Disenchantment’s Dead End: Why Secularism Fails
October 23, 2018
Glendale Community College’s “God & Truth VI:
Is There Meaning in the World? Religion or Secular Humanism: That is the Question?”
· Thank you to Glendale Community College for continuing to sponsor “God & Truth
1. “Disenchantment” and Secularism
a. Science is usually seen as the “engine” of secularism
b. As science advances religion must retreat
2. The “Warfare Narrative” of Science and Religion
a. John William Draper (1811-1882): History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science (1874)
b. Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918): A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896)
i. “In all modern history, interference with science in the supposed interest of religion, no matter how conscientious such interference may have been, has resulted in the direst evils both to religion and to science.”
c. “Today historians of science generally no longer favor a conflict model. Colin Russell, formerly the president of Christians in Science, criticized the conflict model noting that, ‘Draper takes such liberty with history, perpetuating legends as fact that he is rightly avoided today in serious historical study. The same is nearly as true of White, though his prominent apparatus of prolific footnotes may create a misleading impression of meticulous scholarship’ (Russell 2000, 15).”
3. Naturalism defined
a. “Naturalism denies that there are any spiritual or supernatural realities transcendent to the world or at least we have no good ground for believing that there could be such realities… It is the view that anything that exists is ultimately composed of physical components.”
b. Victor Reppert gives the following elements as part of naturalism:
i. “The physical level is to be understood mechanistically, such that purposive explanations must be further explained in terms of a non-purposive substratum. This will be called the mechanism thesis.
ii. “The physical order is causally closed. No nonphysical causes operate on the physical level. The physical level is a comprehensive system of events that is not affected by anything that is not itself physical. This is called the causal closure thesis.
iii. “Other states, such as mental states, (if they exist) supervene on physical states. Given the state of the physical, there is only one way the mental, for example, can be. This is the supervenience thesis.”
4. Naturalism’s failures
a. Fails to account for moral realism
b. Fails to account for meaning in life
c. There are those who accept these “failures” and embrace nihilism
i. “Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exist; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.”
--William Provine (Cornell evolutionary biologist)
ii. “Darwinism thus puts the capstone on a process which since Newton’s time has driven teleology to the explanatory sidelines. In short it has made Darwinians into metaphysical Nihilists denying that there is any meaning or purpose to the universe its contents and its cosmic history. But in making Darwinians into metaphysical nihilists, the solvent algorithm [random variation acted on by natural selection] should have made them into ethical nihilists too. For intrinsic values and obligations make sense only against the background of purposes, goals, and ends which are not merely instrumental.”
--Tamler Sommers & Alex Rosenberg
5. My goal today: examine the alleged engine of naturalism à Science
a. Proverbs 21.22 “A wise man scales the city of the mighty and brings down the stronghold in which they trust.”
b. Naturalism cannot account for science itself!
6. Two Theses regarding Scientism and Science
a. Scientism is fundamentally irrational
b. Science rests upon philosophical commitments which do not comport well with naturalism but do comport better with Christian theism
7. Scientism: Strong and Weak
a. Strong scientism:
i. “Strong scientism claims that some proposition is true and/or rational to believe if and only if it is a well-established scientific proposition—that is, if and only if it is a well-established scientific proposition that, in turn depends on its having been successfully formed, tested, and used according to appropriate scientific methodology. There are no truths apart from scientific truths, and even if there were, there would be no reason whatever to believe them.”
b. Weak scientism:
i. “Advocates of weak scientism allow for truths apart from science and even grant that they have some minimal, positive rationality status without the support of science. But those advocates still hold that science is the most authoritative sector of human learning. Every other intellectual activity is inferior to science. Further, there are virtually no limits to science. There is no field into which scientific research cannot shed light. To the degree that some issue outside science can be given scientific support or can be reduced to science, to that degree the issue becomes rationally acceptable.”
