Response to radio listener's questions

I was on Tom Conroy’s radio show ‘Conroy’s Public House’ last Wednesday (KLWN, 1320 AM in Lawrence, Kansas), along with lawyer John Calvert of the Intelligent Design network. (I will report more on this as time allows.)

A listener sent this email to Tom with some questions for me, and Tom asked me to reply. These are good questions which contain a number of important misconceptions about science, Here are some brief responses.

The questions

A question of the man defending naturalism (Jack Krebbs) [actually Krebs]. He said that there was no scientific evidence for design. What scientific evidence can he point to that would point to naturalism? What scientific evidence can he present that demonstrates that something must be scientific in order to be true? What scientific evidence is there that demonstrates that the scientific method brings true knowledge?

My answers

  1. I was not defending naturalism. I was defending science. As I pointed out on the show, millions of Christians and others accept science and also have religious beliefs: these two are not in conflict for most people. The listener seems to have bought Calvert’s argument that science and naturalism are equivalent, but I certainly never said anything like that: in fact, I pointed to incontrovertible evidence (the beliefs of millions of people) that this equivalence is not true.

  2. I also did not say that ‘something must be scientific in order to be true.’ Again, the listener is assuming things based on his preconceptions rather than understanding commonly held perspectives on science. Science produces a limited and tentative type of knowledge about the physical world. Science does not claim that it can answer all types of questions – in fact, science clearly acknowledges that many questions are outside the realm of things it can investigate. Science does not address questions about how one ought to live, such as morals, values, emotions, aesthetic judgments, etc.; nor does science address questions about metaphysical entities or forces that might underlie the physical world, such as God, the human soul, Platonic ideals, etc.

  3. The listener asks, ‘What scientific evidence is there that demonstrates that the scientific method brings true knowledge?’ Obviously, this is a tautological question, as no system of belief can justify its own validity. Science produces knowledge that the world in general has found to be practically useful. Scientific knowledge is considered true ‘within the limits to which it has been tested and its scope of applicability’ (to quote a nice phrase from the Kansas science standards) because the methods which produce it have been successfully tested against additional empirical evidence, not because it claims any internal proof that it can provide Ultimate Truth.

  4. Last, the listener writes, ‘He [Krebs] said that there was no scientific evidence for design. What scientific evidence can he point to that would point to naturalism?’

There are a couple of issues here. The first is that the Intelligent Design as advocated by the Intelligent Design movement is different than the more general theological claim of design. Orthodox Christianity holds that everything is designed: everything that exists and happens reflects God’s will, purpose, and design for the world. Science does not address this meaning of design.

Intelligent Design advocates makes a much more specific claim. They claim that there is scientific evidence that certain parts of the biological world have been specifically designed by God – and by ‘specifically’ they mean God has intervened to produce things that natural processes, which God himself has created, were unable to produce. This is an interventionist view of God that is in conflict with, or at least inconsistent with, the orthodox Christian viewpoint of design described above. The orthodox view is that God doesn’t need to perform a set of little miracles to manifest his design for the world, but Intelligent Design claims that scientific evidence for these interventions exists.

My claim is that the Intelligent Design movement has offered no scientific evidence of God’s intervention in this latter sense.

Conversely, I don’t claim that scientific evidence allows one to conclude naturalism. Scientific evidence seems to continuely confirm that there is an internal causal consistency within the physical world, but that causal consistency can ‘point to’ either orthodox theism or naturalism, depending on other beliefs a person may hold.

Science cannot address the question of whether there is or isn’t a metaphysical foundation to the physical world, and thus is neutral on the subject of whether naturalism is true.