Materialist Evolutionism

Before discussing materialist evolutionism, I need to distinguish between two uses of the term materialism (or naturalism). As I mentioned in chapter 1, modern science operates under a rule of methodological naturalism that limits it to attempting to explain natural phenomena using natural causes. Philosophical materialists (sometimes

Figure 3.4

The Relationship between Methodological and Philosophical Naturalism. All philosophical naturalists are methodological naturalists, but it is not accurate to say that all methodological naturalists are philosophical naturalists. One can thus be a scientist practicing methodological naturalism but still be a theist.

referred to as philosophical naturalists) go beyond the methodological naturalism of science to propose not only that material (matter and energy) causes are sufficient to explain natural phenomena but also that the supernatural does not exist. To a philosophical naturalist, there is no God. The philosophy of humanism is a materialistic philosophy, as is atheism. As discussed earlier in this chapter, philosophical naturalism is distinct from the practical rules of how to do science.

This is an important distinction to the subject of this book because some antievo-lutionists accuse evolution and science in general of being not only methodologically naturalistic but also philosophically naturalistic. This is a logical error, as Figure 3.4 shows. It is very likely the case that all philosophical naturalists are simultaneously methodological naturalists (all Ps are Ms). It does not follow that all methodological naturalists are philosophical naturalists (not all Ms are Ps). It might be the case—if both circles were the same size and right on top of one another—but this would have to be determined empirically, not logically. In fact, such a claim is empirically falsified, for there are many scientists who accept methodological naturalism in their work but who are theists and therefore not philosophical naturalists. Gregor Mendel—the monk whose research became the foundation of genetics—is a classic case of a scientist who was a methodological naturalist but not a philosophical one, and there are many scientists today who, like him, are methodological but not philosophical naturalists.

As mentioned, there are varieties of belief within the various theistic positions on the continuum, and this is true for materialists as well. For example, although materialists share a high opinion of science and accept evolution, they do not all share the same attitudes toward religion. Agnostics are materialists who do not consider that the question of whether God created can be answered. Humanists have a philosophy of life and an ethical code that holds, "Humanism is a progressive lifestance that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead meaningful, ethical lives capable of adding to the greater good of humanity" (American Humanist Association 2002). The two major humanist organizations are the American Humanist Association, with approximately 5,000 members at the time of this writing, and the Council for Secular Humanism, with approximately 4,000 members.

Atheists, the third major group within materialists, reject the existence of God but tend to be more actively antireligious than the other two. There are about 2,200 members of the best-known atheist group, the American Atheists. Clearly, any single theist organization has far more members than all the materialist organizations combined. If nonbelievers make up between 10 percent and 14 percent of the population, as some polls suggest, the vast majority of them do not join groups of like-minded individuals. Someone holding to materialist evolutionism, then, believes that evolution occurred but that there was absolutely no supernatural entities or forces affecting it, because such forces do not exist. As we will see later in this book, creationists consider materialist evolutionism the true enemy of religion; actually, although all material evolutionists reject the involvement of God in evolution, not all material evolutionists are antireligious.

This presentation of Christian and materialist views regarding creation and evolution is simplified—as was the earlier presentation of the nature of science in chapter 1 and the presentation of the science of evolution in chapter 2. It is possible to go into far more detail on any of these beliefs, but a shorthand version will have to suffice to introduce the topic.

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