A Pathway to Objective Morality: Why the Case for Scientific Humanism is Rational


In response to my January, 2019 column (“Stein’s Law and Science’s Mission: The Case for Scientific Humanism”), California State University historian Richard Weikart, who is also a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture (an Intelligent Design creationism advocacy organization), has written a critique in which he claims “Michael Shermer once again confuses science with atheism, and inexplicably claims that science can support humanism.”

By Michael Shermer | Skeptic.com

He says that I try “to rewrite history by insisting that science is built on atheist assumptions.” Even though I never mention atheism, in the following passage from my column Weikart says “scientific naturalism as defined here is atheism.” Judge for yourself:

Modern science arose in the 16th and 17th centuries following the Scientific Revolution and the adoption of scientific naturalism, or the belief that the world is governed by natural laws and forces that are knowable, that all phenomena are part of nature and can be explained by natural causes, and that human cognitive, social, and moral phenomena are no less a part of that comprehensible world.

Atheism is simply the lack of belief in a God. Full stop. It is not a worldview, paradigm, or ideology. Most atheists, of course, embrace scientific naturalism as I’ve defined it, but so do many modern theists such as the renowned geneticist and Director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, whom Weikart says would not accept “this atheistic definition of science.” On the contrary, I know Dr. Collins and include our dialogue on this very topic in my book The Believing Brain (2011, Henry Holt) in which he reiterates his rejection of Intelligent Design creationism (his book The Language of God is one of the best refutations of all forms of creationism) and affirms his commitment to scientific naturalism without an underlying atheist assumption. On the evolution of the moral sense, for example, Collins told me “that wouldn’t rule out that God planned it, since for a theistic evolutionist like myself, evolution was God’s awesome plan for all creation. If God’s plan could give rise to toenails and temporal lobes, why not also a moral sense?” As Collins defined it in a 2006 article in Nature titled “Building Bridges”, theistic evolution is the position that “evolution is real, but that it was set in motion by God.”

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