Scholarship and Science: The Struggle Between Christian Theism, Metaphysical Naturalism and Relativism -- How To Proceed?
Jerry L. Summers, East Texas Baptist University
The Christian, theistic understanding of human nature and behavior receives a strong challenge from the natural and behavioral sciences when scientists and the popularizers of science ascribe ultimate significance to the naturalistic viewpoint. The literature of professional and popular sociobiology, while claiming objectivity, frequently manifests the tendency to draw conclusions or to make projections beyond objective scientific evidence. The present paper does not challenge the contributions of science, but only the practice of dismissing theistic knowing on the grounds of subjectivity and irrationality in comparison to the supposed greater objectivity of science. The paper responds in part to specific popular works such as Howard Bloom's The Lucifer Principle and Daniel Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea.
The author writes as a Christian and a teaching historian, considering science as a powerful, but not the only, means of knowing, and as a formative influence on modern historical developments and our understanding of history. One cannot fail to deal with the implications of the modern, scientific worldview, including Darwinism and Neo-Darwinism, which figure so prominently in even the basic surveys of Western and American history. The epistemological problem of faith versus reason still benefits from a restatement of some biblical insights, and from consideration of the provocative, subjective perspective of postmodernism.
The problem of faith versus reason, while no new issue, must attract growing attention from scholars of committed Christian faith who, being no longer content to live with the ambiguity of theistic faith over against faith in reason and science, are willing to challenge the presuppositions and epistemological biases of naturalists and secularists. The paper ends with suggestions related to that goal.
Scholarship and Science: The Struggle Between Christian Theism, Metaphysical Naturalism and Relativism -- How to Proceed?
A prominent function of the Christian university is to engage students' attention to differing worldviews and to help them understand the implications of those views from a Christian perspective. Worldviews, ideology and belief figure dominantly in human events and the historian's appraisal of those events. That is why Howard Bloom's The Lucifer Principle so caught this historian's interest: the provocative title and subtitle promised to reveal the basic forces of history. Intended to expose the biological and psychological forces operating in history, the book is a challenging synthesis of ideas from diverse viewpoints in sociobiology and an assertion of the serious political and social implications of those ideas for the United States. Its message provides the opportunity here to compare naturalistic and theistic views of human nature and existence. Because of his apparent assumptions about the biological and cultural factors that determine human nature and behavior, Bloom's popularization of sociobiology warrants a Christian response.
I share a concern about the emergence, waning, and reemergence of the "Darwinian Imperative" during the last century. Carl N. Degler, the historian whose In Search of Human Nature charted that process, discerned that to redefine mankind in evolutionary terms, both as to biology and culture, leaves many persons with a gritty problem. The present paper confronts some features of a metaphysical naturalism that recurs frequently, as in The Lucifer Principle. While my epistemological and scientific waders are not high enough to engage in a polemic against evolutionary naturalism, rather than risk being swamped, I do want to discuss the naturalistic and theistic approaches as to epistemological, value assumptions and to explanatory power. Sociobiology figures first in the discussion, and the views of molecular biologists and those writing philosophically in related disciplines also provide material for analysis.
The "Lucifer Principle" is a metaphor lifted from the verses of Isaiah 14 and more so from Paradise Lost, wherein John Milton employed the "Lucifer myth" as the etiology of evil. The metaphor thus supplies the starting point for this discussion and the opportunity to express the Christian eschatological hope that such forces as the Lucifer Principle encompasses will succumb ultimately to the Kingdom of God. In Bloom's book "Lucifer" is no evil, higher personage, but the pervasive, metaphorical evil in Nature, the "bloody bitch". The Lucifer Principle is paradox itself, constructive yet the negative, destructive part of Nature, and to humans an endless frustration. The seat of frustration is the biological nature of humans, which humanity must confront with every weapon of scientific understanding: "ethology, biopsychology, psychoneuroimmunology, and the study of complex adaptive systems, among others," the "others" being Bloom's most potent bases for discussion. Bloom presents a solution akin to the salvation Goethe accorded the scientist doomed in a pact with Mephistopheles: doomed by biology, humanity can break the pact with evil just as did Faust.
