Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, 2b - Evolution and Creation - Excursus 1: Naturalism

#3 in an ongoing series on Perspectives on an Evolving Creation edited by Keith B. Miller. Previous post in this series: Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, 2a - Evolution and Creation. First post in the series: Perspectives on an Evolving Creation, 1 - Introduction.

Some further comments on the last two points I quoted from Miller's opening essay, An Evolving Creation: Oxymoron or Fruitful Insight?

In my last post, I noted that Miller had said,
  • [The] conflation of a physical naturalism with evolution should be rejected on philosophical, theological, and historical grounds.
  • The equation of evolutionary theory with a philosophy that denies the reality of anything beyond matter and energy not only is false but is an impediment to quality scientific and theological thinking.
After reading my earlier posts on the subject of evolution written between January 21st and 28th and then, finally, on February 1st, one of my co-workers indicated he was thoroughly unimpressed by the Haarsmas' and Glover's reasoning.

As I listened to his objections, I came to the conclusion that part of his difficulty with what I quoted came about because he didn't quite "catch" what the Haarsmas and Glover said that parallels the primary message contained in the last two points I have just quoted from Miller. And so I would like to draw special attention to that message.

Scientists who are Christians like to note that science, rightly understood, utilizes what may be called "methodological naturalism"--a method that "assumes" for the sake of theorizing, "only nature," "only the physical realm." Put another way, the scientific enterprise, by definition, is dedicated to seeking physical, natural causes for physical phenomena.

Are scientists, as scientists (i.e., as those dedicated to the scientific enterprise, per se), able to comment on what does or does not exist in the non-physical realm? No. That is outside their purview. It is beyond the methodological limitations they have adopted as scientists or, should I say, within the scientific enterprise.

Yet. Yet. There are scientists who are, personally--and, many of them, publicly--committed to far more than methodological naturalism. They are personally committed to ontological naturalism, a philosophical commitment to the claim that the natural/physical realm is all there is. These are the atheistic evolutionists.

But note. Atheistic evolution is not science. It is, as the Haarsmas call it, evolutionism. It is not a scientific commitment. It is not based on science. Science is in no position to make claims about what is or is not outside of--beyond--the physical realm. But scientists who are committed to the idea that the physical realm is, at root, all there is, will--and do--seek to make "science" (so-called) serve their personal, philosophical commitments or presuppositions. And so, as Miller says, they create a sloppy philosophical stew in order to conflate physical naturalism with evolution.

But we ought to note the "other side" of this "equation" as well.

A theistic "creation science," whether Christian or non-Christian, is also not scientific to the extent that it seeks to attack any kind of scientific theory on the basis of its supposed theism or atheism, or on the basis of an appeal to Scripture or some other authoritative text. . . .

As Glover urges (Beyond the Firmament, p. 25), science (as science, i.e., per se, or as philosophers would put it, qua science) is "just a methodology or a procedure, like the process of baking a cake. A cake made by Charles Darwin or Carl Sagan will taste just like a cake made by John Calvin, the Pope, Gandhi, or Mohammed, provided they all use the same recipe. . . . So as long as we don't expect science to answer religious questions, the philosophical motivations behind it shouldn't affect the outcome if the rules are followed."

Or, to use another analogy,
Let's say you have a neurological disorder and require brain surgery. The procedure that can save your life is very risky. Your chances of survival are 50/50. Your HMO lets you choose between two doctors: a relatively young doctor who has never performed the procedure before and a world-renowned expert with hundreds of successful operations to his credit. Obviously, you go with the more experienced doctor, right?

Now let's say that the more experienced doctors a militant Darwinist who strongly believes that the human brain is merely the product of chance plus natural selection over time. When he's not performing surgery, [he seeks to turn all the results of] his pioneering work in neurobiology [into a means of proving] that all of our thoughts and emotions are merely the result of chemistry and biology.

Contrast this with the sincere Christian faith of the young doctor. He is a member in good standing of his local church. He believes that God created the world in six 24-hour days. He believes that man has a soul and that the human brain was intelligently designed by a sovereign Creator.

Now who do you go with? Does knowing the philosophical commitment of each doctor change anything? Would you rather have the seasoned expert or the young novice cutting into your skull? Are you more concerned about the procedure or about the religious beliefs of the one performing it? I think most Christians would still go with the more experienced doctor. . . .

The reason is simple, we direct questions of material procedure (brain surgery) to the most qualified scientists [or, in this case, medical doctors! --JAH] regardless of their religious or philosophical commitment.

--Ibid., pp. 25-26

Back to my main point: Let us not confuse philosophical commitments with science.
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