The Sociology of Scientific Reception
in the Creation-Evolution Debate
Judith Tarr Harding
"If the known facts of science better support creation than evolution, as creationist leaders maintain, why is creationism not more accepted in scientific circles?" Many who are newly exposed to scientific creationist thought have asked this question. Are there factors other than "plain facts" which influence scientific reception?
Ideally, the scientific method gives no ruling hand to any thesis which cannot be witnessed by observers and tested experimentally. In its increasing role as ultimate authority in empirical matters, this idealized definition of science (a very good one) has become to many the most respectable method for verifying all truth. The average person today consciously or unconsciously places a great deal of faith in "science." To him, science has the magic recipe for all truth: discover facts (or educate one with facts), add the scientific method, and the dish served up will automatically be truth.
While the scientific method is most effective in discovering, defining, and testing present observable realities (gravity, for example, or activities of DNA), it is woefully inefficient in producing empirical proof for origins. A thorough study of the world's genesis brings one into many scientific disciplines where much of past history cannot be reduplicated, or where the belief that present process rates must always apply to the past is at best an untestable assumption. One evolutionary writer's comments about the paucity of evidence illustrate the difficulties:
With few exceptions, the fossil record shows us only isolated segments of time, many of which are closely comparable to the present in terms of durations. Thus, although evolution emphasizes the genetic continuity of life, the material by which we study evolution is broken up into units: living animals are separated by reproductive isolation, and fossil animals by the incompleteness of the fossil record. In fact, so sparse is the fossil record, despite the tens of thousands of fossils that are stored and studied in museums, that to get a complete picture of evolution is a little like trying to reconstruct Gone With the Wind from the scraps on the cutting-room floor.
The difficulties, however, in solving the creation-evolution debate are far deeper than incomplete knowledge. Great inefficiencies lie in the systems of reception of scientific information. A thorough understanding is needed of the many factors (other than the scientific method) that influence which ideas will be received and awarded the label "Science-Says-This-Is-True." Such insights will temper the naive inclination to view modern science as a standard relatively invulnerable to widespread mistakes.
This paper will focus on Alfred de Gracia's excellent insights into scientific reception, as expressed in his work The Velikovsky Affair (de Gracia was editor of the American Behavioral Scientist when he edited the book). Dc Gracia molds the various elements of reception into four models: I) rationalistic, 2) power, 3) indeterminacy, and 4) dogmatic. This writer will apply these models to events related to reception of creationist data (particularly in public education). The reader should note that the following discussion evaluates reception systems only, and by no means stereotypes everyone who holds on evolutionary viewpoint. It is also recognized that many sincere theists do not hold special creationists views.
The Rationalistic Model of Scientific Reception
Those operating under the belief that only what is purely knowledge, derived from efficient logic and sense observation, will be received into the corpus of science, tend to deny any sociology to such reception;2 i.e., they assume that power establishments, personality conflicts, philosophical presuppositions, etc., will not hinder the reception of scientific truth. ..... those under the rationalistic spell claim that after all 'there is an objective method of testing reality and any reasonable person can see the truth when it is presented to him "`~ Frequently ideologically-based arguments against creationism are advanced; those objections are given as though they constituted scientific proof Listed below are de Gracia's tenets of the ideal rationalistic method;4 in parenthesis I have illustrated the philosophical types of opposition against creationism in scientific circles that counteract the rationalistic approach:
1. Any investigator has the right to publish his work. ("If Dr. __________ wants to publish his work on geological evidences for catastrophism, let him go to a religious publishing house.")
2. Works will be read before passing judgment. ("Why bother? The subject's not that important to me.")
3. Theories will be tested. ("A theory based on the premise of design in the universe is teleological, and therefore cannot be scientific. Let's get on with the business of refining the only scientific theory we can accept.")
4. Honesty and fairness will prevail. ("Creationism involves religious beliefs and untestable assumptions and should be rejected for public education. Evolution is strictly scientific.")
