may be the case that no such appeal to supernatural agency would be appropriate after the Big Bang. In this case the deist’s central premise—namely, that God created a self-organizing universe in the beginning and then left it alone to evolve according to its own laws—would be correct. Or, it could be the case that the theist’s central premise of a God who regularly intervenes in the world is correct. Of course, we’ll never know the answer to this question for sure until we gain access to a much greater storehouse of knowledge and understanding.

In the meantime, we can feel safe in invoking supernatural agency to account for what is perhaps the most perplexing part of the scientific realm: the origin of those natural laws and causal processes that govern our world and universe. Naturalistic science seems utterly incapable of figuring out the answer to this question, not just in fact but also in principle. For as Godel’s theorem reminds us, no self-contained human discipline can achieve a coherent self-explanation without venturing outside of itself. What this means for our purposes is that the laws of nature cannot be manipulated in a scientific fashion, or in any other manner, to derive a sufficient accounting of their own origin. It cannot be done for the same reason that undecidable propositions will always be able to be generated in arithmetic, or in any larger branch of self-contained mathematics—because no self-contained human discipline can provide a coherent self-explanation without venturing outside of itself. Godel, of course, was fully aware of the implications of this stunning realization; so much so, in fact, that he was able to devise an elaborate proof of God’s existence that was based on it.

We might feel a bit less safe in the invocation of supernatural agency to account for the Big Bang. For while cosmologists presently believe that everything in the universe, including time and space, had its ultimate origin in the Big Bang (in which case an appeal to God clearly would be appropriate to account for the Big Bang, since in this instance there would be no natural processes prior to the Big Bang to bring the universe into existence), there is always the chance that we will eventually discover a naturalistic explanation for the birth of our universe (in which case an appeal to God here would in fact be an appeal to the God-of-the-gaps).

I, for one, feel confident that an appeal to supernatural agency is appropriate at the Big Bang, not simply to account for the universe’s sudden appearance out of nothing, but also to explain its perfect orchestration for the rise of life some fifteen billion years later. Physicists have dismissed as thermodynamically impossible{85} the idea of an oscillating universe (which bounces back and forth between a Big Bang and a "Big Crunch"), and this is in keeping with the present cosmological consensus that absolutely nothing of a material nature (including time and space) preceded the Big Bang. It is therefore highly unlikely that there were any natural processes around at all prior to the Big Bang to somehow bring the universe into being. Insofar as this is indeed the case, then we have located an instance, by modern science’s own account, in which naturalistic processes were totally exhausted. This leaves room for the appropriate invocation of supernatural agency to account for the birth of the universe.

The same principle, as we have seen, also applies to the otherwise inexplicable origin of nature’s fundamental laws. Since we’ll never, as Godel’s theorem assures us, be able to come up with a self-consistent accounting for the origin of the laws of nature using the laws themselves as an empirical guide, then once again we’ve totally exhausted the full range of naturalistic explanations when it comes to the origin of these laws, which again leaves room for the appropriate invocation of supernatural agency in the proper execution of the modern scientific method.

The founding fathers of the modern scientific movement wouldn’t have been surprised in the least by this conclusion. They recognized that empirical science is inherently incapable of coming up with a sufficient explanation for its own existence, and it is partly for this reason that they blended philosophy, theology, and empirical science into a single, all-encompassing intellectual discipline known as "natural philosophy."

We needn’t fear that such a conceptual integration will compromise the objectivity of modern science. To the contrary, it will go a long way towards ensuring the openness and accuracy that scientists crave, because it will reinstate the proper overall context to the current practice of science, just as it will also restore what is arguably the single most important part of our modern understanding of the universe: the role of a possible Creator. It doesn’t matter whether such a Deity actually exists or not, because the best way to approach such an issue is to assume from the very outset that He might exist. For in so doing, one automatically orients oneself to the various possibilities that naturally surround these two possibilities. One cannot simply assume that it is impossible for such a Being to exist, because in this case one will have closed oneself off to the single most important scientific fact of them all if the Divine Existence turns out to be genuine, and this closed-mindedness will clearly jeapordize the accuracy of one’s scientific conclusions; after all, how can one possibly paint an accurate scientific description of an intelligently designed universe if one has committed oneself to the opposite metaphysical situation?

