Why I’m not an evolutionist: Reason #2

November 19, 2006 at 10:16 pm Leave a comment

In my last post, I explained the first reason why I’m not an evolutionist, which is theological: Christianity and evolution offer incompatible accounts of the origin of sin and death. In this post, I’ll address my second reason for not accepting evolution, which is philosophical.

Reason #2: Evolutionary science is founded in the philosophical stance of naturalism, which denies God’s existence from the outset, regardless of the evidence

The philosophical issue at stake when considering the relationship between Christianity and evolution is the fact that the two worldviews are built on opposite philosophical premises. Christianity begins with the assumption that God is real, and that the natural world is not all that exists.

Science, on the other hand, begins with the assumption—even if the assumption is only methodological—that if God exists at all, he does not influence the world. All phenomena, in other words, can be explained naturalistically.

Commited to materialism

To begin with, consider this statement from molecular biologist Richard Dickerson on the nature of the scientific enterprise:dice.gif

Science, fundamentally, is a game. It is a game with one overriding and defining rule: Rule No. 1: Let us see how far and to what extent we can explain the behavior of the physical and material universe in terms of purely physical and material causes, without invoking the supernatural. 1

Dickerson is right: The whole object of science is to discover material accounts of the universe. The fundamental starting presupposition of science is thus that natural events have natural causes.

Now, Dickerson suggests that naturalism in science is just a “game,” as if scientists are looking for natural explanations but would be willing to consider that maybe not all phenomena can be explained naturalistically.

The truth, however, is more severe than that. In fact, science is philosophically committed to materialism.

Consider this strikingly honest admission from Richard Lewontin, eminent Harvard biologist, regarding the prior prejudices to which science is obligated:

We have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is an absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. 2

Materialists in spite of the truth

Note two things about Lewontin’s position:

First, he recognizes that the naturalistic assumptions of science are faith-based, not evidence-based. Lewontin acknowledges that the commitment to materialism is a priori, meaning it is a deduction made before ever looking at the evidence.

Second, Lewontin’s argument means that the conclusions science gives us are of necessity heavily biased. After all, he states candidly that naturalistic assumptions force scientists to generate material explanations regardless of the evidence.

In fact, scientists will insist on material explanations even if the evidence points against materialism. Scott C. Todd, in a letter to the editor of the scientific journal Nature, says the following:

Even if all the data point to an intelligent designer, such an hypothesis is excluded from science because it is not naturalistic. 3

Recognize what Scott is saying: Science is committed to producing naturalistic accounts of phenomena without regard for whether or not these accounts are accurate.

In other words, science cares more about elaborating anti-theistic accounts of the world than it does about truth.

Maybe science isn’t as objective as we thought

In his landmark 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn argued (among other things) that the goal of normal science is not to so much to discover objective truth, but rather to find explanations that fit within its particular preexisting worldview.

kuhn.gifFormer philosophers of science had held that scientists are independent, objective thinkers who devise theories to fit the facts. Kuhn, however, argued that all scientists are governed by particular paradigms that determine what questions they will ask about the world and what answers they will deem acceptable. According to Kuhn, the primary occupation of scientists is to make observable fact fit into their paradigmatic theory.

In other words, scientists are not necessarily the free and independent thinkers that we sometimes imagine them. Rather, they are conservative individuals whose work is concerned with defending a given paradigm and trying to make their observations fit within that paradigm.

A necessary consequence of this is that scientists are concerned less with truth than with fleshing out their own paradigms. In fact, Kuhn argues that normal science often suppresses evidence which doesn’t fit into its paradigms.

Lewontin, in the same article from which I quoted earlier, says much the same thing:

There can be no observations without an immense apparatus of preexisting theory. Before sense experiences become “observations” we need a theoretical question, and what counts as a relevant observation depends upon a theoretical frame into which it is to be placed. Repeatable observations that do not fit into an existing frame have a way of disappearing from view….” 4

In other words, Lewontin and Kuhn both recognize that what a scientist observes in the natural world will be directly affected by his a priori assumptions about what he thinks the world will look like. And if he finds something that contradicts his view, he will likely (even if unconsciously) ignore it.

Accordingly, if there is evidence that contradicts the naturalistic assumptions of science or suggests some sort of supernatural Creator, it will most likely be ignored.

Why I’m not a believer

What, then, is one to conclude about the truth of evolution?

Despite the common view that the conclusions science provides us are objective and factual in nature, it’s clear that science is anything but objective. Naturalistic science, and the evolutionary theory that flows from it, are both heavily faith-based and heavily biased.

And this point represents the second reason why I am not an evolutionist. Evolutionary thinking arises out of a philosophical stance that denies God’s involvement from the outset and insists on accounting for the world in purely material terms—regardless of the real truth of the matter.

At best, this naturalistic premise is dubious; at worst, it is outright wrong. If I, being a theist, believe the premise is wrong, why should I accept the evolutionary conclusions drawn from it?

Notes

1. Qtd. in Philip Johnson, The Wedge of Truth (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), 145.

2. Richard Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” The New York Review of Books 44, no. 1 (1997): 31. Italics original.

3. Scott C. Todd, “A view from Kansas on that evolution debate,” Nature 401, no. 6752 (1999): 423.

4. Lewontin, 30.

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Why I’m not an evolutionist: Reason #1 Christmas tears

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profile.jpgI am working on my M.A. in Religion at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. Besides having a big interest in theology, history, ethics, and the deep stuff of life, I am also very fond of Mediterranean food, snow, and the color red.

Email me: jamie.kiley@gmail.com

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