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"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." G.K.Chesterton

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Thursday, August 21, 2003

Naturalism all the way down

Writing in Crisis magazine, Catholic philosopher and ID advocate Benjamin Wiker argues that one cannot decouple methodological naturalism from ontological naturalism.

Does Science Point to God? The Christian Critics By Benjamin D. Wiker

"... The problem with Darwinism is that it is not merely a scientific is a full-blown materialist cosmology, an account of everything, a biological theory with presuppositions reaching all the way back to the origin of the universe and conclusions stretching all the way through nature and into every aspect of human nature. Like it
or not, indiscriminate accommodationism to the full blows of this cosmology means submitting everything to inspection and consequent reformulation or disposal according to the materialist canons of Darwinism. There is no such thing as partial surrender.

Where Darwin Leads
One of the most outspoken critics of ID theory, biologist Kenneth Miller, famously proclaims, “I am an orthodox Catholic and an orthodox Darwinian.” This “all-is-well, look-at-me”approach is meant to convey his conviction that Christians must indeed embrace Darwinism and that it is foolish to fear any theological damage. In doing so, he neglects to mention that a persistent effect of embracing Darwinism is atheism. Since the mechanism of natural selection was designed by Darwin to eliminate the need for a designer, to retain a deity seems to be entirely superfluous. Why keep a redundant cause on the cosmic payroll?

This chain of reasoning is intrinsic to Darwinism and explains why atheism has been a persistent reflex. In evolutionist Richard Dawkins’s oft-quoted words: “Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an
intellectually fulfilled atheist”...More to the point are the words of Cornell historian and Darwinian advocate William Provine: “The destructive implications of evolutionary biology extend far beyond the assumptions of organized religion to a much deeper and more
pervasive belief, held by the vast majority of people, that non-mechanistic organizing designs or forces [a.k.a., deities, inter alias, the Judeo-Christian God] are somehow responsible for the visible order of the physical universe, biological organisms, and
human moral order”... To cut through the circumlocution, evolution not only implies but demands atheism.

These are not the thoughts of those who’ve wandered off the path
of Darwinism...Darwin himself realized the dread implications of his
theory for theology—especially Christian theology—at least
two decades before the publication of the Origin of Species (in 1859). He
remained publicly circumspect, however, not only because he knew it
would undermine acceptance of his theory (evolutionary theory was
already associated with and championed by atheists in the first half
of the 19th century) but also for the sake of his believing wife,
Emma. At best, Darwin embraced a reluctant and weak, content-less,
doctrine-less theism—the merest vapor of belief.

Darwinism Before Darwin
That atheism is the natural effect of embracing evolutionary theory
should come as no surprise. The end is present in the beginning...
the first Darwinian was not Darwin, but... Epicurus, born on the
Island of Samos about 341 b.c. It was he who provided the
philosophical underpinnings of Darwinism, because it was he who
fashioned an entirely materialistic, god-proof cosmology, where the
purposeless jostling of brute matter over infinite time yielded, by a
series of fortunate accidents, not only the Earth, but all the myriad
forms of life thereon. He fashioned the cosmology, not out of
evidence but from his desire to rid the world of brooding deities. As
with many a modern, Epicurus thought religion the source of all the
world’s woes. This common disdain for religion unites Epicureanism
and modernity because we moderns are the heirs of Epicurus. Through a
long and winding path, a revived form of Epicurean materialism became
the founding creed of modern scientific materialism — the very
materialist cosmology that Darwin assumed in the Origin and that
still grounds the materialist dismissal of design in nature...

Here, then, is an important lesson for those who believe that
theology, and especially Christian theology, can be accommodated to
evolutionary theory. Its ancient founder, Epicurus, and its modern
father, Darwin, understood—and its contemporary champions,Dawkins
and Provine, understand—that the implications of evolutionary
theory are corrosive for theology. It should go without saying, then,
that those buying wholeheartedly and uncritically into evolutionary
theory, and who expect to survive with theology intact, had better
heed the ancient warning, caveat emptor.

The Folly of ‘Two Truths’
Such would seem obvious, but attempts to reconcile theology with
evolutionary theory are not in short supply, chief among them the two-
truths approach and the approach of theistic evolution.

The two-truths approach, in its modern form, has been around at least
since Benedict Spinoza (1634-1677) and was set forth most recently by
the late Stephen Jay Gould. The gist of it is this: Science and
theology cannot conflict because they deal with different realms or
spheres of truth, each happily impermeable to the other so that never
the twain shall clash. This approach rests, or appears to rest, on a
truth accepted by both sane science and sane theology that science as
science is directed to the investigation of changeable things and
theology as theology is directed to eternal things.

But appearances are deceiving, and the deception becomes clear as
soon as we ask, what exactly are the two truths? For both Spinoza and
Gould, science deals with reality and theology deals with morality.
The respective domains of the two spheres, so defined, are even
reducible to the form of patronizing jingles—“Science deals with
the nature of the heavens and theology with how to get to
heaven,” or “Science is concerned with the age of rocks and theology with the rock of ages.”...