Since we’ll never know for a certainty whether or not God truly exists or not, the prudent strategy, it would seem, would be to adopt the scientific equivalent to Pascal’s Wager. Pascal’s Wager, you may recall, asserts that the safest thing to do, given God’s possible existence, is to believe in Him no matter what, for if He turns out to be real, then one will be appropriately rewarded, but if He turns out to be a fiction, one will have at least given God’s possible existence the benefit of the doubt, while living a good and productive life in the process.

This sort of reasoning is somewhat analogous to receiving a package in the mail that some evidence suggests could turn out to be a bomb. In this case, the prudent thing to do is to assume that there is a bomb in the package and to act accordingly. The very possibility of a huge and potentially deadly consequence logically demands that one give the situation the benefit of the doubt by assuming that it is a bomb. In the same way, it is, by all accounts, a distinct possibility that God exists and is responsible for creating our world. This being the case, the advantage to be gained by assuming this existence and acting accordingly greatly outweighs the potential risk of assuming that He doesn’t exist. For if He does exist, one will benefit for the rest of eternity by having assumed this existence no matter what, but if He does not exist, one will not be any worse off for having given this possibility the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, if one flagrantly rejects the possibility that God might exist, then one is taking a very large risk indeed if one turns out to be wrong. Clearly, then, the wise thing to do, given our present uncertainty about God existence and the huge potential risk involved, is to believe in God no matter what.

This same rationale can be used to justify the inclusion of supernatural agency in the modern scientific enterprise, if only as a potential, provisional explanation. For if God turns out to exist after all, then this inclusion will have ensured the greatest degree of accuracy in our scientific theorizing (since the most accurate theories about an intelligent designed universe will naturally acknowledge the presence of design). If, however, God does not exist, then the provisional inclusion of supernatural agency in the modern scientific method (as a possible explanation) will not have led to any significant negative consequences at all (apart from the addition of an inappropriate explanation to the scientist’s repertoire of possible explanations). If, on the other hand, the inclusion of supernatural agency is not allowed in modern science, then scientists run the risk of being flagrantly inaccurate in their understanding of the natural realm. Why? Because they will have gotten the single most important aspect of our cosmic existence wrong, and it is impossible to paint an accurate global picture of such an intelligently designed universe without first acknowledging its designed nature.

We see, then, that the only way that the "provisional atheism" of the methodological naturalist can ultimately pay off, given the present risk of God’s possible existence, is if He turns out not to exist after all. However, since we will never be able to know this for a certainty, and since the potential risk of being wrong is so huge, by far the safest and most prudent strategy is to provisonally assume the possible existence of God in one’s scientific theorizing. The potential reward from doing so far outweighs any concomitant risk, and this is all the more true given the ever-present risk that one could end up excluding an existing God from one’s theories.

We mustn’t forget that one of the defining parameters of the modern scientific enterprise is its relentless openness to new explanations. A closed-minded science therefore isn’t a real science at all. Accordingly, conceptual prejudice, and not theistic science per se, is the real enemy of modern science. This being the case, we wouldn’t want to close the doors to any potential explanation in the world of science, no matter how far-fetched, because there is always the chance that something new and different will be found to be at work in the natural realm.

This dictum is all the more appropriate when we consider the fact that modern science doesn’t yet have even a rudimentary understanding of what the various components of the natural sciences really are in themselves. For instance, we have no idea what gravitational force is in and of itself, or how it ultimately goes about accomplishing its effect in the universe. The best we can do is to describe the strength of this force (e.g., it produces an acceleration that is equivalent to 9.8 meters per second), so that we can then manipulate it to our advantage.

