Friday, August 12, 2016

Denis Alexander: "I would suggest dropping the term 'methodological naturalism'"

Theological Dualism: The "God bits" vs.  the "Natural  forces bits":  You only need drop the "God bits" and you're an atheist. 

I'm continuing to work my way through (v. slowly)  Denis Alexander's book  "Creation or Evolution: Do we have to choose". Chapter 8, which is entitled "Evolutionary Creation", critiques the concept of "naturalism" (and also "methodological naturalism"), a concept which I have also criticized in this blog many times. Naturalism is the subliminally theological idea that so called "natural forces" are set over and against Divine creative "interventions". Underlying "naturalism" is, in fact, the deistic notion that the cosmos works "naturally" by itself and where God (if you believe in him) steps in on occasion to do his stuff. Perhaps I caricature just a little, but to a dualist "Evolution did it" is identical to saying "God didn't do it" and "God did it" is the same as saying "Evolution didn't do it"! This mindset readily connects with subliminal gnosto-dualism, an implicit view where God is set over an against the inferior, if not downright evil, "natural forces".

"Naturalism" as a concept is also subliminally entrenched in the de-facto Intelligent Design community's explanatory filter. This filter is actually a sound epistemic procedure if we are dealing with human or alien artifacts: Intelligent entities, although they themselves may arguably conform to the laws of physics, are nevertheless too complex a realization of physics to their make treatment from physical first principles possible and therefore their works are best treated as a separate "intelligent" category. 

But the explanatory filter is grossly flawed if used in Christian theology where a totalising all-embracing immanent God is inextricably bound up with all that passes under the created order. In short all activity in creation, theologically speaking, traces back to Divine intelligence whether by permission or proactive decree. There is really no such thing as autonomous "natural forces" unless by it one simply means those phenomena whose patterns of behavior which are tractable to the law and disorder descriptions of conventional science. In contrast, the de facto IDists find it difficult to conceive God as much more than a tinkering alien. Let me submit here a radical proposal: If manifest divine "interventions" are the main basis for belief in God you may as well drop the whole concept of God and become an atheist.

I'm not going to do justice to Alexander's account here - he really needs to be read - but he also is highly critical of "naturalism" and by implication its subliminal philosophy of dualism,. However, I will give some sample quotes from Alexander. I don't myself necessarily accept the plain neo-Darwinist ideas of the academic establishment, but I believe Alexander is right in saying that Darwin's explication of creation as a process had the ironic consequence of actually giving traction to the idea that God was immanent and active in creation. For example, Alexander quotes Aubrey Moore, a fellow of St John's College Oxford and curator of the Oxford botanical gardens  in Victorian times:

There are not, and cannot be, any Divine interpositions in nature, for God cannot interfere with Himself. His creative activity is present  everywhere. There is no division of labour between God and nature, or God and law...For the Christian theologian the facts of nature are the acts of God. (p. 202)

What's gone wrong since then? Christian theology, at least among the de-facto IDists and fundamentalists seems to have gone backwards since the nineteenth century! The above exposes the theological naivety of trying to put the intelligence of God in a similar category to that of aliens or humans who work very much within the created order. The only thing I would want to add to the above is that like an author of a book God has different attitudes toward what he brings forth from platonic space for reification by his permissive or  proactive will.

At the very least the quote from Moore does bring out Alexander's point that evolution favored explications that moved away from deism and dualism towards a full-time rather than part-time dualist-deist God. (At this juncture we must bear in mind that there are arguments against the notion that the creation didn't initially contain death as is maintain by most fundamentalists -  see Alexander's comments here)

If I'm not careful I could end up quoting the whole of chapter 8 but here are some further samples:

This rapid baptism of evolution into the Christian doctrine of creation, so characteristic on both sides of the Atlantic, was facilitated by a strongly providential theology that emphasized the total sovereignty of God over the whole created order. (p. 203)

Given that context it's no surprise that Alexander has turned against so-called "naturalism" and  also it seems "methodological naturalism":

We don't call Christian accountants 'naturalistic' because of the absence of theological terminology as they check the company accounts, any more than we expect our doctor to use theological language when she tells us that we've got the flu, or the mechanic to refer to Biblical texts when servicing our car. The absence of specific references to God does not render our lives suddenly 'naturalistic'. Quite the opposite: Christians walking with God in the power of the Spirit will be only too aware of God's presence and leading permeating every aspect of their daily lives. Naturalism is the philosophy that there is no God in the first place, so only an atheists can provide truly naturalistic explanations for anything. 
For the same reason I would not myself use the term 'methodological naturalism' to refer to what scientists do in their research, irrespective of their own personal beliefs. .....I would therefore suggest simply dropping the term 'methodological naturalism'

But today in the West we are in reactionary gnosto-dualistic times, so I don't suppose Christians unschooled in the nuances of the sciences will be able to unthink the well entrenched dualism of God vs "Natural Forces". In its place a defensive blend of anti-science Biblical liberalism and "touch of God" gnosticsm are likely to persist in Christian fundamentalist circles as they fight a retreating rearguard action. These people are unlikely to listen to Denis Alexander or any other Christian member of the academic establishment for that matter. For the extremists that establishment is all part of the end-time satanic conspiracy!

More on the false dichotomy zone

 ...and so on and so forth!

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