by Denyse O'Leary
Hunter is somewhat sympathetic to theistic naturalism, and - unlike many of naturalism's opponents - does not argue that most theistic naturalists are closet atheists. Indeed, he writes,
The urge toward naturalism is understandable, and charges of atheism and materialism are unfounded and unhelpful. But the rationalists also need to be careful. With their metaphysical and methodological a priori axioms in place, rationalists make high truth claims. Their powerful epistemological foundation allows them to firmly pronounce what is true and what is false. How often do we hear that this or that evidence PROVES evolution to be true? A little bit of data goes a long way when one has the framework of theological naturalism already in place. The universally held position is that evolution is not a model or hypothesis but an undeniable fact. In all this there is an unspoken dependency on controversial premises. (p. 140)
Still, Hunter is obviously in the empiricists' camp because he devotes several chapters to evidence from nature that presents conundrums for the orthodox naturalist - evidence that is routinely avoided when addressing the public.
That is because the rationalist must deny every instance of design. The empiricist has no similar problem with law or chance:
For empiricists, the scientific information we have does not readily convert to comprehensive explanations that we can know to be true. When it comes to origins, we are still left with many questions. Of course, empiricists have their own opinions about these questions, but they differ among themselves, and typically they are less sure than are rationalists.
One reason that empiricists lack well-defined philosophical assumptions is the complexity of these issues. For instance, where rationalists are quick to employ the infinite regress to argue for naturalism, empiricists engage in lengthy, detailed debates about what it portends. ... Empiricists differ among themselves and feel free to proceed with the science without having all the difficult questions firmly resolved. (P. 141)
For centuries it has been observed that nature appears to have been designed. But rationalism, with is metaphysical axioms, has constrained the sciences to naturalism. This has led to a blind spot, as only naturalistic explanations may be considered. If those naturalistic explanation are correct, then all is well. But today's rationalism has proclaimed them to be correct by fiat. That is metaphysical certainty, not scientific certainty. ( P. 146 )
He regards intelligent design theory as moderate empiricism:
Intelligent design cuts the strong tie between the historical and experimental sciences that rationalism requires. It is mainly interested in pursuing the experimental sciences without a priori assumptions about what is the right answer ... We should not assume that we know the kind of answers science must produce when there is much uncertainty. The world may have arisen by any of a variety of means and there is little to be gained by prematurely narrowing the choices. (P. 147)
Unless, of course, we are very sure what we must never believe. And if you are a theistic naturalist, remember, God's honour is at stake. And for some reason it is very, very fragile.
Return to Introduction
Toronto-based Canadian journalist Denyse O'Leary (www.designorchance.com) is the author of the multiple award-winning By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy. She was named CBA Canada's Recommended Author of the Year in 2005 and is co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of the forthcoming The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).
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