2005 Salt Lake City Annual Meeting (October 16–19, 2005)

Paper No. 2
Presentation Time: 8:15 AM


WICKHAM, John S., Earth & Environmental Science, Univ of Texas at Arlington (UTA), UTA Box 19049, Arlington, TX 76019, Wickham@uta.edu

The opposition to evolution by many in the US is a philosophical/religious issue, and has little to do with the scientific validity of evolution. While intelligent design (ID) is based on an error, its appeal is due to that fact that many confuse methodology with metaphysics and see evolution primarily as a philosophical position, not an established scientific theory. The scientific method has been described as methodological naturalism in contrast to ontological* naturalism or physicalism. The scientific method requires testing of hypotheses and theories by repeated observations that can confirm or falsify the hypothesis. Therefore, it cannot investigate unique events, or events that are observed by only one person. A common form of ontological naturalism goes further and claims: 1) that the only things and causes that exist are natural or physical; 2) that the scientific method is the best (and only) way we know to find the truth about reality; 3) that the supernatural (God) is not necessary, and unique events that cannot, in principle, be explained by natural causes do not occur. Scientists and philosophers who are ontological naturalists, have used the theory of evolution to support their philosophical position, because historically, speciation and/or the origin of life were considered unique events that were the result of God's action which gave purpose and meaning to nature in general and humans in particular. The religious public has come to identify evolution with ontological naturalism, and not just a description of the way nature operates, like the “law of gravity”. The best strategy for addressing the concerns of many of the religious public, is not only to point out the error of ID, but also to confirm: 1) that the scientific method excludes the miraculous and the supernatural, not because it cannot happen, but because the method cannot consider it; 2) that the scientific method and evolution are not the same thing as ontological naturalism; and 3) that we do not teach ontological naturalism in science classes.

* Having to do with being, existence and the nature of reality.