Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Darwinian Fundamentalist Manifesto: Richard Lewontin's Commitment to Materialism

Richard Lewontin's January 9, 1997 article, Billions and Billions of Demons, which is a review of Carl Sagan’s book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark contains the oft-quoted line about not allowing “a Divine Foot in the door.” The entire paragraph in which this line appears is worth quoting. It seems to me to be the best statement of the philosophical foundation for the Darwinian fundamentalist perspective:

Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that 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. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen.

Empiricism is subservient to philosophy. Facts are subservient to a priori presuppositions.

What distinguishes this statement is how forcefully he insists on not being open to the possibility that there may be a supernatural realm or that miracles may happen. A preference for natural explanations could be reasonable. But it is impossible to prove the contention that "miracles may not happen" or that there is no supernatural realm. Therefore, a willingness to adopt such an a priori position, and hold that as superior to facts, reflects a philosophical fundamentalist position as rigid as a religious fundamentalist position.

Seeking natural explanations of phenomena, while remaining open to the possibility of the supernatural, seems to be a more rational starting point.


14 Comments:

At July 13, 2005 8:07 PM, Blogger mynym said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At February 20, 2007 6:33 PM, Blogger Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

... That's really bloody pathetic.

I'm sorry, I should have something better to say, but "I think science is so weak that I can't even think about stuff I don't already believe in" is just pathetic.

Perhaps "bloody" is too strong of a word, but "watery pathetic" sounds wrong.

PS-- is it just me, or are the varifuication things getting a lot longer?

 
At February 24, 2007 10:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're making it up, dude. Macro is bad, micro is good? Total nonsense. Why do you feel the need to deceive people in order to "win their souls to Christ?" You're not an agnostic and you're ultimate goal is to infiltrate schools so you can present Intelligent Design Theory. Why does Theory of Evolution threaten your religion so much? Maybe your faith needs a little more faith.

 
At May 12, 2007 10:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How is that nonsense? We have no evidence to show that "micro-evolution", taken over millions of years, can turn one species into another. The quote from Lewontin proves that scientists let philosophy (not a fair assessment of the evidence) drive their conclusions.

My "ultimate goal" in this is to see good science in the schools. The story of evolution is bad science.

 
At December 11, 2007 11:02 PM, Blogger Kennesaw said...

"Why does Theory of Evolution threaten your religion so much?" Isn't it quite the reverse, i.e. that evolutionary faith is so very threatened by ID? Most theists are obliged to send their children to public school where teachers--regardless of any doubts they themselves might harbor--are required by law to teach materialistic evolution. If the theory of evolution rests on such a bedrock of scientific evidence, why do you feel so threatened, and so compelled to outlaw any serious competition?

 
At March 03, 2008 6:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow come on... there is no proof you have to prove that Materialism is wrong. Christian and any other religion is all faith, theres nothing backing up there religion but faith, if you ask someone "how did we get here" all you could say is "God put us here"... So the people that say its wrong, we a least have some type of proof and thats what were going off of because, most other religion there is nothing there.

 
At March 15, 2008 9:27 AM, Anonymous lawrence said...

Anonymous,

What proof do you have that Materialism is true? Any scientific proof?

There is evidence and there are rational arguments for the existence of something beyond the material. Have you read none of this? You need to open some books.

That's the point. You cannot prove Materialism, so Lewontin's commitment is based on faith, and that is not a good way to do science. Certainly not with the passionate dogmatism he shows here.

 
At October 18, 2008 7:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an interesting blog that I have bookmarked to read more of. For decades I have begged, literally begged and offered money, for someone to explain usefully what they imply by the term "materialism." The reference to Lewontin's article may prove useful in my search to find a reasoning behind the sans-physics beliefs of neoDarwinianism.

 
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At July 12, 2010 10:10 PM, Blogger bubuka said...

have you heard about methodological materialism?

"..and hold that as superior to facts" - if you think there are fairies then fucking catch one, and the fact that fairies exist will be immediately accepted - thus overriding the "a priori" assumption that they aren't - which is the default for the sane

 
At September 09, 2010 10:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great blog. I came across this while doing some doctrinal study where I came across Richard Lewontin. So I googled him to see what else he's said.

I got say that I respect the guy - he had the balls and integrity to come out and just say it.

This has always been a critical point in my faith because growing up in school I loved science and was good at it. I bought into the "theory".

Now, I'm challenged to do a little more critical thinking and when I do, I realize there's a whole bunch of holes in this theory.

It's funny how some attack Christian and say things like, "... what are you so afraid of... your faith needs a little more faith." When it seems like it is really "them" who is finding themselves on unstable grounds. Christians has always stood on the ground that "all of this stuff" relies heavily on faith... it relies on believing... it relies on Scripture as the word of God... it relies on "it is not by sight, but by faith."

I don't think our faith needs more faith - I think we have enough of it.

I think "they" are afraid because they have always contended that "their's" is based on science. But now, in the light of modern science and the technological advance of today, we see less and less evidence for their "theory". What I think they are really scared of is that this "theory" they held onto so tightly and defended based on science is nothing more than just another religion or belief system... it also requires faith.

So how's your faith? It is you who probably need a little more faith in your faith. My Author has been around since before time. My Author was published way before 1859 when yours was. My Author's book has been around for so long that's been translated from Hebrew to Greek and various languanges that exists today.

My Author is God. Your author is Charles Darwin - just a man. If I'm going to have faith, I'd prefer to have faith in God.

Faith comes in both our theories because its clear science and empirical evidence supports your theory less and less.

In todays modern science where we have the capability to split atoms and have so much knowledge of all the chemicals and elements that exists, why haven't science just proven Christians wrong by putting together a cocktail and a little spark and create something as simply as prokaryote baterial cell in? Did an eye or a birds wing really evolve over a million years and over a million random mutation? So what was it in the interim - did start of as a small skin growth? And macro evolution is based on the natural selection and the fittest survive and that these random mutation proves to be advantageous to survival, how could they have been possibly advantageous before the eye was a fuctioning eye... before the wing was a functioning wing?? Wouldn't these growths just have gotten in the way... a nuisance? Yet you believe that these millions of mutation happened just perfectly in succession to eventually form a perfectly functioning eye or wing... All randomingly???

 
At September 09, 2010 10:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great blog. I came across this while doing some doctrinal study where I came across Richard Lewontin. So I googled him to see what else he's said.

I got say that I respect the guy - he had the balls and integrity to come out and just say it.

This has always been a critical point in my faith because growing up in school I loved science and was good at it. I bought into the "theory".

Now, I'm challenged to do a little more critical thinking and when I do, I realize there's a whole bunch of holes in this theory.

It's funny how some attack Christian and say things like, "... what are you so afraid of... your faith needs a little more faith." When it seems like it is really "them" who is finding themselves on unstable grounds. Christians has always stood on the ground that "all of this stuff" relies heavily on faith... it relies on believing... it relies on Scripture as the word of God... it relies on "it is not by sight, but by faith."

I don't think our faith needs more faith - I think we have enough of it.

I think "they" are afraid because they have always contended that "their's" is based on science. But now, in the light of modern science and the technological advance of today, we see less and less evidence for their "theory". What I think they are really scared of is that this "theory" they held onto so tightly and defended based on science is nothing more than just another religion or belief system... it also requires faith.

So how's your faith? It is you who probably need a little more faith in your faith. My Author has been around since before time. My Author was published way before 1859 when yours was. My Author's book has been around for so long that's been translated from Hebrew to Greek and various languanges that exists today.

My Author is God. Your author is Charles Darwin - just a man. If I'm going to have faith, I'd prefer to have faith in God.

Faith comes in both our theories because its clear science and empirical evidence supports your theory less and less.

In todays modern science where we have the capability to split atoms and have so much knowledge of all the chemicals and elements that exists, why haven't science just proven Christians wrong by putting together a cocktail and a little spark and create something as simply as prokaryote baterial cell in? Did an eye or a birds wing really evolve over a million years and over a million random mutation? So what was it in the interim - did start of as a small skin growth? And macro evolution is based on the natural selection and the fittest survive and that these random mutation proves to be advantageous to survival, how could they have been possibly advantageous before the eye was a fuctioning eye... before the wing was a functioning wing?? Wouldn't these growths just have gotten in the way... a nuisance? Yet you believe that these millions of mutation happened just perfectly in succession to eventually form a perfectly functioning eye or wing... All randomingly???

 
At September 23, 2011 3:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"how could they have been possibly advantageous before the eye was a fuctioning eye... before the wing was a functioning wing??"

Some mutations are beneficial, some aren't, and some are neutral. Just because you don't understand how an intermediate form of a wing or eye is advantageous doesn't mean that it wasn't.

Here's an example, using the eye:

Evolution of the Eye

Your statements are what is called the "argument from incredulity". Simply stated "I don't understand how it could have happened, so it must be wrong (or, in this case, God did it)."

Proponents of ID and Creationism had the chance to prove their case in court, and couldn't.

Talkorigins.org on ID

It would challenge my convictions to discover evidence for God, it really would. It would shake me to my core. However, I need more than attacks on the nuances of evolutionary theory, or ad hominem attacks on evolutionary proponents saying that they must be wrong because they base their beliefs on their a priori assumptions.

"There is evidence and there are rational arguments for the existence of something beyond the material."

I just went through Dr. Werner Gitt's book "In the Beginning Was Information". I am in the process of posting my critique of it. It is garbage. How can I hold ID and Creationism to have intellectual integrity when their claims aren't justified in court and the authors that I have read present arguments from incredulity or ignorance, as Dr. Gitt does?

I love to be wrong - it surprises me, reminds me that I have limits, that I am indeed human. So show me that I'm wrong, that there is a supernatural existence, that the Christian God exists, and that He has the attributes that Christians say He does.

Until then, the default position must be skepticism!

 
At December 28, 2012 8:19 PM, Blogger Kenneth Carter said...

Lawrence,

Great post as I too have read, in its entirety, this lengthy as well as fascinating essay written by Richard Lewontin. When I've mentioned this essay to atheistic posters at amazon.com, not one of them has had the courage to acknowledge what Lewontin brazenly, unapologetically has declared: science is grounded first in philosophical naturalism and the empirical evidence that is obtained via scientific method proceeds from the philosophical grounding and not vice-sa-versa.

Philosopher Michael Ruse has admitted to much the same as well. These two very prominent "Darwinian Fundamentalists", to borrow from Stephen Gould, cannot be dismissed as uninformed scientific illiterates by naive atheists.

When I read Lewontin's essay, it embraced a leveling of the empirically-based playing field much to the chagrin of atheists and Darwinians alike. In my experience, most remain in complete public denial of the obvious consequences of philosophical adherence to materialism-naturalism.

Thanks for the post.

Peace

 

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