5. Specialists will not reject hypotheses simply because they do not fit into formerly learned conceptual schemes. ("Not many are asking questions about creation any more, so why investigate it? We feel satisfied the issue has been solved for everyone except a few die-hards.")
6. Open discussion will prevail. ("Our curriculum is too jammed already.")
7. Recruitment of ideas from those whose methods or hypotheses are radically innovative will not be automatically rejected. ("Creationist theory does not agree with most authorities, so it couldn't be correct.")
8. Sales of a work to laymen do not invalidate a thesis. ("The growing support for creationism proves nothing, as many supporters are not geologists and biologists.")
9. Full cognizance is given to the fact that many sciences fall short in quantificative evidence. ("No one can prove direct creation, so it can never qualify as scientific.")
10. The stamp of approval of an "authority" does not in itself make a tenet true or false. ("How many scientists do you know in major universities who support creationism?")
11. Scientists will reexamine ideas that may be initially rejected if new evidence is forthcoming. ("Creationism is merely defunct catastrophism.")
Rationalistic guidelines are helpful in fostering fair evaluation of all facts pertinent to the origins issue. However, an objective critique of either view of origins is absolutely impossible if one does not realize the limitations of applying the scientific method to either evolution or creation beliefs. How can one "test" a nonrepeatable creation process? How can one "test" a process that requires millions of years (the postulated primeval reducing atmosphere, assembling of prelife elements, regular transitional forms, and laboratory-induced mutations forming new kinds all essential to the evolutionary model have never been observed)? For either view to boast that it is the "strictly scientific" one, free from value judgments and philosophical inferences, seems sheer folly. Simpson's generalized observation about the nature of science applies equally to origin theory:
It used to be usual to claim that value judgments have no pan in science, but we are coming more and more to perceive how false this was. Science is essentially interwoven with such judgments. The very existence of science demands the value judgment and essential ethic that knowledge is good. The additional and still more fundamental ethic of responsibility makes scientists individually responsible for evaluating the knowledge that they acquire, for transmitting it as may be right, and for its ultimate utilization for good.5
Public education reception systems seem vulnerable to assessing creationism on grounds other than rationalistic. This writer recently addressed a group of science chairmen representing the science departments of 35 junior and senior high schools. The science department graciously allowed 40 minutes for a creationist presentation, followed by a panel of teachers discussing the present evolutionary approach in the classroom, and concluding with questions from the audience. Objective discussion of scientific data seemed almost impossible, due to an overemphasis on ideologically-based objections how wearied one was that creation was still being debated, Indiana textbook controversies, the missionary zeal of Christian Heritage college, and the religious beliefs of creationist leaders. Such objections certainly did not fit within the framework of the rationalistic model of scientific evaluation.
Because of its reliance upon circumstantial evidence, rather than eye-witness observation, both theories must be built heavily upon interpretation. Whenever one enters the realm of ideas and interpretation, he becomes vulnerable to the temptation of defending his position by reasoning to tactics that are not rationalistic. One's point may be defended, not by addressing the factual evidence of each view, but by attacking motives, personalities, and methods. De Gracia has grouped such behavior into models of power, dogmatism, and indeterminacy.
