Re: "Heretics in the Laboratory"--Newsweek (9/16/96)

Neil Haave (
Sun, 6 Oct 1996 23:27:48 +0000

Steven Schimmrich,

Thanks very much for your reply. You are right. I think I did
miss your original point. Likely because I responded too quickly.
Hence, the reason for this slower response.

For me your points are relevant in that I teach a couple of courses
at Augustana which question the nature of science. I think your
issues with Gould are about the nature and limitations of science.
My understanding of science is that it is LIMITED to the study of
the natural and physical world and may only deal with questions
that are potentially testable or falsifiable.

Your point about the Newsweek article was that Gould should not
criticize Christians for allowing their beliefs to influence the
way that they ask questions or interpret data. This because he
(and Lewontin) have described themselves as Marxists and do not
dispute the fact that this worldview influences their science.
Reading the Newsweek article (16 Sept 96, p 82), however, I note
that the issue is regarding creationist views, not Christian views.
Creationists are a subset of Christianity. Gould does not take
issue with Christians but with creationists. In his essay, "Moon,
Man, and Otto", Gould writes regarding an old biology textbook:

I agree entirely with the first two sentences: "There is
nothing in science which is opposed to a belief in God and
religion. Those who think so are mistaken about their science
or their theology or both." (Gould 1983)

So I don't think that Gould thinks that Christians are bad
scientists. But he does think that creationists are bad
scientists. The reason for this is that creationists invoke the
supernatural (God) to explain biodiversity. Whether or not natural
selection is the wrong explanation for diversity will not prove or
disprove God's hand in creation. Science is simply not equipped to
deal with this question. The question of God's role in creation is
beyond the scope of science due to science's inherent limitations.
Contrary to what non-scientists may think about the scientific
endeavour, it cannot answer all questions about the universe. It can
only deal with physical/natural phenomena. Hence, science cannot test God.

Another point is that you want to equate the bias of creationist beliefs with
the bias of Marxist ideology. I think that the two are different. A
philosopher friend of mine here at Augustana articulated it the
best for me:

The problem with creationism is that part of the perspective
is to posit a cause that is inherently untestable. Marxists
don't do that. Marxism may provide certain metaphors for
interaction that privilege certain theories, but ultimately
the theories still have to be tested. (Janz 1996)

The question that creationists are asking (ie. how do we reconcile
God with our scientific understanding of the universe) may be an
appropriate one, but I do not think that it can be answered within
the realm of science as I defined it above as it posits a
supernatural explanation for biodiversity which cannot be tested. For that
matter, it is not an issue for many christians. It seems to me to only become
an issue if one assumes the inerrancy of scripture.

Gould and creationists may be talking across different paradigms of
inquiry. This is notpossible due to different definitions or understandings of
the nature of the question being asked or the type of data admitted. Creationists
want to admit the supernatural into their scientific explanations.
The rest of the scientific community does not. This, it seems to
me, is what is at issue when one group identifies the other as doing
bad science.



Gould, S.J. 1983. Moon, Man, and Otto. In: Hen's Teeth and Horses
Toes, pp 280-290, W.W. Norton & Co., New York, NY.

Janz, B. 1996. Personal communication. Augustana University

> On Tuesday, September 30, Steven Schimmrich wrote:
> ...
> I stand by my implication that Gould perceives science through his
> spectacles of Marxist ideology and that it's quite hypocritical of him
> to criticize Christians for opposing evolution because of their belief
> in the inerrancy of Scripture.
> I found it interesting that you also mentioned the book "Not in Our Genes"
> by Rose, Lewontin and Kamin. Richard Lewontin is also featured in Wilson's
> book. According to Wilson, Lewontin wrote, as a biology professor at Harvard,
> that:
> "There is nothing in Marx, Lenin, or Mao," he wrote in
> collaboration with Richard Levins, "that is or can be in
> contradiction with the particular physical facts and processes
> of a particular set of phenomena in the objective world."
> [p. 346]
> Let's substitute "Scripture" for "Marx, Lenin, or Mao". What difference
> is there between Lewontin's approach to science and the approach of young-
> earth creationists at the ICR?
> The ideologies of scientists, be they Christians, atheists, Marxists, or
> whatever, may greatly influence how they do science. If Christians are
> perceived to be poor scientists because of their Christian beliefs, as
> the original _Newsweek_ article which started this whole thread implied,
> then let's point out how non-Christian scientists, like Stephen Jay Gould
> and Richard Lewontin are also poor scientists as well since their political
> beliefs clearly influence how they view science.
> - Steve.
> --
> Steven H. Schimmrich KB9LCG
> Department of Geology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
> 245 Natural History Building, Urbana, IL 61801 (217) 244-1246
> Fides quaerens intellectum
Neil Haave, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
Division of Biology and Chemistry
4901 - 46 Avenue
Camrose, AB T4V 2R3
fax (403) 679 1129
voice (403) 679 1100