The Just-So Story about Just-So Stories

by Dec 31, 2015Mission, Worldview2 comments


We all view new ideas and experiences through our worldview lenses. Every time we turn around, Christians are explaining something through the lenses provided by the Bible, telling a story about God’s goodness in our lives. Every time they turn around, believers in evolution are telling stories, too: just-so stories about various features of human life. So Michael Ruse, atheist philosopher, in the NYT a while back:

I don’t deny substantive morality—you ought to return your library books on time—but I do deny objective foundations. I think morality is a collective illusion, genetic in origin, that makes us good cooperators. And I would add that being good cooperators makes each one of us individually better off in the struggle for existence…. Morality is purely emotions, although emotions of a special kind with an important adaptive function.

In other words, one day a little elephant got his stubby nose stuck in the bite of a crocodile, and while pulling backwards to get it out he stretched it—and now all elephants have long trunks!

The idea that morality isn’t really real but provides only an adaptive function is truly a convenient one, but it’s an unfalsifiable one. That doesn’t mean I believe it’s true—or that it can’t be “proven” wrong. “Unfalsifiable” in this sense means that, given Ruse’s scientific naturalism, no evidence could be adduced either to prove or disprove his supposition. It’s more than plausible that, given his evolutionary view of the world, he describes accurately how morality developed. But I find it difficult to imagine how any evidence could ever be found for such a thing: what arrangement of bones in a grave or ancient cave-wall paintings could possibly demonstrate, empirically, that morality happened to make us good cooperators?

I have seen evolutionists concoct just-so stories to explain numerous features of human behavior. But I’ve never heard them turn their attention to science itself. The assumption is that while other kinds of human activity are subject to scientific analysis, science itself is a neutral observer standing off to the side. You wouldn’t see Michael Ruse writing paragraphs like this:

I don’t deny that science is useful—it’s great to find the most efficient air-to-gasoline ratio in your carburetor—but I do deny that science is “true.” I think science is a collective illusion, genetic in origin, that allows us to make the raw materials of the world useful for human ends. And I would add that “science” is useful for more than just scientists. Science is purely pragmatics, although pragmatics of a special kind with an important adaptive function.

I was just listening to a C.S. Lewis essay or two while doing the dishes, and he reminded me of something important, something I’m not going to forget in my own discussions with non-Christians. In “The Funeral of a Great Myth” (found in this audio collection and this printed collection), Lewis actually praises materialism for telling a more sweeping and grand story about the world than almost any other great myth. He suggests Christian apologists fight grand myth with grander myth—True Myth. The true story of Creation, Fall, Redemption is the grandest story ever told.


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  1. Joel Arnold

    Good thoughts. Want to check out the Lewis’ work you cited.

    I appreciate how the way you’re arguing is basically applying the grid of presuppositionalism to science. You don’t get to pick your solid ground and pretend that you didn’t have to make assumptions to get there.

    As far as the mock paragraph you wrote above, I wonder what you think of Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions. When I read it if actually kind of felt a bit like what you wrote. I wonder if even unbelieving scientists that have self-consciously thought about their philosophy of science might be willing to acknowledge that reality? My guess is then the discussion ends up getting chased down to a deeper level with other things they’re still taking for granted.

    • Mark Ward

      You’re right. I haven’t read all of Kuhn, though I hope to. But I grasp the premise. And there are certainly scientists who are self-critical enough–or aware of the discussions in philosophy of science—who know to be careful to claim utility and not truth. A long-time non-Christian friend of mine, a smart (and nice!) guy with god education, pointed this out, too.

      What I told him was that I see proponents of scientism talking out of both sides of their mouths. At one moment it’s utility they’ve achieved, a useful model; at the next moment it’s the obvious truth of the matter that all the evidence supports.