Saturday, October 1, 2005

A moderate naturalism:
beyond Intelligent Design creationism

I believe that the “Intelligent Design” creationism (“IDc” hereafter) controversy in the U.S. is very important—easily important relative to Habermas’ interest in clarifying the place of religion in constitutional patriotism—as a majority of USAmericans are religious, and that fact is vital for Republican control of U.S. geopolitics (though only a tiny minority of USAmericans support IDc in science education). This might also be important to persons outside the U.S., since the U.S. issue may register a very important version of the growing pains of late modernity globally: gaining fundamentalist/evangelical reconciliation—without religious resentment—toward secularist politics (let alone the issue of jihadist violence). IDc may be the ultimate religious recourse against scientific modernity (echoing the legacy of religious philosophy—the so-called Argument from Design of late-medieval natural theology, which became the “blind watchmaker” of 18th century “science”—while it was an aim of both Newton and Kant to keep the world safe for religious hope).

Distantly related to this—but really echoed by the IDc controversy—is the real current human condition of having no scientific explanation for there being anything rather than nothing (not to give IDc credulity by noting this!). Just think about the current situation in cosmology (or try to) that the Universe will fizzle out—“In” “What”? (Even the anticipated holy grail Theory of Everything isn’t anticipated to address why there is anything.)

We have our rare John Haughts, proffering gymnastic reconcilations of theological thinking with evolution; and now-topical recollections of John Paul II’s simple reconciliation to there being evolutionarity somehow due to God (Let those secularists have their God-endowed adolescences). We have our Whatever-secularists who recognize that whatever the ultimate reality, it makes no difference to our potentially wonderful lives on our speck of one galaxy among the uncountable others speeding apart. (“If you can’t be with The One you love,” since you’re alive, “love the one you’re with.” Who needs Pascal’s wager?).

For what it’s worth, relative to the geopolitical matter of ultimate concerns—thousands of persons from 137 different nations subscribe to the anti-supernaturalist “naturalism” of The Brights movement (which includes charter members Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins), and most of the world’s population is still religious (rather than, say, basically literary or poetic, which was Heidegger’s reconciliation in the face of The Deep “night neighbors the stars”—Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind afoot?). (Is a minority of Europe now religious?—as many Europeans face their xenophobia toward fast-growing numbers of immigrant Muslims.)

The Brights coordinators are today proposing a draft statement for a survey among members for results that will be part of public activism (I suppose) against IDc in U.S. science classrooms. Their proposed statement (anticipating survey results) registers a strong naturalism:

“[survey #] of Brights regard intelligent design as a thinly veiled attempt to integrate into science teaching a distinctly religious creationist concept. By insinuating a supernatural designer as necessary to account for life, Intelligent Design Creationism clearly violates the naturalistic foundations of science.”

They invited comment/revision, and I’ve provided that (as a subscriber from day one, some years ago), part of which I’m sharing below in preface to later advocating a moderate naturalism (between Habermas’ notions of “weak” and “strong” naturalism); a little bit of practice here that renders context for a difficult journey into philosophical naturalism.

It’s obviously beyond the scope of a brief discussion to detail a moderate naturalism, but I would argue that a moderate naturalism is preferrable to JH’s weak naturalism, i.e., it’s preferrable to have a stronger naturalism than he advocates. A moderate naturalism is preferrable to a weak naturalism because, firstly, a moderate naturalism is strongly justifiable; and it can explain more than can a weak naturalism, yet without the biologism of strong naturalsm.

My comments sent to The Brights coordinators trailed away briefly from immanent criticism of their draft statement (which I’m not including below), in order to offer a succinct position on the matter—which (I realized afterward) is relevant to revising Habermas’ position (down the road). The coordinators replied that they were “very impressed” with my comments. (Thank you!).


“You know, evolutionists might gladly grant that there is intelligent design in nature, but claim that [1] design is an emergent characteristic of life explainable in completely natural terms; and [2] intelligence is an emergent domain of natural design that then, among humans, may appreciate naturally-emergent design, especially as we culturally evolve to appreciate our own nature. So, of course there is design and intelligence in nature. Whatsmore, intelligence in nature designs things, as beavers make dams and humans make explanations. So, there is intelligent design in nature. It’s not the notion of intelligent design that should bother naturalists; it’s specifically Intelligent Design creationism fronting as scientifically credible that's unacceptable. Existentially, there’s no incompatibility between religion and science, since the appeal of religion can be cultural-evolutionarily explained and ontogenetically explained. But science cannot be religiously explained.

“Science is a way of gaining knowledge, not a doctrine. There is no such thing as ‘the naturalistic foundations of science,’ rather there are reflections on science as such that are strongly naturalistic (e.g., neo-Piagetian views of science as an extension of cognitive capabilities) and reflections that are not strongly naturalistic (e.g., ‘second nature’ views of human action whereby science is a thoroughly sociocultural set of competences very social-evolutionarily distant from our paleoanthropological origins). But all views of science include a reliance on empirically-sensitive theories and high valuation of well-defined protocols of inquiry. It’s fair to science to speak of the essential character of science. IDc clearly violates science; IDc is clearly non-scientific.”