A False Dilemma in Naturalistic Evolution

Naturalistic evolutionists often present a false dilemma to their hearers in the form of a choice between religion and science. The term “naturalistic evolution” used here refers to a common descent of species that is devoid of any purpose, design, or intelligent input. On the contrary, Intelligent Design Theory (IDT) argues for purpose, design, and intelligent input in biological systems when it is intellectually justified to do so. That is, this theory presents positive evidence for design and negative evidence for naturalistic evolution and both are of a scientific nature. IDT has two main premises:

1. Intelligent causes exist in nature.
2. These causes are detectable.

These simple premises provide for a very wide range of views on origins. IDT is consistent with a belief in a seamless common descent of species as well as young earth creationism. It should be noted, however, that ID does not make any appeals to sacred scriptures; rather the focus is on the merits of Darwinism itself and the principles of information theory. It is for this reason that the ID movement seeks to distance itself from various religious organizations. Prominent ID theorist William Dembski explains in his own words:

“To say intelligent causes are empirically detectable is to say there exist well-defined methods that, on the basis of observational features of the world, are capable of reliably distinguishing intelligent causes from undirected natural causes. Many special sciences have already developed such methods for drawing this distinction-notably forensic science, cryptography, archeology, and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (as in the movie Contact)…. Whenever these methods detect intelligent causation, the underlying entity they uncover is information. Intelligent Design properly formulated is a theory of information. Within such a theory, information becomes a reliable indicator of intelligent causation as well as a proper object for scientific investigation. Intelligent Design thereby becomes a theory for detecting and measuring information, explaining its origin, and tracing its flow. Intelligent Design is therefore not the study of intelligent causes per se, but of informational pathways induced by intelligent causes.”1

The naturalistic evolution position rejects IDT in two main forms, which will be simplified and summarized here:

The first is Philosophical Naturalism holds that only the physical world exists and physical laws determine all events. This would include all mental events. However, anyone who argues that something physical determines our thoughts paints himself or herself into a horrible indefensible corner. Determinism cannot account for either reason or a free will. Norman Geisler explains:

“A determinist insists that both determinists and non-determinists are determined to believe what they believe. However determinists believe non-determinists are wrong and ought to change their view. But, ‘ought to change’ implies they are free to change, which is contrary to determinism…. CS Lewis argued that naturalistic, complete determinism is irrational. For determinism to be true there would have to be a rational basis for their thought. But if determinism is true, then there is no rational basis for thought, since all is determined by non-rational forces. So, if determinism claims to be true then it must be false.”2

Hence, philosophical naturalism cannot stand on it own epistemic base. That is, it cannot offer us a rational basis for believing what we do, even for believing that philosophical naturalism is true. It is, therefore, a self refuting position and necessarily false.

Methodological Naturalism (MN) is an alternative for those who wish to allow the possibility that a real nonphysical world may exist. For our purposes here, it means that agent causation lies outside the realm of science. According to this view, science, by it’s very nature, must adopt MN and agent causation lies in the realm of theology not science. Science and theology (or, perhaps, philosophy) are different types of knowledge and the two shall never meet. It is critically important to note that these claims are not scientific in themselves but are meta-statements about science. In other words, the person making this case is not practicing science but the philosophy of science. Additionally, in the Supreme Court case McLean v. Arkansas, highly prominent philosopher of science Michael Ruse and other expert witnesses argued that any theory that does not assume methodological naturalism is not science by offering a five-point definition of science. The process had to be:

1. Guided by natural law
2. Explained by natural law
3. Testable against the empirical world
4. Tentative in it’s conclusions
5. Falsifiable.

Again, however, the above criteria are not scientific in nature. This demarcation theory, as it is commonly referred, fails to pass it’s own test and cannot be considered science. For example, this demarcation theory is not explained by natural law; Ruse has not weighed or measured anything for us nor has he described some physical causal nexus. Second, if something must be tentative to be called science then methodological naturalism must also be held tentative to be called scientific. Therefore, it should not be presupposed but tentative. But if it is tentative, then other theories must be permitted to be introduced. Hence, if Ruse offers these criteria as scientific, it is self referentially refuting; it cannot satisfy it’s own criteria. Moreover, the real issue at hand is whether or not a theory is true, not whether it passes another demarcation theory. (Ruse himself has backpedaled on his earlier criterion and acknowledged that MN depends on unproven metaphysical assumptions.)

Thus, the claims by the naturalistic evolutionists that the scientific method is inexorably tied to MN, to the exclusion of all other beliefs, are false. For example, the statement “we should only trust science” is not provable by the scientific method. Also, to assert that science (understood as MN), if given enough time, will be able to give a full account of our origins is special pleading and the very same thing could be argued for design.

2Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999) p. 197.

This article appeared in the Winter 2002 edition of Logon.
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