Bloom also presupposes as dominant the modern, scientific world-view that we understand the universe solely through the rational, scientific means which have revolutionized understanding during recent centuries, and in none more than our own. To understand the biology underlying human cultures is to render human nature and history more intelligible. The human paradox is to do both good and evil, and for all of prehistory and history the animalian brain and genetic predispositions have accounted for much evil. We abhor it, yet we cannot escape the weight of history. Religion, philosophies, morality and ethics all have failed to solve our dilemma. But science shows more promise; somehow it must hold the keys to our puzzle of existence, thus we must pursue it with redoubled vigor. The evil manifested in the "Lucifer Principle" must convince us to abandon our differences and blend our consciousness, our thinking, in a global network that shall reveal our salvation. What Bloom proposes stands as an exercise in truth-seeking and social amelioration by a willing believer. The Lucifer Principle is an attempt to explain evil in naturalistic terms, granting that impulses of aggression and violence dominate much of human history and current affairs. Bloom's synthesis and solutions to humanity's plight reflect the modernist faith in the Enlightenment program that twentieth century events have so frustrated, despite the marvels of scientific achievement. But there must be a balance to his proposition that "competition between groups can explain the mystery of our self-destructive emotions -- depression, anxiety, and hopelessness -- as well as our ferocious addiction to mythology, scientific theory, ideology, and religion. . . . and hatred." Furthermore, The Lucifer Principle contains elements of a cosmology, a naturalistic theology, a doctrine of man (and woman!), a demonology and doctrine of sin, a soteriology to counter an apocalyptic possibility, an implicit eschatology, and the hope for ultimate salvation, all in a naturalistic framework.
Because of Bloom's intention to communicate the outlines of the Lucifer Principle to the reading public, I find his major themes useful to discuss the broader concerns of metaphysical naturalism, with some attention to an explicitly philosophical naturalism. The prominent themes are the analogy between genetic greed and the greed of "memes," the function of group selection over individual selection in evolution, and the interactions of the mass mind, neural nets and superorganisms. These themes comprise the subject material for the ensuing discussion.
Sociobiology derives from the pioneering work of E.O. Wilson, who defined it as "the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior," involving animal studies and studies of early man, the intention being to understand the genetic, evolutionary roots of human behavior. Fundamental to this was the "moral" nature of genes to perpetuate themselves by assuring through natural selection their successful dominance in the organisms of a species. The idea of altruism through kinship facilitated the dominance of certain genetic qualities that define a species.
In 1976 Richard Dawkins popularized the controversial idea of the "selfish gene" in a book since criticized for its subjective and ideological qualities. He later delineated the idea that memes, like genes, replicate themselves. Genes replicate phenotypically in the organisms to which they belong. In analogous fashion, the meme, "a unit of information residing in a brain," may have phenotypical effects as it is dispersed from one to other brains; consequently the non-genetic, indeed, non-physical, meme replicates and produces real effects in the outside world. Dawkins dissociates memetic from genetic success, thus the inferred process diverges also from the Darwinian idea of fitness leading to natural selection. This is more than a description of a biologically-based system for transmitting culture or human values. The memetic hypothesis resonates with the conviction that biological, evolutionary processes alone cannot explain human beings; rather, cultural evolution and biological evolution have for millions of years been in a relationship of "reciprocal interaction." Classical sociobiology's explanations of behavior from genetic evolution alone must be combined with cultural determination for certain human behaviors, at least because the human species appears to be "nonstupid," that is, humans have the ability to adapt.
Dawkins notes that memes are intangibles, not to be grasped or controlled. Daniel Dennett distinguishes between the semantic and syntactic identity of genes; with genes those identities merge and appear in specific effects. Not so with memes: the theorist has only the semantic identity; no syntactic or neurological structure exists. Thus scientists can infer memetic processes in culture, but still they must be described semantically; even then, the memes can never remain pure while they are passed mind-to-mind, sometimes they are altered entirely. For Dennett, memetics fits into the general discussion of what makes humans more than just the "third chimpanzee", culture which itself produces "cranes of culture" to lift humanity even beyond the basic biological, evolutionary advances. Culture is a dominant influence that allows humans to transcend genetic predispositions, that is, genetic determinism. Beyond this, the functional strength of memes depends not necessarily on intrinsic goodness but on the power to replicate. Most astonishing is the inference that the human mind is not something intrinsic, but an artefact of memes common to one's culture. To render either a biological or a solely memetic basis for cultural differences suggests that values are relativized.
The term "meme" and the usage of that term to describe evolutionary processes seem similar to the terms "idea" and "ideology," but applied within a specifically evolutionary hypothesis, "meme" is a neologism embraced by those who seek to identify how neurological processes may be associated with the processes of "mind." Among recent studies are sophisticated philosophical and neurophysiological attempts to describe and to justify a materialist basis for "mind," for imagination, and what we call spiritual concerns. Dennett emphasized the genetic and cultural factors which produce astonishing, but not so mysterious, capabilities of the human mind. A distinct physicalist view insists on the one-to-one correspondence of neuronal and mental states in the brain; mentation is purely physical, and nothing more. All mind-states come from the physical, neuronal activities of the brain, in evolutionary terms the result of natural selection for some biologically desirable product. In teleological terms whatever effects or actions humans accomplish must be the aim of some predisposing physical process, otherwise there would be no effect or action present as evidence. Of course, human brain capacity also allows for individual learning that may be shared and passed on. But that view turns from the original point of this discussion, that human intentions and actions stem progressively from the functions of memes, and in that sense the physicalist view is quite distinct from the popularized views of Bloom or Dennett or Dawkins. For Dennett there remains the question whether a "science of memetics" ever will succeed given that there is as yet no physical evidence of the meme. David Papineau's philosophical position, on the other hand, obviates the need for memetics; one must consider the human mind to be based on neuronal actions and associations, again, a purely physicalist perspective.
Another naturalistic perspective comes from the Nobel laureate Francis Crick, who holds that all the qualities associated with human beings "are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules." Crick prefers a metaphorical over a literal understanding of the human soul and contends that reductionistic methodology allows us to infer the "neural correlates" of all aspects of consciousness. With his colleague, Christof Koch, Crick has examined consciousness experimentally through studies of the visual system, an easily accessible aspect of consciousness. Crick's book surveys insightful studies on the psychology of vision and the possible neuroanatomy and function of awareness. He asserts that his hypothesis, though far from full substantiation, remains plausible.
Another topic for debate concerns whether group selection might be more dominant in evolution than individual selection. Consider instances of individuals sacrificing themselves to benefit the group: is suicide an apt analogy to programmed cell death or "apoptosis," ? Group selection would allow for the destruction of individuals, and the group is able to survive. But what about the many contradictory examples, for example, in cases of individuals, including mothers, have been known to kill those who share their genes? Bloom identifies the internal demons of self-destruction as part of nature's scheme. Intropunitive behavior and many illnesses come from socially "intrinsic suicide programs" analogous to programmed cell death in the body. The idea of group selection which makes the individual expendable presents a large challenge because it goes against western notions of the value of the individual. It also favors the idea of the superorganism, although we cringe to hear that human society is somehow analogous to sponge cells or slime mold amoebas. Asiatic societies might hear this better than westerners who tend to make individualism a faith tenet. Americans might ponder how by holding individualism and diversity sacrosanct we miss having a unified, stronger society.
Also a strong emphasis in The Lucifer Principle, with implications for diplomacy, war, and morality, is the "pecking order" of nations: the collision of memes on the regional and global scale presents opportunity for one meme or network of memes to dominate, another to be dominated. The conclusion of the process is in the restructuring of human minds as a result of becoming dominant or dominated. Bloom routinely ascribes anthropic intent and purposiveness to the meme: "memes seduce humans into their power," and "Memes ride the human mind by offering the men and women who spearhead their cause a richer life." These imply a metaphysical understanding of (what I think Bloom thinks) a metaphorical concept of "demonization". The reason for this activity of the memes is that "Memes have an ultimate ambition: taking vast chunks of the world into their possession and restructuring it according to their form."
The presupposition is that most memes, whether ideological or religious or political, all fall short on one criterion Bloom holds dear: a rationalistic, scientific, true understanding of the nature of man and the cosmos. Thus religious, ethical and moral motives all are placed in question as merely means of meme diffusion through the minds and actions of human hosts. Prominent examples are the spread of Shiite fundamentalism, the Aryan invasions of India, indeed, aggressive actions of any society. Worse still, certain "killer cultures" possess the meme of dominance and no compunction about annihilating their rivals, for example, the Islamic cultures, African societies such as that of Uganda, and the Hutus and Tutsis, most recently in Rwanda.
What then about human nature, morality, and constant moral standards? Bloom's presentation relativizes morality as a matter of definition by discrete cultures or societies according to the valuation their meme grants them. Dennett argues that the genes underlie the memetic evolution of morality, but emphasizes historical, cultural, memetic evolution. Ultimately the process combines genetic evolution in the "Tree of Life" with that of cultural evolution to produce what Dennett calls Darwin's gift, an explanation about "how God is distributed in the whole of nature. . . . in the distribution of Design throughout nature, creating, in the Tree of Life, an utterly unique and irreplaceable creation, . . . ." But "God" and this Tree of Life are identified mutually, and that Tree came about gradually over billions of years. Thus Dennett's naturalistic, evolutionary view supports a metaphorical pantheism. That pantheistic "Tree of Life" seems as much an oblique repudiation of theism as anything, and what is lost on a naturalistic philosopher such as Dennett is that Christian theism holds implications far beyond what he seems willing to discuss, and far beyond asking, as he did, whether anyone actually believes in an "anthropomorphic God." At the least a philosopher might seriously consider whether actual "God" might be present in the natural order yet be beyond and above that order; such is the doctrine of infinity and transcendence, even as found in a panentheistic system such as that of Paul Tillich. But Christian theism demands a stricter distinction between God and the cosmos, such that even with the omnipresence of God, God is ultimately and infinitely transcendent and absolutely to be distinguished from the natural order; that order does not derive from God, but was created by God ex nihilo. While Dennett and others struggle for adequate metaphors to describe a naturally evolving world, and while dismissing a supreme being, why should they consider their metaphors more valid than the old, theological statements with which the Christian West has spoken of infinite God?
The resort of Bloom and Dennett and others to metaphorical expression suggests the epistemological and semantic difficulties of religious or philosophical or scientific discussion. This concerns the claim to greater verifiability of science and rationalism over religious and philosophical claims to knowledge. Moreover, the assertion has been made that an evolutionary understanding of the development of knowledge is crucial to philosophy and epistemology; the "struggle for existence" applies to ideas as well as to organisms. Of prominent interest is sociobiology, a discipline fraught in its short history by disagreements among its proponents regarding proper procedures and the proper or improper use of terminology, and regarding ideological and political issues; in short, the division of the discipline into warring camps.
In sociobiology a major disagreement erupted between the perspective of E.O. Wilson, who sought at first to provide an evolutionary explanation for morality, ethics, and religion, but who instead provoked disagreement from many colleagues in biology who thought biological explanations for behavior were best left to the study of animals and not humans. Ample disagreement erupted between those who followed the view of Konrad Lorenz that human aggression was intrinsic and unavoidable, and those who held to an interactionist theory that allowed for environmental factors to influence behavior: biology versus environment. Wilson also advocated a fuller look at the benefits of individual selection and group selection, topics to which Bloom dedicated much discussion in The Lucifer Principle.
In The Lucifer Principle one finds numerous metaphorical expressions, terms that scientists writing for their peers generally avoid, but this use of language reflects epistemological assumptions not normally couched in such language. For example, a primordial "molecular pretzel" at some juncture accidentally snapped together some molecules, released the product, and "it had unwittingly made a mirror image of itself." Bloom doubtless does not consider memes personal, but still he writes, "Memes have an ultimate ambition: taking vast chunks of the world into their possession and restructuring it according to their form." He uses metaphor effectively: "Like a sculptor carving a figure from stone, nature creates by destroying. Her hammer and chisel strike over and over again." And
Nature creates by placing her inventions in competition with each other. In the world of humans, the bloodiest of these contests is between social groups. The voice of our meme's ambition tells us to pound our rivals into submission and force them into servitude -- servitude to the cluster of ideas that sits at our culture's core.
Through scientific efforts we must find a way to allow the competition of memes and superorganisms of nations and cultures but without the destruction. The agenda become clear in the solution of science:
A scientific system is one in which small groups of men and women cohere around an idea, then use the powers of persuasion and politics to establish that idea's dominance in their field, and to drive rival hypotheses -- along with those who propound them -- to the periphery.
Bloom also recognizes the geopolitical equivalent of this rational approach in pluralistic democracy; and surely none of us would want to do away with the positive contributions of democracy or of natural science; both indicate a certain kind of progress for most of us. However, the present interest is in the reporting of agenda that the others noted in this article share: that the propensity to propound, embrace and defend religious or superstitious views was an adaptation of evolution, that religious beliefs add nothing to scientific understanding, and that the world's religions usually are proved wrong in light of scientific evidence. Traditional religious belief and the institutions associated with it belong to our precious cultural history, and, while useful to explain moral questions, their views on origins are wrong; moreover, the various religious fundamentalisms are a serious threat to understanding the truth.
Those who write on science for popular readers should attract careful consideration. The process of popularizing scientific theories in order to make them understandable to laymen may render those theories suspect, perhaps because of the distortions that may arise from the use of imprecise language, but also from the ideological influence of those who write. Howard L. Kaye described some popularized works as "nonscientific, more metaphysical than objective and empirical, philosophical, with social ideology in mind." Some sociobiologists, seeking to explain human nature and purposes in order to overcome negative human tendencies, have gone far beyond scientific claims:
Given these extrascientific concerns, the anthropomorphic and teleological vocabulary of "altruism" and "selfishness," of gene "strategies, " "decisions," "missions," "purposes," and "programs," of evolutionary "wisdom" and "guidance" is hardly insignificant no matter how widely accepted and used within the professional community. It is in fact such language, rather than the weight of scientific evidence, that is essential to the various arguments about sociobiology's human meaning that these authors attempt to make.
The difference in Bloom's book is that the hypothesis that all human traits and abilities are genetically predetermined is not enough; the factor of cultural evolution plays a heavy part, and the metaphorical understanding for that comes about through hypotheses about the operation of memes. Nonetheless, the operation together of the genetic principle with that of memetics poses the great problem that Bloom seeks not to solve, but to propose as a high-priority problem for humanity. This very characteristic of that book suggests the weakness of such worldviews and at the same time gives opportunity for the alternative worldview presented in historic Christianity. In the matter of describing human nature, rather than accept the idea of human nature as a black box, not surely to be known, or the idea that human nature may be fully described in biological, evolutionary terms, the theological understanding of human beings as a part of divine creation remains possible.
First, consider that genetic predisposition alone does not account for all human behavior: the purely biological description of humanness is unsatisfactory from a theistic perspective, and the theories about cultural influences suggest the need to supersede biological determinism. Sociobiologists encounter the difficulty of determining just how and when genetic and cultural evolution may be distinguished in their effects. Dennett, writing about sociobiology, is challenged to ascertain whether the theory of memes has anything certain to say about the role of cultural evolution, other than its basic utility as a new kind of description to provoke thought. That the disagreements on the role of cultural evolution occur not only on Dennett's pages, but within much of the sociobiology discipline suggests that even the best thinkers must run hard in pursuit of objective truth, and with no guarantee of apprehending it as they wish. The problem arises when scientists or philosophers are not careful to qualify their statements, such that their statements sound as pronouncements of unassailable fact. Sociobiologists and other scientists, unless they exercise adequate care and nurture an objective attitude, easily can forget the tentative nature of their findings, and especially in communicating to the general public may display more authority than their findings warrant.