For all we know, though, the gravitational force itself could be generated by the direct activity of God’s spirit on the physical universe. We just don’t know at this point. But what we do know is that, given our tremendous ignorance about the true nature of things, it would be foolhardy in the extreme for us to begin ruling out possible explanations based on our metaphysical prejudices, and this is all the more true when we consider the overwhelming evidence for design that cosmologists and astrophysicists have recently generated.{86}

The Nature of Theistic Science

The essence of "theistic science," as Alvin Plantinga, J.P. Moreland, and others have recently pointed out, is that theists should make use of all the conceptual tools at their disposal when they go about constructing hypotheses and research proposals. In the words of J.P. Moreland:

Theistic science is rooted in the idea that….[theists] ought to consult all they know or have reason to believe in forming and testing hypotheses, explaining things in science and evaluating the plausibility of various scientific hypotheses, and among the things they should consult are propositions of theology (and philosophy). Theistic science can be considered a research program….that, among other things, is based on two propositions:

    1. God, conceived of as a personal, transcendent agent of great power and intelligence, has through direct, primary agent causation and indirect, secondary causation, created and designed the world for a purpose and has intervened in the course of its development at various times….
    2. The commitment expressed in proposition 1 can appropriately enter into the very fabric of the practice of science and the utilization of scientific methodology.{87}

We have already seen how the concept of supernatural agency can legitimately be included in the scientific method without any compromise in the integrity of the latter taking place. For not only can the idea of God as a supernatural agent be coherently proposed as a possible explanation for various empirical phenomena (based of course on the weight of the empirical evidence itself), the existence of this possible entity can also be empirically tested in an indirect manner as well, by noting such a being might make an impact on our observable world.

Moreland goes on to describe several of the other characteristics of theistic science:

Theology can provide metaphysical pictures of what was and was not going on in the formation of some entity (the universe, first life, the basic kinds of life, humankind or, for some, the geological column. These pictures can serve as guides for new research (e.g., by postulating that a purpose will be found for vestigial organs), they can yield predictions that certain theories (e.g., theories of naturalistic mechanisms like natural selection working at the level of macroevolution, theories entailing a beginningless universe) will be falsified, and they can yield predictions that certain discoveries will be made (e.g., the Cambrian explosion, gaps in the fossil record, fixity of created "kinds". In this way theology can serve as a resource for a negative heuristic (paths of research to avoid….) and a positive heuristic (paths of research to pursue)….

Further, theology can provide and help to solve external and internal conceptual problems. Scientific laws and theories typically involve observational concepts and their associated observational terms (e.g., "is red," "sinks,"), as well as theoretical concepts and their associated terms (e.g., "is an electron," "has zero rest mass"). Often scientists try to solve both empirical and conceptual problems. Roughly, an empirical problem is one of the observational aspects of some range of scientific data that strikes us as odd and in need of an explanation. For example, what is the precise movement of the tides, and why do they move as they do?

Frequently scientists will try to solve conceptual problems, which come in two types: internal and external. Internal conceptual problems arise when the theoretical concepts within a theory are defective in some way—perhaps they are vague, unclear, contradictory, or circularly defined. External conceptual problems arise for some theory, T, when T conflicts with some doctrine of another theory, T’, and that doctrine of T’ is rationally well founded, regardless of the discipline with which T’ is associated. Natural science has always interacted with other fields of study in complicated, multifaceted ways that defy a simple characterization.{88}

Moreland goes on to describe how both philosophy and theology can interface with science precisely at the point where external conceptual problems arise for the latter:

An external conceptual problem can arise in philosophy or theology, but enters into the very fabric of science because it interfaces with and tends to count against a given scientific theory. Part of the practice of science is to make sure that a scientific theory solves its problems, external conceptual problems included. Thus external conceptual problems provide counterexamples to the complementarian model of science-theology integration, because they are cases where science and another discipline like philosophy of theology interact at the same level in an epistemically positive or negative way.{89}