8. Some examples of scientism
a. “The great questions—‘Who are we?’ ‘Where did we come from?’ Why are we here?’—can be answered only, if ever, in the light of scientifically based evolutionary thought.” —E. O. Wilson
b. “A Darwinian fundamentalist is one who recognizes that either you shun Darwinian evolution altogether, or you turn the traditional universe upside down and you accept that mind, meaning, and purpose are not the cause but the fairly recent effects of the mechanistic mill of Darwinian algorithms. Many have tried to find a compromise position [but]… [i]t cannot be done.” —Daniel Dennett
c. “We seem to be reaching a point at which science can wrest morality from the hands of the philosophers.” —Frans de Waal
d. “’You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice might have phrased it: ‘You’re nothing but a pack of neurons.’” --Francis Crick
9. All these examples are illustrations of metaphysical commitments masquerading as science
a. “Seemingly at work here are distinctly metaphysical—over against strictly physical or material—assumptions, which, nevertheless, are touted as science.”
b. “Science writer James Barham describes this phenomenon as ‘theory creep,’ by which bold but unsubstantiated claims are made of a philosophical nature that nevertheless are presented as scientific fact.”
c. “[O]ne is justified, I think, in questioning whether individuals in the hard sciences, where theories and hypotheses are measured and tested on the basis of empirical evidence, should be making moral-philosophical and metaethical claims. Is this really science? What is particularly questionable is to extrapolate from the physical realm and make authoritative metaphysical pronouncements about material and nonmaterial reality and to do so in the name of science.”
10. Problems with scientism
a. Problems with Hard (or Strong) Scientism
i. “The irony is that strong scientism is a philosophical statement expressing an epistemological viewpoint about science; it is not a statement of science, like ‘water is H2O’ or ‘cats are mammals.’ Strong scientism is a philosophical assertion that claims that philosophical assertions are neither true nor can be known; only scientific assertions can be true and known.”
1. X =
2. What scientific experiments could be done to show the truthfulness of X?
b. X is a philosophical claim; not a scientific claim
ii. Hard/Strong Scientism is “self-referentially incoherent”
b. Problems with Weak Scientism
i. “In sum, the first problem with weak (and strong) scientism is that it diminishes the intellectual authority of other important fields, especially biblical studies and theology. This is not because the arguments are better, but simply because it is assumed that science by definition has more plausibility and inherent authority.”
ii. Science rests up philosophical assumptions and the conclusions of science can only be as certain as those assumptions.
11. Science rests upon philosophical presuppositions
a. (1) The existence of the external world.
b. (2) The orderly nature of the external world and its knowability.
c. (3) The uniformity of nature and induction.
d. (4) The laws of logic, epistemology, and truth.
e. (5) The reliability of the senses and the mind.
f. (6) The adequacy of language to describe the world.
g. (7) The applicability of mathematics and the existence of numbers.
h. (8) The existence of values.
i. Moral values
· One ought to record and report data honestly.
ii. Rational values
· One ought to prefer a theory that is…
o more empirically accurate
o more predictively successful
o has a wider scope of explanation
iii. Aesthetic values
· One ought to prefer theories and equations that are more beautiful and elegant.
12. A closer look at a few of these philosophical presuppositions
a. Which worldview—naturalism or Christian theism—better makes sense of these presuppositions?
b. My argument: these philosophical presuppositions which are necessary for science comport (fit) better with Christian theism.
“The nature of the assumptions of science do not prove the existence of a God very much like the God of the Bible, but in my view, they provide reasons for preferring theism over scientistic naturalism. The assumptions are at home in a theistic worldview; they fit quite naturally. If God is himself a rational being, then it stands to reason that he would create a rational, orderly universe. If he created us, then it naturally follows that he would give us the proper faculties to know and appreciate the inner workings of his world by ‘thinking his thoughts after him.’ The existence of objective values makes far more sense if there is an objective Lawgiver than if there is not.
“If we begin with ‘In the beginning there was the Logos,’ then we have reasonable explanations for these assumptions. But if we begin with “In the beginning were the particles (or plasma, strings, etc.),’ it is hard to see how these assumptions could have obtained.”
13. Number (2): “The orderly nature of the external world and its
a. Oxford philosopher Richard Swinburne
“The orderliness of the universe to which I draw attention here is its conformity to formula, to simple formulable, scientific laws. The orderliness of the universe in this respect is a very striking fact about it. The universe might naturally have been chaotic, but it is not—it is very orderly.”
b. A. S. U. astrophysicist Paul Davies writes of this foundational order with a special focus on the mathematical structure of reality…
“There exists a deep and elegant underlying mathematical unity that links everything together in an abstract conceptual scheme. There is thus an underlying rational order of which the fall of an apple is but one example. We could never get at that type of deep mathematical unity other than by using science, and it’s an astonishing thing that we can get at it at all because it seems to have no survival value.”
c. Christian philosopher J. P. Moreland asks, “So, how do we explain the existence and nature of these laws? Where did they come from?”
