#15 Naturalism

Today science is dominated by a commitment to Naturalism whose main tenet is that everything that exists in the universe can be explained by natural processes.  The guiding principle behind all these processes would be Evolution written large with Natural Selection acting as a type of (creative) force.

We are all agreed that science should be an enterprise based on rational thought and logic, and free from superstitions and various forms of pseudoscience.  Many, if not, most things in science, once demonstrated empirically come to form a basis of understanding about the universe that is widely accepted and shared among the members of our society. 

Evolution, however, is a different case from other areas of science, indeed it is a guiding principle that may be applied to all areas of science.  Evolution is in various ways theory, fact and philosophy. 

Scientists have theories and hypotheses, work on projects, make observations, discover facts, but they also have a culture embodying a philosophy that may be unspoken.  The whole collection of ways of thinking by scientists at a given time is known, in the words of Thomas Kuhn (1962), as the scientific paradigm.  A paradigm is an all-encompassing world view.  ‘Paradigm shifts’ may occur, but they require nothing short of a revolution.  Today’s scientific paradigm links Evolution with Naturalism.

Naturalism is a definition of reality which excludes God.  Definitions of reality are philosophical positions.

Theistic Evolutionists who are also NeoDarwinists have adopted what they call Methodological Naturalism.  Theistic Evolutionists have no argument with non-religious scientists on any major point.  They believe that evolution involving secondary, natural causes accomplishes everything in the universe without the direct intervention of God.  However, the Theists say that the existence of God gives reality and science meaning.  For these Theists, as far as science is concerned, meaning and purpose are metaphysical categories while as far as the individual is concerned the Revealed God gives meaning and purpose in real terms.

In general, Theistic Evolutionists do not offer a religious alternative to the currently held conception of the world by the scientific community.  Theistic Evolutionists give, in their publications, a meaningful interpretation of scientific findings from a religious point of view.  This does not change the scientific investigation or conclusions reached in any way.

One of the people who have challenged the NeoDarwinian philosophy of science is Phillip Johnson (1991) in his book Darwin on Trial.  Phillip Johnson is one of the founders of the Intelligent Design movement.  I.D. followers believe that God created and designed living organisms.  Johnson does not offer an alternative to “Darwinian natural selection”, but he strongly opposes the philosophy of Naturalism in science.  Johnson claims that Naturalism limits scientific inquiry and he has this to say about it:

“If the purpose of Darwinism is to persuade the public to believe that there is no purposeful intelligence that transcends the natural world, then this purpose implies two important limitations upon scientific inquiry.  First, scientists may not consider all the possibilities, but must restrict themselves to those which are consistent with a strict philosophical naturalism.  For example, they may not study genetic information on the assumption that it may be the product of intelligent communication.  Second, scientists may not falsify an element of Darwinism, such as the creative power of natural selection, until and unless they can provide an acceptable substitute.  This rule is necessary because advocates of naturalism must at all times have a complete theory at their disposal to prevent any rival philosophy from establishing a foothold.”  (Johnson 1991, page 154).

In science it is the origin of things that causes philosophical argument, not the working of things.  Adherence to the philosophy of Naturalism makes imperative the origin of life by some unknown natural law from some form of reducing atmosphere, primordial soup, lipid-bounded vesicles, RNA genome, and autocatalytic proto-metabolism in a protocell.

Naturalism mythologizes Natural Selection by making Natural Selection an all-powerful entity that can produce life, and almost anything in the universe.  To be sure, life exists, but Natural Selection is used as a rationalization of its existence, rather than an explanation.  When it is said that the molecules in the prebiotic soup were ‘selectionally optimized’ or underwent ‘selective competition’ or ‘selective bias’ that caused them to become macromolecules and form a protometabolism because polymers (long molecules) are better than monomers (short molecules) for survival –why is this not an explanation?  It is not an explanation because it ‘explains’ anything and everything. 

Karl Popper analysed the theories of Marxism and Freudianism and concluded that they are pseudoscience because a theory that appears to explain everything actually explains nothing.  According to Popper (1963) a theory with genuine explanatory power makes risky predictions, which exclude most possible outcomes.  Success in prediction is impressive only to the extent that failure was a real possibility.  Popper placed the condition that for a theory to be scientific, it must be possible to refute it.

In the origin of life field, the NeoDarwinist philosophical argument is that life obviously exists, and if a naturalistic process is the only conceivable explanation for its existence, then the difficulties must not be as insuperable as they appear.  Over fifty years of experiments have not produced life, and the many models of early Earth have not produced the key to understanding.  A natural origin of life is proving as elusive as the gold sort by the alchemists of former times. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s