Stealing from God: Science

The idea that the mind is somehow independent of the natural order is, as I’ve previously mentioned, at the root of all theistic thought. In most cases, this is something that appears to be assumed subconsciously. Turek, however, states it explicitly when he claims that there are two types of cause: “natural and nonnatural (i.e., intelligent).” This is already bad enough. After all, why think that minds aren’t natural entities? But what he then does with this nonsensical claim is far worse: he uses it to make a truly absurd argument against methodological naturalism.

Turek reasons that, since atheists accept methodological naturalism — and thus only believe in natural causes — they have no way of accounting for the existence of anything that is the result of intelligence. After all, intelligence isn’t natural, so how could they? It follows that on the atheist’s view, “geologists would have to conclude that natural forces (not intelligent sculptors) caused the faces on Mt. Rushmore,” and “detectives would have to conclude that Ron [Goldman] and Nicole [Brown Simpson] were not actually murdered, but died by some natural means.”

He admits that geologists and detectives, as well as archeologists, don’t actually rule out intelligent causes as explanations of phenomena. They realize that the Rosetta Stone wasn’t the result of wind and rain (though how he thinks they can arrive at such a conclusion if they happen to be atheists isn’t explained). Most biologists, on the other hand, do reject intelligent causes, he says. And that, of course, is why they conclude that the obvious design found in living systems wasn’t really designed.

But if biologists really do reject all intelligent causes, they must believe that the human mind plays no role in the world. They must therefore believe that things like the Empire State Building and the U.S. Constitution were caused by something other than human intelligence — maybe by wind and rain? Turek doesn’t say so, but something like that must follow if we accept his reasoning. It never seems to have occurred to Turek that methodological naturalists actually regard intelligent causes as natural — a very simple point that completely destroys his entire argument. Or could it be that it did occur to him but he wanted to fool his readers into thinking how stupid those like Richard Dawkins must be?

Turek doesn’t stop there. He goes on to claim that what distinguishes most atheistic scientists from those “open to intelligent causes” is that the former do not accept the principle of the uniformity of nature. This is the principle which states (roughly) that similar causes lead to similar effects. Since we do not see nonintelligent causes inscribing Egyptian hieroglyphs into rock today, “it’s reasonable to assume… they couldn’t have done it in the past.” And since we only see such thing today if they are the result of human effort, “we conclude intelligent humans made the Rosetta Stone.” Atheists, however, cannot do this, as he’s already shown. Therefore, they must not accept the principle of uniformity: "scientists should look for the best explanation by using the principle of uniformity — that causes in the past were like those in the present. Scientists open to intelligent causes do that, while most atheistic scientists do not.”

Turek makes many other crazy claims in this chapter. Among the more amazing is that only those who believe in actual design in nature can accept the field known as biomimetics, which models machines on biological systems (since “we’ve discovered that ‘Nature’ does it much better than we do”). Thus, “being open to design will advance, not hinder, technological progress.” I guess if you don’t believe biological systems were intentionally designed, you just cannot model machines on them — though why that might be is, once again, left unexplained.

Turek's criticism of science shows, even more than the rest of his book, that he is dealing with concepts he just doesn't have the ability to handle. Parts of it read almost like a satire of creationist thought. He concludes by stating that “science rightly understood can point to our Creator, who has the answers” (emphasis added). But then why don’t religious scientists simply ask the Creator to give them all the answers? Why bother doing science at all?

Next time: the concluding chapters

Franz Kiekeben is a former lecturer in philosophy and the author of two books on atheism, The Truth about God, and Atheism: Q & A. He has also written for Skeptic magazine and published academic articles on determinism and on time travel.