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Evolution requires naturalism (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Evolution requires naturalism (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.

Claim CA601:

Evolution is materialistic; it requires methodological naturalism. It irrationally rules out the possibility of any divine outside influence.


CreationWiki responds: I took the time to go through the sources, not only reading what the writers had to say, but also noting their use of the word, "naturalism". I hope you can take a look too. Here is a quote from Phillip Johnson's article which articulates the real problem.

The problem with scientific naturalism as a worldview is that it takes a sound methodological premise of natural science and transforms it into a dogmatic statement about the nature of the universe. Science is committed by definition to empiricism, by which I mean that scientists seek to find truth by observation, experiment, and calculation rather than by studying sacred books or achieving mystical states of mind. It may well be, however, that there are certain questions-important questions, ones to which we desperately want to know the answers-that cannot be answered by the methods available to our science. These may include not only broad philosophical issues such as whether the universe has a purpose, but also questions we have become accustomed to think of as empirical, such as how life first began or how complex biological systems were put together.[1]

So the problem is that methodological naturalism is such that its philosophical undertones and dogmatic hold distorts the real meaning of science and what it can really tell us about the world.

William Dembski's article also provides some insight into the links, and even the equivalence, between methodological and philosophical/metaphysical naturalism.

The view that science must be restricted solely to purposeless, naturalistic, material processes also has a name. It's called methodological naturalism. So long as methodological naturalism sets the ground rules for how the game of science is to be played, IDT has no chance Hades. Phillip Johnson makes this point eloquently. So does Alvin Plantinga. In his work on methodological naturalism Plantinga remarks that if one accepts methodological naturalism, then Darwinism is the only game in town.[2]

As one reads further, Dembski's point is still ultimately philosophical and metaphysical.

We need to realize that methodological naturalism is the functional equivalent of a full blown metaphysical naturalism. Metaphysical naturalism asserts that the material world is all there is (in the words of Carl Sagan, "the cosmos is all there ever was, is, or will be"). Methodological naturalism asks us for the sake of science to pretend that the material world is all there is. But once science comes to be taken as the only universally valid form of knowledge within a culture, it follows at once that methodological and metaphysical naturalism become for all intents and purposes indistinguishable. They are functionally equivalent. What needs to be done, therefore, is to break the grip of naturalism in both guises, methodological and metaphysical. And this happens once we realize that it was not empirical evidence, but the power of a metaphysical world view that was all along urging us to adopt methodological naturalism in the first place.[3]

It may be good for someone to give a working definition of what "methodological naturalism" is. I think Wikipedia, another community encyclopedia, sums it up quite well in these words.

Methodological naturalism (MN) or Scientific Naturalism is the philosophical tenet that, within scientific enquiry, one can only use naturalistic explanation - i.e. one's explanations must not make reference to the existence of supernatural forces and entities. Note that methodological naturalism does not hold that such entities or forces do not exist, but merely that one cannot use them within a scientific explanation.[4]

Firstly note, it is a philosophical tenet, a belief, or a way of thinking. Science is a discipline based on observation and experimentation, both of which is based in the present. If a person does an experiment and notes down what he did and the natural causes and effects that he observes, then that can be classed as science using the methodology that things can be explained using natural causes and effects. Humans can explain a good number of things in life just using natural things around them. That makes sense. Nature is adequate for some things. A creationist, to this extent, would use methodological naturalism to explain a lot of the perceivable world around him.

But some scientists started believing that it can therefore explain all things and must be the only thing you use to explain not only the workings of the natural world and all that is in it, but their origins and development. Now since science is based on the present, because of observation and experimentation, how can it properly deal with things that are beyond human experience? That is Phillip Johnson's question and his following thought is that this sort of naturalism or over-extension of naturalism has become a dogma in science making it go places where it cannot rightly or authoritatively go. How can science make any factual statements about a past nobody has seen without invoking more faith statements, such as uniformitarianism, a belief that the world ran in the past as it does now (another faith position)? To make this the only thing that can be advocated in a science class as a possible explanation becomes then more a case of indoctrination than education.

Evolution, or more properly Darwinism/Neo-Darwinism, takes the present day observations and over-extends their observed operations and changes, which are relatively small, extrapolating them into ideas of bacteria becoming fish, becoming amphibians, becoming reptiles, becoming birds and mammals. Why? Because although nature has never been observed to do these things, the explanation is based on naturalism, although nature appears to be an inadequate cause for such large scale change, diversity, and increase in novel genetic information.

(Talk.Origins quotes in blue)

The naturalism that science adopts is methodological naturalism. It does not assume that nature is all there is; it merely notes that nature is the only objective standard we have.

I hope you will see that Talk Origins, in dealing with the point about evolution, starts to talk about science, obviously implying that evolution is science because it sticks to this form of methodology, rather than the abuse of the methodology.

Also, the point is not that nature is the only objective standard we have, but it is the only objective standard he accepts. If there is a Deity, then that would be an objective standard as well, a more objective standard since it created nature. There have been numerous scientists, past and present, who have held onto the divine objective standard, while still performing respected scientific research, knowing that science describes observed natural phenomena, not prescribes it. But the Talk Origins author continues.

Supernaturalism is not ruled out a priori; it is left out because it has never been reliably observed.

This is another subjective statement. There have been numerous accounts of observed phenomena that are said to come from the supernatural, from Deity. The important fact is that he doesn't believe that they are reliable. There are a significant groups of people that believe differently than him.

