PHILOSOPHIES OF SCIENCE IN CONFLICT

SCIENTIFIC ORIGINS, AND THE LOSS OF THE PERSON

 

                        At the heart of our cultural wars is the underlying Philosophy of Science which has generated the difficulty.  Our question is essentially not academic; it is essentially a human quest.  Science, especially the human sciences, attacks the concept of personhood.  In Postmodern science, the person is only a thinking machine or a programmed organism.  The contribution of Auguste Comte, Sigmund Freud, J.B. Watson, B.F. Skinner, and Emile Durkheim toward “the loss of the person” especially in Psychology and Sociology, are a received paradigm by all postmodern gurus.  C. Stephan Evans suggests three possible responses to the scientific/Christian faith debate:  (1) There can be reinterpreters of the personal; (2) Limiters of science, or (3) Humanizers of science.  Historically, there have been six routes to resolution of the problem of the person.  The three types mentioned above each come in at least two forms—(1) Reinterpreter: capitulatory and compatible; (2) Limiters of science: Scientism and Territorialist or Perspectivist; (3) Humanizers of science: Generalists and Particularists.  The history of the problem reveals that participants in any of the three modes center their critique on three possible areas:  (1) Images of the person itself; (2) Scientism, or (3) the Unity of Science thesis.  Each of these interpretive modes attacks the philosophies of science as assumed paradigms by limiting the arena of scientific knowledge. The humanizers of science seek to preserve the image of the personal by internal reforms of the scientific enterprise.

 

SCIENTISM AND THE UNITY OF SCIENCE THESIS

 

                        Scientism claims that science gives us truth about the whole of reality.  It also maintains that science gives us ultimate truth bout the whole of reality.  The Unity of Science thesis affirms that there is one method which all genuine sciences employ.  This method consists of total deterministic causal explanations which are empirically testable.  Reinterpreters accept both scientism and the unity of science thesis.  The central issue remains—how can the personal be compatible with mechanism?  Limiters of science reject scientism.  This entails minimally that the scientific method is not autonomous or self-grounding.  Perhaps only the Judaeo/Christian God can resolve this paradox.

 

                        Max Weber identified these perspectives on the crisis of the person as “Ideal Types.”  They are not necessarily mutually exclusive.  For our limited journey into the maze of this crucial conflict, we arbitrarily choose the Perspectivist—a view of Limiters of Science.  Science is just one of the possible perspectives!  Perspective in contrast to Dualism stresses the unity of man.  Perspectivism also has generated a pluralism of different descriptions of an effect.  This metaphor of vision opened up the developments in 19th and 20th century Behavioral and Physical Sciences, e.g., cultural and epistemological relativism, radical contextualization, etc.  The Perspectivist stresses that the scientific and biblical conception of men stress different functions and purposes.

 

                        From these developments Functionalism/Structuralism became explanatory modes.  The claim of radical objectivism in the scientific development generated a depersonalizing result.  Man was totally an object for scientific study like all other objects.  The crucial depersonalizing implications of scientific objectivity were responded to by a form of Existentialism/ Phenomenology.  Perspectivists find expression in such diverse persons as Gabriel Marcel, Maurice Merleu Ponty and Jean Paul Sartre.  This trinity would deny that a person can view his body as a mechanical thing.  The mind is incarnate in the body.  In all three of these existentialist thinkers, the person is a unified subject and not to be thought of in dualistic terms.  None of these thinkers would view man purely as an object for scientific study.

 

TWO EVANGELICAL PERSPECTIVISTS

 

                        There are two important evangelical Christians who are perspectivists.  C.M. MacKay is a British brain researcher and computer scientist.  MacKay affirms that the scientific perspective on men tells us that man is merely a reductionist fallacy which he labels “nothing buttery.”   Ryle uses an analogy to illustrate the way an economist reports on a college; he does not cover everything.  He claims that to attempt to explain all human behavior in terms of physics would be an example of a “category mistake.”  (See especially his lecture at the International Conference on Human Engineering and the Future of Man, Wheaton College, Illinois on July 21, 1975; and his book, The Clockwork Image, esp. pp. 36-38.  compare MacKay’s views with those of Gilbert Ryle in his work, Dilemma.)

