Kopiec Maksym Adam ,
Recensione: Jacob Klapwijk, Purpose in the Living World? Creation and Emergent Evolution,
Antonianum, 85/4 (2010) p. 651-656
This book by Jacob Klapwijk should be included within the larger context of the difficult relationship between the natural sciences and faith, since the Author tries to build a bridge between them. More specifically, he asks himself whether, within the context of evolutionary theory as it is commonly understood in the domain of the empirical sciences, is there any reason to accept the idea of purpose, perhaps even of a creational design? Many scientists are of the opinion that the Darwinian theory on evolution implies an aimless process of development wherein living nature selects continuously and in all circumstances completely random variants, devoid of any underlying plan. They maintain that life is a chance product of blind natural process without any direction, and that in consequence human existence represents the result of a lucky draw. Is there really no possibility for some religious and metaphysical explanation of empirical events to maintain a cognitive and objective character? Do the natural sciences really stand in conflict with any theological input?
Before his own attempt at resolving the dilemma between science and faith, Klapwijk tries to illustrate the different approaches to this topic so far, like creationism, the Intelligent Design theory (=ID), evolutionary naturalism and emergentism. Creationism denotes the search for a synthesis between the Biblical message and scientific knowledge. Through such a fusion, creationism gives rise to a methodologically illicit mixture of Biblical and scientific views as concerns the origin of the world, of life, and the nature of human beings.
The second approach consists in ID theory. Contrary to creationists, its adherents do not refer directly to the text of the Bible. Rather, they start with a scientific view of the universe and state that the origin and development of life are based on design and thus indicate a purpose. They defend the view that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection. Sometimes an incidental referral to a design can lead to an idea of the ≪God of the gaps≫, that appeals to a divine intervention or a metaphysical cause only when empirical science fails. But what happens, asks Klapwijk, when science finds the solution to some problems through the category of regularity or the category of chance? Then the argument of divine design becomes dependent on the progress of modern science, and it stands or falls according to scientific development. In fact, if the lack of an evolutionary explanation for a complex phenomenon of life can be considered as a proof for the existence of a divine designer, then the reverse, the finding of such an explanation, can be considered as an argument that God does not exist, or that His existence is irrelevant.
The third approach to our subject matter is made by evolutionary naturalism. The modern conception of naturalism is grounded in a monistic idea of the world, in which nature is presented as the all-encompassing basis of reality. It maintains that all that is, is in its very essence, material nature (philosophical materialism), determined by universal laws and physico-chemical causes, and ultimately explicable according to the paradigm of the natural sciences. With regard to evolution, on the one hand it presupposes change and innovation, but on the other hand it implies, in its ideological profile as evolutionary naturalism, two main postulates: (a) a fundamental continuity between inanimate and animate nature, and (b) that all non-physicalor higher-level phenomena are ultimately reducible to physical phenomena. Klapwijk asserts that the assumptions of evolutionary naturalism are formulated in such an exclusive way that every irreducible novelty or ontological discontinuity in the development of species is rejected. In addition, these assumptions are inspired by a belief of their followers, the belief that science can give a full explanation of everything. In fact, evolutionary naturalism does not succeed in any way in describing the theoretical arguments in favour of this position in the language of physics, chemistry or biology. Its advocates have no empirical proof to demonstrate their philosophical statements.
So they fall into the trap they made themselves, claiming that all conclusions must follow from evidence, yet they are not able to provide any evidence for the above mentioned postulates that are their methodological starting-point and have a basic and pre-theoretical character.
The fourth approach is represented by the emergentism thesis, which claims that natural reality is involved in a process of progressive evolutionary change. At the same time, its followers insist on a broader framework for the world, that is a reflective thought that may supplement science. Evolution is not always a uniform, continuous and predictable process of development; sometimes it manifests a major discontinuity due to the appearance of ≪emergents≫, which are phenomena that supervene the existing causal system, being so truly new that they cannot be explained by the general laws of nature. Serious objections can be made to this, since, according to a different thesis, all events in the history of the world tend toward God, and furthermore, there is a tendency or inclination (nisus) of nature to articulate itself through higher and higher levels. At the highest level human consciousness would thus reach a divine awareness. In this way, the theory of emergence becomes emergentism, a metaphysical vision of the world with mystical and pantheistic characteristics, present in process philosophers as A. N. Whitehead, Ch. Hatrshorne, or J. B. Cobb.
