by Paul CopanMarch 31st, 2011 51 Comments
In his book River Out of Eden, Richard Dawkins writes: “Scientific beliefs are supported by evidence, and they get results. Myths and faiths are not and do not.” This is akin to what Harvard biologist Richard Lewontin asserts: the “social and intellectual apparatus, Science, [is] the only begetter of truth.” Such comments remind me of the kangaroo in Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who. She insists that Horton’s conviction—that life can exist on a tiny speck of dust—is delusional. Exasperated, she exclaims: “If you can’t see, hear, or feel something, it doesn’t exist!”
Those making such claims are not simply studying the natural world or natural phenomena (science). Rather, they are advocating a philosophical worldview known as scientism. Scientism comes in different hues, but Dawkins’ brand of scientism assumes that only science gives us knowledge. Dawkins takes for granted that science is the study of all reality—not merely the study of nature, which would leave open the possibility of a non-natural realm, say, to explain the universe’s beginning. (After all, shouldn’t science be open-minded to allowing the causes of events in the natural world to, now and then, have non-natural/supernatural causes? To insist otherwise would betray a naturalistic commitment about material reality and a refusal to consider anything else.) When skeptics demand of theists to “prove God/the soul/miracles/whatever scientifically,” they are taking a scientistic stance, not a scientific one.
One big problem here: Dawkins’ belief that only science can give us knowledge turns out to be incoherent and self-contradictory: How can we scientifically prove that all knowledge must be scientifically provable? We can’t validate science by appealing to science. This position isn’t the result of scientific observation, but a driving philosophical assumption.
Thankfully, Richard Lewontin and Berkeley philosopher John Searle come clean on the matter. They forthrightly acknowledge that what commonly poses as “science” is really a philosophical starting-point about the nature of reality—namely, materialism:
- Lewontin: “we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”
- Searle: “There is a sense in which materialism is the religion of our time, at least among most of the professional experts in the fields of philosophy, psychology, cognitive science, and other disciplines that study the mind. Like most traditional religions, it is accepted without question and it provides the framework within which other questions can be posed, addressed, and answered.”
Again, the belief that science alone gives us knowledge is a philosophical statement, not a scientific one. This is no longer science, but the scientistic worldview of naturalism, which affirms that nature is all there is and that only science can give us knowledge. As the late astronomer Carl Sagan put it: “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” Dawkins, like Sagan, speaks more as an amateur metaphysician than as a scientist.
Furthermore, such a stance ignores the historical fact modern science was shaped by a biblical worldview. Taken for granted were God’s existence, human rationality, the general predictability of nature, and the match-up between human minds and an understandable world. In fact. As physicist and best-selling science writer Paul Davies observes: “Science began as an outgrowth of theology, and all scientists, whether atheists or theists…accept an essentially theological worldview.” Newton, Copernicus, (yes!) Galileo, Faraday, Boyle, and many other science greats were inspired by a biblical worldview as they studied nature. These remarkable observers of nature operated in the spirit of Psalm 111:2: “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them “
Dawkins’ view is ultimately a metaphysical outlook masking as science. Unfortunately for him, such a worldview ends up leading to all kinds of counterintuitive positions. We looked at Dawkins’ self-refuting determinism in Part I of this series. We’ll look at several more in future posts.
 Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (New York: BasicBooks, 1995), 33.
 Richard Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” New York Review of Books, 9 Jan. 1997, 28-32.
 Though challenging to define, we could say that science, roughly speaking, is the attempted objective study of the natural world/natural phenomena whose theories and explanations do not normally depart from the natural realm. I follow Del Ratzsch, Philosophy of Science (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986), 15.
 Lewontin, “Billions and Billions of Demons,” 28, 31.
 John R. Searle, Mind: A Brief Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 48.
 Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Random House, 1980), 4.
 Paul Davies, Are We Alone? (New York: Basic, 1995), 96.
- Reason, Personal Responsibility, and Naturalism’s Counterintuitive Claims: Response to Dawkins, Part IV
- The Moral Indignation of Richard Dawkins
- My Recent Interaction with Richard Dawkins
- New Intelligent Design Movie
- Morality and Naturalism’s Counterintuitive Claims: Response to Dawkins, Part V