Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Meaning of “Naturalism”

In the BioLogos Blog, Ard Louis addresses the differences between “methodological naturalism” and “philosophical naturalism” in the first of three parts here. It focuses more on how BioLogos should respond to criticisms about its take on science and scripture but is instructive for general purposes. In it, he cuts deep into the idea that we can use the science of the natural world to “prove” the existence of God:
Despite warnings from great thinkers such as Pascal, Newman and Barth4, the idea that an unbiased observer should be able to use science to find unambiguous evidence for God’s existence is remarkably resilient among Christians. Furthermore, many attempts at natural theology rely heavily on value-laden metaphors that come from popularizations of science. This cuts both ways. On the one hand Archdeacon Paley saw the hand of God in the intricate watch-like “contrivances of nature”, while on the other hand Richard Dawkins sees a pitiless and indifferent “blind watchmaker” in what he believes are the wasteful and purposeless processes of evolution. Although their conclusions couldn’t be more different, both are engaging in a natural theology based on similar rationalistic assumptions.
He argues, as I have argued, that it is an improper use of science to construct an apologetic position for the existence of God. Ultimately, such an argument can only rise to the level of “personal incredulity” that such a finely tuned universe can be the product of chance. The point is that we can, from a scientific perspective, never know whether or not God exists. This position is deeply uncomfortable for your average Christian who, intuitively, want to be able to hang their hat on something tangible to bolster their faith in an invisible God. It is this perspective that has largely fueled the Intelligent Design movement which, because of the limitations of this model has run up against a brick wall called ‘lack of testable hypotheses.’

Put simply, just because my hypothesis is wrong, it doesn't make yours correct. If there is no test for yours, we go back to the drawing board.

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  1. Here is, in my opinion, a good article that speaks to your blog posting:

    "Is There a Role for Natural Theology Today?"

  2. Anonymous9:47 AM

    I think I'm slowly becoming an Occamist as I grow older. It's not that I find natural theology implausible -- generally, I do find its arguments more coherent than natural atheology -- it's what natural theology does to God that troubles me. As Barth pointed out, any god we can know through science is not the God of the Bible. Such a god becomes smaller than us, or as they would have said in the Middle Ages, "less noble," much as a plant or animal is knowable to us in a way that we are not knowable to it. The degree to which we can have scientific knowledge of God is the degree to which we can do without trust, which is faith, which can be a difficult and strenuous thing, not something easily sold to "religious consumers." The IDers have always insisted their approach is not specifically Christian. My question is whether it is Christian at all.