Monday, December 04, 2006

1 Chron 12:32 Report, 6: Is Evolutionary Materialism a "reasonable faith"?

In his recent, fast-selling book (and that is in itself telling) The God Delusion,  per Easterbrook's summary, Professor Richard Dawkins of Oxford writes that:
. . . belief in God is a delusion . . . the religious are well-organized and influence the world's governments, and essentially all of their influence is harmful . . . atheists and agnostics [should] stop politely respecting faith and organize to discredit religion, with the goal of halting its involvement in education and public policy.
As his very title immediately implies, Mr Dawkins' premise is that faith in God is a delusion; indeed, he views it as "dangerous lunacy." Of course, the root of this assertion is that he thinks that way because he believes that "Science" is the gold standard of rationality. Next, he plainly understands science as in effect the best evolutionary materialist explanation of the cosmos, from hydrogen to humans. That is, in his opinion and that of his ilk, if a claimed scientific explanation does not fit in under the context of cosmological evolution + chemical abiogenesis + biological macro-evolution + socio-cultural evolution, all driven by chance plus blind natural forces without intelligent intervention of initiation, then it is by definition, "unscientific" and therefore "irrational." And, organised irrationality is obviously mentally defective and dangerous, so its pernicious influence should obviously be curbed.

However, the astute reader will at once spot (a) that the above is actually an exercise in philosophy of science, rather than science proper, and (b) it hinges crucially on the now commonly encountered attempted redefintion of science under what is often called Methodological Naturalism. But as soon as we see that, the argument falls apart, for there is no good reason for us to impose an evolutionary materialistic redefinition of science and then use that redefined "science" as a criterion of rationality.


To see why, let's do an exercise similar to one that noted philosopher Alvin Plantinga -- cf his technical discussions here and here -- once did:
1] Define -- for the sake of argument -- a discipline called "SIENCE" (pronounced the same as "science"), as
. . . The best empirically based description and explanation of the world based on observation, explanatory hypotheses, experimental and/or observational testing, predictive power relative to new observations, analysis and open discussion of same among the community of the informed, and open to correction and development in light of empirical testing and logical analysis.
2] As a comparison of this "new" definition with the classical and even current approach of many quite technically competent scientists and similar practitioners of say medicine and engineering etc. will at once reveal, this bears more than a passing resemblance to the classical definition and praxis of "science," and has in it no before the fact (thus question-begging) commitments to materialism.

3] So, then, why should we prefer to practice "Science" as Mr Dawkins et al would define it, to SIENCE?

4] Too often, the answer boils down to: in order to reject the possibility that the molecular technology of life, its macro-level diversity, and the evident fine-tuning of the cosmos are best explained in light of the known cause of functionally specified, complex information -- intelligent agency.

5] But then, as just pointed out, that is a major begging of metaphysical questions in favour of evolutionary materialism. And, metaphysics -- literally beyond [the study of] nature, i.e. science -- is philosophy, not science. (The proper basic method for philosophy, comparative difficulties, refuses to beg such big questions, and puts all live options on the table, then compares them on factual adequacy, logical coherence, and explanatory power.)
In short, "Science" as redefined by Mr Dawkins et al, for excellent reasons, is not at all to be preferred to SIENCE, the more traditional understanding of science.

Moreover, we immediately see that the questions of (1) how we should best understand "science" and of (2) how we should best understand what it means to be rational are PHILOSOPHICAL issues, not scientific ones. Then, as we saw over the past few days,
here and here, understanding the cosmos and our place in it in light of an uncaused, intelligent, personal, benevolent Creator-Redeemer God is credibly at least as rational as, say, to think that we inhabit a randomly thrown up bubble of apparently fine-tuned order in a wider quasi-infinite -- thus unobservable -- chaos.

Next, we note a tone of high dudgeon on the part of Mr Dawkins and his ilk, joined to a strong claim that those who differ with them are irrational to the point of lunacy (or worse). So, immediately, we should follow Paul in his knockout opening blow in his Mars Hill discourse: question the rationality of the basis on which evolutionary materialists ground their fervent logical and moral appeals. For:
Philosophical materialism . . . argues that the cosmos is the product of chance interactions of matter and energy, within the constraint of the laws of nature. Therefore, all phenomena in the universe, without residue, are determined by the working of purposeless laws acting on material objects, under the direct or indirect control of chance.
But human thought, clearly a phenomenon in the universe, must now fit into this picture. Thus, what we subjectively experience as "thoughts" and "conclusions" can only be understood materialistically as unintended by-products of the natural forces which cause and control the electro-chemical events going on in neural networks in our brains. (These forces are viewed as ultimately physical, but are taken to be partly mediated through a complex pattern of genetic inheritance and psycho-social conditioning, within the framework of human culture.)
Therefore, if materialism is true, the "thoughts" we have and the "conclusions" we reach, without residue, are produced and controlled by forces that are irrelevant to purpose, truth, or validity . . . . Thus, evolutionary materialism reduces reason itself to the status of illusion . . . For instance, Marxists commonly deride opponents for their “bourgeois class conditioning” — but what of the effect of their own class origins? Freudians frequently dismiss qualms about their loosening of moral restraints by alluding to the impact of strict potty training on their “up-tight” critics — but doesn’t this cut both ways? And, should we not simply ask a Behaviourist whether s/he is simply another operantly conditioned rat trapped in the cosmic maze?
. . . . As a further consequence, materialism can have no basis, other than arbitrary or whimsical choice and balances of power in the community, for determining what is to be accepted as True or False, Good or Evil. So, Morality, Truth, Meaning, and, at length, Man, are dead . . . . It is consequently no surprise to detect the consistent theme that all of reality is ultimately meaningless . . . . In Law, Government, and Public Policy, the same bitter seed has shot up the idea that "Right" and "Wrong" are simply arbitrary social conventions. This has often led to the adoption of hypocritical, inconsistent, futile and self-destructive public policies.
So, there is excellent reason to challenge the claim of the evolutionary materialists to the high ground on both rationality and morality. Then, too, when we see that Mr Dawkins wishes to join his ill-founded assertions of "lunacy" to the agenda to silence Judaeo-Christian theists and to marginalise us, as cited above, we should take serious pause. For, as the ghosts of over 100 million victims rise up and warn us, secularists in power over the past century have had a very bad track record indeed.

That again brings to the fore Professor Alister McGrath's telling comment:
What happens if a society rejects the idea of God? The evidence suggests that it transcendentalizes alternatives – such as the ideals of liberty or equality. These now become quasi-divine authorities, which none are permitted to challenge. Perhaps the most familiar example of this dates from the French Revolution, at a time when traditional notions of God were discarded as obsolete, and replaced by transcendentalized human values. Madame Rolande was brought to the guillotine to face execution on trumped-up charges in 1792. As she prepared to die, she bowed mockingly towards the statue of liberty in the Place de la R√©volution, and uttered the words for which she is remembered: “liberty, what crimes are committed in your name.” All ideals – divine, transcendent, human, or invented – are capable of being abused. That’s just the way human nature is. And knowing this, we need to work out what to do about it, rather than lashing out uncritically at religion.
Wise words, and words we should heed before it is too late. END

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UPDATE, Jan 12, 2011: SIENZE adjusted to Plantinga's SIENCE. 

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