Conclusion

I believe that the concept of supernatural agency should be returned to the scientific enterprise for several reasons. First, I don’t believe that conceptual prejudice has any role at all in modern science. Potential explanations should not be excluded from the available pool of explanatory resources simply because they fail to meet someone’s preconceived idea of what constitutes true science. If the goal is simply to pare down the list of possible explanations, it would be better—and more in line with the underlying character of modern science itself—to employ a Darwinian-style process of selection to these possible explanations, so that only the "fittest" ones among them can continue to survive in the available pool of explanatory resources. Fitness in this case would refer to the overall notion of explanatory adequacy, e.g., how well does the idea or concept account for the data in question? If the "fit" between the data and the proposed explanation is good, the explanation itself could be retained for future testing and analysis, whereas if the fit is poor, it could either be retired to a list of inactive explanations or else eliminated altogether (depending on how poor the fit happens to be).

This leads us to the second reason why I believe that the concept of supernatural agency should be included in the modern scientific enterprise: because it provides a far more plausible—and hence a far more believable—account of the cosmological and evolutionary evidence than atheistic science does. After all, how are we to account for the incredible degree of fine-tuning that cosmologists have discovered in the Big Bang, especially given the fact that this calibration was directed towards the goal of making the universe life-supporting? Modern science hasn’t even approached an adequate explanation for this uncanny phenomenon, yet demarcationists like Michael Ruse want to eliminate the possibility of a supernatural explanation altogether because it isn’t "real science."

Why should we go against our better judgement here? For if we reason abductively to the best possible explanation for our fine-tuned universe, we find that the concept of Intelligent Design is in fact the best explanation, as the following quote from physicist George Greenstein makes clear:

As we survey all the evidence, the thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency—or, rather, Agency—must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being? Was it God who stepped in and so providentially crafted the cosmos for our benefit? Do we not see in it harmony, a harmony so perfectly fitted to our needs, evidence of what one religious writer has called "a preserving, a continuing, and intending mind; a Wisdom, Power and Goodness far exceeding the limits of our thoughts?"{90}

Although physicist Paul Davies began his famous writing career being skeptical about the plausibility of the design hypothesis, he has since—on the weight of the evidence alone—revised his position:

The essential feature of our universe is that something of value emerges as the result of processing according to some ingenious pre-existing set of rules. It looks as if they are the product of intelligent design. I do not see how this can be denied. Whether you wish to believe that they really have been so designed, and if so by what sort of being, must remain a matter of personal taste. My own inclination is to suppose that qualities such as ingenuity, economy, beauty, and so on have a genuine transcendent reality—they are not merely the product of human experience—and that these qualities are reflected in the structure of the natural world.{91}

And again:

We have cracked part of the cosmic code. Why this should be, just why Homo sapiens should carry the spark of rationality that provides the key to the universe, is a deep enigma. We, who are children of the universe—animated stardust—can nevertheless reflect on the nature of the same universe, even to the extent of glimpsing the rules on which it runs. How we have become linked into this cosmic dimension is a mystery. Yet the linkage cannot be denied.

What does it mean? What is Man that we might be party to such privilege? I cannot believe that our existence in this universe is a mere quirk of fate, an accident of history, an incidental blip in the great cosmic drama. Our involvement is too intimate. The physical species Homo may count for nothing, but the existence of mind in some organism on some planet in the universe is surely a fact of fundamental significance. This can be no trivial detail, no minor byproduct of mindless, purposeless forces. We are truly meant to be here.{92}

Sir Fred Hoyle—the pioneering astrophysicist who discovered the fascinating connection between stellar nuclear resonances and the process of carbon formation—has even gone so far as to make the following assertion:

I do not believe that any scientist who examined the evidence would fail to draw the inference that the laws of nuclear physics have been deliberately designed with regard to the consequences they produce inside the stars. If this is so, then my apparently random quirks have become part of a deep-laid scheme. If not then we are back again at a monstrous sequence of accidents.{93}

Hoyle—who began his career as an atheist—came to this momentous conclusion after discovering the remarkable degree of fine-tuning inside carbon and oxygen nuclei, which together made it possible for carbon to be synthesized in sufficient quantities to allow for the eventual rise of carbon-based life-forms on this planet. In reference to the precise positioning of these nuclear resonances, Hoyle has stated that:

If you wanted to produce carbon and oxygen in roughly equal quantities by stellar nucleosynthesis, these are the two levels you would have to fix, and your fixing would have to be just about where these levels are actually found to be. Would you not say to yourself, "Some supercalculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chances of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly miniscule"? Of course you would...A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question (emphasis mine).{94}

Now, if Hoyle’s assertion is correct—namely that "a commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology"—then the concept of supernatural agency should indeed be a part of our modern scientific enterprise, precisely because it provides the best explanation for the current data at hand. This is why the idea of a theistic science is particularly tantalizing to increasing numbers of scientists and philosophers: because a theistically-oriented science is inherently better equipped—given the inherent persuasiveness of the evidence itself—to decipher the underlying truth of our own origins than its atheistic counterpart, since it, by definition, is open to the very possibility of intelligent design.

The final reason why I believe that the concept of supernatural agency should be returned to the scientific enterprise has to do with the holistic nature of the universe itself. For with the advent of quantum mechanics in this century, we’ve learned that our entire universe, like a hologram, is actually a complete, undivided whole. This cosmic holism is one of the chief unifying principles in modern science, as the physicist David Bohm and many others have pointed out.{95} This means, amongst other things, that each of the universe’s constituent parts is somehow causally interconnected with all the other parts, so that there are no truly isolated segments of the cosmos.

But if this is so (and a large body of experimental evidence suggests that it is), then this means that the universe doesn’t reflect the same disconnectedness and compartmentalization that is so characteristic of our scientific understanding of the natural world. It is, instead, a pulsating, interconnected gestalt of mutually interdependent particles and energy fields, all working together to produce a single, coherent universe that is fit for life.

What this means is that there is no one-to-one correspondence between the underlying nature of the universe and our own epistemological divisions and distinctions (which are largely arbitrary). Put another way, there is no such thing as biology, chemistry, and physics per se in the real world. There is, instead, a single universal reality that happens to manifest itself to our distinction-seeking minds as separate intellectual disciplines. The upshot of this realization is that we are only deceiving ourselves if we believe that the physical universe can somehow be divided up into neat little categories of causal phenomena for our own explanatory convenience, some of which are appropriate for scientific explanations and others which are not. The real world simply does not operate this way. To the contrary, each and every segment of cosmic reality is causally interconnected, in a holistic manner, with all the other parts, in a single, undivided whole.{96}

This means, amongst other things, that there are no truly isolated causes in the natural realm. Instead, there is a single, interconnected plenum of causes throughout the physical universe, which in turn means that any attempt to abstract out a given cause from the rest of cosmic reality is bound to be only part of the story when it comes to understanding how and why any given natural phenomenon has taken place. This would seem to explain why we haven’t attained a complete understanding of anything in the physical universe yet: because we keep on trying to understand physical phenomena out of their larger holistic context.

This is the principal reason why I believe that we should include the possibility of supernatural agency in our scientific theorizing: because there truly are no isolated causes in the physical universe. Instead, there are material causes that are somehow interconnected with everything else that exists in the cosmos, including spiritual entities such as God (insofar as they actually exist). Hence, insofar as God actually exists, the principle of cosmic holism tells us that we can expect His existence to somehow impact the various physical causes in the universe in a variety of different ways. And this, in turn, would undoubtedly cast a very different character upon the causes themselves.

Now, insofar as this is actually the case, it is clear that we will never be able to understand the true character of any given physical cause apart from the holistic contribution of God Himself. But we’ll never know if God in fact exists (scientifically speaking, that is) unless we first allow for the possibility of His existence in our scientific theories. Then, if He does turn out to exist after all, the very openness that we will have displayed towards the possibility of His existence will undoubtedly go a long way towards eventually helping us discover God’s role in the natural sciences. This would seem, in and of itself, to be a sufficient justification for the inclusion of supernatural agency in our modern scientific enterprise.

