As our culture becomes more secularized it has become fashionable to see "science" as one of the engines of this secularization. As science advances, religion must retreat—so the theory goes. This viewpoint draws much of its continuing inspiration from two books in the late nineteenth century. John William Draper wrote History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science in 1874 and Andrew Dickson White penned A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in 1896. Both books came to exemplify what became known as the "warfare thesis" in the history of the relationship between science and religion. Contemporary historians recognize that the "warfare thesis" is much too simplistic and that Draper and White's arguments are not well supported.
"Today historians of science generally no longer favor a conflict model. Colin Russell, formerly the president of Christians in Science, criticized the conflict model noting that, 'Draper takes such liberty with history, perpetuating legends as fact that he is rightly avoided today in serious historical study. The same is nearly as true of White, though his prominent apparatus of prolific footnotes may create a misleading impression of meticulous scholarship'."
Although the "warfare thesis" has suffered at the hands of historians who recognize a more interactive approach, the view continues to find expression in our culture. Since this is the case it may be prudent to consider more fully another way of challenging this thesis.
Naturalism: Definition and Challenges
For many the pursuit of science is thought to require a belief in naturalism. Naturalism can be defined in various ways but atheistic philosopher Kai Nielson captures the main core of naturalism in the following manner:
"Naturalism denies that there are any spiritual or supernatural realities transcendent to the world or at least we have no good ground for believing that there could be such realities... It is the view that anything that exists is ultimately composed of physical components."
Naturalism, as a worldview, is not without its own philosophical difficulties. In its denial of any supernatural reality and its affirmation of the merely physical naturalism has difficulty accounting for objective morality and ultimate meaning in life. For those who are more convinced of objective moral realism and ultimate meaning in life these items become reason to reject naturalism. However, some naturalists are simply willing to jettison objective morality and meaning as a necessary consequence of their belief in naturalism. The late William Provine of Cornell never tired of speaking of this reality. He argued, "Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exist; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent." Philosophers Tamler Sommers and Alex Rosenberg come to the same conclusions:
"Darwinism thus puts the capstone on a process which since Newton's time has driven teleology to the explanatory sidelines. In short it has made Darwinians into metaphysical nihilists denying that there is any meaning or purpose to the universe its contents and its cosmic history. But in making Darwinians into metaphysical nihilists, the solvent algorithm [random variation acted on by natural selection--rjk] should have made them into ethical nihilists too. For intrinsic values and obligations make sense only against the background of purposes, goals, and ends which are not merely instrumental."
If the reasoning of these thinkers is to be accepted then it seems as if a naturalistic pursuit of science leads to the loss of both morality and meaning—at least in any objective sense. But what if naturalism entails the loss of something more? What if naturalism leads to the undermining of the scientific enterprise itself?