We continue our discussion about evolution a topic we have discussed before, in the context of a recent article handed out in my brothers catholic high school. The author goes on to talk about evolution giving rise to “scientific naturalism” As he states:.
“ the concept of scientific naturalism — the idea that the material world and all the phenomena we see around us can be explained without having to invoke an architect or overseer. All the evidence currently points to this conclusion, and until science reveals any hint of supernatural meddling — which it has not – we will continue to have to accept naturalism as the ongoing scientific paradigm.”
Here is another great misunderstanding, namely, that science can demonstrate whether or not we need a creator. The traditional theistic arguments are themselves philosophical claims which cannot be falsified by science. Taking all a posteriori arguments but leaving aside specifically religious ones based on personal experience or miracle claims, there are three main types of arguments for God’s existence. They are the cosmological arguments, design arguments, and arguments from the transcendent features of the world (e.g. love, human intellect, morality, goodness, etc.) The last type of argument obviously has nothing to do with science. Most people who claim the natural world does not need a cause are implicitly trying to refute the first two arguments.
The cosmological argument is one which argues from the world to God based on the need to have a first cause. We gave a version of the argument in a previous series of posts. In its traditional formulation, the main point is that there are many things which exist yet are not self-existing and therefore need a sustaining cause. In more modern terms, they are contingent rather than necessary. A theist would claim that all of physical reality itself is contingent and therefore we must ask why it exists at all. Science deals with physical things but any appeal to a physical explanation of why a physical world exists misses the point as it is circular. We cannot appeal to something physical to explain why physical things exist. One could make the philosophical claim that material things are in fact logically necessary or that contingent things do not need a cause, but these are philosophical claims about the nature of reality not things we could learn from natural science. Further, even if science uncovers how the universe began (i.e. have a more thorough explanation of what we now know as the big bang) it would not falsify this argument as some would think. The question of why anything exists at all is left unanswered. Perhaps there is no answer or that the answer does not possess traditional divine qualities, but each of these claims is philosophical in nature. Science presupposes the existence of a natural world to examine with tools from the natural world. It cannot therefore answer why these types of things exist anymore than appealing to one event or character in a story can explain why there is a story to begin with.
Design arguments in their traditional formulation block the scientific naturalism objection as well. They attempt to show that the inherent intelligibility, order, finality, natural beauty, and purposefulness are the result of a great mind. It is these features of the natural order itself which count as evidence for God. Contra the ID movement, it is not the exceptions in nature which are the focus but rather the regularities of nature which point to an ordering mind. Science presupposes an intelligible, rational, orderly natural world. Therefore, it cannot explain these things themselves.
Now some design arguments appeal to more specific instances of order etc. in the world or appeal to something like complexity etc. in the world as evidence of design. These can be falsified by science in the sense that science can show a specific bit of order is caused by something else or that the bit of order is merely an illusion. What science cannot explain is the regularity itself qua regularity. Since science always appeals to more and more intricate mathematical laws, it is always appealing to order to explain order. Although in a sense it can explain order on the surface, it ultimately runs into the problem that it cannot explain the order or rationality that is clearly present in our universe.
Also, simply because a design argument appeals to something within the realm of science does not mean that it has no value. It is true that it may be falsified by science and that it probably does not have the same force that a metaphysical argument has however scientific findings may still provide evidence for design. This may be the case of the ID movement, I do not know enough about it to take a stand. Another example of this is the existence of anthropic coincidences. These are certain facts about various physical constants in nature and about what is necessary for the emergence of life. This is a topic for another time but the basic point is that it is true science is responsible for finding these and science could perhaps show that we are wrong in thinking that there is anything special about them, but this does not mean that the design argument is false itself, only that this version is false. Even so, the fact that science can falsify an argument does not mean that it has. Some may accuse this of “God of the gaps reasoning.” This is an incorrect accusation however because we are not reasoning from the fact that “we don’t know” to God but rather from what we do know based on science to God. Yet at the same time we do admit that what we know now in science could change in the future based on further discovery and understanding of the natural world. Moreover, scientific arguments unlike metaphysical ones aren’t based on the fundamental nature of reality as such but on contingent facts about the natural world. Hence it is often true that arguments based on scientific premises are merely probabilistic or do not tell us all that much about what kind of cause is responsible for the effect.
The biggest problem then with this article is that it says there is no evidence of “meddling.” This is where it really misunderstands theism. The traditional theistic claim is not that God is constantly meddling in things as in repeatedly performing miracles. Similarly, natural theology’s greatest arguments for God’s existence do not have to do with exceptions in the natural order or anything like that but rather with the natural order itself with all of its regularities. It is not as though the great philosophers saw various exceptions in nature and said “there is where God makes His mark and meddles in the universe.” Rather, they saw that the natural world itself could not explain itself. It had features which needed an explanation beyond the natural world not because of some contingent fact about the natural world but given the nature of the natural order itself. So the composition of our universe needed an explanation in terms of something which was non-composite. The contingency needed an explanation in terms of necessity. Order needed an explanation in terms of an ordering mind who Himself was not orderly in the same sense. I could continue this list for a while. Of course, the naturalist will argue that science will one day have answers to these questions. But this is simply begging the question and at the same time misunderstanding theist arguments. It begs the question because it simply assumes naturalism is true. Second of all, it misunderstands the arguments because theists do not claim that right now we lack natural explanations of things and therefore let’s posit a supernatural cause. Rather, theists hold that given the nature of our world, it necessarily entails given what it is a supernatural cause beyond the natural order.
Hence this point of the article simply misses the point on why we invoke God.
As for the new Pope, Francis I, his position will have to follow those of his predecessors in keeping with the principle of papal infallibility. But like Pius and Benedict, he can elaborate on the Church’s position when he feels it necessary
This much is fine.
In conclusion, I think this just is more evidence of the need for good philosophical reasoning to back up religious claims. In the meantime, we can just pray and work towards this end.