Is Naturalism a Friend to Science?

It is confidently assumed that naturalism, the dominant form of atheism, is the greatest friend of science. It is, after all, seemingly organized around science. But more than that, it seems to make science into its god. Science is omniscient – everything in reality can only be known through it. Science is omnipotent ( or as close to it as anything can come). Science gives us ever more advanced technology, which gives us the power to do ever more impressive feats, eventually leading us into a techno-paradise where there’ll be universal basic income and the only thing we’ll have to worry about is self-willed A.I. Science is also, according to people like Sam Harris and Michael Shermer, our source of moral values even though this doesn’t make sense. Science can provide no cogent ground for objective morality given that it is descriptive rather than prescriptive. Even if science can account for why we regard certain things as moral, it cannot tell us that those things really are moral or morally obligatory. In fact, if the social and biological are the highest realities then morality must be accounted for within these contexts. Accounting for morality socially means that morality is whatever a given society decides is right, but this relativizes morality and so means that objective morality does not exist. Accounting for morality biologically must mean that what is moral is whatever aids survival, but we know that many immoral things can aid our survival. So objective morality cannot be accounted for within a naturalistic framework (see more on this here).

Anybody who does not wish to participate in this foolish worship is denounced as a superstitious enemy of science. But is naturalism a boon to science? The scientific method makes certain assumptions about the world that naturalism implicitly denies. Science assumes that inductive patterns in nature require explanation. If atheism is true, there is no reason why this should be the case. Why does a pattern require explanation? What makes it more special than disorder? Why does order require explanation, but disorder does not? Order requires explanation, because it represents purpose. A set of things are ordered only by virtue of a purpose or set of purposes. And purpose only comes from purposive agents. It is impossible for things which are incapable of purposive action to organize themselves according to a purpose, without a purposive agent. A worldview that denies the purposiveness or teleology of nature is no friend to science. A worldview that often wants to dismiss every patterned series of events or set of coincidences as mere chance, is hostile to science in a fundamental way. More than this, making science into the only source of knowledge ends up eliminating much of what it means to be human, including, interestingly, the rational faculties by which we do science. Materialism about the mind makes it difficult to see how mental causation could occur, and mental causation is required for rational thought. When we reason, our thinking about one proposition causes our thinking about another proposition. One thought causes another thought. Also, in order for rational thought to occur our thoughts must have propositional content, but brains or material things cannot have propositional content ( see here for more on this). Furthermore, Alvin Plantinga has persuasively argued that if we believe that evolution explains all there is to humanity, then it undermines rational thought, because evolution does not have to select for true beliefs or mental processes that yield true beliefs, only mental processes that yield beliefs and processes that help us survive. This means our rational faculties are fundamentally suspect ( see more on this here).

Finally, science is, importantly, a social institution. It depends upon people being honest in their research. It is built on integrity and could not function properly without it. It should be troubling to us that some scientists, especially biologists, are moral skeptics (or nihilists) or more are than in the general population. They do not believe there is such a thing as objective morality. These atheists think that science is the only route to knowledge, so that if science cannot tell us that morality is a objectively and universally binding thing that transcends social convention or genetic fitness, then it isn’t. When beliefs like these start to shape the wider culture and systems of social sanction, we will start to eat its bitter fruits. Science as an institution will not survive if influential members of it ( like Richard Dawkins) do not believe honesty is objectively obligatory. It requires a great deal of cognitive dissonance to hold to moral skepticism and to believe that no matter how many people believe this, there will be no effect on a moralistic system of social sanction that we currently have and on which science relies.

So we are told that science and religion don’t mix, but maybe this is only the case when science itself is awkwardly forced into the place of religion by its overly eager practitioners. And naturalism, while appearing its friend, cuts out many of the assumptions about the world which undergird science.

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