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All the Issues on the Table
a book review by
Bruce L. Gordon and William A. Dembski, eds., The Nature of Nature: Examining the Role of Naturalism in Science. Wilmington, Deleware: ISI Books (2011), 900 pp.
With thirty eight contributors writing 41 essays encompassing a wide range of views, it’s unlikely this 963-page tome on naturalism in science will be surpassed for many years. The brief editors’ Introduction goes to the heart of the issues discussed by asking “what are the metaphysical and epistemological presuppositions that justify scientific activity?” (p. xix)
Part I, “Naturalizing Science: Some Historical and Philosophical Considerations,” includes Bruce Gordon’s and Ronald Numbers’ excellent historical surveys of the emergence within a Christian matrix of the natural sciences from the medieval period on.
They show how, with the breakup of a homogeneous Western Christian culture at least by the time of the French Enlightenment, God became progressively excluded, less by science than by an increasing naturalism, that itself took on the role of an ersatz religion.
I would add that due to Christianity, the dedivinization of the natural world freed it for investigation by what became the natural sciences. And I would further add that naturalism is itself a myth-like redivinization of that same world, in complete forgetfulness that the divinized matter can be technically understood in philosophy only as contrasted to what is not matter.
Gordon insists that methodological naturalism–the view that the sciences carry out their investigation separately from theological considerations, and metaphysical naturalism–the view that would exclude God from all rational consideration–are closely allied.
He notes the heightening of tension due to Darwinian naturalism, and argues against an accommodation with biology that would exclude consideration of external design, since “presupposition of the metaphysical framework of transcendent intelligent design is essential to the very possibility of science as a rational and truth-conducive enterprise . . . .” (30)
Ronald Numbers would disagree with this conclusion, noting that “scientific [i.e. methodological] naturalism . . . flourished among Christian scientists who believed that God customarily achieved his ends through natural means.” (75)
Part II, “The Epistemological and Ontological Foundations of Naturalism,” opens with Alvin Plantinga’s argument against naturalism. While not objecting to the theory of evolution, he argues that naturalism, since it presupposes a materialist reduction of all reality to matter, has to deal with what Darwin’s “horrid doubt . . . whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of lower animals. . . are at all trustworthy.” (139)
Because of this doubt, Plantinga points to a conflict, not between “Christian belief and science” but “between naturalism and science.” (148)
The philosophical closure to the questions of existence represented by naturalism goes unrecognized by philosopher Michael Williams who persists in framing the debate as one between science and Christianity: