Explanations and Value-Free Thought

Jerry L. Sherman, Ph.D.

Two or three of the suggested topics for this conference may be assuming something about the nature of explanations that needs to be challenged. That is, an "appeal to supernatural agency" or an "appeal to cosmic design," and possibly the idea of comparing the scientific merits of naturalistic and theistic explanations," all suggest that God or something he does is being offered as an efficient cause. But Socates objected long ago to the early appearance of such scientific thinking in Anaxagoras when he said that to explain why something happened is not to say what preceded it or to reduce it to its parts, but to say why it is GOOD that it happened that way. (Phaedo 97c-99c) This paper will explore how theists may need to grapple with such a challenge.

First I will consider whether theists do in fact operate from within naturalistic assumptions imbedded in the way they pose the questions about God and natural science. Then I will ask if one can overcome that by staking out new theistic starting points for doing science. I will suggest that there is a category error in putting naturalism and theism side-by-side, that we do better to see naturalism and the natural science of theists as variations on a common theme. Phillip Johnson says as much, but possibly the problem is subtle enough to affect his views, too. I will claim that the problem is ``fallen reason,'' which construes reality as value-free and controllable through scientific method. Christians have a way out from that problem but are still participating in it. Finally, I will try to sketch what the escape from value-free thinking might look like with respect to the practice of science.

If it is true that theists need to more radically challenge the assumption that explanation is the giving of an efficient cause in a value-free description of reality, then the immediate effect of the challenge will be that fears about a ``God of the gaps'' will be allayed. All of the gaps could be filled and we would NOT be left with a God who has ``nothing to do.'' This could lead to a more seamless integration of faith and science.

Copyright © Jerry L. Sherman