The Spectrum of Worldviews: How We Approach the Evidence
Why is there such a big fight over the sufficiency of the evidence for macroevolution? Much can be explained by looking at the a priori philosophical frameworks or worldviews that are the inevitable starting point from which people evaluate the scientific evidence. Unless we understand our own worldview, and respectfully try to understand those of the people with whom we disagree, there will not likely be constructive and healthy civil discourse on the various issues surrounding the theory of macroevolution and how it should be taught in school. The following spectrum is only meant to be a very simple summary of the various worldviews for a popular audience. I do not mean to imply that every person fits neatly into any one category. However, I do believe that these categories help us to understand how an individual person approaches the evidence, and what bias may be involved in that approach.
1. Rigid Theism
2. Open-minded Theism
3. Open-minded Agnosticism
4. Open-minded Materialism
5. Rigid Materialism
Rigid Theism describes a theistic worldview that constrains the way the person views the empirical evidence. Creation Science advocates generally believe that Genesis chapters one and two in the Bible must be understood as a literal six twenty-four hour day history of the creation of the earth and life on it. Because of this understanding of what the writer of Genesis intended, the Bible gives controlling guidance as to how the scientific evidence must be understood.
Open-minded Theism describes a theistic worldview that does not constrain the way the person views the empirical evidence. The person believes that there is a God who is ultimately responsible for creating the world and life on it, but that God could have used macroevolutionary processes and mechanisms to do it and could have done it over millions of years. The person might have a very conservative view of Biblical authority, but does not believe that the Bible necessarily intends to convey that God created the world in six 24 hour days.
Open-minded Agnosticism describes a worldview in which the person is has no position on whether there is a God or not, and this worldview does not constrain the way the person views the empirical evidence.
Open-minded Materialism describes a materialistic/naturalistic worldview that does not constrain the way the person views the empirical evidence. Such a person will look for an explanation that comports with a materialistic framework, but will not assume that there necessarily must be a materialistic explanation. Such a person recognizes that science has not proven that there is no God or that there is no supernatural realm, so that it is presumptuous to assume that there must be a naturalistic explanation for all phenomena.
Rigid Materialism describes a materialistic/naturalistic worldview that constrains the way the person views the empirical evidence. If such a person encounters evidence that does not fit a materialistic explanation of nature, he will develop an explanation to make the evidence fit that framework. Only a naturalistic answer is acceptable, and all evidence must fit within these starting assumptions.
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What is noteworthy about the current challenge to Darwinian theory, is that most of the new challengers are Open-Minded Theists or Open-Minded Agnostics, not Rigid Theists as in the 1980's when there was a push to teach Creation Science alongside macroevolution in schools. Phillip Johnson and Michael Behe are good examples of this. Johnson stated in his book Darwin On Trial:
I believe that a God exists who could create out of nothing if He wanted to do so, but who might have chosen to work through a natural evolutionary process instead. I am not a defender of creation-science, and in fact I am not concerned in this book with addressing any conflicts between the Biblical accounts and the scientific evidence.
My purpose is to examine the scientific evidence on its own terms, being careful to distinguish the evidence itself from any religious or philosophical bias that might distort our interpretation of that evidence. I assume that the creation-scientists are biased by their precommitment to Biblical fundamentalism, and I will have very little to say about their position. The question I want to investigate is whether Darwinism is based upon a fair assessment of the scientific evidence, or whether it is another kind of fundamentalism. (p.14)
Later he stated:
I am not interested in any claims that are based upon a literal reading of the Bible, nor do I understand the concept of creation as narrowly as Duane Gish does. If an omnipotent Creator exists He might have created things instantaneously in a single week or employed means wholly inaccessible to science, or mechanisms that are at least in part understandable through scientific investigation. (p. 115)
You can read Behe's views here. Neither Johnson nor Behe are challenging Darwinian theory because their religion requires them to do so. Their religion requires only that they acknowledge God as the ultimate creator of whatever natural phenomena they observe. They are challenging macroevolutionary theory because the evidence demands it.
Many of the current proponents of macroevolutionary theory are Rigid Materialists. Richard Dawkins and Richard Lewontin are good examples of this. Lewontin has provided a very good statement of the Rigid Materialist perspective:
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.
I provide a longer quotation, with citation, in this post. Richard Dawkins has indicated that evolution is the only possible explanation. He is very public in his commitment to promoting atheism, and his faith demands that Darwinism be true. Rigid Materialists simply cannot fathom any explanation for life on earth other than macroevolution, regardless of the evidence. How much stock should we therefore put in their evaluation of the evidence?
What should be clear from all this is that we need to look beyond who is religious and who is not. If we are going to look at anyone's worldview, we need to look at everyone’s worldview and, more importantly, how much that worldview constrains the person’s ability to evaluate the evidence objectively. It is becoming clear to the general public that the scientific establishment is not made up of neutral truth seekers, but rather individuals with their own strong biases and agendas.
I note as well that the mainstream media almost never asks proponents of macroevolution about their worldview, but very frequently comments on the worldview of its critics. This is especially ironic given the public admission by many proponents that, to a large extent, their worldview dictates how they will construe the evidence.
Many scientists would presumably insist that they are Open-Minded Materialists, Agnostics or Theists. But are they really open to doubting macroevolutionary theory? Are there other philosophical, psychological, professional, cultural or political biases that may affect their neutrality in evaluating the evidence? Looking deeper into these questions will require another post.
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Postscript: My comments are not meant to endorse any one position on the spectrum or to suggest that any one position is "better" than the others. My simple point is that many of the current leaders in questioning Darwinian theory are more neutral in approaching the evidence, and therefore more credible to the general public, than many of the prominent defenders of the theory.
Postscript 2: This post focuses on big picture worldviews, or how the person views the ultimate nature of reality. I do not discuss in this blog how "methodological naturalism" fits in, but I plan to discuss this in a future post.