The Power Model of Scientific Reception
Operating under a rationalistic-model label, this type of reception seeks to maintain one's own power, prestige, and pride of authorship, even at the expense of rejecting new ideas with better evidence. If stronger evidence weakens any set of ideas upon which one has established the reputation of being an "authority", there is the instinctual reaction of rejection. In a climate where much trust is placed in respected authors, textbook publishers, and knowledgeable educators, one's authority can give as much (or more) credibility to a theory as the methodology of the rationalistic model. Appointment to leading universities, honors and degrees, etc., confer legitimacy to ideas. Power tactics are used to manipulate opinion.6 The refusal of some institutions to accept research proposals that question the evidence for evolution7 reflects a power system of reception, operating under the rationalistic myth; so does the opposition of some school districts to inclusion of scientific creationism (not religious creationism) into formal curricula (on the basis of preventing sectarian indoctrination), without careful consideration of the evidence or ample provision for teachers to gain a full understanding of the scientific tenets of the creationist model. Allusions to the power of the nebulous body "Science" are seen in the 1977 American Humanist Association's petition sent to major school hoards across the country, applying pressure against any efforts to place creationist data in classrooms. The appeal, "A Statement Affirming Evolution as a Principle of Science," unabashedly claimed evolution to be ..... accepted into humanity's general body of knowledge by scientists and other reasonable persons who have familiarized themselves with the evidence." They further asserted that no "competent biologist" would consider any alternative theories.8
The Indeterminacy Model of Scientific Reception
By "indeterminacy" de Gracia means to zero in on the difficulty of telling exactly what is, and what is not, "Science." This model calls attention to the fact that science is a communication system, subject to all the inefficiencies, half-truths, and misunderstandings that frequently happen in any attempt to communicate and use information.9
No one group can fairly speak for "Science." Ideally, "Science" is the fixed totality of all facts that have been discovered, or will be discovered. Realistically, "Science" is an indetermined state, depending upon who is educated in what facts, and how effectively those facts are being communicated and utilized. Such utilization is further conditioned by the motivation of those receiving information. Learning is crucially dependent upon motivation! Hence, no one individual or group can argue for its own cherished theories, "Science has decided that.....as the final word, since any spokesman for scientists, no matter how qualified in his own field, may not indeed, in the elusive subject of origins, cannot know all important facts of ideal science. For example, evolutionists may reject catastrophism (other than as local phenomena) as a geologic interpretive principle because of their knowledge of formation rates of dripstone and fossilized reef barriers, while being unaware of or deeming unimportant, other facts that negate uniformitarian interpretations conditions in which dripstone rates multiply, and reefs that upon further investigation lack the large, in situ, organically-bound frameworks that would be formed by evolutionary slow deposition.
The growth of knowledge has increased specialization. If a specialist is seen as one "who knows more and more about less and less," then truth may be fragmented because uncommunicated.10 Of special import in the origins controversy, which involves literally thousands of facts, is de Gracia's observation: "When a truth is admitted only to a small part of the realm of science, it does not exist except for that portion of the realm."" To many persons, creationism lacks credibility because it is not in the mainstream publication network. Many publishers reject material that does not accept evolution as "a principle of science," and evidence for creation must follow more restricted communicational systems (the religious publishing house, for example). Dc Gracia observes that fragmented ideas cause scientists to act in "nonrational collective" ways, thinking in stereotypes, circulating ideas according to their popularity.'2 Origin-theory expresses the human compulsion to coordinate a world full of complex, and often contradictory, facts and experiences. Twentieth-century technology may have made man wiser by spreading these facts more quickly, but, ironically, such growth rates also increase susceptibility to error in the following ways:
1. The store of knowledge has grown at such a pace that there is a constant need to streamline and summarize facts, in order to effectively communicate and acquire mastery of date. (The oversimplified horse series of fossils, shown in textbook charts as a case of strict orthogenesis, is one example of perpetuation of ill-summarized facts.)
2. Specialization encourages scientists to view certain assumptions of other disciplines as fixed, proven, and true (as with the biologist, who trust the paleontologist's assumptions in interpreting fossils and the geochronologist's dating presuppositions, both of whom in turn trust the biologist's assumptions about evolution.)
3. Generalizations are the most likely ideas to be transmitted by communications systems. The public media and textbooks constantly select key conclusions, unable to present the host of assumptions, calculations, and problems associated with an interpretation. The further removed from original sources, the more unproven hypotheses can become hopelessly confused with facts, and quickly transmitted. (One such current example is the misinformed boast that Nobel prize-winner Prigogine has "solved" the contradiction between evolutionary upward organization and thermodynamic dissolution tendencies. Prigogine makes no such claim.)