 

Endnotes

{1} Stephen C. Meyer, "The Methodological Equivalence of Design and Descent," in The Creation Hypothesis, ed., J.P. Moreland (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1994), p. 69.

{2} Nancey Murphy, "Phillip Johnson on Trial: A Critique of His Critique of Darwin," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 45, No. 1 (1993), p. 33.

{3} David C. Lindberg, "Science and the Early Church" God and Nature, eds., David C. Lindberg and Ronald Numbers (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), pp. 19-48.

{4} Alvin Plantinga, "Methodological Naturalism?" Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, 49, No. 3, p. 144.

{5} While scientific information per se may be religiously neutral, the concept of supernatural agency can nevertheless be profitably utilized in both the building of scientific theories and in the final interpretation of empirical data.

{6} Interestingly enough, Erasmus Darwin, who was a physician by training, wrote extensively about the evolutionary process long before his grandson Charles arrived on the scene. His ideas are contained in a work of poetry entitled Zoonomia.

{7} It is important to note, however, that for his limited purposes he didn’t need to know where the new cars were ultimately coming from. He simply needed to know how to elicit the arrival of new cars at the dealership, and for this limited purpose he was quite successful, since he had no practical need to understand the ultimate origin of the new cars themselves.

{8} I never cease to be amazed at how much space Dawkins and Gould regularly devote to a Being that they don’t even believe exists.

{9} This reminds me of something Albert Einstein once said about a group of ninety-nine scientists who had written a book attempting to refute one of Einstein’s physical theories. "If I were wrong," Einstein once quipped, "only one detractor would have been sufficient."

{10} Alan Wolfe, "A Welcome Revival of Religion in the Academy," Chronicle of Higher Education (September 19, 1997), pp. B4-B5.

{11} Ibid.

{12} Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: W.W. Norton, 1986), p. 141.

{13} Ibid.

{14} M.A. Corey, The Natural History of Creation (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1995), pp. 200-201.

{15} Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971).

{16} See my book God and the New Cosmology for a detailed account of the many ways in which the evolution of the universe had to have been "fine-tuned" to eventually support the existence of carbon-based life forms.

{17} Barrow and Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, p. 305.

{18} Ibid.

{19} David C. Lindberg, "Science and the Early Church" God and Nature, pp. 19-48.

{20} In the years following Darwin’s publication of The Origin of Species, however, an ever-widening schism gradually developed between scientific and theological matters in the scientific community. For as Darwin’s work seemed to show, natural cause and effect processes were solely responsible for the evolution of life. This apparent fact had the effect of removing the role of a possible Creator from the processes of scientific theorizing and data interpretation. However, if the universe has in fact been created by a Divine Being, this removal of God from the theorist’s arsenal can be seen to be a profound mistake, because in this instance it would be impossible to arrive at an accurate understanding of the universe’s theistic origin.

In view of this realization, modern science needs to return to the natural philosophy of our scientific forebears, in which theological, philosophical, and empirical issues were integrated into a single, all-encompassing intellectual discipline. We needn’t fear that such a conceptual integration will compromise the objectivity of modern science. To the contrary, it will go a long way towards ensuring the very accuracy that scientists and philosophers crave, because it will restore what is arguably the single most important part of our modern understanding of the universe: the role of a possible Creator. This conclusion is all the more relevant given the overwhelming evidence for design that can already be found throughout the scientific realm.

{21} John Barrow, The World Within the World.

{22} David C. Lindberg, "Science and the Early Church," pp. 19-48.

{23} Paul Davies, "The Intelligibility of Nature," Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature, ed. Robert John Russell, Nancey Murphy, and C.J. Isham (Vatican City State: Vatican Observatory Publications, 1996), p. 155.

{24} Barrow and Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, pp. 49-50.

{25} Nicholas Copernicus, On the Revolution of the Heavenly Spheres, transl. C.G. Wallis, ed. R.M. Hutchins (London: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1952).

