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Understanding the Limits of Knowing

Understanding the Limits of Knowing

Answering The False Claims of Creationists

by Bill Schultz

Table of Contents


On Friday, March 8, 2002, I attended a debate between Dr. Massimo Pigliucci of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and Mr. John Calvert, [1] of the Intelligent Design Network, Inc. Mr. Calvert is one of the most “liberal” of the creationists that I’ve seen perform. He did not take issue with the idea of evolution at all. His main point is that there are (allegedly) only three possible causes for what we observe in nature:

  1. Design (meaning deliberate construction from an outside intelligence) [2]
  2. Natural Law
  3. Random Chance

Mr. Calvert claimed that inquiry into the subject of human origins necessarily impacts religion, that the government had compartmentalized science so that the idea of “Design” was necessarily excluded from the science curriculum, and that there were only two camps of people competing on this subject:

  1. Religious people who believe in creation (“Design”) by God; and
  2. Atheists, who in rejecting God, must necessarily also reject creation.

Accordingly, Mr. Calvert claimed that government had taken a position of forcing the teaching of an atheistic and materialistic philosophy (or “religion”) of “Naturalism” down the throats of “innocent” school children that were being brought up in a different religious tradition. This, he claimed, was unconstitutional. This unfair treatment of the beliefs of religious people arises (he said) because science necessarily bars any and all explanations that claim “Design” when constructing scientific models of reality. [3]

I did not speak at the debate, but I feel compelled to point out the glaring logic flaws in Mr. Calvert’s arguments. First, if religion confines its proclamations to matters within its own magisterium, and if science confines its proclamations to matters within its own magisterium, then there necessarily cannot be any impact by scientific inquiry on matters of religion. If some impact occurs, then either science or religion has overstepped the boundaries of its own magisterium. Ideally, the magisteria of science and religion should never overlap. This idea is referred to as “Non-Overlapping Magisteria,” or “NOMA,” after Dr. Stephen J. Gould. [4] If history is any guide, it is usually religion that is found to have overstepped the legitimate boundaries of its own magisterium. [5] And quite frankly, I hope to show herein that it is, once again, religion that is overstepping the legitimate boundaries of its own magisterium when it makes claims such as those attributed to Calvert herein.

But before we get too far into the specifics of this battle, I believe it is critical to lay the groundwork by describing exactly what scientific inquiry claims as knowledge.

How We Come To “Know” Things

All life forms live in the present, but are capable of communicating with both the future and the past in one or more distinct ways. Knowing begins with a present tense perception of some particular state of affairs. [6] Higher animals, including all mammals, have numerous complex ways of perceiving differences in the way things are in their immediate vicinity. But, so far as mankind understands things now, even the simplest forms of life have to possess some method of sensing certain things in their immediate vicinity in order to know whether they should feed, reproduce, or move away from danger. Thus, even the most primitive form of sense organ that exists, such as a simple receptor used to detect the presence of a particular sort of molecule, acts as a way for the organism of which the sense organ is a part to know something about its environment.

The process of communication can take many forms. The most basic form of communication between life forms is the genetic communication that takes place between a parent and its offspring. The genetic code of the parent(s) is transmitted to the offspring, and as a direct consequence, the offspring learns certain key things about just how to go about being a creature of some particular type. In higher animals, the forms of communication abound. In addition to the genetic form of communication from parent(s) to offspring, we have several more immediate forms of communication, including the use of sight, sound, touch, smell, and even taste as methods of transferring information from one creature to another. [7]

Any time any creature interacts with the surrounding environment, some sort of record can be left behind, recording for some amount of time at least the fact that the creature was here at some point and for some amount of time. The more complex the creature in question is, the more likely it is that some record of the creature’s existence will persist for a very long time, perhaps even for millions or billions of years. On the other hand, the simpler the creature’s makeup is, the less likely it is that there can be any long-term record of the creature’s existence. It is primarily for this reason that the records of the earliest forms of life on Earth are lost to mankind. We quite simply never existed at the same time any such records existed, if they ever existed in the first place.

These very general discussions should give us the idea that the process of knowing something involves two essential components: 1) sensing something (and thereby creating some sort of “information” about our environment); and 2) retaining the results of that sensing operation over time (which can be called a “memory” function). It is clear that even the most primitive types of DNA perform the “retaining” function. What is less clear is the fact that, in the context of evolution, the “sensing” function can occur as a consequence of the process of mutation and natural selection. [8]

Once that we understand what “knowing” really means (the creation of memory), we can then also understand what things impose limits upon human knowledge. We cannot know something that has never in any way impinged upon our senses (and in this instance, I use the word “senses” in its broadest possible connotation, so as to include our very DNA as the memorized product of a “sense” process involving mutation and natural selection). And we cannot know something that was forgotten, or was never recorded in the first instance in any way now accessible to human beings, even if it did once impinge upon our human sense organs (again, in the broadest possible sense, as above).

There is a third possible way to know something. It is “knowing” by deriving knowledge from logical reasoning based upon prior knowledge. If I live in a tropical environment, and almost every morning when I awake I check and discover that the Sun is causing a bright light outside of my house, it is reasonable for me to infer, without checking, that upon awaking on some other particular day, a bright light outside of my window means that the Sun is up once again.

A course in logic is well beyond the scope of this paper. However, there are two main forms of logical analysis: 1) Deduction; and 2) Induction. Deduction always produces a true or false result because the process of deduction guarantees that the result is a necessary consequence of the stated premises. Induction, however, cannot ever produce certainty. That failure of induction arises because induction attempts to extrapolate the past into the future and, because the future can contain any number of unknown elements that might affect the outcome of the process being analyzed using induction, there is just plainly no way to know whether or not the predicted result will ever actually occur. Unfortunately, most human knowledge claims are based upon induction rather than upon deduction. Therefore, most human knowledge claims contain an element of uncertainty. (For example, the Sun will not rise tomorrow morning if, sometime prior to the end of today, the Earth, the Solar System, and/or the entire universe is destroyed by some cataclysmic event the nature of which we might never even guess. Thus, no matter how many days of the past have seen the Sun rise in the morning, there is no real certainty that the Sun will continue to rise in the morning for any stated period of time into the future.)

This is a somewhat simplified view of what human knowledge is, how humans acquire knowledge, and what the limits imposed upon human knowledge are. In the remaining sections of this essay I will examine various aspects of this knowledge claim and I will look at various consequences of this claim being true.

Science [9] Is The Organized And Methodical Accumulation Of Knowledge

To some people, “science” seems to be a self-appointed elite group of humans who attempt to tell the rest of humanity what is true and what is false. Seen in that way, “science” is easily dismissed as a dictatorial power with no real authority to speak about what is true and what is not true. Those people whose interests are at odds with the findings of science often find it to be to their own advantage to foster exactly this sort of erroneous elitist view of “science” and scientists. In fact, there are those who find it to be to their own advantage to ensure widespread ignorance of exactly what “science” is and just how “science” does the business of producing human knowledge claims.

The reality is that there is no mystery at all to the process of science. Science consists solely in the organized accumulation of knowledge. Scientists gather knowledge in exactly the same way that any human has gathered knowledge for the entire time that any thinking human has existed anywhere on the face of the Earth. Scientists arrange to perceive the facts that underlie their particular knowledge claim, carefully and methodically record those facts (and any other relevant facts), and analyze the perceived facts in a thorough and methodical manner so as to rationally conclude exactly what sort of summary knowledge claim is warranted by the underlying facts so perceived and recorded.

There are certain traits that good scientists ought to possess. Among these are:

  1. Honesty – No good scientist will “cook the books” to produce some particular outcome. [10]
  2. Meticulousness – No good scientist engages in sloppy work. The avoidance of sloppy work habits includes arranging to perceive all of the necessary data, carefully recording all of that data, and performing any analysis of the data with all deliberate care towards obtaining the maximum possible accuracy for any derived knowledge claim.
  3. Logical Thinking – A good scientist will have the ability to think logically about just what pattern of results the data might be trying to show. Some of the most amazing scientific theories resulted when some scientist thought logically about some experimental outcome that was unexpected.