"The indeterminacy model fits the inefficiencies in maintenance and replenishment of the corpus scientiae. Much more is discovered and forgotten than is known. Much that is known is unused or known in a partial form" (emphasis de Gracia's). Undoubtedly this limitation accounts for the widespread continuance of belief in evolution despite devastating new facts in modern genetics. The indeterminacy factor, to this writer, influences perpetuation of the fanciful theories built upon preconception and scanty evidence of so-called "hominid fossils." Conceptual schemes, expressed in imaginative descriptions of man's past history and intriguing pictorial reconstructions, have convinced many people of the "truth" of evolution. Once a conceptual belief is accepted, there is a tendency to hold it in spite of new contradictory evidence. The discovery of fossils of modern-type men contemporaneous with supposed ancestors, and multivariant computerized analysis demonstrating that differences between some fossil ancestors are less than variations existing in a single living species, leaving scientists without any undisputed fossil traces (even among evolutionists) of man's evolutionary transformation. Appeal must be made to the final logic of indeterminacy: "We don't have the evidence, but we know it must be true." In essence, such is Lord Zuckerman's conclusion:
But in the final analysis, the answer to the question of human descent always depends upon preconceptions about the way this evolution occurred. For example, no scientist could logically dispute the proposition that man, without having been involved in any act of divine creation, evolved from some ape-like creature in a very short space of time speaking in geological terms without leaving any fossil traces of the steps of the transformation (emphasis added).
As I have already implied, students of fossil primates have not been distinguished for caution when working within the logical constraints of their subject. The record is so astonishing that it is legitimate to ask whether much science is yet to be found in this field at all.'3 Many evolutionists who have become creationists have found the process to be a slow one, since they had to become re-educated to many new facts, and fresh interpretations of old ones. When an inquirer begins searching out creationist literature, he may have the initial feeling that any one treatment of the subject is emphasizing a few truths, and ignoring thousands of concordant facts supporting evolution. One's mind is short-circuited by incredulity and lack of full information a deficiency that cannot be overcome by any one study-encounter.
When one becomes convinced by the weight of the evidence, is it any less difficult for him to convince others? If he shares too little, his listener thinks him gullible and half-baked; if he shares too much, the casual hearer thinks him a bore!
Dogmatic Model Of Scientific Reception
Dogmatism is earmarked by these characteristics:
1. It operates on other than rationalistic grounds.
2. The power elite rejects correct ideas even when those ideas could enhance power.
3. Conflicting factions unite to oppose an idea.
4. There is a high correlation between opposition and the novelty of the idea being opposed.
5. A work is adversely judged because it is novel to several autonomous power groups representing various disciplines.
6. Repeated, oversimplified, or incorrect statements, appealing to empirically "proven" propositions of science, are offered.
7. The language of reviewers is heavily dogmatic and authoritative.'4
One of the major enemies to scientific progress is a dogmatism within science itself, which .... . pretends to give absolute value to what has been already acquired to such a point as to make difficult or even impossible the introduction of new concepts......`5 Stecchini observed that specialization can narrow scientists ..... to become prisoners of the general conceptions they have learned together with the technical routines that they have spent their lives to master."'6 A philosophical devotion akin to religious fervor can be attached to current ideas of the true nature of science. Absolutist doctrine is characterized by references to "the truth" and "the fact" of evolution. One could hardly conceive of more dogmatic language than Dobzhansky's:
Let me try to make crystal clear what is established beyond reasonable doubt, and what needs further study, about evolution. Evolution as a process that had always gone on in the history of the earth can be doubted only by those who are ignorant of the evidence or are resistant to Evidence, owing to emotional blocks or to plain bigotry. By contrast, the mechanisms that bring evolution about certainly need study and clarification. There are no alternatives to evolution as history that can withstand critical examination.'7
The dogmatic model is highly resistant to reason, for it will not apply to itself the standards it demands for others. "Creation," evolutionists may say, "brings religion into science and should be rejected because science does not deal teleologically." The Humanist petition called creationism ~ a purely religious view.....~` A teacher who opposed California's decision to include creationism in its public school curricula, wrote:
An issue that would seem trivial has exploded into a problem of national concern. Science is apparently threatened, and biologists seem to be in a bind. Surely all views must be given a platform; to do otherwise is unscientific (rationalistic label). Censorship must not be tolerated. But if beliefs are given equal time with facts (absolutist tenet), where will it all end? How can we teach the truths (absolutist tenet) about science if we are distracted by theology?
