Unnatural Selection

I have been reading the Modern Library edition The Philosophy of Spinoza, edited by the rabidly anticlerical Joseph Ratner, where Spinoza dissects all aspects of religious belief from a naturalistic viewpoint, one which nevertheless seeks to transcend human experience. I have also been listening to the audiobook of Lee Strobel’s The Case for a Creator, which covers the same ground as the Francis S. Collins audiobook The Language of God: the opposition between a purely naturalistic and a transcendental worldview. As I previously mentioned, I recently finished Events of Grace, written by naturalist theologian Charley Hardwick, which I began after reading an essay by James Gouinlock on Santayana’s naturalism. On my shelf waiting for me are Reason in Common Sense by Santayana and On Nature by Lucretius.

Because of this immersion in naturalist philosophy, I am thinking about it a lot. I noticed that Strobel emphasizes a point about naturalism that bedevils most Christians who enter into arguments about the existence of God and the origin of life: Naturalism, he says, leads to atheism. Yet, it is taken for granted as the basis for scientific inquiry, so that Christians such as Strobel and Collins feel obligated to disentangle science from philosophical naturalism, in an effort to enable Christians to simultaneously maintain faith in God and in science.

Strobel implies that what usually happens to young Christians is that they start investigating scientific literature with the objective of learning truths about the known world from science. Then they are led down the broad path of naturalism and taught that scientific knowledge is incompatible with unscientific knowledge; this is based on the pretense that science constitutes a closed, self-referential system describing not simply observable local phenomena, but every possible past and future state of every corner of the universe, every movement of every form of life that ever existed and ever will exist, and all of human experience, real or imagined.

So, seduced by the common superstitions about science promulgated by science journalists to their eighth-grade-level reading audience, the Christian or innocently agnostic naif is brought close enough to be sucker-punched by philosophical naturalism and left with atheism as the only rational worldview. The nihilistic “freethinkers” look on approvingly, babbling about how the brainwashed masses are finally being liberated from domination by priestly hierarchies and gender roles to roam unfettered through their “reality based communities” with peace and love for all genetically determined races and sexual orientations. “It is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, Age of Aquarius. . .”

Well, not quite. I don’t see this as an inevitable progression, frankly. First of all, science is not a closed system. It does not explain the “how” of everything, and an honest scientist does not claim to explain the “why” of anything at all. Because some scientist somewhere has some explanation for one instance of a certain phenomenon, that does not give license to the promoters of science worship to start ordering everyone to bow down and start making burnt offerings. Science is nothing more than a method for systematically investigating how to predict or control natural processes. In the past, witch doctors seemed to do the same thing. If scientists and engineers now seem to be actually able to do what witch doctors claimed to do, that does not make the scientists into replacement witch doctors. The problem here is not what scientists claim to do or know; the problem is that people want to be brainwashed, they want to worship idols, and the science shamans are just catering to their needs.

To top it off, the creation science folks are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Instead of promoting belief in the living God who was revealed to humans before anyone ever heard of “science,” they try to take advantage of people’s idolatry by engaging in pointless bickering over how the Bible is proven true by science. If it is true, it will still be true whether or not you can come up with some convoluted technical argument that will be obsoleted by the next scientific discovery. Creation science is not a biblical form of evangelism; it is simply a modern form of scholasticism.

Secondly, naturalism is not inherently inimical to belief in God. In fact, in order to get from naturalism to atheism, you have to extend your argument from known experience out to a Platonic wasteland of idealism. Eventually you have to overstep human rationality to reach the distinctly abstract notion that a transcendental being you claim is unknowable cannot exist, because if it did, then you would know it.

Naturalism is nothing more than what Santayana calls animal faith: taking the world at face value, expecting that everything that happens to you has actually happened and that the function of your mind is to use reason to make sense of it. Things that do not actually happen to you become progressively less probable or more speculative, or simply imaginary. You may choose to place a high probability of reality on the personal testimony of others that something actually happened to them, but if they start introducing all sorts of unknowable variables, speculations, abstractions, and third-person authority claims, the “naturalistic” quotient goes way down.

You may still appreciate what they say as an imaginative narrative, especially if they have done particularly well at crafting its archetypes, rhythms, and ironies; but it is not necessary to accept it as “true” in any way but a psychological, sociological, or mythological sense. In this way, narratives such as speculative evolution become very remote from any conceivable notion of “naturalism.” “Natural” selection as a description of the origin of humanity is only naturalistic in the sense that its narrative appeals to the contemporary social convention of attributing all effects to independent variables in the “natural” environment, as described by someone with the currently accepted credentials of a “scientific” authority.

Incredibly enough, although many claim that speculative evolution must be accepted because it is the only “rational” explanation, this is based entirely on their subjective feeling of what should be true. None of its proponents claim to have experienced it or observed it, nor do they claim to be able to cause it to happen. In fact, the only rational proponents of speculative evolution are the transhumanists, who dream of enacting the next stage in human evolution. The rest of its advocates are stuck mindlessly repeating their tautologies and avoiding the philosophical conclusions that were honestly embraced by Margaret Sanger and Adolf Hitler: eugenic determinism, no personal responsibility, and worship of the state.