 

                        Malcolm Jeeves, a British psychologist, appeals to Ryle’s “category mistakes” in his effort to reconcile Christianity with psychology.  The ultimate question is, is the agent free?  How is one’s choices determined?  The issue is between soft determinism versus hard determinism.  The difficult metaphysical question raised is whether naturalistic, mechanistic accounts of men are destined to replace personality conceptions, both Christian and non-Christian, cannot be evoked (cf. three models of man are naturalistic, mechanistic, or personalistic.  The ultimate arena of conflict between their problems is in the underlying philosophy of science in which each operates).  (See his work, Psychology and Christianity: The View Both Ways (Intervarsity Press, 1976); also J.K. Howard, “The Concept of the Soul in Psychology and Religion” in the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation, 24, no. 4 (1972):147-54; Bruce Reichenbach, “Life After Death: Possible or Impossible,” and “Recreation and Personal Identity” in The Christian Scholar Review,3, no. 3 (1973): 232-244; note perspectivism and Theories of Light are complimentary.)

 

PHILOSOPHIES OF SCIENCE IN CONFLICT

 

                        The Philosophy of Science of Scientism asserts that the scientific method is the sole source of “True Truth” about reality and assumes that nature is ultimate reality.  The first model of scientific philosophy derives from August Comte’s “positivism” which entails the hypothetical-deductive method which influenced the development of Behaviorism in psychology and the social sciences.  This philosophy of science developed into the Unity of Science Thesis.  This view abandoned the naēve lyricism of 19th century positivists.  Scientific theories are not merely inductive generalizations.  This procedure does not produce new knowledge.  (Theories thus become hypothesis, not generalizations.  Good hypothesis can produce new knowledge.)  A hypothesis is only verifiable if it is a scientific theory.

 

                        Yet, Karl Popper has gone so far as to claim that scientific theories are not really verifiable at all.  He developed the Falsification Hypothesis in order to confront the problem.  (Note C.S. Lewis’ use of the Falsification Theory in his apologetics.)  No theory can be conclusively verified, but we are rationally justified in continuing to provisionally accept the theory (Karl Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (NY, 1961), pp. 26-43), Science Editing).  This issue is crucial for the supposed counter factual claim to justify the Christian faith.  Popper claims that the hypothetic deductive method does not accurately describe the structure of any of the sciences.

 

THE CONFLICT BETWEEN PHYSICAL AND SOCIAL SCIENCES

 

                        Historically, the claim that the sciences of men are unique and should not be patterned after the natural sciences goes back to the division which German scholars drew between Geistes wissenschaften (sciences of the human spirit) and the Naturesiwissenschaften (sciences of nature).  This position found definitive expression in the work of Wilhelm Dilthey, who asserted that no genuine sciences of human action and cultures is possible without this type of understanding, an understanding which is unique and has no analog in the natural sciences.  This position found expression in German idealism.  Dilthey’s views found expression in R.G. Collingwood’s book, The Idea of History.  He claims that human actions which are the true subject matter of history are not understood or explained merely by subsuming them under general empirical laws (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1946).  A human action has to do with the mind of the agent.  Collingwood is claiming that the historian must constantly rely on Verstehen (Preunderstanding or presupposition).  The good historian must understand his subject empathetically, i.e., must “re-enact his experience.”  (Note the impact of this on postmodern hermeneutics, especially Bultmann).  Neo-positivists do not respond constructively to his view of history.  Carl Hempel, et.al., acclaims that hypothesis arrived at in this way must still be tested by empirical evidence (C. Hempel, “The Function of The General Laws of History” reprinted in Theories of History, ed. Patrick Gardner (NY: Free Press, 1959).

 

                        The philosophy of history dispute is fused into the debate over the philosophy of social sciences.  The quarrel between historians and the social scientists continues over the method for the study of the data.  This debate is visible between Max Weber and Emile Durkheim (The Rules of Sociological Method (Glencoe: Free Press, 1938).  That social relationships are things, objective facts which are discoverable by objective methods.  Weber’s analysis breaks down as the result of his failure to distinguish between meaning and causal adequacy.  To understand the meaning of an act is not necessarily to understand its cause.  A view which is similar to Weber’s is expressed by Peter Winch in his book, The Idea of a Social Science (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1956), pp. 23-74).  Both Weber and Winch agree that a distinction must be made between events which are purely objective and human actions.  All three—Weber, Collingwood, and Winch—agree that the framework of meaning is one which makes an act intelligible in terms of its point or purpose rather than in terms of some general law. 