What is then the proposal of J. Klapwijk? Following a twofold method of ≪taking note of what scientific specialists have brought to light, and taking note of what extra-scientific sources of wisdom bring forth≫, he suggests the theory of emergent evolution. Such a theory is based on a philosophical framework in which emergence is conceived as a phenomenon of self-transcendence or transcendental novelty. Emergence implies that in the process of evolutionary change things transcend themselves in such a way that a completely new and idionomic cosmic order comes to light. Thus the concept of emergent evolution not only involves an epistemological distinction, but it has an ontological status. Therefore it implies a fundamental innovation both in the order of knowing and of being. Emergent evolution reveals a new arrangement of being in such a way that new functions and properties arise (physical, biotic, vegetative, sensitive, mental), based on the functions and properties that were already present at preceding levels of being but are not reducible to them, because they respond to laws of their own. Consequently, emergent evolution can be regarded as innovative evolution. Yet, the novel changes within the whole process do not occur without continuity with previous evolutionary stages, insofar as a new phenomenon owes its emergence to the elements and causes (chemical and biological “ingredients”) of the earlier phases. Thus, continuity and discontinuity necessarily imply each other.
On this basis, Klapwijk suggests the idea of ontological stratification, which implies that the world has gradually disclosed itself in an all-embracing hierarchy of lower and higher levels that reach from the physical and biotic domains up to the complex spheres of human mind and human society. How can this philosophical framework of evolutionary theory be connected with the initial question: is there purpose in the living world? Everything in the becoming of the world, from the “Big Bang” on, appears to be so accurately aimed at the origin of human life that the conclusion of the design structure of the general laws of nature ordered for the appearance of humankind manifests itself almost unavoidably. But what, in Klapwijk’s opinon, does the term design mean? It looks as if the Author uses it in its empirical and immanent sense. This understanding entails that the physical universe is designed in such a way that it lays the basis for all higher levels of being and prepares the way for the advent of human beings, but without providing the idea of any external input of information nor of any possible transcendent design.
There is displayed a directional process that allows us to speak of a ≪pathway of meaning≫. It is also noteworthy that, as a philosophical explanation, the theory of emergence is not based on metaphysical speculation but only on the theoretical deductions drawn from the experience of nature. That is the reason why the Author admits the scientific concept of purpose, solely in its natural and immanent sense, without referring to the transcendent cause and goal. Ultimately, given that the universe is an object of interest for both science and faith, Klapwijk asks what is the relationship between these two paths in the human search for truth? Personal faith forms the ultimate framework of reference within which our theoretical insights are ordered, being derived from empirical facts and philosophical explanations. Faith is the determinative and interpretative framework of our factual cognition, and it places all data of human and scientific knowledge in the light of its ultimate and transcendent goal, revealed in the word of God. Faith is determinative, since for every investigator some kind of belief (or vision of the world) precedes the theoretical analyses of science; thus religious or Christian faith too performs this role. Faith is interpretative too, because it takes into account the results of scientific research, and it offers a possible answer about their meaning in the perspective of God’s revelation. Therefore faith, in its relationship with science, assumes an hermeneutic function.
This statement would appear entirely correct so far, but there are deficiencies in some of its details that need to be considered and made clear. In this context, it will be sufficient to explain the necessity to elucidate Klapwijk’s understanding of philosophy and to outline the positions taken by the critics of the ID theory.