. . Biology is a science; therefore we can insist that creationism must not be given special treatment. 19 (emphasis Wenner's).
This is a double standard. History gives abundant evidence that evolutionary theory has social, political, and religious uses and/or abuses; yet creationism from a scientific-data approach, not without its own philosophical qualities. must be rejected. That any theory explaining the nature of the world spills over into non-scientific areas is obvious. Chinese philosopher Liang Ch'i-ch'ao attested to the great influence Darwinism had on his own country and culture. It furnished a major intellectual stimulus for China's great upheaval beginning in 1911: 20
Since Darwin's discovery of the principle of the evolution of species, a great revolution has occurred in intellectual circles over the whole world. His service to learning must be acknowledged. But afterwards his theory of the struggle for existence and survival of the fittest was applied to the study of human society and became the core of thought, with many evil consequences. This great European War has nearly wiped out human civilization; although its causes were very many, it must be said that the Darwinian theory had a very great influence. Even in China in recent years, where throughout a whole country men struggle for power, grasp for gain, and seem to have gone crazy, although they understand nothing of scholarship, yet the things they say to shield themselves from condemnation are regularly drawn from Yen Fu's translation of T. H. Huxley's Principles of Evolution. One can see that the influence of theory on man's minds is enormous.21
The claim of "strictly scientific" for any hypothesis that is unfalsifiable, which has been used socially, politically, and religiously, deserves the following indictment:
every scientific worker operates with value-judgments, yet persuades himself that these lie 'outside' his discipline. That is how the danger arises of a science which makes evaluations without actually being aware of it and for that very reason assumes a dogmatic philosophical standpoint of an involuntary kind.22
The creationist is in the peculiar predicament of not being allowed to present the scientific arguments he has built for his case, because the hypothesis for which he has amassed evidence ("design") does not fit the conceptual scheme of the scientific establishment. His dilemma parallels the experience of an early believer in the scientific method, who suggested opening up a cow to find out whether certain speculations about the creature's insides were true. His colleagues laughed at the ridiculous methodology proposed, since their logic had already ruled the hypothesis unsuitable.
Blind Zealots Or Careful Scientists?
Perhaps one of the most painful aspects of the origins debate, to creationist scientists, is that their devoted energies in applying the fossil record, probabilities, limiting time chronometers, geologic field expeditions, experimentations in genetics, etc., are too easily ignored by a more powerful nonscientific rule of reception: "crank" status is attached to any scientist who departs from the "principle of evolution."
Like the observers at the proverbial parade of the emperor with no clothes, creationists find it extremely difficult to challenge an institutionalized concept. Their task (often tedious and worthless to the unmotivated onlooker) involves thought-synthesis and communication of that thought-synthesis in all major fields of learning astronomy, sociology, biology, psychology, chemistry, physics, geology, mathematics, archaeology, humanities, etc.
