Friday, October 03, 2008

Mt 24 Watch, 71: the evolutionary materialism agenda in the name of "Science"

In my reference web site, I have for some years maintained a web page on the debates over evolutionary materialism, with an emphasis on the central importance of the scientific value of the much debated inference to design. (In the past weeks, as I have worked on the current sub-series, I have occasionally taken time to update the relevant page.)

What follows is one of these updates; which I believe is highly relevant to the challenges we are facing as our civilisation more and more begins to live out of Romans 1 and 2 Peter 3.

Accordingly, I now excerpt, drawing particular attention to Professor Richard Lewontin's stunning admission:

[. . . ]

"God of the Gaps!"

At the mere mention of the term -- one dripping with memories of now-filled-in "gaps" in scientific explanations that were once used as ill-advised "proofs" of God's existence, many thinkers (especially some theistic ones) wish to look no further. Thus, under this banner, the issue of inference to design as discussed so far is then brushed aside as "obviously not proper science." That is, in large part through the rhetorical power of the phrase, God of the gaps, the attempted redefinition of science as methodological naturalism -- in effect "the best evolutionary materialist account of the cosmos, from hydrogen to humans" -- has far too often been allowed to prevail without facing squarely (much less, having to satisfactorily work out in detail) the many thorny challenges that lurk in the underlying demarcation problem.

But, in fact, not only across the past 350 years but currently, it is simply not accurate nor justifiable to reduce science to such terms. For, it is abundantly warranted by the history of the rise of modern science, and by contemporary praxis, to accept the more traditional -- and less philosophically loaded -- definition of science, such as we may easily read in high-quality dictionaries:

science: a branch of knowledge conducted on objective principles involving the systematized observation of and experiment with phenomena, esp. concerned with the material and functions of the physical universe. [Concise Oxford, 1990 -- and yes, they used the "z" Virginia!]

scientific method: principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge [”the body of truth, information and principles acquired by mankind”] involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses. [Webster's 7th Collegiate, 1965]

Further to this, not only in science but also in wider worldview analysis, we are not dealing with that mythical holy grail: proof beyond rational dispute. Instead, we must grapple with the messy world of creative abductive inferences to explanations and provisional warrant in light of the challenge of comparative difficulties. That is, serious explanations must face the three-headed issue of explanatory adequacy directly and as compared with live option alternatives:

(1) adequacy relative to the material facts -- those that make a difference to the conclusion;

(2) coherence: logical consistency without undue circularity; and,

(3) power: elegant simplicity as opposed to being either simplistic or an ad hoc patchwork.

Also, in the end we think as humans, beings who inevitably wonder about how we came to be here; beings who have to use and rely on our minds to think about such problems; beings who find ourselves sensing a duty to be honest and fair-minded in how we think about these things.

That this is not just an academic exercise is aptly illustrated by the sad course of events surrounding the evolution of Kansas Board of Education state science standards (and in particular the definition of science), from about 1999 to the present. For instance, we may contrast two alternative definitions of science, the first a radical evolutionary materialist agenda-driven redefinition attempt from 2001, the second, a now unfortunately defeated attempted corrective from 2005; which was based on a more traditional, historically and philosophically well-warranted understanding similar to those cited just above:

2001 Definition: “Science is the human activity of seeking natural explanations of the world around us.”

2005 Definition: “Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation, that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building, to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena.” [Emphases added.]

Sadly, the 2001 radical redefinition (NB: more or less reimposed, circa 2007: "Science is a human activity of systematically seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us" [cf p. xii here]) is an implicit and improper imposition of materialism in the name of science. For, it was immemorial in the days of Plato's The Laws Book X, that what in our day Monod termed "chance and necessity" do not exhaust the list of credible fundamental causal factors. As, what Plato termed "art" -- i.e. intelligent action -- is just as much an empirically observed and possible causal factor; including specifically on origins. So, we must not a priori rule out possible causal factors simply because certain possible candidates for the actual cause of what we see may not fit comfortably with our worldview and associated ideological agendas. At least, if science is to retain the fundamental mission and vision that it is an empirically anchored, unfettered, open-ended and open-minded search for the truth about our universe based on observation, hypothesis, predictions, experimental/observational testing and objective reasoned argument.

