Friday, March 11, 2011

Naturalism's Grip

Correct Science--->Correct Worldview--->Correct Theology…..This flowchart has some significance with respect to truth discovery on origins questions. Currently there is strong pressure coming to bear on the evangelical community to accept theistic evolution. The claim is that belief in TE is completely compatible with evangelical Christian faith. The more I study this issue, the stronger my belief that the claim is not true. The embrace of TE comes with epistemological baggage.

Evolutionary theory conforms with a worldview of naturalism, one of the major categories of worldview sometimes used synonymously to atheistic materialism. Essentially, naturalism posits that the explanation for everything we observe, present or past, reduces to a matter-based reality. Material causes explain everything; nature is all there is. In the past two centuries the science profession has endorsed what amounts to a worldview of naturalism. Many movements within science have risen and faded within the practice of science--positivism, scientism, and scientific realism to name a few. These are not worldviews. They are methodologies and philosophical outlooks related to the practice of science. Naturalism, however, is a major worldview.

Many scientists, if they had their way, may wish to include the idea of naturalism in their definition of science. This inclusion would be unfaithful to what is generally recognized as an acceptable definition of science: “Systematized knowledge derived from observation, study, and experimentation carried on in order to determine the nature or principles of what is being studied” (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language). We should be reminded that naturalism is not part of the definition of science. Rather, it is a philosophical appendage of science, a heavily promoted adjunct deeply codified within the science profession. This codification has prevented scientists and non-scientists from proposing or considering creation or intelligent design as an “inference to the best explanation” on rare occasions. Beyond that, creationism and intelligent design are mocked and scorned, even characterized as “ironically on a path toward doing considerable damage to faith” by Francis S. Collins, prominent theistic evolutionist author.

Some popular theistic evolutionist authors conflate science and faith in their book titles and writings. Darrel Falk’s Coming to Peace with Science (2004), and Karl Giberson’s The Language of Science and Faith (2011), by InterVarsity Press are examples. The conclusion urged upon us is that science supports evolution. But science does no such thing. Various interpretations of scientific data support evolution. The philosophy of science supports evolution. Media culture and our own subjective mindset support evolution. A substantial majority of scientists support evolution. This battery of support for evolution does not, of course prove evolution. In that strict sense neither evolution nor creation can be proven. Instead, we make inferences to the best explanation by carefully and rationally weighing the evidence.

The field of science is understood to have a naturalistic underpinning. It is difficult to separate this naturalistic mindset from any conclusion made under the banner of science because only naturalistic answers are permitted for any question posed. Metaphysical (philosophical) naturalism is the ruling paradigm of science. For almost all discoveries in science this paradigm is not controversial. Carried over to questions and conclusions on origins, however, strict adherence to naturalism may exclude the possibility of truth discovery.

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In 2007 I was the speaker at a Reasons To Believe Chicago Chapter monthly meeting. The topic was “Naturalism.” I invite you to read a transcript of the talk with the following Ankerberg Theological Research Institute link. Note the distinction made between metaphysical (philosophical) naturalism and methodological naturalism in the text.