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Cross-Explanatory Reductionism

Certain biologists who reject the possibility that religious truth-claims could be valid go beyond a mere preference for a certain level of scientific explanation.

Monod, Dawkins, and E.O. WilsonSee Can Darwinism Rule Out Truth in Religion? (on Monod) - alsoRichard Dawkins and E.O.Wilson against the possibility of the truth of religion.are also what might be called ‘cross-explanatory reductionists’, in that they assert that naturalistic explanations, interpretative and descriptive in nature, render unnecessary explanations which give reasons in terms of purposes.

To them theistic truth-claims are unnecessary and misplaced, and the underlying reasons for them must be sought in terms of behaviours which were adaptive at earlier points in the history of humanity.

This cross-explanatory reductionism presumes not simply that lower-level, gene-based description is adequate, and other explanations such as the religious are therefore redundant, but that the lower-level, the scientific, is adequate and that therefore the religious must be wrong.Dawkins’ strategy for undermining the possibility of religious truth is actually two-pronged: One prong is to show that religion has failed as a scientific explanation in biology. It is not necessary...

The weakness of this sort of argument should be evident. It could be valid only if its particular, often unstated, presuppositions were also accepted. Dawkins’ presuppositions are listed by Keith Ward as:

  • that only material entities have any existence,
  • that the universe lacks purpose or meaning,
  • that scientific explanations are the only proper explanations.Ward, K, God, Chance and Necessity (Oxford: Oneworld, 1996) pp96f. See also Poole, M, Science and Christian Belief 6, (1) pp41-59 (1994).

As Ward shows, theism, which rejects these assumptions, operates on presuppositions of a similarly metaphysical kind, and may be considered to be a simpler and more comprehensive explanation of the universe as we find it.Ward, K, 1996, Chs.4-7, especially Ch.5.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

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