At first, there is a very controversial and quite arbitrary refusal of metaphysics
as a legitimate sort of authentic knowledge. The Author promotes an anti-metaphysical philosophy that does not lend itself to theoretical speculation about first principles, the purpose of being or the meaning of all that exists (239). ≪Metaphysics is by definition a theory that is neither provable nor refutable and is, therefore, pseudoscientific≫. It ≪results from the fact that metaphysical arguments do not meet the demand for empirical verification or falsification to which modern science has committed itself≫ (240). Klapwijk’s rejection of metaphysics derives from a unilateral understanding of it: “metaphysics (…) has been preoccupied (…) with the universal conditions that lie hidden in experience; [it] attempts to inflate these universal conditions in the experience of temporal reality into a world of its own above time and space, yes, into ≪absolute ideas≫ or ≪supra-temporal essences≫ that would be the foundation of the empirical world” (244). How wrong he is in his conception of metaphysics is displayed by this affirmation: ≪Metaphysical propositions are those that go beyond the realm of experience in the sense that they cannot be tested on the basis of empirical data≫ (239). So he excludes philosophy founded on other principles, like metaphysics as a classical philosophy of being grounded on the rational search for first principles, causes, purposes and meanings. The Author, rejecting the cognitive validity of metaphysics, does not seek to answer the question “why is there a universe at all?”
Hence his proposal is to put forward an empirical philosophy based on the natural experience of the factual material (244). His definition of the right philosophy seems very ambiguous and vague: ≪Philosophy is a totality science, focussed on something that the investigators in the special [natural] sciences pass by unnoticed, namely the general presuppositions that are contained in our experience of reality, that is, the conditions of experience≫ (243). Since he does not subsequently specify the meaning of the term “general presuppositions”, the concept of philosophy appears paradoxically as a “philosophy of the gaps”. A philosophy that has no nature or cognitive quality of its own, no systematic structure and no peculiar method, being but“superstructure” or “additional storey” in relation to empirical science: ≪something that the investigators in the special [natural] sciences pass by unnoticed≫. Even though the Author does ascribe an hermeneutic role to philosophy – understood in a very large sense as a pluralism of various faith and views of the world, very often mutually contradictory (197) – nevertheless it appears as quite vague knowledge based on some spiritual awareness and different positions about the nature of the world (171-172).
Finally, Klapwijk provides a description of the philosophical ideas contained in the ID theory, but he only considers one author (W. Dembski), whose argumentation is sometimes definitely unacceptable. Then he suggests that the ID theory is but a sort of “shorthand” or new variety of creationism (crypto-creationism). This requires to be updated. In fact, recently many other authors, scientists and philosophers (J. Polkinghorne, R. Swinburne, A. Flew, K. Ward, A. McGrath, A. Plantinga) have taken up this theory, giving it a new and more profound significance. Klapwijk repeatedly and erroneously contrasts the philosophical aspects of the ID theory (why is the universe?) with the scientific vision of the universe (how does the universe work?), whereas the opposite is true. Methodologically, it must be emphasized once again that these two ways of research belong to different and autonomous domains of knowledge, that do not exclude each other. Quite the reverse: they are two domains that can be conceivable at the same time, and indeed are in some sense complementary. Therefore Klapwijk is not completely right when he accuses ID adherents of implying in their theory ≪the establishment of an alternative paradigm of science≫ (197). The ID thesis lays no claim to be a scientific theory or to indicate a new pattern for science, but it proposes a more justifiable and consistent relationship, based on dialogue, between science and faith. It seems that the Author denies prejudicially and anti-empirically any philosophical validity to the ID theory.
Nevertheless, some critical observations cannot deprive the work of Klapwijk of its high quality. Its prolific and abundant contents manifest the profound expertise of the author, in his presentation of these complex and subtle questions. Undoubtedly the book presents an invaluable contribution to the scholarly discussion about the meaning of the natural world and its philosophical significance. For theologians it offers a good opportunity to enter the current scholarly debate concerning the relationship between science and faith, especially with regard to the problem of creation and evolution.
It should motivate them to give a satisfactory reasoned theological answer to the many questions raised by the progress of the natural sciences.