Monthly Archives: February 2014

Is Naturalism a religion?

A couple of days ago Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum debated Bill Nye on the topic “Is creation a viable model of origin in today’s modern scientific era?”  Early in Mr. Ham’s introductory remarks he suggested that Naturalism is a religion and that if creationism can’t be taught in public schools, that naturalism should be prevented as well. Is Ken Ham right?  Is Naturalism a religion?  What is Naturalism anyway?  What is religion?  What would science education be without naturalism?

Naturalism, as defined by Wikipedia, is the philosophical idea that only natural laws and forces operate in the world or that there is nothing in the world beyond what can be observed in nature.  So, I guess, Ham implied that not believing in a god is a religion.  That sounds self-contradictory to me.  Perhaps we need to dig a bit deeper.  Some philosophers distinguish different forms of naturalism.  There is philosophical naturalism and methodological naturalism.  Philosophical naturalism is essentially the naturalism defined in the first sentence of this paragraph.  There is observable nature and nothing else.  Methodological naturalism centers on the process or method of knowing (which Ken Ham pointed out is the Latin definition of science) about nature.  That is the scientific process.  By definition, methodological naturalism excludes SUPERNATURAL explanations.  So, potentially, someone could accept methodological naturalism as a way of discovering how the world works (e.g., where it came from, how it functions, etc) and embrace a supernatural worldview that gives their life meaning (why am I here?, what is my purpose?, what happens when I die?).

So methodological naturalism is clearly NOT a religion, but philosophical naturalism could be.  But that begs the question, “What is religion?” Again, if we consult Wikipedia, religion is a collection of beliefs, cultural systems and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence.  In short, it is a collection of customs that a group of people share in common.  It is interesting to note the etymology of religion is fuzzy which potentially hampers determining its original definition. It may refer to holding gods in reverence, considering something carefully, or to bind together.  So by the first etymology, methodological naturalism is not a religion.  By the second and third definitions it could be, I suppose.  I suggest the latter, because science does require careful consideration and the scientific community is bound certain processes and rituals (consider the peer-review process or the ritual associated with performing a radioimmunoassay.)  Philosophical naturalism may also be a religion if reverence of nature is replaced for reverence of gods, perhaps.  During the debate, Bill Nye commented on his wonderment for the natural world and the process of discovery.  I must admit I have felt it myself.

Back to the original question, should naturalism be outlawed in public education?  I think not.  The naturalism taught in public schools is methodological naturalism and is the only way to advance scientific progress.  Recognizing a creationism model for origins opens up a garbage can of worms no one (especially the religious right in America) wants to deal with.  Which creation “hypothesis” do we teach in American public education?  Clearly we cannot limit it to the Christian version, but where then DO we limit it?  Do Americans want their children exposed to “other” religions in school?  That is in indirect opposition to the first amendment.

As I said earlier, a creationist model hinders progress.  How did the Earth form?  God did it. Done. Now what?  Instead we need to be teaching kids good, solid science methodology so they can explore the wonders of nature in an intelligent and meaningful way.  The notion that we can advance technologically without methodological naturalism is simply not true.  Creationism stifles wonder.  It prevents kids from asking questions and more importantly from seeking answers.


Don’t keep the keg by the TV during an Evolution/Creation debate

I just watched the Nye-Ham debate on YouTube.  I intend to give a more thorough treatment to the debate tomorrow, but I wanted to get a couple of thoughts into cyberspace tonight as the blogoshere explodes in the aftermath.

1.  Don’t keep the keg of homebrew next to the tv during a science vs creation debate.  Much imbibing will ensue.

2.  Citing your cadre of hack PhD ‘s may impress those who have not been in graduate school.  Those of us who have are not impressed (I am can at least say I did not go to the same Oklahoma university as Fabich)

3.  Evolution does not mean antiGod

4.  Did Ken Ham really have to make a statement about gay marriage in a Creation/Evolution debate?  No he’s a prick. (Again homebrew by the TV a bad idea)

5.  Observational science/historical science is a false dichotomy.  Both follow the same process called the scientific method.

6.  Are we really still confusing methodological naturalism with philosophical naturalism?

7.  Yes, science does make assumptions in formulating radiometric dating, the big bang, etc.  But isn’t divine creation by THE CHRISTIAN God  an assumption, too? (see next)

8.  Why is the Bible the “Go to” book?  Why not the Quaran,  Taiji tushuo, or one of the Native American creation myths?

9.  What is a “kind” anyway?

10.  It’s okay in science to say, “We don’t know, yet.”

Petrochemical Junkie

A couple of weeks ago I participated in a poetry reading organized by English Professor Amy Hall at Northwestern Oklahoma State University.  For my 20 minutes of mic time I ready a couple of longer pieces I had written about the origin of life on Earth and one about the oil boom in Northwestern Oklahoma.  I also shared some rather ribald limericks about various animals sex lives.

 In today’s post I want to “put myself out there” a bit and share the poem about our dependence on oil.  The poem is called “Petrochemical Junkie.”  Bare in mind that I am a biologist, so my not so subtle use of metaphor is likely lame, but the prose is heart felt.  I developed the verses over the period of about 6 weeks driving my son back and forth from Alva to Wichita for baseball practice (a regular reminder of MY dependence on oil) twice a week.  It is a two hour trip one way.  It is impossible to scan the horizon from any location along our route and not see at least one drilling rig or well head.  Often you can see five or six.  It wrenches my gut to see the scars on the land and I feel as if too few are aware of the price we are paying.

So, give this poem a read and let me know your thoughts.  Perhaps over the next few weeks I will let slip a few of my limericks, too.  After all, who wouldn’t want to hear about the sex lives of bathypelagic anglerfish in verse?

Petrochemical Junkie


So beautiful, so clean

Untouched and pristine

Like a virgin maiden

Full of life and possibility

Too pretty to be a junkie


They said just a little for everyone

You’ve gotta have it to have some fun

What could it hurt, just a bit

Full of life and invincibility

Too strong to be a Junkie


The first hits were good

The euphoria was  like a flood

Everyone wanted more

Now we’re in deep how could this be

Too many tracks not to be a junkie


We’re not addicted to heroin or cocaine

It’s oil that’s become our bane

Money clouds our judgment

Look around its plain to see

We are all a petrochemical junkie


These wells are needles hitting veins

And the drilling pads are leaving stains

We’ve become dependent on the stuff

We are living in disharmony

Because we are a petrochemical junkie


Fracking fills her body with shit

We look away we see none of it

The damage will be slow to heal

We’ve stimulated the economy

Small price to pay as a petrochemical junkie


We have to stop the wanton abuse

She can’t sustain this overuse

It’s not too late to start anew

Even addicts seek recovery

So can we as a petrochemical junkie

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