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Evolution Confirmed? The Philosophy of Naturalism

Cornelius Hunter

naturalism

Earlier, we saw that by wholeheartedly embracing and promoting Theodosius Dobzhansky’s famous phrase, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution,” evolutionists have backed themselves into a corner from which they cannot escape. There is much to say about this evolutionary rallying cry, but at the top of the list is that it is false. Unequivocally false.

This is not an opinion or a pushback. I’m not trying to pick a debate — because there is no debate. We may as well debate whether bachelors are male. Dobzhansky’s phrase, with all due respect, is “not even wrong,” as physicists like to say. It is silly, and yet there it is — all over the literature.

The phrase is approvingly recited even in peer-reviewed technical journal papers. It is the mantra that evolutionists will not stop repeating, all the while revealing that this isn’t about science. Evolutionists will never repeal and recant, because there simply is too much at stake here. As we discussed, this isn’t like admitting that a particular prediction went wrong. Dobzhansky’s phrase was not merely a prediction, it was meta-prediction — the aphorism of an entire world view — and walking it back would be to reveal the man behind the curtain. Suddenly all those epistemological claims, such as that evolution is as much a fact as is gravity, heliocentrism, and the round shape of the earth, would be left hanging, open to scrutiny and with a long, long way to fall.

But Dobzhansky’s famous phrase is not the only way evolutionists have self-destructed. They have made other nonnegotiable and important claims that are equally corrosive. One is that evolution is both confirmed and required.

The National Association of Biology Teachers’ official position statement on the teaching of evolution states that evolution is (i) confirmed by the scientific evidence and (ii) a necessary going-in position in order for science to function properly. Here is what the NABT says about the confirmation of evolution:

Scientists who have carefully evaluated the evidence overwhelmingly support the conclusion that both the principle of evolution itself and its mechanisms best explain what has caused the variety of organisms alive now and in the past. … The patterns of similarity and diversity in extant and fossil organisms, combined with evidence and explanations provided by molecular biology, developmental biology, systematics, and geology provide extensive examples of and powerful support for evolution.

And here is what the NABT says about the necessity of evolution:

Evolutionary biology rests on the same scientific methodologies the rest of science uses, appealing only to natural events and processes to describe and explain phenomena in the natural world. Science teachers must reject calls to account for the diversity of life or describe the mechanisms of evolution by invoking non-naturalistic or supernatural notions … Ideas such as these are outside the scope of science and should not be presented as part of the science curriculum. These notions do not adhere to the shared scientific standards of evidence gathering and interpretation.

There you have it, evolutionary theory is both confirmed and required. And the National Association of Biology Teachers is by no means alone here. The dual epistemological and philosophical claims, respectively, are broadly held by evolutionists and go back centuries.

Do you see the problem? This philosophical position that evolutionists have staked themselves to is circular. To understand why, imagine for a moment that you witness a miracle, involving “non-naturalistic or supernatural” causes. According to evolutionists, such an event is “outside the scope of science.”

Does that imply the event was necessarily not real? No, the fact that something falls outside of one’s definition of science does not rule it out of existence. The event does not automatically become necessarily impossible. Something can be not amenable to scientific investigation yet real.

The standard claim of evolutionists that evolution is necessary for proper science reflects a particular philosophy of science called naturalism. They present it as though it were a fact, but that is false. There are many philosophies of science, and none are facts. They are rules of the road for those who declare them to follow.

That’s it. So evolutionists have committed themselves to yet another false statement. But that’s not the main problem. The main problem is that if one insists on and is committed to naturalism, then naturalistic, evolutionary, explanations are what you will find.

So of course evolution is confirmed by the science. It has to be. For evolutionists, the question is not whether evolution is confirmed by the science, the only question is what are the particulars.

This explains why evolutionists interpret the evidence the way they do. It explains how contradictory evidence can be sustained over and over and over. It also explains why, so long as you stick to naturalism, anything and everything is allowed. Natural selection, gradualism, mutations, common descent, drift, saltationism, and all the rest are up for grabs. They all may be forfeited. Any kind of theory, no matter how at odds with the empirical data, can be contemplated.

Evidence will be interpreted, filtered, analyzed, and processed according to the rules. Non-cooperative evidence will be set aside and viewed as “grounds for further research.” Or it will be ground up and recast until it can be made to work right. Cooperative evidence, on the other hand, will be viewed as normative, and ready for incorporation into proper scientific theories.

When evolutionists insist that science must be strictly naturalistic they show their hand. The flip side of their claim, that evolution is confirmed, is not a theory-neutral, objective finding. It is driven by the philosophy. It is circular — the conclusion was assumed in the first place. If your going-in position is that naturalism is required, then your results will adhere to naturalism.

Evolution is not a scientific finding. It is a philosophical mandate.

Photo credit: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Dülmen, Börnste, Waldweg — 2015 — 4649” / CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Cross-posted at Darwin’s God.

Cornelius G. Hunter

Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Cornelius G. Hunter is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he earned a Ph.D. in Biophysics and Computational Biology. He is Adjunct Professor at Biola University and author of the award-winning Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil. Hunter’s other books include Darwin’s Proof, and his newest book Science’s Blind Spot (Baker/Brazos Press). Dr. Hunter's interest in the theory of evolution involves the historical and theological, as well as scientific, aspects of the theory. His blog is Darwin's God.

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circular reasoningcommon descentdriftevolutiongradualismmutationsNational Association of Biology Teachersnatural selectionnaturalismphilosophysaltationismTheodosius Dobzhansky