Sociobiology also addresses certain givens that cause consternation for students of human behavior: the high degree of competition at the level of the genes themselves, and within the genes ("intragenomic competition"), the great deal of violent conflict, even infanticide, in many species, the growing field of agon theory that examines the reasons for struggle aimed at reproduction, the growing study of primitive war and its association with descriptions of human nature, and over against these the problem of altruistic and cooperative behavior as means of balancing the characteristics of aggression and violence. Such studies deal much with animal behavior, but ideas like the selfish-gene concept seem to apply less well the more complex organisms become, thus sociobiologists may qualify the effectiveness of their studies. Consider the assertion that genotypical characteristics alone cannot produce particular phenotypical results; for example, sprinkling the DNA codes for blue eyes on the ground will not yield blue eyes: the phenotype host makes a difference. This has large ramifications for the analogy of animal to human behaviors, despite the apparent relative biological closeness of certain primates. The human institution of culture suggests enough separation from the primates that one could hypothesize a greater qualitative difference between apes and humans than on the basis of genetic commonality some are willing to allow. The definition of humanness includes cranial capacity among other things, but might that capacity, after all, infer a difference of kind more than just one of degree?
Aside from the shortcomings of identifying human essence and characteristics purely with physiological processes, there is a tendency for some to ascribe to the theistic view of Man the separation of body from "soul," that is, dualism. But compare the biblical, holistic perspective that expresses body and soul or spirit as inseparable aspects of Man as a "living being." The Hebraic conception carried into the Christian revelation is that the body and the soul are two ways of referring to a person, not merely parts of that person. One possesses a soul, and one is a soul; one has a body and is a body, and we use those terms figuratively or literally as necessary.
What does this outlook suggest for those who defend the idea that all human characteristics, nature and consciousness, are purely physically derived? The answer may come as a difficulty for many Christians who consider their physical and spiritual existence in dichotomous terms; that is, that the physical nature and the spiritual nature are distinct and in conflict. This is not necessarily a biblical view, for the spirit of a person in fact may mean the person himself or herself, considered as a whole, and whatever may be said to affect the spirit necessarily affects the whole person. That is why one may speak of the spirituality of a person analogous to the Spirit of God that makes personal relationship with God possible. Man is aspective yet holistic, such that salvation is the salvation of the whole human being, body, mind, soul, spirit. The mind-body dualism common today stems much from the early modern Cartesian system derived from Neo-Platonism, and the scientific monism known as physicalism that invalidates the concept of mind; instead, physical processes involving complex neuronal processes account for what we call mind. We must not discard scientific insights that demonstrate the physical underpinnings of human existence, but we must recognize the fallibility of restricting our understanding of human beings to purely physical and material processes. Scientists have done better with reductionism than with holism to this point. Frank Stagg recognized the tension point on the issue: "Whatever is there in man is there holistically, subject to analysis but not to dissection or extraction."
A key feature of Bloom's argument about the power of memes lies in his discussion of "neural nets" and "connectionist webs," terms borrowed from studies in computers and artificial intelligence. Neural networks compile and analyze innumerable, discrete bits of information and ideology, forming worldviews that the groups holding them consider necessary for life itself. The neural net for the human brain has its concomitant in society which itself is a neural net, and the various societies, networks, compete one with another. So pervasive is this process that evolution involves
competition between networks, between webs, between group souls. The new forms evolving on the face of this planet are not resident only in the features of individual animals or men. They don't merely consist of longer legs or bigger brains. The new forms are impalpable and invisible. . . . the struggle is not a battle of men but a battle of networks, learning machines bound together by memes, testing their shapes against each other. From a history filled with these contests, the far-flung webs and invisible networks rear up ever higher into a lofty stratosphere of form, hurling the world toward its destination of an ever more complex future.