Scientific method [11] consists of the process of gathering and carefully recording observations through the use of sense perceptions (or mechanically-aided sense perceptions), using logical thinking to define just what sort of problem is presented by the known observations that therefore needs some sort of new explanation, using logical thinking to formulate some sort of hypothesis that explains all of the known observations (including those made by others), and then testing that hypothesis in certain ways in order to ascertain if the hypothesis correctly predicts the observed results in all conceivable circumstances. Ultimately, the hypothesis is evaluated against the observations and the methodology used in order to assign some sort of validity indicator to the hypothesis. [12]

Generally speaking, the testing must be repeated (or at least, be repeatable) by some outside scientists who are working in an entirely different set of circumstances before any results will be accepted as valid by the scientific community. Repeatability is one of the key elements of scientific investigation. If the results are not repeatable “at will” by any other scientists, then there isn’t any explanation apparent in the hypothesis. [13]

If there is some agreement about the validity of the hypothesis, and it explains something new about how our world operates, then the hypothesis can be elevated to a theory. This use of the word “theory” by scientists is somewhat different than the use of the word “theory” in common language. What an average person calls a “theory” a scientist calls a “hypothesis.” A scientific “theory” is thus a “hypothesis” that has been repeatedly tested and which has therefore gained some measure of validity. Ultimately, if the theory remains true under every conceivable set of circumstances that are in accord with the preconditions of the theory, it can be elevated to the status of a scientific “law.” The use of the word “law” merely means that, so far as current scientific understanding goes, it always explains what happens when you are given the stated preconditions.

The very word “science” comes to us from the Latin scientia, which literally means, “to know.” It should thus not be at all surprising that science is merely a formalized way to know things with some stated degree of certainty. Rather than some haphazard approach to “knowing,” science attempts to define, in a broad and very methodical way, exactly what procedures are required for humans to really “know.”

Why Science And Religion Might Disagree About What “Knowing” Entails

Religion is based upon “revealed truth” that must be taken on “faith,” where “faith” is required specifically because there is no real “proof” of the “revealed truth.” This concept is entirely at odds with scientific method, as explained above, where a hypothesis can only be accepted if there is some substantial proof of its truth, and that truth can be re-proven “at will” by anybody else who has the resources necessary to reproduce the experiment. Thus no “revealed truth” of any religion can ever be accepted as “truth” by any scientist who is operating in accordance with scientific method.

Occasionally, however, some religious truth will be perceived to be at odds with some accepted scientific truth. Presently, such matters as the true age of the Earth (either a few billion years or a few thousand years), the truth of the “Flood” story in the Bible, and the nature and extent of biological evolution, are all points of contention between certain branches of science and certain representatives of some religious believers.

I should emphasize that by no means do all religious believers refuse to accept the findings of science as being true. In fact, the vast majority of religious believers find nothing in science that actually challenges their religious beliefs. It is only that minority of religious believers who creates some perverted claim(s) of some “literal truth” of the Biblical texts who finds it necessary to challenge the truth of scientific investigation.

Stephen J. Gould is famous for stating his idea of nonoverlapping magisteria [14] (NOMA) to describe what science and religion should each agree to allow the other to control so far as “teaching authority” goes. The key thought by Gould, when addressing the conflict between science and religion, is contained in these few sentences:

No such conflict should exist because each subject has a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority-and these magisteria do not overlap (the principle that I would like to designate as NOMA, or “nonoverlapping magisteria”). The net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory). The net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value. These two magisteria do not overlap, nor do they encompass all inquiry (consider, for starters, the magisterium of art and the meaning of beauty). To cite the arch clichés, we get the age of rocks, and religion retains the rock of ages; we study how the heavens go, and they determine how to go to heaven.

In other words, Gould proposes a truce whereby science deals authoritatively with facts in the natural realm and religion deals authoritatively with facts in the supernatural realm. Of course, to any intelligent observer, this truce breaks down immediately because it is the essence of religion to tell people what they ought to do here in the natural realm in order to protect their supposed future existence in the supernatural realm.

In a similar vein, there is much that science can legitimately investigate with respect to human morality. In particular, science can contrast the consequences of differing moral rule sets in different human communities. Furthermore, the social sciences purport to tell us much about human motivations and behaviors. These studies, too, can lead to inferences about the efficacy of religious moral rules.

The essential point of dogma that religion defends is the idea of a human soul that survives death and is either rewarded or punished in accord with our actions in this life. [15] As Gould notes from his position within the domain of science, science “cannot prove or disprove such a notion, and the concept of souls cannot threaten or impact my domain.” But just as clearly, the actions of both scientists and religious leaders here within the domain of the natural world can impact the natural world realms of their opposites in many significant ways, both for good and for ill.

