* For Rent: To rent a GTKW dedication line, please contact Dr. X.*
If you’ve never joined us before, welcome. If you have joined us before, welcome back. I’m “Dr. X,” and the subject and star of this column is my good friend and fellow traveler, “Dr. Why,” who has many very interesting ideas to share with us.
Why has been telling me for years that inquiry of all sorts builds on “founding hypotheses” that may always be doubted and may often be replaced, sometimes with grandly surprising results—conceivably even creationist results. So last time—challenged by me to render belief in Adam and Eve “even remotely plausible” while accommodating the historical sciences—Why donned his comedian hat and shared an entertaining rendition of the so-called Fall-of-Man story of Genesis 3. By interpreting the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge as an hallucinogenic mushroom, Why created a scenario showing that the experience of any one person—no matter how much science it includes—is compatible with the hypothesis that s/he’s really Eve dying of a drug overdose in Eden.
Have I got that right, Dr. Why?
Y: You’ve summarized the event skillfully, Dr. X.
X: So the idea is that although Eve experienced things as they were prior to ingesting the mushroom, she was cut off entirely from the outside world of the Garden soon afterward and now merely hallucinates everything?
Y: I won’t object to that interpretation.
X: Your founding hypotheses include a sort of solipsism?
Y: On your interpretation of my scenario, Eve’s experiences after eating the mushroom are entirely limited to her own mind, yes.
X: But in that case, Why, though you met my challenge artfully, your victory isn’t entirely impressive, because you’ve accommodated the historical sciences only as illusions. What you have to do instead is show that creationists might accommodate real scientific data that’s about a real world. What’s more, your scenario isn’t even creationism friendly. Perhaps the historical sciences could be accommodated as illusions by some perverse mutant of a maverick creationist using your Dead-Head-Eve scenario. Great. But actual creationists don’t believe in only Adam and Eve: they also believe in Noah, Jonah, and sometimes Jesus—all of whom are merely hallucinations on your scenario. Maybe drugs would make it easier to believe all those silly stories—
Y: You challenged me to reconcile the existence of Adam and Eve with the historical sciences, and I did that—and in seven-hundred words no less! So I really can’t see what you’re complaining about—unless it’s losing your own bet.
X: I complain because you’re far from persuading me that founding hypotheses are anywhere near as important as you often suggest, Why. I say the historical sciences disprove the existence of Adam and Eve, and you say, “though I too find young-Earth creationism very implausible, proof is too strong a word to use against it.” As if some miracle of imagination might one day make it rational to take myths literally again!
Y: You misrepresent me, X.
X: I’ve known you for a long time, Why—
X:—and I’ve long thought that you try to justify your past by making creationism out to be a far more respectable pursuit than it really is. But I think everyone can forgive you for growing up Evangelical, and I for one have no doubts about your intelligence! So I want to say, get over it: leave creationism in the past where it belongs; apply your talents to something worthy of them.
Y: Maybe I do feel some need to defend myself, X; but it isn’t my intention to defend creationism. I’m instead trying to communicate something of the lessons I’ve learned from it for relating religion and science.
X: And your first lesson concerns the great importance of founding hypotheses in inquiry?
Y: If not the last.
X: Then you should try again, because I for one don’t see it.
Y: I sometimes doubt anyone can who hasn’t shared my experiences, X. It takes more than small manuscripts and brief conversations to really understand what I’m saying.
X: Nobody’s going to wait through your entire life story for you to make a single point, Why!
Y: Of course not. No matter what the idea, its exposition should be shorter than a television commercial and twice as snappy. So I’ll try again, taking less care to avoid false advertising this time.
Y: So the largest problem I see with treating the modern sciences as collections of knowledge to which religions must either adapt or succumb is that the sciences are to a significant extent themselves consequences of opposed religious dogmas. I’ve already pointed out that conventional geologists think and act on the assumption that no God has ever intervened in Earth history. Yet those who speak on the subject uniformly claim that geology proves creationism wrong and then fault creationists for reasoning in circles! Other so-called pseudosciences get similar treatment. The current academic consensus against parapsychology is unimpressive just because it’s almost entirely derived from founding hypotheses that would prohibit paranormal phenomena from being recognized even if they were real. Same for astrology. And while none of this is news to your average “pseudoscientist,” most orthodox scientists can’t imagine having founding hypotheses or think them irrelevant if they can! None of which implies that any “pseudoscientist” has anything right about the world or that orthodox science has anything importantly wrong—only that what predominates in the culture wars is not necessarily wisdom, and that “pseudoscientists” persist because they’re in some ways more philosophically sophisticated than their opponents!
X: “Sophisticated” pseudo-scientists, Why? We’re suddenly very far from the ideas that make me want to share your biography! So we’re going to put on the brakes, back up, and begin recounting some moments from your intellectual history—in particular some of your formative experiences with young-Earth creationism. Perhaps then we’ll better understand you—which is largely my motivation for doing this column. That and a little fun. Readers, please bear with us.