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04 July 2009

Teleological Evolution and the Clash of Worldviews

An interesting post by Michael Egnor over Evolution News & Views, the Discovery Institute's group blog. He points out the "civil war" that is brewing between atheistic evolutionists and theistic evolutionists (whom he calls "accomodationalists") over the compatibility of science and religion.

We are entering an era in which a substantial and loud minority of atheist scientists and philosophers are claiming that science validates and depends on atheism and materialism. A ferocious fight has broken out in the pro-Darwinist blogosphere over this question: are philosophical naturalism and atheism essential to good science? Some of those on the side of accommodation with religion no doubt are atheists who believe that accommodation of religious beliefs is necessary for tactical reasons; others, such as Ken Miller and Francis Collins, are scientists who are Christians and who see their science as entirely compatible with their theism.

This debate is about whether worship at the materialist/atheist altar is a prerequisite for good science. My sense of it is that the accomodationists have easily gained the upper hand. The atheist insistence that science depends on and validates atheism is historically ignorant and philosophically incoherent.

That theists and open-minded agnostics and atheists on the pro-Darwinist side of this debate are finally engaging the same fundamentalist atheist dogma that intelligent design proponents have engaged for several decades is a good sign. Fundamentalist atheists are of course fighting back ferociously, because they understand, as perhaps the accomodationists don’t, the profound implications of an understanding of the natural world that is not causally closed.

Teleology is obvious in nature. Atheists and materialists intrinsically deny the reality of teleology --Aristotelian final causation-- in nature, yet nothing in the natural world can be understood without reference to teleology. Science is saturated with reference to purpose and goals of natural things. Atheists deny teleology, because acceptance of teleology in nature raises devastating questions about their atheist faith.

Fundamentalist atheists-- secular priests-- fight ferociously to extinguish challenges to their faith, because they understand that to raise the question of teleology in nature is to answer it. Atheism, for good reason, fears questions.

I could have told them that it would eventually come to this. The actual evidences for God's work of creation are all around us in nature, and people can only go for so long in ignoring them before the cognitive dissonance becomes unbearable and people have to deal with them. This is the obvious teleology in nature that Egnor references. It's also why evolutionists so often speak of evolution in teleological terms - e.g., "Evolution developed the ability for bombardier beetles to defend themselves chemically", etc. Evolutionists will unwittingly attribute to evolution independent and intelligent powers of creation - even to the point of approaching a position of atheistic "intelligent design." The reason is because the evidence of design is all around us - they can't get around it, and subconsciously will accede to it, even if consciously they try to deny it.

We need to understand that the issue of origins is not about science, per se. It is about the clash of underlying worldviews. "Evolution" is no more obvious from empirical science than is phlogiston or the aether. Both evolution and creation (as well as Intelligent Design, which really occupies a medial position) rely upon inference from forensic evidences, and hence are based upon subjective interpretation - which gets you right back to worldviews. Science, as it is commonly understood to rely upon empiricism, is completely incompetent to deal with the actual events of our origins, at least until somebody builds a time machine that actually works.

Hence, both creationism and evolutionism are dependent upon faith. This is something that creationists will readily admit, but is something that evolutionists, in their zeal to promote the fiction of the incontestability of evolution, avoid like the plague. Yet, as the article points out, hard-core evolutionists really do approach their belief system in ways that are amazing similar to religion. They have a priesthood of people like Dawkins and PZ Myers to whom they go for consolation and reassurance. They have a set of sacred scriptures which they study to firm themselves up on what they believe. They have a set of orthodox dogmas that can get you in a lot of trouble if you dissent from them. I remember years ago a discussion I had with an evolutionist on some forum somewhere. I had basically argued down every point he made, and destroyed every argument he tried to make for evolution. A few months later, I was doing some ego-googling, and came across another forum where this same fellow had gone shortly thereafter to try to reinforce himself in his evolutionism by confessing his doubts about evolution and seeking absolution for his sin from some other guy who was likely the Darwinian equivalent of a small country parish-priest. Their exchange really seemed for all the world like a confession and reinstatement to faith. It was, frankly, kind of creepy.

But that's just it - evolutionism in not science, it is not synonymous with science, nor is it necessarily always compatible with science. It is a worldview and a belief system.

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