Dallas Willard on Outrageous Claims Made in the Name of Science

Philosopher Dallas Willard writes, “[I]ndividuals with standing in a particular professional field sometimes feel free, or even obligated, to cloak themselves in the authority of their area of expertise and make grandiose statements such as this by a professor of biological sciences [Willard quotes William B. Provine of Cornell University]:

Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear. . . . There are no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind.  There is no life after death.  When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead.  That’s the end for me.  There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will for humans, either.

“Logically viewed, this statement is simply laughable.  Nowhere within the published, peer-reviewed literature of biology—even evolutionary biology—do any of the statements of which the professor is “absolutely certain” appear as valid conclusions of sound research.  One trembles to think that an expert in the field would not know this or else would feel free to disregard it.  Biology as a field of research and knowledge is not even about such issues.  It simply does not deal with them.  They do not fall within the province of its responsibilities.  Yet it is very common to hear such declamations about the state of the universe offered up in lectures and writing by specialists in certain areas who have a missionary zeal for their personal causes.”

Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge (HarperOne, 2009), 5.

Well said.  I do admire Provine, however, for following his naturalism to its logical conclusions, and being willing to state those conclusions openly:  there are no purposes, no life after death, no objective right and wrong, no meaning to life, and no free will.  I absolutely agree with Provine that these are the logical implications of metaphysical naturalism.  They are the stark realities that atheists of previous generations (such as Nietzsche and Sartre) embraced—and lamented.  But most popularizers of atheism today want to have their atheism and eat their cake, too.

They want to proclaim a universe without deity, but also make moral pronouncements (as if they were something more than mere opinion), live as if the will is free (do they embrace atheism because it’s rational or because they couldn’t choose otherwise?), and maintain an unjustified optimism about human life and progress through science (why bother doing science if life has no meaning?  Why even get out of bed every day?  And how do we explain the great evil human beings are prone to do?).

Provine is right.  But why anyone wouldn’t fall into the deepest depression if they held such beliefs is incomprehensible.  Such propositions can live freely in the ivory tower of abstract academic thought, but they’re unlivable in concrete human experience.  Thus, I can only conclude that those who hold such views don’t actually take them very seriously.  If they did, we would witness their lives spiraling into chaos in a very short time.

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On Naturalism, “Blind, Pitiless Indifference” Is Our Lot

As argued by Richard Dawkins.  And, given his worldview commitment of metaphysical naturalism, he’s quite right:

“In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

River Out of Eden (Basic Books, 1996), p. 133.

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On Naturalism, Human Dignity Disappears

Charles Darwin at age 51, just after publishin...

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This isn’t too surprising, since matter and laws of nature are incapable of generating value, regardless of how they interact or what levels of complexity they achieve.  Value or worth is never the product of a chemical reaction or the movement of particles, or the conclusion of an equation.

On naturalism, man is simply one animal among many, with no special moral status, as philosopher James Rachels articulates:

The traditional supports for the idea of human dignity are gone.  They have not survived the colossal shift of perspective brought about by Darwin’s theory.  It might be thought that this result need not be devastating for the idea of human dignity, because even if the traditional supports are gone, the idea might still be defended on some other grounds.

Once again, though, an evolutionary perspective is bound to make one skeptical.  The doctrine of human dignity says that humans merit a level of moral concern wholly different from that accorded to mere animals; for this to be true, there would have to be some big, morally significant difference between them.  Therefore, any adequate defense of human dignity would require some conception of human beings as radically different from other animals.

But that is precisely what evolutionary theory calls into question.  It makes us suspicious of any doctrine that sees large gaps of any sort between humans and all other creatures.  This being so, a Darwinian may conclude that a successful defense of human dignity is most unlikely.

– James Rachels, Created from Animals (Oxford University Press, 1990), pp. 171-172.

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