Scientism/Naturalism in Crisis

All of these past weeks have been leading up to one conclusion: The naturalistic approach to “explaining” the development of species on Earth is a wholly inadequate account. Like the fossil record itself, the entire neo-Darwinian paradigm is much more “gaps” than “explanations.”

In 1985, Michael Denton wrote a book entitled: Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. Today, after fielding decades of questions and ire from other scientists, the evolutionists among them the source of scathing attacks on Denton’s credibility as a scientist, Denton’s article here defiantly even expands his critiques of neo-Darwinism. At one point in the article, Denton writes:

Today, thirty years later, despite the discovery of a huge number of new fossil forms, it is still true, as Darwin confessed, that “the distinctness of specific forms … not … blended together by innumerable transitional links is a very obvious difficulty.”

And this overarching critique sees resounding support everywhere we look, both among living creatures and in the fossil record.

Evolutionary biologists can point to some examples of adaptation (not as many as they foist off onto the general public). But they cannot demonstrate a single example of a speciation event. To account for this lack of positive evidence of macro-evolution, they perpetually retreat to the familiar mantra: “It takes a really, really long time.” So, we turn to the fossils to see what was happening over the “really, really long time.”

Evolutionary paleontologists can point to all sorts of “lineages” in the fossil record, and these are supposed to show macro-evolution working over the “really, really long” periods of time needed to evolution to be apparent. But the problems in paleontology are legion, ranging from entirely made-up creatures (you don’t get a “creature” from a single tooth!) and fragmented bits and parts of creatures to the wildest conjecture and supposition on the barest of “evidence.” If ever there was an academic discipline that revolves around “seeing exactly what you expect to see,” paleontology is it.

What we actually see in the fossil record is the same thing we see all around us today: Huge, significant divisions between “kinds” of creatures, with virtually no “evidence” of any sorts of transitions between them. Scientists attempt to bridge the obvious gulfs between “kinds” with hand-waving and conjecture about a mechanism that has never, ever been demonstrated to accomplish more than “adaptation” within a “kind,” and never the production of anything that could count as a “transitional form” between “kinds.” Thus, the evolutionary mechanism has been, at best, a plausible account of so-called micro-evolution. But the gulf between the micro and the macro must cross the Biological Speciation Concept (BSC) boundary! And even with the time-compression of fast-reproducing creatures like bacteria and fruit flies, lengthy experimentation has utterly failed to produce any evidence that adaptation has the power to produce new BSC species.

We have not even discussed the actual origin of life itself, as our focus has been strictly on neo-Darwinian evolution. Technically, neo-Darwinian evolution can only “work on” living creatures. So, whatever naturalistic mechanism produced life in the first place, it was not neo-Darwinian evolution.

When it comes to origin-of-life scenarios, the hand-waving and conjecture seen among paleontologists is even more impressive (and futile) among biochemists working on “the problem.” Such scientists recognize that “the problem” is a thorny one, but they are confident that it is one they will ultimately solve. It would be a worthwhile seminar in its own right to discuss the broad spectrum and amazing depth of the failures of biochemists to produce an even remotely plausible (much less demonstrable) origin-of-life scenario. In our future weeks on information theory, we will revisit these points in more depth.

If there is anything we observe “everywhere we look,” it is that the “kinds” are not mutable; they are fixed. And there is exactly zero account of how life came to be in the first place, over an above failure to explicate how it evolved after coming to be.

So, what are we to make of these vast and sweeping failures to explicate?

Well, let us start to answer that question by referring to a famous quote from Richard Dawkins (in The Blind Watchmaker):

It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims to not believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).

At this point, we can flatly respond that our lack of faith in the neo-Darwinian paradigm is not a function of ignorance, stupidity, insanity, or wickedness. We evaluate the evidence, and we are unconvinced.

Now, Denton and others like him claim to not be theists or intelligent design theorists. They attack the neo-Darwinian paradigm, but they hold out hope for some other naturalistic mechanism to emerge. Thus it is both fitting and incorrect for such scientists to refer the evolution as being a “theory in crisis.”

It is fitting because they see neo-Darwinism as a sinking ship that must ultimately be replaced by another contender. So, they see “crisis” in Kuhn’s sense of a paradigm in crisis, and they are looking for the alternative paradigm that will replace the untenable one.