But, sadly, in the 2001 redefinition "natural" is held to contrast with "supernatural," with the highly relevant, longstanding alternative contrast: nature/art being passed over in a rhetorically convenient, strawman-shaped silence. So, by making a tendentious contrast (often under the guise that science "must" apply the rule of so-called "methodological naturalism"), the idea is smuggled in that inference to design is inescapably or at least invariably about bringing in an improper, empirically unsupported inference to the supernatural. [Cf. typical rationales for the methodological naturalism rule here and here, a corrective rebuttal to such views here and here, a related discussion of its metaphysical connexions here, and also Plantinga's somewhat tangential but enriching discussion here and here. This discussion on a proposed successor, methodological neutralism, is also well worth a read.]

In fact, the design inference is an induction made based on a well supported empirical observation: intelligent agents act into our world, and when they do so they often leave characteristic signs of art-ificial -- or, intelligent -- action; such as functionally specified, complex information. On the strength of this very well-supported observation, and the common-sense principle that "like causes like," it is plainly an empirically well justified and properly scientific induction to infer from such observed signs to the action of such agents; regardless of possible onward worldview level implications and debates -- which it is no business of science to censor itself over.

Arguably, the impact of such "methodological naturalism" as we have just seen is to subtly establish evolutionary materialistic Secular Humanism as a de facto, functional equivalent to a religion backed by state power on law, education and many other aspects of the public square. ("Subtly?" Yes: in Western cultures, we do not usually think of non-theistic worldviews and associated ideologies and institutions they influence in the terms of being potentially the functional equivalent of established and potentially domineering institutionalised religions. Especially, if such non-theistic ideologies come to us wearing the highly respected lab coat of the scientist . . . )

On this last, Richard Lewontin's notorious hidden agenda admission, in its actual context (a review of Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World), should give us serious pause:

. . . to put a correct view of the universe into people's heads we must first get an incorrect view out . . . the problem is to get them to reject irrational and supernatural explanations of the world, the demons that exist only in their imaginations, and to accept a social and intellectual apparatus, Science, as the only begetter of truth . . . . Sagan's argument is straightforward. We exist as material beings in a material world, all of whose phenomena are the consequences of physical relations among material entities. The vast majority of us do not have control of the intellectual apparatus needed to explain manifest reality in material terms, so in place of scientific (i.e., correct material) explanations, we substitute demons . . . . Most of the chapters of The Demon-Haunted World are taken up with exhortations to the reader to cease whoring after false gods and to accept the scientific method as the unique pathway to a correct understanding of the natural world. To Sagan, as to all but a few other scientists, it is self-evident that the practices of science provide the surest method of putting us in contact with physical reality, and that, in contrast, the demon-haunted world rests on a set of beliefs and behaviors that fail every reasonable test . . . .

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because 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 absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

This, sirs, is worldview warfare, raw and naked and reeking of the outright subversion of science in service to a wider agenda.

All, driven by the view that "Science" -- by that term, Lewontin plainly means evolutionary materialism (which, ironically, is inherently self-refuting and so inescapably irrational) -- is "the only begetter of truth," which gives us "correct material" that constitutes "the surest method of putting us in contact with physical reality." A "reality" that, with disgust, dismisses the possibility of God from the outset, thus tilting the playing field so that the committed "take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because [they] have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism." [Emphases added.]

Science, in the end -- whatever its many contributions to progress -- in such hands and minds primarily becomes a stalking horse for evolutionary materialism and for the imposition of associated socio-cultural, policy and political agendas that would otherwise be unacceptable.

Minds that are blinded to what the founding era scientists of three hundred years ago instinctively understood from the basic principles and teachings of their Judaeo-Christian worldview: a world created by the God who is the author of order not confusion would be set up, sustained and run according to intelligible ordering principles manifesting themselves in reliable cause-effect chains -- i.e. "laws" -- that would therefore obtain in general; but would at the same time be open to the intervention of minds and Mind. Thus, the classic motto of the early modern scientists: thinking God's thoughts after him.

