Sunday, October 21, 2007


Creating Science

In my prior post about Neal C. Gillespie's book, Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation, I discussed Gillespie's proposition that Darwin spent so much time addressing special creation in the Origin of Species as part of the change between the "episteme" of creationism and that of posivitism.

Primary to understanding Gillespie's account of Darwin's approach is the nature of these epistemes. The creationism episteme in Darwin's time was not simple Biblical literalism, because the needs of a burgeoning science had already made inroads into mere acceptance of dogma. Thus, these epistemes were not discontinuous:

[E]pistemes [do not] follow one another in neat sequence through time. Men may dwell side by side and yet work within different ones. Men may move back and forth from one to another before making a final commitment; some may never make one. And others, like Darwin, may promote one episteme while never breaking free of another.

Insofar as creationism and positivism shared certain scientific beliefs a common discourse was possible, and it was along the bridge of this discourse that men passed from one episteme to the other. What did they have in common? They shared the legacy of a joint scientific heritage: laws of nature (however differently rationalized), the imperatives of evidence, the canons of proof and prediction. In its pure form creationism predicted that no purely physical explanation of speciation would be found, that no transitional fossils would be discovered, that no argument for evolution could be constructed that would plausibly link supporting evidence. [However], there were creationists who were more committed to a protopositivism within natural history than they were to the theological elements in their episteme, and these were the ones who, for the sake of their science, crossed the bridge; the others did not. Creationism, then, was not only a definite stance on the origin and nature of species, but was itself unstable owing to the development of positivism within it. And this was owing to the gradual modification of the tools of science through work.
So, by 1859, the old episteme was a mixture of:

... Newtonian nomothetic [divine action through natural law] and the Baconian inductionist traditions from the physical sciences with biblical theology and a type of philosophical idealism, [sanctioning], in the idea of special creation, or so it appeared from the new positive perspective, a pseudoparadigm that was not a research governing theory (since its power to explain was only verbal) but an antitheory, a void that had the function of knowledge but, as naturalists increasingly came to feel, conveyed none.
The positivist episteme, on the other hand, was:

... that attitude toward nature ... which saw the purpose of science to be the discovery of laws which reflected the operation of purely natural or "secondary" causes. It typically used mechanistic or materialistic models of causality, rejected supernatural, teleological, or other factors which were in principle beyond scientific examination as legitimate aspects of scientific inquiry, and -- whatever the desires or beliefs of individual practitioners, many of whom were theists or even good Christians -- embraced and promoted those far-reaching cultural tendencies conventionally known as secularism and naturalism. This development resulted in a consensus, virtually unquestioned among followers of science by the century's end, that science had a unique and prescriptive approach to knowledge which was superior to all others and was exclusively the way to understand the world of nature.
Most important to an understanding of the rise of science as we know it ... and how it might change again:

These systems, positivism and creationism, were realized in the lives of men, and that may best be understood by focusing on the reality of men thinking and working through time, out of one mode of discourse and into another. So much, I think, is true for the generation that makes the transition. Those raised within the confines of the new mode will be, of course, inclined to take its characteristics as self-evident, but only so long as it suits their needs. When conscious theory no longer fits their "silent practice" they, too, will inaugurate an epistemological shift.


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