Monday, October 15, 2007

50 Years of Naturalism

Society's confidence in science (see Oct. 9 post) has helped birth the philosophy of naturalism: Nature is "all there is." This philosophy guides scientists known as metaphysical naturalists who say there is no God, as well as methodological naturalists who may believe in God, but in practice assign no relevance to God.

Scientific naturalism as a fully developed philosophy has been with us for roughly the past half-century. What has strengthened the movement toward scientific naturalism? Let's consider one highly significant factor. The decade of the 1960s was a watershed era in both biological discovery and in the teaching of biology. Armed with new discoveries in molecular biology, emphasis in the teaching of biology changed from specimen-based study to biochemistry and molecular biology. DNA had been pinpointed in the 1940s as the bearer of genetic information, its structure was discovered in 1953 by Watson and Crick, and the genetic code was cracked in the 1960s.

I recall advising high school freshmen and their parents in the 1960s concerning the new emphasis in course offerings in biology, explaining that biology no longer emphasized dissected specimen study. Rather, it stressed biochemistry and study of molecules carrying genetic information. This had been the basis of evolutionary Darwinism's transition to "Neo-Darwinism" in preceding years, based on advances in knowledge of genetics. Society's changes in the intervening years have occurred at a dizzying pace. Many factors contributed to these changes, but changes in the life sciences were highly significant.

The discovery of successful science methodology in the previous few centuries did not generally result in increased respect and awe for the author of nature's laws. Neither did discovery of the incredible complexity and power of genetics drive scientists or society toward reverence for the Creator God. Instead, most of our scientists have become more self-empowered. Naturalism has become their religion.