Saturday, June 18, 2011

5 Kinds of Scientists

Something has been rolling around in my head for a while. I'm beginning to see that there are 5 kinds of scientists when it comes to how they view evolution. The good scientists at the National Academy got me thinking about the first three kinds, but recently, I've realized that there are two more.

First, the three kinds identified by the National Academy: On page 15 of Science, Evolution, and Creationism, the authors line out how scientists can be scientific materialists, deists, or theists. This statement has been a game changer for me and for many of the teachers I have spoken to. In it, the National Academy has clearly kept the door to practicing science open to religious people like me. They refused to exclude us, and I'm grateful for their courage and clarity. Their statement has been a key platform in my talks on teaching evolution. If religious scientists aren't excluded from practicing science, then religious students shouldn't be excluded from learning about evolution. We must stop telling students, "Check your faith at the door. This is a science class."

What I'm seeing now, though, is that there are actually two other kinds at the fringes of the National Academies three. These other two kinds break long-standing scientific traditions about methodological naturalism, which is probably why the National Academy didn't consider them. One fringe group stands at the edges of theistic scientists; the other lurks at the edge of scientific materialists.

The first fringe category is pretty clear, and it's the Creationists and Intelligent Design advocates. They argue that science should consider supernatural as well as natural causes. As I heard Michael Behe explain last night, scientists should follow the evidence wherever it leads. If it leads to an intelligent designer, as Behe believes, then that's good scientific thinking. He just crossed the line of methodological naturalism, however, and that opens the door to the chaos of scientists having to figure out which supernatural explanations from all the religions in the world get considered.

The second fringe category is more subtle, and as a religious person, it's the one that concerns me more. It's closely aligned with the New Atheists, and it basically says that religious people themselves, not religious explanations, should be excluded from practicing science. Here, think about Dawkin's God Delusion and how delusional people don't make good scientists. The problem with these fringe scientists is that they are breaking long standing scientific traditions about philosophical naturalism. Science has never excluded people who believe in the supernatural, but in its modern formulation it has always said that scientists must stick to natural explanations in their work and publications. These fringe scientists make scientific materialism not just one of three possible views, as the National Academy has said. Instead, they make it a requirement for all scientists, excluding me and every other religious person from doing science. They have just opened the door to the chaos of elite science where only a few enlightened individuals can understand science, and the implications of that stance are hugely sinister.