{26} Barrow and Tipler, p. 50.

{27} Ibid., pp. 52-53.

{28} M.A. Corey, God and the New Cosmology, p. 232.

{29} Terry G. Pence, "Charles S. Peirce, Scientific Method, and God" (Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Vol. 49, No. 3, September, 1997, p. 156.

{30} Ibid.

{31} C.S. Peirce, Harvard Lecture V, "On Three Kinds of Goodness," Vol. 5 (1903), p. 145.

{32} C.S. Peirce, "Syllabus," Vol. 2 (1903), p. 776.

{33} Terry Pence, "Charles S. Peirce, Scientific Method, and God," p. 157.

{34} C.S. Peirce, Cambridge Lectures, Lecture 1, "Philosophy and the Conduct of Life," Vol. 1 (1898), p. 630.

{35} Terry Pence, "Charles S. Peirce, Scientific Method, and God," p. 156.

{36} Ibid.

{37} Ibid., p 160.

{38} Review of William James’ The Principles of Psychology, Vol. 7 (1891), p. 60.

{39} Again, these "non-empirical" realms will only remain non-empirical as long as we are incapable of devising instruments to measure their existence. However, once these instruments are invented, these "non-empirical" realms will suddenly become "empirical," because at that point they will be amenable to empirical measurement. It follows from this assertion that everything in existence is ultimately "empirical" in nature, insofar as everything has some sort of reality that eventually can, at least in principle, become amenable to human measurement.

{40}Paul Davies, The Last Three Minutes, pp. 39-41.

{41} C.S. Peirce, "A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God," Vol. 6, (1908).

{42} Terry Pence, "Charles S. Peirce, Scientific Method, and God," p. 159.

{43} Ibid.

{44} One wonders how these proponents of the Principle of Objectivity would respond if a device were invented one day that could detect and measure the existence of unseen objects in the spiritual realm. Would religious issues suddenly become the focus of legitimate science? Something similar has already transpired with the work of Larry Dossey, the physician who wrote an entire book in which the efficaciousness of prayer was scientifically vindicated through numerous empirical studies.

{45} Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time.

{46} Philip Clayton, Explanation from Physics to Theology (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), p. 2.

{47} Paul Davies, "The Intelligibility of Nature," Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature, p. 164.

{48} G.F.R. Ellis, "The Theology of the Anthropic Principle," Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature, p. 376.

{49} Nancey Murphy, "Evidence of Design in the Fine-Tuning of the Universe," Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature, p. 418.

{50} Philip Clayton, Explanation from Physics to Theology (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), p. 2.

{51} We see, then, that the same factor that is responsible for the tremendous success of modern science (the demand for objectivity) is also responsible for its explanatory shortcomings. For while this empirical limitation might be able to facilitate our understanding of how things operate in the natural world, it doesn’t go very far in helping us to understand why things are the way they are. For this more all-encompassing sort of explanation, we need to move beyond the world of empirical observation only, and into the realm of philosophical interpretation.

{52} It would also bring them as close as possible to the holy grail of modern science: an all-encompassing "theory of everything." For more on this intriguing subject, please refer to John Barrow’s book Theories of Everything (New York: Ballantine Books, 1991).

{53} The "anthropic data" surrounding the birth and evolution of the universe, although only circumstantial in nature, comes very close to being a formal scientific proof of God. Why? Because science isn’t capable of absolute proof; it is only capable of probabilistic proofs, which are forged on the strength of the physical data. However, the Anthropic Design Argument, as set forth in my book God and the New Cosmology, is also a probabilistic proof that relies on the strength of the physical data in question. And while the chief explanans in the Anthropic Design Argument is a non-physical (and hence non-measurable) being, modern science also routinely concerns itself with invisible objects that cannot be measured directly. The subatomic particle known as the neutrino provides a good case in point. For while no one has ever seen one or directly measured the existence of one, modern particle physicists have nevertheless been able to document their existence, based on the strength of the indirect physical evidence. The very same relation is also true of the Creator, for while God might not be physically measurable per se, the end result of His supposed activities in the world can be physically measured.

