Monday, September 7, 2009

Science as a Worldview

Today I'm going to talk about metaphysical naturalism. Simply put, metaphysical naturalism is the belief that everything that exists is natural. Natural, in this instance, refers to anything that can be studied scientifically. The assumption here is that everything that exists can be studied scientifically. In other words, this is science as a world view.

I bring this up in the hopes of clarifying some of the issues that come up whenever people discuss conflicts between scientific and religious truth. Many religious people feel the need to reject or ignore the conclusions of science because of their faith, while many atheists claim that a scientific understanding of the world rules out a traditional understanding of God. Both of these beliefs are rooted in the same fallacy.

That fallacy is the assumption that if science is a source of knowledge then it must be the only source of knowledge. The important thing to realize is that this isn't a scientific claim. Even if we believe that everything that science teaches us is true, we can still believe that their are other truths available that are beyond the grasp of science.

In fact, most people accept that other kinds of knowledge can exist along with scientific knowledge. The clearest example I can think of is mathematical knowledge. Mathematical proofs are arrived at using a completely different method than scientific theories. Most people accept that scientific and mathematical truth can exist side by side, even though they represent two radically different approaches to uncovering truth.

When people start to consider religious truths; however, it's a different story. There are probably several reasons why this is so, but the simplest explanation is that, as a rule, religious truth doesn't play nice. Religious truth is almost always the most controversial kind of truth. Moreover, unlike science or math or any other discipline you might care to name, religious truth always defines a person's world view.

This is a good reason not to try and teach religion in a public setting, but it's a poor reason to give up on religious truth altogether. Too many people look at the many different religions of the world, and at the controversy surrounding religious beliefs, and they decide it's not worth trying to figure out.

The reason why religious debates are so controversial is because people's world views are at stake. Since a person's world view informs all of their other beliefs these arguments can become very passionate. And because world views define a person's basic assumptions about reality it is incredibly difficult to find common ground.

The thing to understand if you adopt metaphysical naturalism as a world view is that, at the end of the day, it's just another belief system. The choice isn't inherently more rational just because you chose to look to science as the only source of truth. In fact, the only choice you're making is to ignore every other source of truth that might be out there.

Hopefully reading this will help to clarify some of the debates concerning science and religion. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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