 

Here Comes the Psychologist

 

                        Another group who sought to humanize the social sciences was composed of such psychologists as Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Gordon Allport and Kurt Goldstein.  These men constituted a “third force” in psychology which meant an alternative to orthodox Freudianism or behaviorist psychologies.  Existential psychology as expressed by Soren Kierkegaard, Rollo May represent a psychology of the agent.  The individual emphasis is pervasive through this emphasis.

 

                        All science in the humanizing mode is a form of “personal knowledge,” to use Michael Polanyi’s phrase.  This emphasis charges that the notion that science is a value free, presuppositionless  endeavor carried out by a detached observer is a myth.  Historians of science, such as Thomas S. Kuhn, philosophies such as Stephen Toulmin and Paul Feyerbend continue this controversy.  These thinkers have attacked the positivistic view of science at the heart of the debate, which centers around the concepts of explanation and verification.  Toulmin and Kuhn provide examples of the power of prediction without explanatory capacities from ancient Babylonian to the Greeks.  Science seeks to introduce coherence to observed regularities.  Only a received paradigm could be the basis for recognition of anomaly or irregularity (compare Stephen Toulmin, Foresight and Understanding (Bloomington, IN: University of Indiana Press, 1961), p. 27; and Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolution (University of Chicago Press, 1970), p. 111).

 

                        There are many similarities between the views expressed by Toulmin and Kuhn.  On Kuhn’s view normal science requires a shared paradigm.  In this phase of science, efforts are directed toward making nature”fit” the paradigm.  Fundamental change in science is not the result of accumulated knowledge, but of a revolution in which one paradigm displaces another.  This issue is at the heart of the missionary enterprise of the Church presenting the message from paradigm to paradigm.  Paradigms are not simply “observed.”  In fact, what is observed is very divergent from what is regarded as normal behavior.  The paradigm makes meaningful observations possible, by providing form and structure to the perceived world.  This brief survey of the concept of explanation enables us to turn to the second challenge, the concept of verification by observation.  This is the key to the Neo-Positivist case.  Kuhn and Toulmin imply that paradigms or “ideals” of natural order are privy to observation; they in fact make observation possible.  Scientists can have mutually exclusive paradigms and see the world same way.  All observations are contaminated by theory (see the film, “The Gods Must Be Crazy!”).  All seeing is seeing something as something, to use N.R. Hanson’s phrase (see his work, Patterns of Discovery (London: Cambridge University Press, 1958, pp. 4-30).  (My first introduction to the phenomena of the Philosophy of Science was under Dr. Hanson at Indiana University.)  All scientific observations presuppose a paradigm which is embodied in the practices and beliefs of a community of investigators.

 

The Christian Stake in the Debate

 

                        What the Christian must claim in that the conceptual framework of the agent provides a foundation for genuine scientific work, making possible rigorous intersubjective verification.  Reductionist naturalism, as an interpretive scheme must be fair game to informed Christians as we are commissioned “to bring every thought captive to Jesus as Lord” (II Corinthians 10.4), including the many humanist psychologists who are forthright in their naturalistic worldviews.  Multiculturalism has its origins within the naturalistic worldview mode.  Available data is overwhelming against its pseudo view that it is scientifically neutral.  Neutrality is impossible even for multicultural gurus.  How to communicate across conflicting and often contradictory worldviews is a fundamental challenge, if we are to carry out our Lord’s final commission.  Preach the Gospel to those who hold contradictory worldviews, whether that be to Generation X in American culture or to Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Animists in the Third World, etc., in our Global Village, or Monistic New Age Pantheism as a result of the influence of non-Linear or Chaos Physics.  Our Lord’s commission to witness to all the ethnics (“all the ethnics” is a sending to all worldviews) is our mandate to understand the cultural, linguistic origins of the message and the thought and behavior system of the Receiver culture.  One such challenge is progressively more visible in our postmodern cultural wars.  If the Gospel is context bound then it has no justification to engage other perspectives with any normative claims.  The Bible says that “Jesus only saves” (Acts 4.12ff.).  This is emphatically denied in our postmodern culture.  C.S. Lewis’ description still rings true—“Jesus is either a lunatic, a liar, or Lord.”  Jesus is “under fire” in our cultural wars.

 

                                                                                                Dr. James Strauss

                                                                                                Lincoln Christian Seminary

                                                                                                Lincoln, Illinois  62656