“There are two major options here: (1) take them as unexplainable, brute entities, or (2) provide a theistic explanation. For many thinkers, myself included, the ‘unexplainable-brute-entity’ option is not a good one. Since the actual brute entity might not have existed, we naturally seek an explanation as to why the contingent entity exists instead of not existing. And the fundamental laws of nature are contingent realities—after all, it is easy to conceive of worlds that have different fundamental laws of nature. So why does our world contain certain fundamental laws instead of others.”
14. Number (5): “The reliability of the senses and the mind.”
a. Leda Cosmides and John Tooby
“The brain is a physical system whose operation is governed solely by the laws of chemistry and physics. What does this mean? It means that all of your thoughts and hopes and dreams and feelings are produced by chemical reactions going on in your head.”
b. But if Cosmides and Tooby are correct that all our thoughts are merely the result of chemical reactions…
i. Why should we trust these thoughts to be true?
ii. What is it about these chemical reactions that guarantees truth?
iii. Naturalistic evolutionary theory states that the products of evolution are better able to reproduce over time but there is no reason to think that this mindless process should fit humans for the acquisition of truth.
iv. “If mind emerged from matter without the direction of a superior Intelligence, two problems arise immediately. First, why should we trust the deliverances of the mind as being rational or true, especially in the mind’s more theoretical activities? … Second, if thinking involves having abstract entities (propositions, laws of logic, and the like) instanced in one’s mind, then it seems to be incredibly unlikely that a property which emerged from matter in a struggle for survival would be the sort of thing that could have thoughts in the first place. Why this emergent property would be such that it could contain abstract entities would be a mystery.”
15. Number (8): “The existence of values.” (moral, rational, & aesthetic)
a. Paul Copan on the problem of getting values from valueless matter
“How do we move from a universe that originates from no prior matter into a universe of valueless matter and energy, eventually arriving at moral values, including human rights, human dignity, and moral obligation? It is hard to see how the naturalist could bridge this chasm. Matter just does not have moral properties, let alone mental ones.”
b. Francis Beckwith and Greg Koukl in Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air describe four observations about moral facts:
i. They are not physical—they don’t have physical properties.
ii. They are a kind of communication—a command. This only makes sense when there are two minds involved.
iii. They produce in us a feel of “oughtness”—we feel like we ought to do something (or refrain from something)
iv. When they are violated they produce in us a discomfort—a sense of guilt
c. They argue we can explain these moral realities in one of three ways…
iii. Product of intelligence
16. Conclusion: Flow of the argument
a. Scientism fails
b. Science rests upon philosophical presuppositions
c. These philosophical presuppositions fit better with theism than naturalism
d. Therefore Science needs God to function properly!
17. Thus, ironically, the perceived engine of disenchantment—science itself—cannot be sustained by naturalism.
18. Rather, science itself needs God to make sense of itself!
 “White’s perspective drew criticism from James Joseph Walsh, who argued in The Popes and Science: The History of the Papal Relations to Science during the Middle Ages and Down to Our Own Time (Walsh 1908) that White’s view was antihistorical.” Jonathan McLatchie “Conflict Thesis” in Dictionary of Christianity and Science, eds. Paul Copan, Tremper Longman III, Christopher L. Reese, and Michael G. Strauss (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2017), 106.
 Quoted in Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro, Naturalism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2008), 9. James Sire’s The Universe Next Door—5th ed. (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2009) has a chapter—chapter four: “The Silence of Finite Space: Naturalism”—which contains a good discussion of philosophical naturalism.
 Richard Klaus, “’What’s Your Problem?’ How Euthyphro Challenges Us All” God & Truth V (October 24, 2017)—online: http://whiterosereview.blogspot.com/2017/10/whats-your-problem-how-euthyphro.html.
 Richard Klaus, “Metaphysics and the Meaning of Life: How the Kingdom of God Changes Everything!” God & Truth IV (October 18, 2018)—online: http://whiterosereview.blogspot.com/2016/10/metaphysics-and-meaning-of-life-how.html.
 Paul Copan, “God, Naturalism, and the Foundations of Morality” in Robert Stewart (ed.), The Future of Atheism: Alister McGrath and Daniel Dennett in Dialogue (Fortress, 2008), 155