Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Presumption of Theism

Atheists are sometimes fond of saying that we should face the natural world with the presumption of atheism. That is, until convincing evidence for the existence of God can be adduced, we should assume that God does not exist. This claim gets it exactly backwards.

If you look at nature with your eyes open, everything has the appearance of having been designed. Flowers, trees, crystals, chambered nautilus shells, the human body. And the complexity of the natural world argues further for a designer or creator. Metamorphosis, the blood-clotting cascade, an entire set of baby teeth being replaced by permanent teeth. It is the most logical to conclude that all these things came about because of the creation or guidance of God. That's what people naturally believe.

To attribute these things to chance, random mutation, natural selection, and so forth, in the absence of God, requires an (unnatural) set of arguments and explanations. Atheism must be trained into people in the process of explaining away the appearance of design. And to be an atheist in the face of the elegance and complexity of the processes in a single cell--the molecular machines, DNA, hormonal controls, the process of cell division--this, it would seem, requires more faith than that possessed by many theists.

If you can argue persuasively for the presumption of atheism, then Neo-Darwinist evolutionary theory can maintain a modicum of plausibility, which, if God is anywhere even remotely present, the theory has lost completely. This explains why science has been redefined from "the search for truth and explanations of nature and its processes"  into "the search for natural explanations of nature and its processes."

Losing the argument? Redefine the terms.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Thomas Nagel, Evolution, and Common Sense

Thomas Nagel, New York University philosophy professor, recently (Oxford, 2012) published Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. A basic point he makes there is that ongoing scientific discoveries are steamrolling Neo-Darwinism: "The more details we learn about the chemical basis of life and the intricacy of the genetic code, the more unbelievable the standard historical account becomes (5). The "governing assumptions" of the "current orthodoxy" are "unsupported," and fly "in the face of common sense" (5). The reason, Nagel says, that so many people subscribe to such a "highly implausible" account (6) is that "almost everyone has been browbeaten into regarding" it as "sacrosanct" (7).

Nagel notes a common predicament created by Neo-Darwinism: "Evolutionary naturalism provides an account of our capacities that undermines their reliability, and in doing so undermines itself" (27). In other words, how can we trust a brain constructed by random mutations selected only for their reproductive and survival advantage? Says Nagel, "Evolutionary naturalism implies that we shouldn't take any of our convictions seriously, including the scientific world picture on which evolutionary naturalism itself depends" (28).

So why is it gospel in the scientific arena? "The priority given to evolutionary naturalism," Nagel explains, "in the face of its implausible conclusions" derives from "the secular consensus that this is the only form of external understanding of ourselves that provides an alternative to theism . . ." (29).

Nagel covers many implausibilities relating to evolutionary theory, such as that "natural selection should have generated creatures with the capacity to discover by reason the truth about a reality that extends vastly beyond the initial appearances. . ." (74). That is, why and how did our brains develop such a phenomenal capacity when we needed them only to hunt and to find mates? Nagel finds consciousness itself, together with reason, "symbolic representations, and logical consistency" (78) in need of a more credible explanation than the one offered by evolutionary theory.

Nagel concludes, "It would be an advance if the secular theoretical establishment . . . could wean itself of the materialism and Darwinism of the gaps. . ." (127).

A final note. Professor Nagel is an atheist, who says, "I do not find theism any more credible than materialism as a comprehensive world view" (22). He is not writing as a defender of any theistic alternative to evolution.

Defining Science Down

Science used to be defined as "knowledge and the search for understanding of the natural world." In other words, the search for nature's truth, wherever it might lead. Today, however, science is defined in a much more constricted form: "the search for naturalistic explanations of the physical world." The change, of course, was made in order to define the supernatural out of science. How clever those redefiners were. By definition, science excludes creationist theories and intelligent design theories because "they are not science."

That reminds me of the scientist who indulged a similar-pattern question-begging definition when he said something to the effect that "mental states are those thoughts of which we are aware. Therefore, there are no unconscious mental states." Don't like an idea? Just define it out of existence.

And the new definition of science has another benefit. As Philip Johnson has said (in an online lecture), by insisting on natural explanations for everything, an origins model very much like New-Darwinian evolution must be true, since there are no alternatives with any superior probability that involve only naturalistic explanations.

And again, as Philip Johnson points out, that's why examples of mere reversible  gene frequencies are touted as evolution, when in fact they show only the flexibility of the genome for horizontal variation. The Galapagos finches, fruit flies, DDT resistant flies, antibiotic-resistant fruit flies, and Kettlewell's Peppered Moths are all examples of reversible variation, not evolution in the sludge to the judge, slime to the sublime sense.

And while I'm haranguing this, let me say I'm very disappointed in the lack of integrity of the whole evolutionary enterprise. Examples: (1) Ernst Haeckel's faked embryos, (2) Kettlewell's faked Peppered Moth photos, (3) the claim that variation is evolution (and the equivocation fallacy involved in trying to confuse the definition of evolution), (4) going to court to prevent criticism of Neo-Darwinism in the public schools, (5) repeating exploded stories like the Stanley Miller "chemicals of life" experiment, and so on, (6) labeling anything not in harmony with the standard model as "pseudoscience," or  labeling Intelligent Design as "Intelligent Design Creationism,"

The bottom line is that naturalism is a religion--or, if you prefer, a metaphysical ideology--and, again as has been pointed out numerous times, Neo-Darwinist evolutionary theory is naturalism's creation myth. By defining science down to naturalist philosophy, we have not only a shrunken view of reality, but a Procrustean bed upon which all discoveries in the living (and fossil) world must be forced to fit. Truth? Oh, well, never mind that.