A quote that has been used time and time again from Richard Lewontin shows that materialism is accepted and adhered to a priori[5] and the natural progression of that is that supernaturalism ruled out a priori, despite the inadequacy of material (naturalistic) explanations. If cause-and-effect logic were to be properly used, then it would be obvious that Deity is an adequate cause for so many things that have happened in the past and been recorded in history. The problem is not the reliability of the observation, but the philosophical dogmas one already holds.

Evolution does not in any way rule out the possibility of any outside influence, even divine influence. When evidence for outside influence has been observed, it has been included.

Evolution does rule out the possibility of anyone speaking positively about a divine influence, since all explanations have to be naturalistic. The complex information that makes up the life codes, the intricate inter-complexity of the organs and living systems of the living organisms that exist on this planet could be classed as evidence which has been observed for intelligence, at the very least. But again, it is excluded because the idea is not naturalistic. It has little to do with plausibility and logic, and more to do with the philosophical rules of the game of evolutionary science that have been enforced.

Science not only rules out the acceptance of divine influence; it also rules out the rejection of divine influence.

This is a puzzling statement in light of what he has already said. Science both rules out the acceptance and rejection of divine influence? Science, combined with distorted naturalistic philosophies, rejects the acceptance of the divine by ruling out any explanation that would include it. How, in the world, would it rule out the rejection of divine influence? What scientific test did he use to rule out this rejection?

In essence he is speaking in impossibilities. He's simply contradicting himself. How can the naturalistic science he speaks of say anything not to reject Deity, or divine influence? It cannot. Using his own logic, how can science which deals with the natural world alone say anything about the acceptance or rejection of divine influence, i.e., the supernatural? It cannot. Even with his own logic, he is inconsistent.

True science, as opposed to naturalistic science, can tell us about things that Deity has done in history and agree with actions he has done which affect nature, like a miraculous healing done either by word of mouth or touch. It can show us the signs of his intelligence by analogy, contrasting the observed skill of intelligence and the lack of skill of mindless, aimless, purposeless natural forces, and comparing these things with the incredible complexity in the living organisms of the world.

Evolution is not alone in its naturalism. All science, all engineering, all manufacturing, and most other human endeavors are equally naturalistic. If we must discard evolution because of this philosophy, then we must also discard navigation, meteorology, farming, architecture, printing, law, and virtually all other subjects for the same reason.

The author of this Talk Origins piles flawed thinking upon flawed thinking. As is stated above, there is a limit to where the philosophy can be used in science before it becomes universal religious dogma, which is where evolution takes it. All these other sciences are based on observable phenomena (mostly directly observed}, experimentation, links of adequate causes and effects. All of these thing happen in the present, and are within human experience, with past technological development being recorded for future usage. You can be a "fundamental" atheist/naturalist or a "fundamental" biblical theist and still be a great engineer, farmer, architect, etc. With those sciences, we manipulate the world around us using these time-tested methods, locked in the present.

Evolution is a theory that claims to tell us things beyond human experience, stretching small observable phenomena to ridiculously distorted proportions, telling us that things are true when they have never been directly observed, or objectively verified. Evolution is not the same as all of these reputable sciences, but is more akin to a natural outgrowth of an atheistic worldview.

Intelligent design implies philosophical naturalism. As noted above, all science, industry, agriculture, and so forth is based on nature. That does not stop evolutionists, other scientists, engineers, manufacturers, and farmers from being able to look beyond the materialism and find spirituality in their lives.

The intelligent design crowd, on the other hand, seems unable to make that step. They seem to require objective, material evidence to back up their spirituality. But that, of course, makes their spirituality naturalistic. For all their complaints about materialism, people like Dembski and Johnson are trying to expand materialism into the field of religion.

It is uncertain what is meant by "intelligent design implies philosophical naturalism. ID is not based on philosophical naturalism.

There is a difference between science's being based on nature, and science's being based on naturalism. The former means that science is based on an understanding of nature, irrespective of religious belief. The latter means that science is based on the belief that nature is all there is.

The ID group do not all share the same religious belief. The fact is that if the Almighty created the world, if there is mind before matter, which helped shape and direct the course of material development, then the material world would be likely to show signs of that intelligence, that divinity, and it does. It's not that they must back up their beliefs with material evidence for their own sake. It is more likely that they are trying to alert people to the deceptive nature of evolution, which has a hidden religio-philosophical foundation, and to the fact that is another option to the naturalistic dogma that evolution and evolutionists present.

How the author of the Talk Origins article can think that Johnson and Dembski are trying to expand materialism, a belief system, into the field of religion, the field of belief systems, is beyond me. Why? How can you expand a religion into a religion? You can't because it's already there. The author simply uses confused logic to try to prove a point, when all he's proving is that he's confused about the issues at hand.

In the end, the author has not refuted the claim that evolution requires naturalism. That is still more than true. While it is true that naturalism doesn't rule out divine influence, it excludes it as a "scientific" explanation, regardless of plausibility, logic, or historical records. As a result, because of science's inability to verify objectively a past outside of human experience, it becomes an atheistic program of naturalistic story-telling, with any divinity put outside the door of the "objective standard" of nature.


  1. Johnson, Phillip E. 1990. Evolution as dogma: The establishment of naturalism. First Things (Oct.),
  2. Dembski, William A. 1996. What every theologian should know about creation, evolution and design.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Methodological naturalism article at Wikipedia
  5. Amazing admission Creation Volume 20, Issue 3