Finally, with the ever-increasing sophistication of science, one must wonder at the lack of any real verification of the existence of any supernatural realm of God and souls. The faithful may well continue to believe in spite of what science proclaims. And in Gould’s view, no findings of science should ever extend into the magisterium of religious belief to be taken as validating or invalidating any such belief. But at some point, the lack of scientific evidence in favor of any sort of supernatural realm must necessarily become a deafening roar against the possible truth of any such concept. After all, if the supernatural realm is to have any reality for religious believers, there must be some way for communication of physical [16] and/or mental [17] entities between the supernatural and natural realms. [18] Accordingly, continued scientific advancement cannot help but be an ever-increasing threat to the dogmas of religious belief.

Why Science Is “Biased” Towards Naturalism

Science is, quite simply, a process carried out by human beings. Since no claim is advanced that average human beings possess any sort of supernatural powers, it is beyond the ability of any such average human being to investigate (or in any way affect) anything that exists within the domain of the supernatural.

But what about the alleged abilities of non-average human beings? Do they really have some supernatural and/or paranormal ability to contact some other realm outside of the natural realm? Frankly, most people understand that most of these alleged adepts are charlatans or frauds of various sorts. And it doesn’t seem to take a lot to convince the vast majority of people of the falsehood of most claims of this sort. It seems that, if you see somebody trying to make money from such a claim, the suspicion that the claim might be false comes easily into mind.

Science frequently deals with new things, and with people and/or things for which certain very unusual claims are advanced. [19] Some unusual claims do prove to be true when the methods of science are employed to test and/or measure the veracity of those particular claims. This fact proves that science is not simply biased against whatever might be new and/or unique. In fact, most of the great advances of science were “new and/or unique” when they were first announced. This is the nature of human progress.

What science is based upon is explained above, in the second section of this essay, above. The rules of science provide that anybody with access to the necessary resources ought to be able to repeat the identical experiment. This excludes from possible scientific truth any claims that are based upon the scientist having some special ability, such as the ability to access, measure, or manipulate things existing in the supernatural realm. If a phenomenon cannot be measured using instruments constructed by human hands, then the phenomenon must be said by science to not exist. This by no means prejudices the claims made from other magisteria about matters within their own purview! Instead, it only recognizes the agreed limits of scientific inquiry, which are in turn the limits required for any knowledge claim to be called “scientific.”

It is this limitation of scientific investigation to making measurements of things here in the “natural” realm that “biases” science towards verifying the existence of only the natural. Nonetheless, I don’t see this particular barrier as being insurmountable. Surely, if the supernatural were true, we ought to be able to measure some sort of unmistakable impact upon the natural realm that any sort of contact between the natural and supernatural realms might engender. Thus, the plain fact that we have not been able to measure any such impact in any of many different ways does tend to prove that no such supernatural realm actually exists. Accordingly, in spite of the obvious bias of science towards the natural realm, it cannot be said that the bias of science against the supernatural is in any way unwarranted. Rather, it is a valid conclusion to reach (that no supernatural realm actually exists) when no impact from the existence of any supernatural realm can actually be measured.

Dualism: [20] The Essence Of The Disagreement

The idea of some sort of mind/body dualism has a long and distinguished history in philosophical studies. However, the modern view, driven by scientific advances, is that no such dualism actually exists. [21] This scientific finding, that the minds of humans appear to be merely manifestations of our physical brains, adds to the stature of monism and detracts from the position of the alternatives of dualism and pluralism. Of course, what really concerns religion is the question of body/soul dualism, but the implications are obvious. If science can explain the human mind as being entirely produced by physical means, two questions arise. First, how can the idea that any human abilities (physical or mental) are “the gift of God” be maintained? Second, if the mind is seen as a purely physical thing, then what role can a human soul play in interacting with the mind?

These questions lead to the key element of dispute between science and religion. It is really the inferences gleaned from scientific findings that lead people like Calvert to claim that the public schools are being used to indoctrinate children with the philosophy of “godless materialism.”

Do the schools actually teach children that they do not have souls? Not to the best of my knowledge. And since the idea of souls clearly falls within the magisterium of religion, it would, in fact, be unconstitutional for the public schools to teach either for or against that idea. Children can learn about the natural world in public schools and about the supernatural world in their respective churches, and in theory (at least) the two realms should never come into conflict.

The idea of a dualism between the natural and supernatural worlds is similarly not something that public schools ought to undertake to teach about. Just as souls are a matter for religion, so too is the idea of anything supernatural a matter for religion. And so too religion should keep its pronouncements away from matters of scientific fact.

At the end of the day, peace in this whole business involves science and religion each paying strict attention to the boundaries of their respective magisteria. And under First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, it is no business of any entity of government to be establishing any religious idea as being either true or false. Thus, while the schools may clearly teach about religion, they are (and should be) absolutely prohibited from teaching religion as part of their mission.

Resolving The “Design” Controversy

We now have enough understanding to begin to address the challenges posed by the creationists. Let us examine the main challenges raised by Mr. Calvert:

  1. Is Science Biased Towards the Natural World?


    Yes, it is, by the nature of its magisterium. As Gould says, “the net of science covers the empirical universe: what is it made of (fact) and why does it work this way (theory).” These are all attributes of the natural world, and science can only operate within the confines of the natural world.

  2. Does Science Recognize “Design” When Present?


    Emphatically, yes! Mr. Calvert’s own examples from forensic sciences serve to adequately illustrate this point. And it is obvious that when an archeologist finds a pottery shard, no assumption is made that the shard somehow arose naturally from the surrounding rocks. Instead, the presumption is made that the shard is of human origin and was “intelligently designed.”

    Science can, and does, recognize any design that has a natural designer. By the nature of its own magisterium, science cannot recognize a supernatural designer because any such designer would necessarily fall within the magisterium of religion. Accordingly, science only excludes the idea of a design that is a product of a supernatural cause. If science is to declare that something is a product of intelligent design, then science must be convinced that there was, at the time the design was executed, some natural intelligence that executed the design. If no such natural intelligence was present at the time the design was executed, then science would either need to remain mystified or else to continue searching for a natural explanation that did not involve intelligent design. In fact, science has done exactly this, and has largely answered the assertions that life could not have evolved from earlier, simpler, living things. In fact, it has so evolved.

  3. What Demarcates the Different “Design” Types?


    Philosophy recognizes two sorts of teleological explanations: internal teleology (a goal imposed by the nature of the thing) and external teleology (a goal imposed by an outside agent). [22] Science can recognize external teleology (design), as explained above, when the presence of a natural agent may be rationally inferred. Science cannot recognize external teleology (design), as explained above, when the presence of a natural agent may not be rationally inferred, and in particular, when a supernatural agent is claimed as the source of the teleological goal. Witness this essay by John Wilkins from the Talk.Origins archive:

    “External teleology is dead in biology, but there is a further important distinction to be made. Mayr [1982: 47-51] [23] distinguished four kinds of explanations that are sometimes called teleology: teleonomic (goal-seeking, Aristotle’s final causes, ‘for-the-sake-of-which’ explanations); teleomatic (law-like behavior that is not goal-seeking); adapted systems (which are not goal seeking at all, but exist just because they survived); and cosmic teleology (end-directed systems) [c.f. O’Grady and Brooks 1988]. Only systems that are actively directed by a goal are truly teleological. Most are just teleomatic, and some (e.g., genetic programs) are teleonomic (internal teleology), because they seek an end.”

    While Mr. Calvert claims that the philosophy of naturalism excludes all questions of design, in fact naturalism only excludes external teleological designs (those arising from an agent that is external to the natural world). Those must necessarily be excluded because they emanate from the magisterium of religion. As Gould said, “the net of religion extends over questions of moral meaning and value.” Those are teleological concerns, and it is not the business of science to express any opinions upon them. If the boundaries are to be properly adhered to, science must necessarily exclude external teleological explanations from its compendium of scientific explanations. In other words, external teleological explanations cannot be “scientific” in any sense.

    However, science can (and does) recognize natural designs, as shown above. These can generally be described as internal teleology. The goal (or end) arises due to an agent operating within the natural world. Human intervention is the agency with which we are most familiar. But as Mayr and most biologists recognize, there are forms of teleology that appear within the simplest of biological entities.

  4. Does Science Recognize “Intelligent Design” In Biology?


    Sometimes, for certain. For instance, science can recognize the products of animal husbandry as occurring due to the “Intelligent Design” of the humans who are involved in that process. In other cases it depends entirely upon how you define “intelligent.” The dam of a beaver could be a product of “intelligent design.” Of course, that presumes that you would wish to ascribe the attribute of “intelligence” to a beaver. That is a matter of some debate. Here is one definition of what “intelligence” means:

    1 a (1) : the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations : REASON; also : the skilled use of reason (2) : the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests)

    We would generally not ascribe the ability to reason to a beaver. We tend to think of a beaver as acting out of instinct. And “the ability … to think abstractly” is most certainly outside of the abilities of a beaver. Scientific inquiry would seem to exclude all species but humans from possessing that ability.

    On the other hand, if “knowledge” is conceived of broadly, then the beaver that builds a dam certainly does “apply knowledge to manipulate one’s environment.” And presumably the variations in the local situation impose a requirement that the beaver exhibit “the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations.” After all, not all spots for beaver dam building are created equally. Certainly, some must necessarily be both “new” and “trying.”

  5. So, What Is The Real Issue Here?


    In my opinion, one key issue here is the continued use of “loose” and “slippery” language when discussing these matters. For instance, science recognizes internal teleological explanations. The creationists then cite those instances in order to justify the insertion of external teleological explanations into our school systems. The use of the term “intelligent design” is similarly misleading when only humans and a hypothetical God are seen to possess “intelligence.” Since no humans existed at the time(s) in question, and since the hypothetical God is excluded from the purview of science, there is no room for considerations of “intelligent design” within the realm of science. Both science and religion must each keep to their own magisterium.

  6. Does Scientific Study of Origins Necessarily Impact Religion?


    Emphatically, no! The only impact on religion would occur if religion were to overstep the boundaries of its magisterium. The false assertion that such an impact necessarily occurs is the most obvious falsehood that lies at the root of this matter. As a strong example of the contrary, you need only look at the Roman Catholic Church, whose Pope has recently acknowledged and ratified the scientific findings of evolution and who has also declared that those findings do not in any way impact the dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church. [24]

  7. Does Teaching Evolution Also Teach Metaphysical Naturalism?


    Again, emphatically, no! Only those religious views that cross the legitimate boundaries between the scientific and religious magisteria will feel that their beliefs are being “preached against” by a classroom teacher of evolutionary science. Evolutionary science should be taught in such a way that neither believers in metaphysical naturalism nor believers in conforming religions should find any offense to the subject presentation. (By “conforming religions” I mean those religions that keep their religious pronouncements within the legitimate boundaries of the religious magisterium.) Only those religious points of view that involve crossing the magisteria boundary line might find offense for any such presentation. And in my view, there is no religious right to demand that the public schools conform to those religious points of view that have illegitimately extended their dogma into areas of science. Those people can continue to maintain their own school systems for the benefit of their own believers. Doing otherwise would amount to the censorship of legitimate scientific information for reasons of religion, and I do not believe that sort of censorship to be a constitutional function of our government.


I have briefly gone over the philosophical foundations of science and traced out the legitimate boundaries between science and religion. With those legitimate boundaries firmly in mind, I have firmly and strongly answered the false arguments of those who do seek to inject “intelligent design” into our science curriculum. My answers do not in any way depend upon my own philosophy of metaphysical naturalism, but are entirely compatible with “mainstream” religions, such as the Roman Catholic Church. It does seem that all efforts of this sort are merely attempts by so-called “religious fundamentalists” to penetrate the legitimate boundaries between religion and science and to (somehow) inject the dogmas of their religious philosophy into the scientific teachings passed on to our children. The dangers of this sort of approach to science should be readily apparent from history.

There may well be a way of “knowing” that doesn’t involve physical sense organs. I don’t personally believe that such a thing exists, but I have no proof of its non‑existence. From a scientific point of view, the non‑existence of such a thing is impossible to prove. It is, instead, a matter of religious philosophy, and in that regard, each person must be left to the findings of their own conscience. But no matter how you feel about the existence of such a knowledge source, it is clearly a matter of religion that has no place in a public school science classroom.

Further Reading:

As far as I know, all book-length treatments of x:

  • x – x.
  • x – x.



I would also like to thank the many people who read earlier versions of this essay and who made constructive suggestions for improving it. What you see here was greatly affected by the many good suggestions I received.


[1] During the debate, Dr. Pigliucci commented upon the lack of qualifications in the biological sciences generally possessed by those brought forth to oppose the idea of biological evolution. Mr. Calvert is a long-time attorney from Kansas City. He does have a scientific degree, a Bachelors degree in Geology. Dr. Pigliucci’s degrees are in Botany and Evolutionary Biology, specializing in genetics. About this issue, Mr. Calvert writes: “What qualifies a lawyer to talk about origins science? Lawyers are qualified because the key issues do not involve issues of fact. They involve issues of logic, issues of evidence and procedure and whether the rules, when applied by the State are consistent with the speech and establishment clauses of the constitution. These are issues that lawyers are particularly qualified to speak to.” See as spotted March 10, 2002.