The thoughtful inquirer, unfamiliar with the important strides in scientific creationism within the last decade, needs no small amount of patience to "hear out" all the evidence. To fairly judge the question of reception, one must develop receptiveness. Perhaps in no other scientific debate will the patient attempt to fully know the subject matter before drawing conclusions be worthy of George Eliot's description: "Receptiveness," said she, "is a rare and massive power, like fortitude."23
One will have to decide if creationist data is the work of true scientists or of blinded zealots. Eliot most penetratingly felt the tension of this type of decision. In assessing one's own reception powers, she believed one had to... ...
face this question of the family likeness among the heirs of enthusiasm, whether prophets or dreamers of dreams, whether the 'Great benefactors of mankind, deliverers,' or the devotees of phantasmal discovery from the first believer in his own unmanifested inspiration, down to the last inventor of an ideal machine that will achieve perpetual motion. The kinship of human passion, the sameness of mortal scenery, inevitably fill fact with burlesque and parody. Error and folly have their hecatombs of martyrs. Reduce the grandest type of man hither to known to an abstract statement of his qualities and efforts, and he appears in dangerous company: say that, like Copernicus and Galileo, he was immovable, convinced in the face of hissing incredulity; but so is the contriver of perpetual motion. We cannot fairly try the spirits by this sort of test. If we want to avoid giving the dose of hemlock or the sentence of banishment in the wrong case, nothing will do but a capacity to understand the subject matter on which the immovable man is convinced, and fellowship with human travail, both near and afar, to hinder us from scanning any deep experience lightly.24
1 Hotten III, Nicholas. The Evidence of Evolution (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc., 1967), p.100.
2 De Gracia, Alfred, ed. The Velikovsky Affair (New Hyde Park, New York: University Books, Inc., 1966). Dc Gracia discusses reception models in his own article in the book, "The Scientific Reception System," pp.171-231.
5 Simpson, George Gaylord. The Meaning of Evolution (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1971), p.313.
6 De Gracia, op. cit.
7 Institute for Creation Research, in its monthly newsletter, Acts and Facts, Vol.6, No.2., February, 1977, reoponed the dilemma of distinguished anthropologist Dr. Anthony Ostric, a professor at St. Mary's College of Notre Dame University. The National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency, has repeatedly turned down his research proposal to reappraise man's evolutionary development from evidence that would be gathered from libraries, museums, anthropological expeditions and prehistoric sites. Grounds for rejection: the proposal.... . never clearly stated what were the possible alternatives to the application of evolutionary principles to human cultural developments."
8 American Humanist Association, "A Statement Affirming Evolution as a Principle of Science," The Humanist (January, February, 1977), p.4.
9 De Gracia, op. cit.
13 Zuckerman, Sir Solly, Beyond the Ivory Tower New York: Taplinger Publishing Co., 1970), p.64. (Zuckerman is referred to as "Lord" because he has been knighted since publication of his book.)
14 De Gracia, op. cit.
15 Civitalis delle Macchine (May, June, 1964). From an editorial in this publication, "Truth in Expansion," as expressed by Livio C. Steccbini in The Vetikovsky Affair (see note 2).
16 Stecchini, Livio C., "Astronomical Theory and Historical Data," pp. 127-170, from The VelikovskyAffair (see note 2).
17 Dobhansky, Theodosius. "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution," TheAmerkan Biology Teacher (March, 1973).
18 American Humanist Association, op. cit
19 Wenner, Adrian M. "Adam and Eve in Science," The American Biology Teacher (May, 1973).
20 Stecchini, op. cit
21 Liang Ch' i-ch'ao, as quoted from Tsuen-Hsuin Tsien, "Western Impact on China through Translation," Far Eastern Quarterly, XIII (1954), 321, as quoted by Veith (see reference at bottom after "Also consulted:")
22 Delfgaauw, Bernard. Evolution: The Theory of Teuhard De Chardin, trans. by Hubert Hoskins (New York: Harper and Row, 1961, 1969). Delfgaauw attribotes expression of this idea initially to Polak's doctoral thesis, Netherlands.
23 Eliot, George. Daniel Deronda (New York: Harper Torchbooks, Harper and Brothers), pp.273, 383, 384.
Also consulted: Ilza Veith, Issues in Evolution, Vol.111, ed. by Sol Tax and Charles Callender (Chicago: University ofChicago Press, 1975).