Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Hubris of Imperialistic Science

Topic: Religion and Science
The Intelligent Design project is not science as defined by the scientific community -- the best working definition we can provide. Therefore, it should not be part of the curriculum of science. But that is not the only hazard we face in schools and in the culture generally. In our midst is also an intellectual imperialism that is a form of naturalistic or even materialistic metaphysics masquerading as science.

It has at least two parts. The first is the implication or explicit claim that taking science seriously means rejecting belief in God. Examples are this fallacy are Steven Weinberg, Carl Sagan, and Richard Dawkins. The assumption is that science gives us a full explanation of things that makes rational belief in God unnecessary (weak form) or impossible (strong form). Belief in another dimension of reality violates Occam's law that forbids us to multiply entities beyond necessity.

Naively, some think that affirming God as the creator of nature only raises a further question from children's Sunday School classes, i. e., who created God. Why not just stop with nature, they say. This simplistic solution ignores the fact that all thought must finally reach a point of ultimacy beyond which it cannot go that must be accepted as a given. It is the final level of reality that cannot be accounted for by anything more ultimate but which is the explanation of everything else.

It may be that nature is the point at which we should stop and simply assume its laws and its constituents and proceed to interpret the particulars of nature in that light. But -- and here is the essential point -- the determination of whether that is the case is a philosophical issue, not a scientific one. It must be argued for on philosophical grounds. Science as science cannot settle it. Some of us believe that thought is best served by reference to a dimension of reality that transcends nature although it is manifest in nature.

Intelligent Design is not science. It is metaphysics. Atheism presented as the necessary or possible implication of science is not science either. It is metaphysics. Neither should be in a science curriculum or presented in any form as just truth and not philosophical opinion.

Some scientific atheists, including Richard Dawkins, offer a second fallacy in the name of science that deserves to be identified and rejected. It is Darwinian evolution not only as an account of the origin of species but as the clue to human psychology and culture. It assumes that the ruling power in nature and culture is natural selection that leads to the survival of the fittest. Fittest is defined tautologically as that which survives, i. e. has success in reproducing itself!

This principle holds whether we are talking about a plant or animal species, a form of behavior in human beings, or an idea or value in culture. Natural selection becomes imperialistic when it is extended by its proponents beyond plants and animals into the human realm of psychology, behavior, and culture as a unquestioned verity of science.

At the root of it all is the gene. Speaking metaphorically, genes want replicas of themselves to be spread as widely as possible. We can speak of "the selfish gene" (Dawkins, 1976). An organism is the gene's way of making another gene -- to adapt the old adage that the chicken is just an egg's way of producing another egg. Human beings behave and adopt ideas and values, and some get reproduced over generations and some don't. Success is whatever survives over time, i. e., gets more cultural genes into the population so they will continue. Variations in what people think and do lead either to failure or success depending on whether they succeed better than others in passing their biological, behavioral or cultural "genes" on to subsequent generations. Sociobiology (E. O. Wilson, 1975) and later evolutionary psychology emerged to show how principles that explain natural selection in nature are also exemplified in human behavior and in culture. Traits are valuable to the extent they ensure reproductive success whether in nature or history.

The problem here is that the extension of Darwinian principles beyond their original use into psychology and other disciplines introduces philosophical assumptions that are not derived as such from scientific investigation. The central question is: What is a human being? The Darwinians speak boldly about human beings by naively extending biological principles without sufficient questioning their relevance beyond their original use. I have seen TV programs explaining human behavior in Darwinian terms that assume what they present is true without any doubt. It is just what science teaches us. When someone defines the mind as a complex machine or as a computing device, we should be put on guard that an assumption has been surreptitiously slipped into the discussion that is not necessarily warranted by science itself.

That human beings are biological creatures and that genetic makeup affects mental as as well as physical aspects of our makeup is certainly the case. The question is whether we have the capacity to transcend nature as self-conscious rational beings. Some of us believe there is a dimension of spirit that must be taken into account. In any case, the conversation about who we are and why we do what we do requires a conversation on many levels among biologists, psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, theologians, and others that makes science a contributor but not a hegemonic Queen to whom all disciplines must give obsequious obedience.

When these questionable philosophies creep into the classroom or elsewhere uncritically as just plain scientific truth, an offense is created that is as misleading and dangerous as Intelligent Design parading as science

No comments: