Evolution, Naturalism, and Theism: An Inconsistent Triad?

Dissertation, Marquette University (2018)


Philosophy in the 19th century experienced a ‘turn from idealism,’ when idealist philosophies were largely abandoned for materialist ones. Scientific naturalism is now considered by many analytic philosophers to be the new orthodoxy, largely in part due to the success of the scientific method. The New Atheists, such as Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins, claim it is Darwin in particular who deserves much of the credit for repudiating the traditional Mind-first world view. Some, like Alvin Plantinga and Michael Behe, maintain the opposite, that evolution casts doubt on naturalism and supports theism. This dissertation seeks to determine just what exactly the logical implications of evolutionary theory are. Is evolution incompatible with theism? Does the acceptance of evolution necessarily entail naturalism and preclude theism? Is it possible, as naturalism maintains, that everything can be reduced to physical processes, or are there too many recalcitrant phenomena that defy reduction? Answering these involves a detailed analysis of the concepts, ‘evolution,’ ‘naturalism,’ and ‘theism.’ Just what exactly does accepting evolutionary theory entail? How is it different from Darwinism? Is evolution guided or unguided? What is naturalism? There are many different types of metaphysical naturalists: eliminative materialists, physicalists, and emergent property dualists. What is the relationship between metaphysical naturalism and methodological naturalism? Theism affirms a creator God who sustains all being, who is transcendent and yet immanent. So if theism posits a God who is active in the world, does this mean that scientific investigation may at times have to admit supernatural explanations when natural ones fail? My general conclusion is a type of mitigated skepticism – that given evolution, neither naturalism nor theism logically follows. As to whether evolution is guided or unguided, the only correct position is ‘undetermined.’ In this instance metaphysical positions may fill in the gaps in knowledge by projection, but cannot fulfill the necessary and sufficient conditions required for knowledge. Metaphysical naturalism and theism are worldviews that an individual adopts as the most overall coherent explanation of the wide variety of experiences, intuitions, and reflections on their life. Whether evolution offers evidence for one and against the other is often based upon one’s prior metaphysical assumptions, since all facts are theory laden. The underdetermination of theory allows for multiple theories to cover the same phenomena, with each offering an epistemically adequate explanation. However, numerous recalcitrant anomalies which defy scientific explanation and reduction present problems for the strict naturalist. While neither naturalism nor theism can be determined to be objectively true, one can offer reasons for choosing one or the other on the basis of overall coherence.

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