{54} M.A. Corey, God and the New Cosmology, p. 123.

{55} Paul Penfield Jr., in a lecture at MIT entitled, "God the Scientist."

{56} As we will see in the next section, however, there is as yet no agreement amongst philosophers of science about the definition of true science. But while all attempts to demarcate real science from pseudo-science have in fact failed thus far, it is nevertheless constructive to note that the concept of supernatural agency is inherently compatible with most of the standard criteria that are used to separate science from non-science.

{57} ReMine, Walter James, The Biotic Message, p. 32.

{58} Michael Ruse, "A Philosopher’s Day in Court," But Is It Science? ed., Michael Ruse (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1988), pp. 21-26.

{59} Ibid., pp. 32-33.

{60} See my book Back to Darwin (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1994), pp. , for a more in-depth discussion of this type of evolutionary program.

{61} Philip Kitcher, Abusing Science (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1982), p. 45.

{62} Quoted in Keith Abney’s "Naturalism and Nonteleological Science: A Way to Resolve the Demarcation Problem Between Science and Nonscience," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, Vol. 49, No. 3, September, 1997, p. 166.

{63} Ibid.

{64} Stephen C. Meyer, "The Methodological Equivalence of Design and Descent," in The Creation Hypothesis, pp. 67-102.

{65} Ibid., p. 76.

{66} Ibid., pp. 71-72.

{67} Stephen C. Meyer, "The Methodological Equivalence of Design and Descent," pp. 72-88.

{68} Ibid., pp, 75, 99.

{69} Larry Laudan, "The Demise of the Demarcation Problem," But Is It Science? ed., Michael Ruse (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1988), pp. 349.

{70} Stephen C. Meyer, "The Methodological Equivalence of Design and Descent," p. 76.

{71} Ibid, p. 75.

{72} Ibid., p. 78.

{73} Ibid.

{74} Ibid., pp. 78-79.

{75} Ibid., p. 79.

{76} In The Natural History of Creation (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1995), I defined a miracle as any action that is performed by God (pp. 309-311). With this broad definition, it follows that everything that happens in the universe in quite literally miraculous, but only in a derivative sense, since every causal event that transpires in the universe ultimately derives from the initial creatorship of God.

{77} Stephen C. Meyer, "The Methodological Equivalence of Design and Descent," p. 81.

{78} Ibid., p. 83.

{79} Ibid., p. 85.

{80} Ibid., p. 102.

{81} William A. Dembski, "On the Very Possibility of Intelligent Design," The Design Hypothesis, ed. J.P. Moreland (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1994), p. 131.

{82} Quoted in William A. Dembski’s "On the Very Possibility of Intelligent Design," p. 132.

{83} Ibid.

{84} Ibid.

{85} Hugh Ross, "Astronomical Evidences for a Personal, Transcendent God," The Creation Hypothesis, ed. J.P. Moreland (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1994), p. 151, and M.A. Corey, God and the New Cosmology, pp. 36-38.

{86} M.A. Corey, God and the New Cosmology, pp. 42-116.

{87} J.P. Moreland, ed., The Design Hypothesis (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1994), pp. 12-13.

{88} Ibid., pp. 51-52.

{89} Ibid., pp. 52-53.

{90}George Greenstein, The Symbiotic Universe (New York: William and Morrow, 1988), p. 27.

{91}Paul Davies, The Mind of God (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992), p. 214.

{92}Ibid., p. 232.

{93} Fred Hoyle, Religion and the Scientists (London: SCM, 1959.)

{94}Fred Hoyle, "The Universe: Past and Present Reflections," Engineering and Science (Nov., 1981), pp. 8-12.

{95} Kevin J. Sharpe, David Bohm’s World (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1993), pp. 51-55.

{96} M.A. Corey, God and the New Cosmology, pp. 139-140.

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