I find fascinating his assertion that neural networks and individual humans can "infer an invisible world from scraps of visible information." The statement has ramifications for a concept of revelation, beyond a gestalt of reality, if we recognize the possibility of human experience and the gathering of bits of information that yields some comprehension of a greater whole. It informs the question why persons of theistic faith may assert their confidence in the focus of their faith, that is the living God, without surrendering that faith in the absence of absolute proof. People may assert that God is no empty concept, even if they are uncertain why exactly they can make that assertion. At this point I believe that argument supports the idea of theism just as well as the sociobiologist supports an evolutionary explanation for human behavior, human nature and morality. Sociobiologists and other scientists have developed a concept of human nature and behavior that derives initially from observations of animals and human beings, and secondarily from inferences about those behaviors, especially those behaviors of animals that suggest interpretations of human behavior.
The biological identification of morality as the result of evolutionary processes grounds morality and ethical behavior in materialism and naturalism. What has this to do with relativism? One may define morals according to one's own epistemological and philosophical presuppositions, making judgments on the moral "is" and "ought" which determine the value of specific human actions. It makes much difference whether one derives moral criteria from a utilitarian definition of what is beneficial to the individual or group in evolutionary terms, or whether one derives the criteria from a biblical view of Man in relation to God. The problem for those with an eye to history is that on the one hand the naturalistic position seems vindicated in part as, for all the "good" people do, they tend to do what seems at least as much "bad"; the natural proclivities established through genetic competition and natural selection allow at best a wary realism if not a robust pessimism. On the other hand the historical viewpoint demonstrates amply that religious principles are as readily trammeled as any other principles, and chiefly moral principles.
The virtue of Bloom's challenge is that, our confidence in Christian revelation notwithstanding, we must consider why a Christian moral perspective may prevail despite the prevalence of evil. Associated with this is the fundamental idea why a Christian moral perspective should be desirable in the first place. Even the attractive alternative of rationalism seems weak vis-a-vis the Lucifer Principle. Of course the question is old and as unresolved as ever, except from the vantage point of the Christian hope that righteousness and justice will prevail. Historically speaking, the idea of revelational efficacy gains weight as we consider not only its work in the spiritual context but in the secular context. Bloom has accentuated a problem for the fundamental theme of theodicy from an evolutionary standpoint, replete with an understanding of the pervasiveness of evil in the world, but his solution falls short as it relies on salvation from within the process, a tenuous hope at best. The ostensible weakness of that particular faith-work is analogous to the breaking of modernist hopes on the painful rack of the twentieth century: In no previous century perhaps should more people have seemed optimistic about the future, and in none previous have more people died, their hopes crushed by war. The modernist hope was grounded in the "progress" of science and technology, sociology and psychology. The "Enlightenment Program" entailed faith in human rational capacities, and a concomitant faith in the kind of morality suited to individualism yet to corporate society engineered for human benefit. Humanity was the proper focus of attempts at improvement, but such frustration as modern societies have experienced stem as much from errant expectations as from the faulty nature of human beings. The sociobiological perspective fails to help because its proponents, including Bloom as a popularizer, must recognize the putative role of evolutionary processes in shaping humanity, while seeking a means whereby the human product of that process may subvert some of the less desirable implications of that process. That shallow hope necessarily converts the scientific agenda to religious agenda; after all, the investigator engages in heuristic activities that are of ultimate concern to human beings. In making certain kinds of conclusions the biologists and sociobiologists cannot hope to remain fully objective.
The recognition that our presuppositions determine so much promises a more robust and balanced epistemological discussion. A basic legacy of modernity is the definition of knowledge bifurcated artificially between faith and reason. But the problem of the appeal to reason, rationalism, is its finite capacity for knowing, such that certain realms of knowing, not being susceptible to empirical tests, must ultimately be inaccessible to the rationalist. Thereby the rationalist must sometime be frustrated in his claims to have the key to truth. Yet there is the paradox that some scientists continue to make claims to ultimate veracity, and they express ultimate hopes based on a restricted view of enlightenment, that is, a view that excludes the possibility of revelation.