[2] In the discipline known as the Philosophy of Science, this question is debated rather heatedly. The religionists seem ready to concede that the question of agency (or the actions of a presumably supernatural agent) are inappropriate to the study of nonhistorical questions, but are justifiable in the study of historical questions. “This distinction has important implications for evaluating the scientific status of theories that invoke an antecedent cognitive act as a scientific explanation. I personally think that it suggests the legitimacy of such postulations if they also possess features such as wide explanatory power, internal consistency, and coherence.” See , spotted on March 10, 2002. The argument that forensic science seeks to determine if a particular event was caused by human agency seems to be particularly convincing that a determination of agency actions is an appropriate subject matter for scientific inquiry. Wherever you see the word “Design” used herein, the implication should be read that what is alleged is some sort of “an antecedent cognitive act,” which produced some “design,” which then came down to us in the forms that we see today.

[3] This thesis can be summarized by three paragraphs from the above-mentioned web page: “What really pricked my interest was learning that science essentially abandons the scientific method when it deals with origins science. The effect of modern origins science is to imbue a belief in naturalism. This has led our government into a practice that has the effect of indoctrinating our children and culture in Naturalism. I happen to think that is somewhat problematic. That is why I am here today. To talk about State sponsored naturalism. ¶ What is Naturalism? Naturalism is the DOCTRINE that all phenomena result only from natural processes and not by design. According to a naturalistic world view we are mere occurrences that just happen without purpose. We are not designs that have been designed for a purpose. ¶ The point is illustrated in the brochure that you should have before you. Presently Naturalism censors the design hypothesis. The censorship serves to protect evolution from criticism. Evolution winds up being supported by a philosophy rather than the scientific method. Our goal is to see that origins science is conducted objectively. To do that we need to remove the naturalistic assumption and allow the two hypotheses to compete on a level playing field.”

[4] See for Gould’s article, spotted December 28, 2001.

[5] One of the most famous instances of this is the persecution of Galileo Galilei by the Italian Inquisition. For a Catholic apologetic on this matter, see http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06342b.htm, spotted March 10, 2002. Of course, the procedures of scientific method and the morality of free speech have both evolved substantially since that incident in the 17th century.

[6] I adhere to the physicalist theory of the mind: that the human mind is an emergent property of the physical human brain. Thus, for me, the word “perception” implies a physical sensing and the transmission of that sense perception to whatever control mechanism exists to guide the organism in question. In humans, that control mechanism is the physical human brain.

[7] I do not take the time here to deal with the issue of whether or not direct mental sensing (such as, clairvoyance) is possible for humans. My claim is limited to the idea that if any such sensing ability is proven to exist, it will be a function of some innate sense organ within the brain, thus adhering to the physicalist tradition.

[8] If you conceive of DNA as memory, then the process of “natural selection” controls which DNA (memory) is preserved and which DNA (memory) is made extinct. Thus, the process of mutation and natural selection manages to sense the surrounding environment and remember that DNA which is naturally selected for preservation. This is, of course, something of an analogy, but I think it’s a useful one.

[9] For a true scientist’s treatment of essentially this same subject matter, please refer to as spotted December 28, 2001.

[10] Creationists frequently claim that current scientific findings are based upon falsified evidence, and they cite known instances of falsified evidence leading to scientific claims in order to bolster this idea. However, they frequently forget to acknowledge the fact that it is almost always some other scientist(s) who discovered the falsified nature of the evidence and who thereby falsified the resulting knowledge claim. It is exactly this process of repeated examination by different people in different circumstances that leads to the “self correcting” nature of scientific error analysis and discovery.

[11] See for a definition of the term “scientific method” as spotted December 28, 2001.

[12] Even strong believers in religion can accept something like this definition of what is scientific method. See , spotted March 10, 2002, which says this about science: “Science relies upon the scientific method (observation, statement of problem, hypothesis, experimentation, and interpretation). Science must be differentiated from the philosophies of naturalism or “scientism” that suggest that the scientific method is the only we [sic] to determine and understand reality.” This is an important distinction to keep in mind. Science, operating within its own magisterium, cannot invalidate other ways “to determine and understand reality” if those other ways operate entirely from within some other magisterium, such as a religion. Of course, where trouble arises is exactly when some other way “to determine and understand reality” declares something to be true or false that falls within the magisterium of science. This is exactly the sort of boundary problem addressed by Gould with the idea of “Non-Overlapping Magisteria,” or NOMA. See for Gould’s article, spotted December 28, 2001.