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6 thoughts on “Unnatural Selection

  1. I thought about it.

    I’m not opposed to Christians being politically active and concerned with social activism like you are.

    Part of the creation science debate can fall under apologetics. We want to examine any document to see, to the best of our ability, if it’s accurate. If it’s blatantly not accurate, for example, historically accurate, then it’s not credible. The Mormon Bible makes so many easily verifiable false claims, that it’s not credible.

    For example, if the Bible made some statement:

    “And God created the world flat. And when I say flat, that’s what I mean. Let there be no ambiguity here. It’s flat. And I’m not talking about figure of speech flat like ‘the four corners of the earth’ flat. It’s physically flat. Not round like a ball.”

    And it made that a core part of everything that you couldn’t possibly chalk up as an anomaly, then you’d want to consider the Bible not credible.

    Everyone has their specialty. Some people want to take the time to defend creationism. One huge reason evolution became uncontested for so long is that no one was contesting it. In the 60’s, people like John Morris, the founder of ICR in California, came along and started educating people.

  2. I’ve watched videos of John Morris, and I found him very persuasive. I don’t actually have a complaint against any particular creation scientist’s claim, nor do I believe that they are contradicting the Bible. Moreover, I am not contradicting any specific claim made in the Bible.

    My complaint has more to do with the ideas behind creation science. It presupposes the nineteenth-century perspective that science is a new kind of knowledge that is more true and more relevant than other kinds. Scientific knowledge is presented as salvific for the poor, ignorant medieval serf with the mind of a two-year-old, aimlessly scratching in the dirt and eating grubs while babbling incoherently. If only people would realize, whines the creation scientist, that they don’t have to give up God in order to be socially acceptable and modern-thinking. Creation science is insulting to the millions of believers who lived before Copernicus, as well as the millions since who have known nothing about science, not to mention the millions who understand scientific principles and don’t feel that God needs to be “reconciled” to them.

  3. I haven’t read John Morris extensively, although I know more about him than other creation science leaders, but I don’t think he was much of a begger for acceptance. He complained about the intelligent design folks trying to explain everything absent of God. He differentiated between creation science and intelligent design. He wanted to keep the creation in creation science.

    I don’t really separate science from God. If anything, I contribute it to God, so I don’t see there’s anything to reconcile. My definition of science is basic, in fact one of John Morris’ points was that the root meaning of science is simply knowledge, which is too broad for me.

    The ideas behind science have merely been formalized, although the good ideas in it have since been corrupted, not that I know the history behind it all.

    I think it’s good to differentiate between that which we know is fact as a result of observation, and that which we must claim based on reason.

    My belief in the resurrection is not a result of blind faith. It’s a result, among other things, of believing the witness of credible witness. Believing that a historical record is accurate is a combination of science and faith.

    I accept science and faith as equally important. If people want to worship science or corrupt the word, that doesn’t mean I’m going to reject the good ideas represented by science.

    The battles change. If there’s a new battle of ideas, you have to come up with new tools. Science wasn’t an issue thousands of years ago. Now it is. If the Bible can’t stand up to critical judgement by the science yardstick, then it’s bogus.

  4. I agree that scientific knowledge cannot be separated from God. I also agree that intelligent design is not biblical, and it does not lead to Christian faith.

    The main point of intelligent design, for me, is that it is a poke in the eye to science idolaters: Anyone who believes in universal physical laws and the reality of the physical world already believes in a supernatural creator, and denying that is simply intellectual dishonesty.

    What bothered me when I was studying a lot of creation science was the sense of urgency–as if it matters whether a detailed scientific explanation can be offered for everything in the Bible. That’s like pandering to every detailed question from a six-year-old, on the principle that if you can’t satisfy them, they are justified in rejecting your authority. God didn’t grant that privilege to Job.

    Scientific knowledge is not necessary to salvation. It is merely cultural window-dressing to accommodate weak-minded people who are conditioned to picking Oprah or Phil, tarot or Wicca, PZ Myers or Rush Limbaugh. They don’t even understand science; they are just choosing one cultural authority over another.

  5. I haven’t been reading creationist literature for a number of years, and I’m sure that many are guilty of trying to make it into the magic bullet: if we could explain everything scientifically, so they would say, everyone would jump on board; but that’s not the case. We wouldn’t be having this discussion if all legitimate decisions could be based on observable fact.

    I’ve caught the math spirit, so I like to generalize concepts. You may be judging science by the academic establishment definition, but I’m judging it on what I used to repeatedly hear the science folks say in Usenet newsgroups, “repeatability and observation.” I used to get tired of hearing that, but the definition of science really needs to be very simple, or you end up with nothing but a word that means nothing much more than faith.

    Anyway, I would say that faith is an extension of science. We come into this world. We look around and make observations about our surroundings, and then we start to try and reason about what is beyond what we see.

    I’d also say that God has catered to our need to see evidence in order to justify believing in something. Abraham, Moses, and those who saw Jesus after the resurrection were given demostrable evidence. It’s part of the way the world works. You take some evidence, and then you reason beyond that to a conclusion about something you haven’t seen.

    I don’t think that describes a “trust” sort of faith. Or maybe it does.

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