[asa] on "baconianism" & American evangelicals

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Tue Mar 06 2007 - 13:45:50 EST

This is IMO one of the most important points that has been raised thus far
in our exchanges about global warming, population, and evolution. The
American evangelical tradition, since the 19th century, has been heavily
invested in the so-called "Baconian" view of science. I won't argue about
the propriety of the label, which I do accept myself. I will point out what
it means, both micro and macro.

In a micro sense, it means that American evangelicals tend to follow Thomas
Reid's "common sense" philosophy, when it comes to matters scientific.
Science for them consists in "facts" that have been established directly
from observations, and inductions that are really just broad generalizations
of those observations. They tend to think that the kinds of broad,
far-reaching theories that provide coherence and explanatory nexi for
diverse, apparently unrelated (ie, unrelated without the larger theories)
facts are not legitimate parts of science; ie, they do not constitute
scientific "knowledge" as such (remember that our word "science" derives
from the Latin participle "sciens" = knowing). They are too speculative and
cannot be "known" with certainty, thus they are "mere theories" that can be
opposed and jettisoned at will. This is what I call the "Dragnet" view of
science, after Joe Friday's character, who appears at the door and asks the
(often) housewife to tell him "just the facts, ma'am," concerning what she
saw last Thursday night, etc.

IN a macro sense, this is a profoundly unscientific view, in terms of what
the scientific community has actually done increasingly since the early 17th
century, when Galileo and others started to work with H/D models of
explanation. Such models tended to move from the physical sciences into the
historical sciences and experimental biology in the early 19th century. In
Darwin's case, the influence of John Herschel's "consilience of inductions"
was crucial. American evangelicals continue to buy into a philosophy of
science that is nearly four centuries out of date at this point. The
enormous chasm between what they tend to think science is, and what the
scientific community thinks it is, only grows ever larger, esp when the
Dobson's and Ham's of the world are the ones who seem to count.

For an historical account of this in the late 19th and early 20th century,
see James Gilbert, "Redeeming Culture: American Religion in an AGe of
Science." Good stuff.

Ironically, Americans accept this type of H/D reasoning, when it comes to
convicting people of unwitnessed crimes. They understand that it yields
conclusions that are short of absolute certainty, but that very strongly
supported conclusions can still be drawn. When the Bible, however, provides
a real eyewitness to the creation (as Ham would clearly claim), the
eyewitness takes precedence over the merely probable inferences of
"atheistic" scientists.


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Received on Tue Mar 6 13:46:48 2007

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