But, consistent with the classic "divide and rule" political and propaganda stratagem, the evolutionary materialist ideologues have now set up a strawman opponent, which they have turned into a demonic bogeyman. Even, as they push a ruthlessly pursued agenda that looks more and more convincingly like the creation of an ideological establishment with themselves as de facto Magisterium.

What that sort of agenda means on the ground can be clearly seen from the intervention made in 2005 by the US National Academy of Sciences [NAS] and the National Science Teachers Association [NSTA], through their joint statement on the 2005 science education standards for Kansas.

The crucial paragraph of that statement reads, in its key part:

. . . the members of the Kansas State Board of Education who produced Draft 2-d of the KSES have deleted text defining science as a search for natural explanations of observable phenomena, blurring the line between scientific and other ways of understanding. Emphasizing controversy in the theory of evolution -- when in fact all modern theories of science are continually tested and verified -- and distorting the definition of science are inconsistent with our Standards and a disservice to the students of Kansas. Regretfully, many of the statements made in the KSES related to the nature of science and evolution also violate the document’s mission and vision. Kansas students will not be well-prepared for the rigors of higher education or the demands of an increasingly complex and technologically-driven world if their science education is based on these standards. Instead, they will put the students of Kansas at a competitive disadvantage as they take their place in the world.

This statement is deeply flawed and inadvertently highly revealing:

1 --> Immediately, there is no one "the definition of science" that may be owned or authoritatively imposed by any institution or group of institutions. Nor can such bodies, however august, properly demand that we must take their presented definitions at face value; without critical assessment or drawing our own conclusions for ourselves in light of our own investigation and analysis. For, science is a vital part of our common heritage as a civilisation, and what it is, and how it works are matters of historically grounded fact and philosophical discussion on comparative difficulties relative to those facts, not rulings by any officially established or de facto "Magisterium." [Moreover, scientists and teachers are as a rule not at all expert on the detailed ins and outs and resulting balances on the merits of developments and arguments in the various schools of thought on philosophy of science over recent decades.]

2 --> As a matter of fairly easily checked fact, the Kansas definition of 2005, as cited above, reflects longstanding praxis, and the resulting historic general consensus on what science is and should do; without imposing question-begging agendas. This can easily be seen from a look at the sorts of summaries we may read in high quality dictionaries from before the recent attempted imposition of methodological naturalism as an alleged criterion of science vs. non-science or pseudo-science.

3 --> Further to this, I happen to be a reasonably philosophically literate, scientifically trained person who has worked in science and technology education at secondary and tertiary level. Pardon my ignorance if that is what is reflected in my own thoughts on the subject of defining and teaching science, but I must confess that I fail to see which part of good and historically well-warranted scientific praxis over the past three or so centuries is not properly reflected in the 2005 statement: “Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation, that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building, to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena.”

4 --> The phrase on "blurring the line between scientific and other ways of understanding . . ." reflects, at best, a deep and disqualifying ignorance by the representatives of the NAS and NSTA of the overall result after decades of intense philosophical debate over the demarcation lines between science and non-science. For, there is no set of distinctive approaches to acquiring knowledge and understanding or inferring to best explanation that are universal across the conventionally accepted list of sciences, and/or that are so necessary to, sufficient for and unique to scientific investigation and argument that we may use them to mark a defining line between science and non-science. (For that matter, the real epistemological challenge is not over attaching the prestigious label "science," but over [1] whether we are using sound, effective, reliable and fair methods of inquiry, and [2] the actual degree of warrant that attaches to what we accept as knowledge, however labelled.)

5 --> Further to this, when coupled with the non-disclosure by the two bodies of the effect of imposing the rule that science may only seek "natural causes," such agenda-serving questionable demarcation criteria mislead and can even manipulate the general public on the true status of the relevant theories and factual claims being made on origins science. For, the public at large still believes that science is an unfettered search for the truth about the world in light of evidence, instead of being what the rule enforces: the best evolutionary materialist -- note the censoring constraint -- explanation of the cosmos from hydrogen to humans. Non-disclosure of the effects of such an imposition on the part of responsible parties who know or should know better ["ignorance of the law is no excuse"], on even the most charitable interpretation, must raise questions of deception by gross and culpable negligence. (Such should therefore pause and reflect soberly on "the definition" of this F-word.)

