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.


CHUCKtheAtheist said...

Hi Lee! I read your post with great interest. I'll have to check my dog-eared copy of God Delusion to confirm your impression that Dawkins believes that the religious have no business doing science. I'm not so sure that he is really making that conjecture. I think the main point in the carnival of ideas that Gnu (New)Atheists are trying to convey is that religious viewpoints, not religious people contribute nothing to the advancement of science.

Here I would have to agree. Science as you know deals with solely naturalistic explanations. Supernatural ideas can't be tested or verified, and thus can't really contribute to our scientific understanding of the natural world. Darwin clearly showed us that no supernatural causes or interventions are necessary to explain the diversity of life on our planet. It is for this reason that Theistic Evolution really is untenable. Evolution is entirely a blind process. There's no evidence whatsoever that at any point supernatural interventions have happened. A case could be made that God has little or nothing to do in the modern conception of cosmic evolution either with folks like Stephen Hawking coming to the realization that invoking God is not necessary to explain the origin of the universe. But I think as a science educator you are well aware of these sentiments and understand that the supernatural explanations really don't advance science per se. How could they?

I may not be reading you correctly, but I think your main conscern is that you have come to believe that New Atheists are engaged in some sort of conspiracy to eliminate religious-minded folks entirely from the scientific enterprise? I've heard this before. The Discovery Institute in their film, "Darwin's Dilemma" go to great lengths to try to show that creationists are actively being outed, and weeded out of academia. If you were listening to Behe or other IDers at a creationist conference, I would bet that this nonsense was stated as fact. Do a little investigating, and you will find that no such conspriracy really exists. What this amounts to is a rhetorical tactic. Sean B. Carroll in his book, "The Making of the Fittest" has delineated several tactics that evolution-deniers frequently use. The anti-religion in science conspiracy falls under the appeal to freedom. That religionists are being denied a basic freedom to express their views in a scientific context. Carroll's book is really good. I wrote a post here about his treatment of rhetorical tactics that evolution-deniers use. What they bring to the table is not valid information that brings into question the secular of science, but obfuscation, duplicity, and manipulation. This conspiracy has been well documented.

Lee said...

Good words, Chuck, and I'll check into the sources you gave. I'm right with you on how supernatural explanations shouldn't be part of science. (Oops! Did I just agree with the New Atheists?) This is why I think neither creationism or Intelligent Design have no place in the public school classroom.

I appreciate your comment much. As I continue this series on the five kinds of scientist, I'll make sure to check my facts before I write on the New Atheists. I bet you've kept me out of the ditch on that one.