Friday, May 4, 2007

Did Beethoven Exist?

One of the things I'm currently reading is The Right Questions, by Phillip Johnson. The subtitle is Truth, Meaning, and Public Debate.

Johnson's primary goal for the past many years (in his writing and lecturing) has been to make people realize that there are two very different philosophies about how to define science, and that they lead to two very different interpretations of the evidence. For many "modern* modern scientists," macro-evolution (as the explanation for the diversity of life) is a fact, the clear conclusion to be drawn from the evidence. But this is simply because they have artificially constrained the range of possible explanations to include only materialistic ones.

The two very different definitions of science are these... The first--the one you were likely taught in grade school--is “the objective search for truth about the universe in which we live.” The second definition considers science to be the search for materialistic explanations for what we see in the universe. If truth were equally accessible regardless of which definition one uses, there would be no debate. What Johnson and others are insisting is simply this: that the latest scientific evidence from all fields--astronomy, physics, paleogeology, molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, probability theory, origin-of-life research, etc.--has created an ever-widening gap in the conclusions to which these two definitions of science lead.

It should be obvious that it is the materialistic definition that is less objective. That is, evolution may provide the best explanation for the origin and variety of life given an a priori commitment to materialism. But such a commitment is itself an artificial constraint upon the search for truth--it actually limits our ability to discover truth about the universe. Moreover, this commitment to materialism is a metaphysical (religious) commitment. Evolutionists begin by asking a metaphysical question (“Is there a God?”), which they answer in the negative. When they begin this way, they are themselves functioning not as scientists but as philosophers or metaphysicists--they are making theological pronouncements. In a very real sense, they are making the self-refuting claims for scientism (see my most recent post), albeit in a more obscure way.

So, if the public (school boards, courts, university administrators) would understand the philosophical nature of the debate (that is see through the self-refuting and philosophical rhetoric of the naturalistic scientific elites), then the two main competing views (on the origin of the universe, of life, of the diversity of life, of human consciousness, etc.) could be given a fair comparison. Are these things designed by a transcendent Creator (as has been the default position for the vast majority of the history of Western civilization), or are they (and we) the products of purposeless, random rearrangement of strictly physical substances?

When the range of explanatory options is not artificially constrained, it turns out that the design hypothesis (to use a popular way of describing the non-materialistic view) has equal or--in most cases--better explanatory scope and power. Let me wind down this (already too-lengthy) post with an example (from The Right Questions), one that (for now) I'll use only to argue for equal (as opposed to better) explanatory power.

A very popular notion today--since the sequencing of the entire human genome and that of other species--is that the fact that all life on Earth shares the same genetic and biochemical make-up is proof that all life arose through common descent. That is, all life is evolutionarily related, and God does not exist. To this, Johnson writes (page 42)...
One could employ the same logic to prove that the nine symphonies of Beethoven had no composer since they all employ similar musical elements.
More on this in the next post...

* Modern science was founded by those with a Judeo-Christian worldview, and many understandings that make science a reasonable endeavor (such as the existence of order in the universe and the reliability of our senses and reasoning capacities) are grounded in this theistic worldview but remain unexplained, brute facts for the naturalist. (I made several postings on this issue in February 2007.)

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