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Science is naturalistic (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Science is naturalistic (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.


Claim CA301:

Science is based on naturalism, the unproven assumption that nature is all there is.

Source: Evolution as dogma: The establishment of naturalism. Johnson, Phillip E. 1990. First Things no. 6, p. 15-22. What every theologian should know about creation, evolution and design. Dembski, William A. 1996.

CreationWiki response:

I would ask to you take a very close read of what Phillip Johnson and William Dembski actually wrote in their articles. The context of what they are talking about is very important to seeing if what Talk Origins has said is accurate. The inaccuracy of the statement can be seen in the CreationWiki entry about methodological naturalism.

But the subject here is slightly different. Talk Origins is now saying that creationists think science is based on naturalism when the articles by Dembski and Johnson were more about Darwinism and what science is in a Darwinistic framework. The reason why this view of science would be distorted is because of the philosophical naturalism that is inherent in the theory, and because of the wide-reaching connotations of the theory, inherent in the worldview of the person holding the theory. To them, science is naturalistic, i.e., ruling out the supernatural. An example of this thinking showed up in a program I was watching online discussing evolution and intelligent design. It featured Jonathan Wells on the ID side, and Massimo Pigliucci on the evolutionist side. Note what Pigliucci says in this short segment (you can check for yourself if you think I'm taking out of context).

Peter Robinson: "If he--in other words, you start by saying we're going to rule out any notion of anything a-natural or anything that cannot be…"

Massimo Pigliucci: "That's not just evolution. That's science in general. Science in general cannot start with the assumption that there is a supernatural intervention which is ..." MONKEY BUSINESS: Evolution and Intelligent Design

[Just in case it happens to come offline, I'll keep a copy on my harddrive if anyone wants to see it.]

So see what is said by Robinson "you start by saying we're going to rule out any notion of anything a-natural", and Pigliucci's immediate response, "that's science in general". What is Well's understanding of science?

"Jonathan Wells: Let me finish. On the other hand, you have just heard another definition of science here which is not the same as the one we agreed upon a few minutes ago. The definition of science I gave--the essence of science is the testing of hypotheses against the evidence. The definition we just heard is that science starts with the assumption that everything in the world can be explained without recourse to supernatural causes."

Now let's see which one is closer to the dictionary definition:

"knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method" Science Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.

And the scientific method, although not set in stone, but there is enough of a general rule in there, is based on observation, hypothesis, and testing the hypothesis with further observations and experiments. Well's seems to be spot on. The scientific method does not advocate the universal metaphysical naturalism Darwinists hold on to. Here I can at least try to deal with the issue of science, methodological naturalism, and philosophical naturalism. This will hopefully also deal with one of the points that Talk Origins made.

The scientific method of observation, making hypotheses, and testing them is a part of our human lives. In our little ways we see things happen, make guesses about what is happening, and then use other observations to verify (show to be true) or falsify (show to be false) that guess. Take instance, you live in an area where milk is delivered to people's doors in the morning. You go to see a friend late in the afternoon and you see the milk bottles are still full, seemingly intact, on his doorstep. You may pause and think to yourself, assuming the milk was delivered at its usual time in the morning, I guess (hypothesize) that my friend isn't in, since he has not collect the milk yet. What are you gonna do to test that hypothesis? Well, you can knock the door and see if he responds. You can use a cell (mobile) phone or a pay phone and call his house to see if anyone responds. This simple analogy helps us see the scientific method of making observations, making guesses and testing those guesses.

Now I may get a bit silly now, but based on the above example, when were such observations made? In the present! When was it tested? In the present! Did such a observation automatically from the start have anything to do with an adherence to any religious philosophy like theism or naturalism? Not really. It is just part of our experiences. Simple observations like these help to construct science proper, which has helped develop technology and medicine and biology. If I look through a glass and things look bigger and the resolution finer, what happens if I change what I'm looking through, such has change the properties of the glass or put more pieces of glass in front of it, I could build a magnifying glass or microscope or a telescope. This has nothing to do with morals, nothing to do with "religion". It's investigating the world we live in now, and using that empirical knowledge for our advantage and to help us properly steward the world we seem to be responsible for.