Features of response to modern, rationalistic science apart from appeals to faith have been either ultramodernistic skepticism or cynicism, or what some have called a retreat into postmodernism, which includes the questioning of rationalistic and scientific assumptions, indeed, sometimes all claims to objectivity. And postmodernism for its relativistic stance, insofar as many persons find modernity dissatisfying, holds renewed possibilities for Christian claims to truth. Danny Stiver has reminded us of a broader conception and definition of knowing more common to the Western tradition, but restricted since the Enlightenment. In line with the previous discussion, the engagement of metaphor and teleological language among scientists or the popularizers of their theories came of the inability to communicate technical, scientific statements to nonscientists in other than connotative or teleological or figurative terms. Religious knowing may have equivalent validity to scientific assertions if we expand the definition of "knowing"; it stands within the wider realm of acceptable means of knowing, indeed, it may be considered rational, but not in the modernistic sense. The postmodernistic critique suggests that in a society of relativists, the Christian faith has at least as much objective, epistemological strength as the postmodernistic, perhaps anti-modern reactions in deconstructionism, cynicism and nihilism, or the relativism that ultramodernistic frustration prompts. The postmodernist's argument in rejecting rationalism may have greater potential to promote human understanding because it cannot logically deny the possibility of transcendent truth claims based in the biblical revelation. And one may use the postmodernistic critique without having to identify with it. The argument strengthens when we recognize the implications of controversial, recent syntheses for scientific understanding. Proposed in a postmodernistic framework, they involve a holistic approach to knowing, concerning cosmology, the harmony of humanity with nature and the logos of nature, new knowledge of the self, and ecological awareness and lifestyle. "Postmodern" theorists in their search for new truth do not return to classical Christian, or even Western sources to find it.
Next, the popularized sociobiological description of human nature and behavior, while insightful, does not replace the insights of a biblical, theistic, revelatory knowledge of humanity. Let us regard the sciences as firmly grounded in the epistemological presuppositions of scientists, in no wise purely empirical and rational, and in no wise therefore prepared to justify claims to ultimacy, even over competing claims from faith perspectives. While this broaches the serious question which faith perspectives, nonetheless the limitations of scientific knowing are openly acknowledged. But rather than be dismissive, perhaps Christian scholars should consider anew some basic objectives that would serve to promote freer discussion on these issues.
First, naturalists must be challenged when they make statements based on faulty assumptions about God, or at least about Christian doctrines of God. Therefore, Christian scholars must communicate more intentionally and clearly for learned audiences the proper understanding of theology, but in forums apart from traditional theological discourse: there must be some common discussion regarding the existence, will, and role of God in a world that many conceive solely in naturalistic or physicalistic terms. Christian scholars can be more open and assertive in discussing the theological implications of traditional and scientific understandings of human nature. Part of that interdisciplinary task is to describe a proper, credible theology through which we may seriously consider naturalistic claims without sacrificing theological orthodoxy.
Second, Christian scholars in the scientific fields must take greater responsibility to own their epistemological stances. For many this will involve the attempt to resolve their theological, faith-based presuppositions with the presuppositions common to their professions in the sciences. This agenda in recent years has intensified, but the university community needs to hear more from competent scientists about how their scientific endeavors inform faith, and vice-versa.
Third, Christian scholars must be responsive to passionate expressions of concern about the human condition, such as that expressed in The Lucifer Principle. Our exposition of theistic and biblical alternative perspectives should be equally as passionate. We also should display our capacity for honest human engagement with others who seek to understand human existence and experience through whatever means, knowing that our spiritual resources should make a determinative difference in our engagement with them. Nonetheless, we should not arrogate to ourselves the dangerous, counterproductive tactic of entering into dialogue without the necessary intellectual and spiritual preparation.
Fourth, Christian scholars can challenge scientists to honesty in terminology, presuppositions, biases and purposes for their work. Should scientists consider seriously whether as fallible humans their science can be infallible? Once they overstep the findings derived from scientific data, they risk the charge of metaphysical, religious or totalizing interest. Of course Christians should have the reciprocal humility to avoid making truth claims based on assumptions of the "scientific" character of revelatory truth. Perhaps this is an area of explanation best left first to the educated practitioners of science who share committed Christian faith.