However, it is also incorrect because a Kuhnian “crisis” implies that the majority of practitioners within a paradigm themselves see the theory as untenable, and the widely-shared desire is to find or generate another contender. But, as Denton himself acknowledges, there is no “crisis” in neo-Darwinism in this sense. The vast majority of practitioners are content with the paradigm and see the “anomalies” as few and solvable. The scientists like Denton that perceive a “crisis” are widely viewed as incompetent fringe-elements.

Perhaps it would be more accurate for Denton (and others) to refer to a brewing crisis. The many problems in neo-Darwinism are widely known, but they are not yet viewed in “crisis” terms. It will take more work on the part of the “fringe elements” to put the theory into genuine crisis. And even then, without a serious alternative contender, there can be no shift from neo-Darwinism to any other theory that better fits the empirical evidence.

We must be fully and critically aware of the fact that when neo-Darwinism goes, it will be replaced not by some intelligent design theory but by some other naturalistic theory. As we have argued during this seminar, the empirical commitment to naturalism/scientism is not just “steadfast;” it is necessary.

So, can scientific naturalism ever be placed into “crisis” in the Kuhnian sense, such that a majority of scientists would shift from naturalism to, say, an intelligent design (or other supernaturalistic) basis for theorizing? I have argued that science will not so shift because it cannot so shift and still be science. Theists that wish to see science make such a shift do not realize that they are thereby asking science to become philosophical rather than purely empirical. Out of one side of their mouths, they are asking science to genuinely do metaphysics, while out of the other side of their mouths they intuitively recognize that science is not and cannot do metaphysics.

I have argued that the far better approach is to let science own empirical inquiry and recognize how the scientific method is necessarily empirical and naturalistic. Then, recognize the divide between hard-core empiricism and metaphysics, so that a perspective shift takes place in society that relegates science to its proper (and very valuable) subset of all there is to discover. As soon as we recognize that doing genuine metaphysics is doing philosophy, not science, we can gain traction with the proposition that sciences necessarily cannot provide a full and adequate account of all there is.

Do we, then, call neo-Darwinism “false” and claim that our arguments thus far have “falsified” it? NO! That would a be an appeal to ignorance. Perhaps tomorrow fresh evidence will be discovered showing speciation events all around us and “transitional forms” everywhere in the fossil record. Perhaps Darwinists will also produce compelling responses to our (and other) arguments against their inferences. Perhaps Darwinism will resist “crisis” and remain “the only game in town.”

We do not call “evolution” or “neo-Darwinism” false! We simply respond to its evidences and arguments by saying: “We are not ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked; we are honestly unconvinced.”

However, being unconvinced, we also have profound arguments against empirical naturalism as an adequate metaphysical paradigm. It is to these arguments that we turn our attention in coming weeks.

In coming weeks we will talk about information, consciousness, and abstract objects. All of these are known phenomena in the universe, so any adequate metaphysics must account for their existence. We will demonstrate not only that these phenomena are not presently explicated by the naturalistic paradigm but that these phenomena cannot in principle be explained by the naturalistic paradigm.

This demonstration should put empirical naturalism into genuine crisis as a metaphysical truth-seeking mechanism. If successful, I hope to take science off of its metaphysical pedestal, showing that while science is incredibly valuable and useful, it nevertheless cannot properly do metaphysics. Only philosophy can do metaphysics, and, as it is rightly named, only philosophy is properly to be called a truth-seeking mechanism. Even “theology” is philosophy directed at understanding divinity. Much of its evidence necessarily emerges from revelation. But I will emphasize “reasoning out of the Scriptures” as just “doing philosophy/metaphysics with scripture providing some of the evidence for inclusion in the philosophizing.”

I do not claim that we come to know God through philosophizing, anymore than “knowing” another person is just an exercise in assembling a pile of propositions about that person. There is much more to “knowing” a person than knowing as-true a pile of propositions about the person; however, there is never less than that! If I don’t know a pile of propositions about a person, then I really do not know that person, however I might “feel” about the person.

So philosophizing is a necessary but not sufficient condition for theological knowledge. And philosophizing is the only way to do metaphysics.

In coming weeks, then, we will turn our attention to genuine metaphysics, with an emphasis on just a few phenomena that are uncontested but that cannot in principle be accounted for by empirical naturalism.