Although the discussion at BioLogos is winding down, Bishop’s review raises issues calling for a reply, because the underlying premises of his position are shared by large numbers of science and philosophy faculty at both secular and religious universities. It is likely that, left unchallenged and unexamined, these faulty premises will continue to influence the debate.
One issue in particular deserves extended comment: the standing of methodological naturalism (hereafter, MN) as a rule for scientific inquiry. Evaluating the role of MN can make for distinctly odd bedfellows. One finds theists such as Bishop, or Princeton philosopher Hans Halvorson, arguing in favor of the doctrine, whereas atheists and agnostics — e.g., Maarten Boudry and colleagues (2010, 2012), Sahotra Sarkar (2011), or Bradley Monton (2009) — arguing against it. Bishop’s use of MN in his critique of Darwin’s Doubt reveals the enormous distance between his position and that of ID theorists. Although the distance is great, communication across the divide is still possible. We hope that our response helps to clarify the ID standpoint and indicate how a more thorough analysis of MN can help in the future.
In Darwin’s Doubt, Stephen Meyer argues that inferences to intelligent causation, while fully warranted by the evidence of the Cambrian explosion, run afoul of the dictum of methodological naturalism (MN). As Meyer defines MN:
scientists should accept as a working assumption that all features of the natural world can be explained by material causes without recourse to purposive intelligence, mind, or conscious agency. (p. 19)
As Meyer later explains (p. 385), the fatal defect in MN is not hard to find: “if researchers refuse as a matter of principle [namely, MN] to consider the design hypothesis, they will obviously miss any evidence that happens to support it.” One cannot evaluate the evidence for or against any hypothesis that has been ruled out a priori. For this and other reasons, ID theorists regard MN as an obstacle to knowledge and hence a methodological rule that we would be better off without.
The fatal defect of methodological naturalism is not hard to find; it is merely inconvenient for some to admit. The defect is that the principle rules off the table – not arguments against itself – but evidence against itself.
Readers will note that Darwin himself had doubts about Darwinism, especially concerning the Cambrian explosion of life and the human mind. The BioLogians, for all I know, may have doubts about Christianity —but not about Darwin, even when he himself did.
That anyone takes BioLogos seriously testifies to the disorder of the times we live in.
It’s not politically correct, of course, to say this but methodological naturalism is really metaphysical naturalism packaged for the public school student. But it is. And it is more. I call it Darwin’s checkmate.
Darwin’s checkmate is that our minds are merely natural artifacts, shaped for fitness, not for truth,. Thus, Darwinism is true and nothing else is. Methodological/metaphysical naturalism prepares students for that truth. It feels perfectly natural, whether evidence supports it or not.
So, kid, you are free to wreck your life any way you want, as long as you never question the basic premise that you are just a bunch of chemicals running around in a bag. Today, citizens who disagree must pay taxes for schools that indoctrinate children in that belief.
See also: Darwin’s “horrid doubt”: The mind
Neuroscience tried wholly embracing naturalism, but then the brain got away
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