If we research the pedigree, we find that Spinoza put forth the two-
truths approach as a way to neutralize religion. For Spinoza
(following in Epicurus’s footsteps), religious claims have one
intractable nasty effect: Doctrinal differences escalate, all too
quickly, into bloody religious wars. By contrast, science is
demonstrable, universal, serene, and beneficent. The cure offered by
Spinoza? As set forth in his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus
(published anonymously in 1670), we must 'separate faith from
philosophy,' and by philosophy, Spinoza meant philosophy as
defined by the new materialist science. Philosophy 'has no end in
view save truth,' while 'faith…looks for nothing but obedience
and piety.' Thus, between the two, 'there is no connection, nor

However attractive this détente might appear, if we dig more
deeply, we find that Spinoza’s reasons for allowing a few moral
bones to be thrown to theologians was less than flattering. Simply
put, for Spinoza, most people are too stupid to understand a purely
rational account of ethics. For them, we have the nice moral tales in
the Bible (as cleaned up and reformulated by the Enlightened
intelligentsia, that is). Spinoza, therefore, allows theology to have
the moral sphere, not out of respect but because it would be
'folly to refuse…what has proved such a comfort to those whose
reason is comparatively weak.” The real folly, however, would be
rejecting religion as a way to control the stupid but restless masses,
for “there are but very few, compared with the aggregate of
humanity, who can acquire the habit of virtue under the unaided guidance of reason.'

A less than comforting pedigree, to say the least. And now, we may
view its falsity. It is false in two senses, moral and intellectual.
By moral falsity, I mean that the two-truths approach is not being
presented genuinely but duplicitously, for no such distinction
between truth and morality is possible, and both materialists in
general and Darwinists in particular know it. This should be obvious.
The truth about human nature—what we are—is the foundation of
moral truth, how we should act...

Survival of the Fittest Truth
Stephen Jay Gould, the greatest and most endearing spokesman for
Darwinism in the last half of the 20th century, proposed anew the two-
truths doctrine in his Rocks of Ages (1999). As with Spinoza, Gould
argued that there are two realms of truth and therefore two Non-
Overlapping Magisteria (hence, the snappy acronym NOMA), each with
its own authority. NOMA was put forth as a kind of peace settlement:
Scientists won’t say anything about morality if theologians and
religious adherents will quit meddling with reality. If both behave,
we’ll have peace in our time.

Whatever Gould’s intentions might have been, one thing should be
quite clear from the history of evolutionary theory: Darwinism has
always meant to cross the borders into the moral domain, treaties to
the contrary, and will continue to do so until only one truth is

Such has been true from the very beginning... A materialist view of
nature necessarily yielded a materialist view of human nature,
wherein human beings have no immortal, immaterial soul but are
entirely bodily. Since we have no immaterial soul, there’s no
afterlife to fear or hope for, and all questions of good and evil may
safely and scientifically be reduced to a continual balancing of
bodily pleasures and pains. On this account, then, there’s no
good and evil, justice and injustice by nature. Because nature,
including human nature, is itself the result of the random jostling
of brute atoms, then nature is itself amoral. Morality, then, is
purely human-made, defined only by pleasures and pains, and entirely
relative to time and place.

...Read only Darwin’s Origin, and it seems as if he’s keeping
within NOMA-esque bounds. Read Darwin’s Descent of Man (1871), and
it’s startlingly clear that, in regard to the extent evolutionary
explanations reach, Darwin knew no such bounds. In the Descent,
Darwin offered an evolutionary account of the rise of morality and
religious belief, solely in terms of natural selection. He also drew
out the obvious moral implications. Since human nature is the product
of evolution, as with any product of natural selection, it can be
improved on by artificial selection. Just as a pigeon fancier takes
what nature gives him and selectively breeds for traits he desires,
so also human beings should take their own evolution into their own
hands. It’s no accident, then, that Descent’s finale is a
call to eugenics, a science to which Darwin’s cousin, Francis
Galton, gave the name but to which Darwin gave the foundation.

Nor is it an accident, at present and for the foreseeable future,
that evolution provides the support for genetic manipulation and the
removal—via the combination of screening and abortion—of the
genetically unfit. Once human nature is understood to be an accident
of chance, it can no longer be the inviolable locus of moral claims.
We, the clay, now lay claim to be the potters as well. To repeat,
Darwinism inevitably leads to moral Darwinism. The lesson? NOMA is

When First Principles Go Wrong…
This leads us to the second kind of falsity, intellectual falsity.
It’s simply false to assert that science as defined by Darwinism
either is the only way to understand science or merely uses an
innocuous and neutral method that makes no ontological claims (or, at
least, makes no ontological claims that could conflict with theology
or Christian morality). To the contrary, every view of science rests
on some view of reality, explicitly or implicitly; or, to put it
another way, every view of science rests on explicit or assumed first
principles. At bottom, then, with any view of science, we’ll
always find metaphysics. For this reason, it’s legitimate to ask
which philosophy is actually providing the metaphysical undergirding
of a particular view of science. In the case of Darwinism, it is
materialism—the materialism that can be traced all the way back
to Epicurus. But that view, by self-definition, is inimical to