Now, how did the earth get here in the first place? How did the cow which makes the milk get here in the first place? Such things are beyond our experience. Nobody has observed the creation or evolution of a cow or seen the formation of a planetary system. Or to put it more accurately, nobody was there when such things were first created. This is outside of our experience and this is where assumptions and worldviews come more significantly into play. We can use observations in the present to help confirm or disaffirm the worldview we have, but since the evidence is now circumstantial, without direct observation, we are playing in the dark, the unknown, and we have to choose the best framework we can. We can say to ourselves that the only thing in this world which we can use is the material world to explain everything, and expand the simple natural cause and effect to everything. This is methodological naturalism which says that we must use natural causes to explain everything and the supernatural is not allowed it. It is, as Dembski says, the functional equivalent of philosophical naturalism which says that the natural world is all there is. Or we can say, still based on observation and experience, that we see the complexity of the universe and we see the intelligence of human constructions and, by using the principle of analogy, see if evidence confirms a worldview incorporating an supernatural intelligence. This sort of thinking is used by the people in SETI (search for extra-terrestrial intelligence) to tell the difference between random radio signals in space and actual messages from aliens. It is used by archeologists to tell the difference between a chipped stone form by undirected natural forces and an intelligently made arrow head. From such starting philosophies or beliefs, we investigate the world. Using these untestable axioms, we make sense of our world, not in the same way as science proper which is more firmly based on human experience, and can be shared with other humans. Both worldviews can use present observations and make assumptions about how it comes to play in the past, thus using science proper, observations in the present. But because science proper is locked in the present it has no power concerning a past outside of human experience, and explanations about that past are based more on logic based on a certain worldview than true science.

So the science proper uses induction, reasoning from detailed facts to general principles, and causality, looking into the relationship between cause and effect, without excluding possibilities whether supernatural or natural, if it is justified, using undirected natural causes and unnatural intelligent causes to explain effects in the present in human experience, since natural causes cannot adequately explain everything. Repeatability is also very important in the method to test that such an observed effect or cause is constantly valid or has a pattern we can use. If something is not repeatable, and leaves no traces, it may have happened in real life, but science cannot deal with it. So unlike what some believe, science proper doesn't have all the answers. It is limited.

Philosophical naturalism, the religious worldview, is used to explain things in the hypothetically distant past and even in hypothetically extreme distances in the universe by using methodological naturalism and hence going beyond science's proper boundaries of human experience. In such a worldview, everything in the natural world must have a natural explanation. Science doesn't say this. It says it does the best it can, when it is applicable to use it, and in a past or distance outside of human experience (including the hypothetical billions of years with no human presence in the evolutionary belief system), science proper has little strength or applicability and present natural laws are inadequate. The rest of the driving force comes from the religious philosophy of naturalism.

Using science proper we can find out the properties and chemical composition of trees and humans and air. But finding out the properties of things cannot tell us if such things were created or evolved. This is a weakness of evolution and philosophical naturalism. Finding out the composition of this computer and the properties of it will tell me little about whether it was created or whether it evolved from sand, rock, and minerals. My human experience and science proper tells me that in the present, as far as we know, there are no such natural laws which would require this computer to come together. Getting all the ingredients of the computer together will not form the computer. This is where intelligence and purpose come in. Some may argue that here I am "begging the question" or using circular reasoning by using an instrument we know to be intelligently designed. But that is looking too superficially at the analogy. An analogy is used to draw a comparison in order to show a similarity in some respect. The similarity here is this: there is no natural law that says that certain materials should come together to form components, why certain components should come together to form a integrated system that has an operation for a certain use. We know that the chance of a behind-the-scenes intelligence is high. In the same way, there is no natural law say that certain chemicals should come together and life form, that genes should increase in meaningful information to produce different morphologies, organs and other parts of living organisms. So methodological naturalism falls apart unless held up by the philosophy that it just has to be explained by nature, since nothing else is allowed in the picture.

I hope the previous passages have helped to show what science can and cannot do, the power of philosophies in investigating the past, and the misuse of the term science by evolutionists, limiting valid deductions from it to only natural causes.

The naturalism that science adopts is methodological naturalism. It does not assume that nature is all there is; it merely notes that nature is the only objective standard we have. The supernatural is not ruled out a priori; when it claims observable results that can be studied scientifically, the supernatural is studied scientifically (e.g., Astin et al. 2000; Enright 1999). It gets little attention because it has never been reliably observed. Still, there are many scientists who use naturalism but who believe in more than nature.

Note here that science proper is not methodological naturalism. However, evolutionists can change the definition of science to "only a natural explanation for everything" to incorporate their own belief. They imply that evolution is science because of the self-serving definition.

Also, the point is not that nature is the only objective standard we have, but it is the only objective standard he accepts. If there is a Deity, then that would be an objective standard as well - a more objective standard since it created nature. There have been numerous scientists, past and present, who have held onto the divine objective standard, while still performing respected scientific research, knowing that science describes observed natural phenomena, not prescribes it. But the Talk Origins author continues.

This is another subjective statement. There have been numerous accounts of observed phenomena that is said to come from the supernatural, from Deity. The important fact is that he doesn't believe that they are reliable. There are a significant groups of people that believe differently.

A much-used quote from Richard Lewontin shows that materialism is accepted and adhered to a priori and the natural progression of that is that supernaturalism ruled out a priori, despite the inadequacy of material (naturalistic) explanations. If cause-and-effect logic were to be properly used, then it would be obvious that Deity is an adequate cause for so many things that has happened in the past and been recorded in history. The problem is not the reliability of the observation, but the philosophical dogmas one already holds.

The very same form of naturalism is used by everyone, including creationists, in their day-to-day lives. People literally could not survive without making naturalistic assumptions. Creationism itself is based on the naturalistic assumption that the Bible has not changed since the last time it was read.

When it comes to science proper, its method is used by everyone as shown by my example above. But we see it is not the same as what evolutionists use to make their claims about what happened in the past.

That last sentence is quite confusing. If I read a Bible, put it down, and pick it up again and read the same part, why would it change? Of course experience tells us that written records that are not affected by outside sources remain unchanged. It's quite an irrelevant point.

Naturalism works. By assuming methodological naturalism, we have made tremendous advances in industry, medicine, agriculture, and many other fields. Supernaturalism has never led anywhere. Newton, for example, wrote far more on theology than he did on physics, but his theological work is largely forgotten because there has been no reason to remember it other than for historical curiosity.

Investigating natural causes, when applicable, in the present is what works, not assuming that everything must be explained by natural causes, even when nature is shown to be inadequate. But natural science isn't everything, and it is not the only source of knowledge. It is untrue that supernaturalism has gotten us nowhere. It is because of our ancients devotion to the morals given by Deity (however inconsistent) that we have a moral code today. It helps people today to understand the world they live in and how to treat other people because of commands to master and work on the earth and to treat others with respect. It has helped give us a sense of worth, being made, forged by the Divine Maker who has a purpose for our lives in a world, a naturalistic society and scientific community which seems to want to rob us of that worth. In fact, science itself came from the supernaturalist mind as historians of science will confirm. There are many good things that do come from supernaturalism, whereas philosophical naturalism is a dead end that says that we are no better than animals, have no objective purpose or morality.

The fact that Newton's work on physics had more impact in science than his theology says nothing about theology on a whole. In fact, there may be other reasons why his theological work was largely forgotten. One reason could be that the world grew more apathetic morally, more godless, and started to worship science so much that it forgot that there is more to life than that. That's just one possible reason. It is not necessarily because supernaturalism leads nowhere. But that statement is consistent with an anti-supernaturalist philosophy which disrespects anything that claims to be of theistic importance.

Supernaturalism is contentious. Scientific findings are based on hard evidence, and scientists can point at the evidence to resolve disputes. People tend to have different and incompatible ideas of what form supernatural influences take, and all too often the only effective way they have found for reaching a consensus is by killing each other.

I guess this Talk Origins rebuttal just turned into a slam on all supernaturalism, even the ones that can be deduced from science proper and reasoning. Important issues are contentious. Have you seen the contentions in politics? Have you seen the fights that go on over football games or sports? Have you seen how evolutionists fight to keep their brand of "science" in schools? When an issue is important to somebody, they defend and protect it, whether supernaturalism or any other area in life.

True science is based on what everybody observes, which is true. But to say that scientists are all at peace and in harmony because of evidence is a fallacy. There are disagreements over how evidence should be interpreted. There are disputes within the ranks of scientists, and there are contentious issues, like this one. Jonathan Wells is a biologist. Pigliucci is also a scientist, and they are having an issue over where the evidence leads, the key word being evidence.

Then Talk Origins implies that supernaturalisms seem to only lead to wars and killing. The implications of religions are much more serious than that of "is light a wave or a particle?". It deals with the very fiber of our being and who we are (another reason why evolution is a religion). There are people who have taken up arms on issues they saw as down-right important to the very essence of our lives. Whether such actions were right or wrong is beyond the scope of this article. I guess in order to cast dirt on the name of other religions, evolutionists and others look at all the negatives and say that the positives are just coincidences. By doing this they look very superficially at supernaturalism, basing their view purely the negative actions done by other religionists, rather than going deeper and asking the important questions of "why" within that religious framework. Looking from the outside, and looking to defend their own beliefs, it is easy for evolutionists to pour scorn on other philosophies, ignoring their own flaws and the terrible actions that resulted from people accepting their worldview, like the fact that masses of Australian aborigines were slaughtered and their skulls boiled and taken to museums to find the missing link in human evolution.

But the good thing about truth is that it still stands despite the inconsistencies of those holding it. When it comes to finding the right approach to life, science, creation and evolution, it is not a beauty pageant, where the best dressed lady is the one who is good in every way. You have to scrutinize, critical inspect all aspects of the approach to see its worth. You can have a prison convict in front of you, and a person dressed in the nicest clothes. To judge on superficial things will not help you choose the better man. You have to test all things, and hold fast that that which is the truest in all forms.

It is strange and probably very telling that science arose in its most powerful form from the minds of those who accepted the supernatural. Christians, like Newton and Kepler, Kelvin and others found that their science didn't condemn their belief in Genesis, but logically backed it up.

Science is good, but it doesn't ask all the questions and provide all the answers, neither does it rule out the supernatural. Science is limited and cannot help the case of the evolutionist to make his belief a fact for everyone.

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