6 --> Next, it is simply and manifestly false that the [Neo-] Darwinian Theory of Evolution is in the same well-tested, abundantly empirically supported category as, say, Newtonian gravitation and mechanics circa 1680 - 1880. (And, let us observe: after about 200 years of being the best supported and most successful scientific theory, the Newtonian synthesis collapsed into being a limiting case at best, in light of unexpected findings in the world of the very small and the very fast; provoking a scientific revolution from about 1900 to 1930 that resulted in Modern Physics. Science is open-ended, provisional and hopefully progressive. A pattern of progres in which theory replacement is art least as prominent as theory refinement.)

7 --> Now, too, Newtonian dynamics was and is about currently and directly observable phenomena, i.e. so-called operational science: what are the evident patterns and underlying ordering principles of the currently operating, observable natural world?

8 --> By contrast, the material part of the Theory of Evolution -- we are not talking about what has been termed microevolution -- is about trying to make a plausible reconstruction of an unobservable, remote past of life based on traces in the present and extrapolation of currently observed or plausible processes and principles. That is, it is an origins science, a fundamentally historical investigation based on principles of inference to best explanation. Its findings and explanations on the reconstructed, extrapolated and projected natural history of life are thus inherently less well tested than those of theories that deal with present accessible and directly observable reality.

9 --> So also, the too often seen tendency to over-claim the degree of warrant for evolutionary reconstructions of the remote past naturally provokes controversies, especially where rhetorical resort is made (often, in the name of "education") to misleading icons. Therefore, broad-brush dismissive claims such as "all modern theories of science are continually tested and verified" -- i.e. in effect confirmed as credibly true for practical purposes -- constitute a highly misleading over-reach. Especially, when these claims are coupled with the imposition of methodological naturalism and non-disclosure of its censoring, worldview-level question-begging effects as pointed out at 5 just above.

10 --> Worse yet, given the primary reference in context of "these standards," all of this is backed up by a subtle -- and on the evidence of events since 2005, successful -- unjustifiable intimidatory threat. For, it is simply not true that students exposed to the traditional, historically well-warranted understanding of what good science is and should strive to be "will not be well-prepared for the rigors of higher education or the demands of an increasingly complex and technologically-driven world."

11 --> Instead, we can note that NAS and NSTA hold significant prestige, and are viewed by a great many people and institutions as responsible, reasonable and authoritative. So, if they refuse their imprimatur to the Kansas Board's work, then it could materially damage the prospects for Kansan students to get into so-called "good" Colleges, jobs, etc. In short, the children of the state were being held hostage by ideologised institutions and associated individuals holding positions of great trust and responsibility, but abjectly failing in their duties of care to truth, disclosure and justice.

12 --> Moreover, all of this was in a situation where a public relations person for an oppositional "grassroots" group, Kansas Citizens For Science [KCFS] in 2005, outlined the following public relations strategy on a KCFS online forum. That forum was moderated by a NCSE member- cum- KCFS leader- cum- state education administrator and Statistics teacher who sat on the experts committee consulted by the Board in 2004 - 5. In October 2004 this committee evidently suppressed the input of the minority. It is that suppressive action that evidently provoked the whistleblowing minority report that is a highly relevant context for the "breakers of rules" accusation in the just below:

My strategy at this point is the same as it was in 1999: notify the national and local media about what's going on and portray them in the harshest light possible, as political opportunists, evangelical activists, ignoramuses, breakers of rules, unprincipled bullies, etc. There may no way to head off another science standards debacle, but we can sure make them look like asses as they do what they do. Our target is the moderates who are not that well educated about the issues, most of whom probably are theistic evolutionists. There is no way to convert the creationists. The solution is really political. [Emphases added. Note the significance of "[o]ur"; this is not just a personal observation, but a longstanding strategy of an ideological movement in dealing with its perceived opponents and the general public.]

In short, in our post-/ultra- modern time -- one in which a certain politician, trying to justify himself in the public mind, notoriously said "It depends on what the definition if 'is,' is . . ." -- the apparently simple question of what science is, is quite prone to ideological manipulation in service to radical evolutionary materialistic agendas.

So, we should be forewarned and forearmed.

[ . . . ]


Food for sobering thought, methinks. END

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