By Joe Kay WSWS 15 March 2007
The proof of the materialist world outlook lies in the entire historical experience of mankind in its interaction with nature, particularly in the extraordinary development of scientific knowledge over the past several hundred years. The proof of materialism is demonstrated in this historical practice, whereby mankind has not only formed hypotheses, but realized these hypotheses in the transformation of the material world.
It has become a fad among those who argue that science and religion are compatible, while also arguing strongly for the teaching of evolution in schools (and perhaps most prominent among these is Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education), to make a distinction between methodological naturalism and metaphysical naturalism. Science, according to these thinkers, depends on methodological naturalism—the assumption during scientific experimentation that there exists nothing outside the material world of cause and effect. This is distinct from the claim that there is actually nothing outside of this material world of cause and effect.
Such an argument, taken up by those who would defend science education, in fact undermines the foundation of science altogether, since it eliminates any solid connection between scientific investigation and reality. There may exist a God—or any other supernatural entity—but science can never discover this underlying truth (what Kant would term the noumena), since science relies on the assumption of causal relationships and natural law-governed processes, which supposedly may or may not allow humans to arrive at a complete understanding of the universe.
The ability of science to predict and transform the material world demonstrates, however, that it is not only a useful method, but a means of arriving at an understanding of the real world. Through a rigorous system of observation, reason, hypotheses and experimentation, science allows humans to arrive at truths about the world as it is “in itself.” It is a systematic means of testing the truth of our conceptions through practical interaction with the world. Its rationality is what distinguishes science from religion, which in one way or another relies on the irrational, on superstition, on “faith.”
Religious belief and social history: Dawkins does not deal seriously with any of these philosophical issues, and his defense of atheism, while important, is ultimately unconvincing and superficial. He devotes a considerable amount of space in his book to discussing the various “proofs” for the existence of God (the cosmological argument, the argument from design, etc.), all of which have been refuted a hundred times already, and to which Dawkins adds nothing new. Most of these proofs (such as the assertion that every effect must have a cause, a recession that must lead ultimately to an uncaused cause, which is God) are not remotely convincing to anyone who does not already believe in God, and their refutation will not in general be convincing to anyone who does.