[13] Many scientific “discoveries” fail this requirement of repeatability. One of the best examples is the excitement generated a few years ago over the idea of “cold fusion.” The scientific claims could never be repeated. The idea of “cold fusion” has recently surfaced again, and once again, there does not appear to be any repeatability of the claims being made. It remains to be seen if this pattern continues into the future. However, until there are substantiated repeatable claims, most real scientists will not take any such idea(s) seriously. Of course, part of the problem with the scientific study of “miracles” is the lack of repeatability.

[14] See for Gould’s article, spotted December 28, 2001.

[15] This idea of a soul is common to all major religions. There are two main classes of beliefs about a human soul. In the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, the soul is created early in the child’s development (such as “at conception”), lives as part of the natural world until death, and is then (eventually) subjected to some sort of judgment, which results in the soul being consigned to either Heaven or Hell for all eternity. In the Hindu-Buddhist tradition, an individual soul is created as a splinter off of some larger entity, the individual soul then begins to inhabit various life forms, through a series of lives (death and reincarnation), gradually learning to progress towards some eventual “enlightenment,” with “enlightenment” coming to a human soul after an appropriate number of lives lived as learning experiences.

[16] Here, I include all matter and energy as elements of the “physical” realm.

[17] I take no stance herein on the ancient and long-running debate over whether the physical or the mental is the true measure of reality. Personally, I am a physicalist, but that idea is not central to my thesis herein, and everything I say herein can be taken as equally compatible with those who philosophically grant substance to the mental.

[18] Even if the nature of this communication path is entirely magical, mystical, and/or supernatural, the effects of such communication occurring ought to be detectable to science at some point. Or so I personally believe, anyway. The fact is that, if ideas are stored within human brains, then those ideas are represented by physical means, and thus the creation of an idea by any supernatural means must necessarily impinge in some way upon the physical world. Accordingly, there cannot be any sort of “revealed truth” without such an impinging event having occurred at some point in the past. Of course, no scientists were there to measure the event, and thus the argument is essentially irresolvable for past occurrences. But aren’t there any people alive today who are active recipients of “revealed truth” on a regular basis? If not, then why not? And if so, then why does not one of these people submit themselves as a subject for scientific study in order to prove the true source of their claimed “revealed truth?” One does have to wonder at this.

[19] Numerous claims for paranormal powers have been advanced over recorded history. Scientific investigation into these claims has not been precluded at all. Whenever any such claimant has presented their claims for scientific study in modern times, the scientists involved have easily been able to produce an entirely natural explanation for whatever observations were recorded. This is part of the power of scientific method. The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal maintains resources for continued testing of any and all such claims. So far, no such claims have been validated. Not one! This is a telling statistic in the realm of science.

[20] See https://philosophy.wustl.edu/, spotted March 10, 2002, for a good explanation of dualism. The key statement of the problem is this: “The question of dualism is not only of historical interest, it also has important implications for the scientific enterprise. If a convincing rejection of dualism can be formulated, the classic mind-body problem will be solved by its becoming a non-problem and the materialist approach of modern science will be vindicated. If, conversely, dualism can be convincingly maintained, it is by no means obvious that empirical evidence will suffice for a thorough understanding of the mind — in other words, understanding the brain may not be enough for understanding the mind.”

[21] As noted at https://philosophy.wustl.edu/, the question is not (yet) entirely settled. If mind/body dualism were to prevail, that would be a strong argument in favor of the additional matter of supernatural dualism (person/soul). However, if mind/body dualism is disproved, as I believe it has been, then that largely eviscerates any scientific (factual) support for the argument that the soul is an additional dualistic substance or property of the human being. Thus, I would assert that a large portion of the remaining hostility towards declaring the battle over arises from religious motivations.

[22] See http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolphil/teleology.html.

[23] Mayr, E: 1982. The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance, Belknap Press/Harvard University Press.

[24] See for the Stephen J. Gould article, spotted December 28, 2001. That article extensively discusses the recent papal pronouncement.

The text of this essay is Copyright © 2002, by William A. Schultz. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission of the author.

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