Monday, February 21, 2011

Naturalistic Foundations of Theistic Evolution

Theistic evolutionism ranges along a spectrum of positions, just as does creationism. It is not a monolithic belief system. The most common position, however, is the “fully gifted” model, in which the Big Bang was God’s last physical intervention, at least until New Testament times. Evangelical TE adherents may have a high view of New Testament miracles, but not Old Testament miracles. They do not accept any interventional acts of creation or design after the initial creation of time, space, matter, and energy. They claim God “front-loaded” the creation and then stepped aside to let things happen. Life self-originated and evolved all the way to modern humans. In this model, the distinction between theism and deism is not easy to make.

Some TE enthusiasts may not wish to concede that evolution’s foundation is grounded in scientific naturalism. Metaphysical (philosophical) naturalism is the belief that “nature is all there is.” Methodological naturalism is the operational principle of modern scientists: Proceed with your scientific activities as if nature is all there is, as if there is no supernatural, and as if all processes in our cosmos are naturalistic processes. This operating principle, in turn, forces the predetermined scientific conclusion that all life developed naturalistically. Since this is the only scientific conclusion possible, the consensus judgments of scientists operating under this principle force the conclusion that evolution is good science, the best science, and of course, the only science. There is no discussion--no argument--because only one conclusion is possible.

Anyone working in biological science who wishes to achieve respect in that community must commit to methodological naturalism. He may not publish research with even a suggestion that in some cases naturalism is a dead end. A host of theistic evolutionists relentlessly state that evolution is “serious” science and the “best” science, that we should be intellectually honest, seek straight answers, come to grips with evolution, and struggle to resolve conflicts between our Christian faith and scientific knowledge. For them, it is impossible to conceive that any honest, open minded, struggling person seeking straight answers could possibly reach a conclusion that evolution may not be true. The power of their argument is the power of the logical fallacy of begging the question: assuming the truth of the very point in question.

Evolutionists do not caution us concerning other logical fallacies such as the false authority fallacy: accepting statements just because others (in this case most of the biological science profession) say it is correct. If virtually everyone in biological science is driven by methodological naturalism or philosophical naturalism, of what value is their argument that “everyone” in the field of biology has reached a certain conclusion, and therefore, so should we? Their conclusions are driven by philosophy, not science. I have encountered many brilliant people who use this appeal to authority as one of their strongest arguments. That is the worst reason for accepting evolution, I retort.

This is not the end of the discussion. Theistic evolutionist scientists, theologians, and journalists muddle the picture at this juncture. Peter Enns refers to “a continuing struggle between Christian faith and scientific knowledge.” Any young person interested in science is thrust into conflict, especially by suggestions that anyone who opposes evolutionary science is doing the church a great disservice. Our Christian young people wish to betray neither their faith nor their love for science. But they are being forced to make a choice at odds with the theological truth expressed in Holy Scripture. This blog has repeatedly stated that if scientific and theological interpretations are both correct, they will not conflict.

Phillip E. Johnson wrote several books critical of evolution in the early 1990s. He discusses the commitment of bio-scientists to philosophical naturalism. His arguments resonate even today. Johnson has been the victim of intense disdain from scientists with a stake in the evolutionary paradigm. He correctly says the mutation-natural selection mechanism claimed to drive the evolutionary process is not affirmed by actual observation of the process in action, “…but because their guiding philosophy assures them that no other power is available to do the job.” Evangelical theistic evolutionary scientists, driven by this philosophical commitment, are caught in a vice grip. The philosophy of scientific naturalism they have embraced dictates “what is real” for them. Johnson’s Darwin On Trial (1993) discusses the conflict of those TE adherents who claim to retain their evangelical faith: “Scientific naturalism, on the other hand, does leave a place for ‘religious belief,’ provided that the religious believers do not challenge the authority of naturalistic science to say what is real and what is not.” If science has this authority, what has become of the authority of our theology?

Theistic evolutionary scientists, some of whom claim to embrace evangelical faith, are chained to metaphysical (philosophical) and methodological naturalism, helping them formulate their worldview. Evolutionary theory is based largely on inference: Natural selection was the creator.

Genesis 1 states: “God created.”