Since materialism is neither neutral nor the only way to understand
science, it cannot be innocently offered as defining science as such.
It begins by defining everything that exists as bodily and by
determining that the only causes allowable are material causes, and
then infers that apparent biological design can only be the result of
material causes as tilted occasionally by chance. As a consequence,
it only searches for evidence that fits the materialist grid. Small
wonder if that’s all it should find...Many of the critics of ID,
such as Robert Pennock, have attempted to evade this light by
claiming that one may legitimately distinguish between methodological
naturalism and ontological naturalism (naturalism being roughly
equivalent to materialism). On this tack, someone may adhere to the
materialistic approach to science as a method, while remaining
neutral in regard to (or simply avoiding) any metaphysical
materialist claims. Even if ontological materialism is madness,
we’re not to worry. There’s no madness in the method.

Well, if there’s no madness, then we have a rather strange
schizophrenia being advocated as sanity. To wit, in order to
understand the rise and complex structure of biological beings we
must assume, just for the sake of method, that these beings are
entirely the result of a series of evolutionary accidents and so
avoid, as intellectual poison, evidence of ID. But ontologically,
we’re free as a bird to hold whatever we want about reality...

Every method in science begins and ends with a metaphysic, and in
operation, each method will seek only what its particular
metaphysical foundations claim to be real. Methodological naturalism
thus begins with ontological naturalism and ends there as well,
defining reality as purely material and intelligent causation in
nature as impossible.

Christian Evolution?
So much for the two-truths approach. We have yet to examine the mode
of accommodationism that baptizes evolutionary theory... In it,
evolutionary theory is declared victorious, but rather than disposing
of theology or cordoning it off, as in the first two approaches,
theology conforms itself completely to evolutionary theory like a
barely detectable second skin.

The difficulty with this approach? In wholly conforming itself to
evolutionary theory, theology gains a rather embarrassing Pyrrhic
victory. It submits to a self-inflicted reductio ad absurdum, or
better, redundantia ad absurdum, by trying to piggyback a deity on a
mode of explanation designed to eliminate any recourse to divine
causation. This wholehearted capitulation leads immediately to
complete redundancy.

... Howard Van Till, professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at
Calvin College... clearly believes that we must accommodate
ourselves to Darwinism completely and therefore counsels that the
only respectable route for Christians is to make a theological virtue
out of material necessity—a necessity, we remind ourselves, that
was originally designed by Epicurus to eliminate theology.

Van Till’s theological strategy is to take umbrage, on behalf of
the divine, against those who would dare suggest that God is a second-
rate deity, incapable of creating a world that cannot function on its
own. For Van Till...A top-rate deity stands aloof and lets the dirty
work of creation to the vagaries of evolution. For Van Till, then, we
must affirm that chance, and not ID, is the cause of all biological
order and that no effects of God’s creative intelligence are
detectable, or we shall be guilty of sullying the dignity of the
Creator. In sum,denying Darwinism is tantamount to affirming
idolatry. Paradoxically, we must take the side of the atheist so as
to avoid the greatest impiety and so must hold that the world is a
closed system with no trace of its cause.

This defense of God’s honor seems both harmful and contrived. To
begin with, it would deny any possibility of miracles, which appear
quite frequently in Scripture, and, for that matter, would wreak
havoc with the doctrine of the Incarnation, since in Jesus Christ,
God was “temporarily assuming the role of creature to perform
functions within the economy of the creation that other creatures
have not been equipped to perform.”

But even aside from all this, approaches like Van Till’s confuse
God’s working a miracle above and beyond what can occur in nature
with God’s creating the variety of things that act according to
their particular natures. In the second case, a biological creature
has functional integrity—that is, it can truly exist and act
according to its nature as a result of God’s creative power, not
in violation of it. A wonderfully complex organism—too complex to
have been caused by chance; irreducibly complex, we might say—is
evidence, as aneffect, of an intelligent cause, yet it still has
functional integrity. Its complex functional integrity is the source
of our inference of an intelligent cause; it is not, as Van Till
seems to suggest, the very reason we must deny such an inference. The
only reason to exclude the design inference, I am afraid, is that Van
Till takes as the starting point, not the canons of Scripture but the
canons of Darwinism.

As a kind of variation to this approach, it is often urged (e.g., by
Kenneth Miller) that we accept Darwinism because advocating design
means that we impiously attribute natural imperfections and evils to
the designer. Better to blame natural selection and let God off the

A moment’s reflection reveals that, in regard to the questions of
theodicy, this is simply moving the hook back a bit further. If God
is the creator of the conditions that allow for natural selection,
then He is still the ultimate cause of natural imperfections and
evils entailed in natural selection. So to the extent that evil and
imperfection are a problem for belief, Darwinism provides no help at

12:12:00 pm