Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Is Science Naturalistic?

The quote I shared yesterday (which came from a New York Times article about scientific findings with regard to the human soul) articulates a view found commonly in our day and culture...
There is no credible scientific challenge to the theory of evolution as an explanation for the diversity and complexity of life on Earth.
The fact is that there are indeed credible challenges, but that by redefining science as naturalistic we can dismiss such challenges as "unscientific." So the question before us today is, "Is there justification--historical, philosophical, or scientific--for allowing as science only naturalistic theories?"

Is there historical justification for equating science with a naturalistic worldview? Clearly, the answer is no. Modern science was founded by men and women who shared a monotheistic worldview. While other, more ancient civilizations made scientific advance (as in astronomy, navigation, and paper-making), science was 'stillborn' in those civilizations because their worldviews did not adequately provide justification for scientific pursuit. That rational justification came uniquely from the Judeo-Christian worldview of mid-second-millenium Europe. Indeed, for most of the time during which modern science has flourished, a supernatural (rather than natural) understanding of reality held sway among scientists. There is no historical justification for seeing science as naturalistic.

Is there philosophical justification for defining science in naturalistic terms? Again, the answer is clearly no. The question "What is science?" is best answered not by scientists themselves, most of whom have had little or no training in the philosophical basis for their pursuit. The experts on this question are philosophers of science. And they are unanimous in recognizing that there is no clear line of demarcation between science and non-science. Specifically, whether a theory is naturalistic or (conversely) involves an appeal to an intelligent designer does not mean that one is less scientific than the other. Naturalism is not a necessary criterion for adjudging a theory scientific, nor is appeal to the supernatural a sufficient criterion for rejecting a theory as unscientific.

Moreover, the historical case discussed above provides further insight into this question of philosophical justification. The same philosophical presuppositions that made modern science feasible--those that were uniquely present in the Judeo-Christian worldview and absent from that of other civilizations--are likewise absent from the naturalistic worldview. Let's consider just two. Christians have reason to expect (and a good explanation for) order, pattern, regularity, and purpose in the universe. They see these things as a natural (i.e., logical) expression of the transcendent Creator, who is Himself a rational, personal Being. On the naturalistic worldview, order and the fixity of natural laws are unexplained, brute facts, and it is taboo to even discuss the concept of 'purpose.' On the Judeo-Christian view, humans can discover the order in the universe because we are made in the image of God and thus likewise rational beings. Moreover, in His revelation to us (the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments), the Creator commands us to study the universe around us. But on the naturalistic worldview, there is no rational justification for believing that our reasoning or our senses are reliable for discovering truths about the most distant galaxies or the innermost workings of the cell. If our senses and brains are merely the result of a purposeless process whose selective mechanism worked only toward our survival to reproduce, then the ability to ask and answer esoteric scientific questions would seem to be outside the purview of evolution. Doing science still makes sense only within a Judeo-Christian worldview, whereas a naturalistic view provides no ultimate rational foundation for scientific endeavor.

If there's no historical and no philosophical basis for defining science naturalistically, is there a scientific justification for doing so? Is a naturalistic approach to science so successful that it merits acceptance as the best approach? Obviously not. We have already seen that the only reason a naturalistic explanation for the diversity of life (neo-Darwinian evolution) remains the dominant view is that its proponents have successfully (in school boards, courts, and media) excluded competing theories from the arena by wrongly appealing to naturalism as a necessary criterion for science. But the point I want to make here is that the diversity of life is only one of the many big questions about the reality of our universe that science ought to attempt to explain. Others include 'Why is there a universe?', 'Why is there order in the universe?', Why does the universe, our galaxy and solar system, our Earth exhibit the extremely fine-tuned characteristics necessary for life?', 'How did life come to be in the first place?', and 'How did consciousness arise?' Naturalism provides no reasonable explanation for any of these questions, while scientists operating from within a Judeo-Christian worldview do.

Indeed (to look at just one of these questions more closely), the latest science with regard to the origin of the universe undermines the naturalistic view in (at least) two ways. Not only does naturalistic science offer no reasonable explanation for the origin of the universe*, but the finding that the universe had a begining a finite time ago is at odds with a basic premise of Darwin's theory (the premise that the universe itself is eternal, that natural selection had a near-infinite amount of time with which to work).

Throughout most of western history, it has been perceived as irrational to adopt a naturalistic view of reality. Only with the acceptance of Darwin's theory for the diversity of life has naturalism attained even a modicum of reasonableness. And yet, there is a great deal of evidence that can be (or could be were it not artificially ruled out as 'unscientific') brought to bear against naturalistic evolution as a satsifactory explanation even for the single question it addresses--the diversity of life. More importantly, a theistic understanding provides a far better explanation (than a naturalistic one) for all of the other big questions about which science is interested.

It is high time that science was ransomed from the religious worldview--naturalism--that has commandeered it in our generation, and freed to once again be what it originally was--a search for truth about the way things are. Naturalism does nothing but artificially constrain the range of possible explanations, preventing us from discovering truth.

There simply is no justification for adopting a naturalistic approach to science, much less for insisting that all scientists adopt such an approach.

* Most naturalists end by appealing to the idea that ours is one of an infinte number of universes, and just happens to be the one that exhibits the parameters conducive to life. This view faces huge philosophical and scientific problems. Logically, such a view merely pushes back the problem of first cause, and most philosophers recognize the need for a self-existent Being behind either the universe we see or the multiverse we can only speculate. Of equal importance, appeal to an infinite number of universes concedes that on this most important question ('Why is there a universe?') science is impotent. Were there any other universes, we could never find the least bit of evidence for the existence of any of them, according to a simple (and long-known) mathematical theorem (proof).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said! It's amazing to me how these seemingly intelligent "scientists" are so closed off to seeing opposing viewpoints that address the very heart of the issue they are trying to advance. I suppose it would be too damaging to their egos to actually admit they might be wrong on something they have spend so much time trying to prove through ultimately illegitimate means. Keep up the good work!