Thursday, July 24, 2014

Concordism and the Nature of Science

Biblical literalism and modern creationism—what would more accurately be called concordism—are approaches to Genesis that insist, among other other things, on the scientific and historical harmony (or "concord") of the primeval stories (Genesis 1-11) as defined by contemporary notions of scientific and historical objectivity, regardless of the actual weight of scientific and historical evidence. Old Testament scholar Gerhard F. Hasel succinctly describes and defends this approach to the Bible as follows: "whenever biblical information impinges on matters of history, [the] age of the earth, origins, etc., the data observed must be interpreted and reconstructed in view of this superior divine revelation which is supremely embodied in the Bible." [Ronald E. Osborn, Death Before the Fall: Biblical Literalism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2014), 40]

The problems caused by the Enlightenment continue in the discussion about "concordism." To the extant that historically scientia was considered holistically, I can sympathize with the problems Christians have when they faced the new scientific insights, among those from new disciplines, that come with the dawning of the Modern Age. This idea of a strict holism of knowledge lies behind the idea of reconciling different branches of knowledge, instead of trying to forge a different way of approaching data and hypotheses.

As I have mentioned, the idea of "concordism" should be rejected as being based upon modernist assumptions. The debate over concordism assumes basically two options: Either one tries to correlate the "revelational" aspect with the "historical/scientific" aspect (concordism), or one rejects any such correlation (non-concordism). YEC is taken to be an *extreme* version of concordism, while views like the Framework Hypothesis are most decidedly non-concordist. Behind this dichotomty lies the idea that what is scientific is historical. Therefore, a commitment to a historical account of the Genesis events means that one must correlate the "science" with the "revelation." Conversely, in a non-concordist view like the Framework Hypothesis, the Genesis events are seen as "Upper register" reality, therefore no correlation is necessary, since the details of the events are non-historical even though the creation event(s) itself is historical. But why must I or anyone accept the view that what is historical must be scientific?

Almost since the beginnings of Science, the difference between historical and operational science has been obscured. Charles Lyell was probably the first to apply uniformitarian principles to come up the concept of deep time. And from a certain point of view, the application of such principles seem sound. In a laboratory experiment for example, one assume that the processes going on in the experiment do not behave erratically. The problem lies not so much in the usage of the principle in normal experimentation, but in its unwarranted extension into the unknown, what is called "historical science."

Science broadly speaking is the discovery of the working of things according to equations and universally applicable principles. In operational science, the working of things are described in such a way that knowledge of its activity can be accurately described and maybe even manipulated. In historical science however, science is used as a tool to reconstruct the past. The problem comes about because the past is not repeatable. Furthermore, all assumptions about the past are just that, assumptions. One-time events like a global flood can be hypothesized and tested, but apart from revelation there is nothing that says that one-time events did or did not happen.

The reason why this is the case is because "historical science" deals with history. In history, science is one tool among many, not the only tool. For example, science by itself cannot prove that a man called Napoleon existed, only eye-witness records can. Just a simple thought experiment would suffice. Let's say erosion of 10cm of rock takes a river flowing at a rate of 10km/hr for 100 years, or it could take a swollen flood river at a rate of 100km/hr in a day. How does one know which one actually happened, since the event of the swollen flood river is a catastrophe? According to science, we can't. Uniformitarianism therefore is untenable in all historical science research. Not only can we not discount events that are out of the ordinary, we have no idea what the initial conditions could be. The open system nature of any environment in the past is also a problem for anyone doing historical science research. Lastly, all historical science proceeds on the logical fallacy of affirming the consequent, and therefore it can only yield probable results. Therefore, by its very nature it cannot rule out any other hypotheses that predicts the same results as the data. For all these reasons, historical science research is untenable on its own. Unlike operational science where one can plan an experiment to test alternate theories and thus arrive closer to the truth, there is little one can do to test the past, which is not accessible to us.

The problem therefore with the concordism debate is that both options are wrong. The biblical account is not "scientific," but history; it is eye-witness account of what happened. It does not tell us scientifically what happened, as if science can do that. Science is a tool. It can tell us what possibly might have brought the events stated in the Bible to pass, but it is totally incapable of telling us what exactly happened in history. In other words, science can only tell us the "how," not the "what" of history. Christians therefore do not have to try to reconcile "science" with the Bible, because the evolutionary metanarrative is not science, but a non-scientific metanarrative propped up with plausible scientific theories and facts that supposedly validate it.


Larry said...

When you mention the error of "affirming the consequent," are you referring to something like this: "if the world's geological processes were like they are today, then my conclusions would be supported. Therefore my conclusions support the idea that the world's geological processes were like they are today." Is that the idea?

PuritanReformed said...

The fallacy of affirming the consequent in science is as follows:

Hypothesis: If theory X is correct, then I should see Y
Observation: I see Y
Conclusion: Therefore theory X is correct.

Fallacy. It might be that both theories X and Z both predict observation Y, so observing Y does not necessarily prove theory X