The decision by Judge Jones excluding intelligent design from public education has been lauded by defenders of evolution, including atheistic evolutionists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, who use evolutionary biology as a launching point for a defense of atheism. However, it seems to me that if we look carefully at the foundations of the Jones decision, the decision really makes sense only on the basis of arguments that decisively undermine the attempt to base a case for naturalism on evolution.
The Evolutionary Argument For Naturalism (EAFN) goes like this:
1. If naturalism is false, and theism is true, then we should be able to find evidence of design through biological investigation.
2. But we do not find that evidence of design through biological investigation. Instead, (to use the phrasing found in the subtitle of The Blind Watchmaker), the evidence of evolution reveals a world without design.
3. Therefore evolutionary evidence supports naturalism, and provides evidence against theism.
Now let’s look at the basis on which Jones rejects ID. He maintains that ID fails to be scientific on the grounds that “it violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting supernatural causation.” In other words, the problem with ID is methodological.
This methodological argument gets ID out of the way all right. But it’s a poison pill for the EAFN. If you are maintaining that the evidence of evolution reveals a world without design, then you are perforce presupposing that the evidence of evolution could have revealed something else had the evidence been different. But it does so at a heavy price for the EAFN. It effectively supports a very different argument, an argument I shall call the Methodological Argument for the Metaphysical Neutrality of Science, or MAMNS.
A good statement of MAMNS is found in the philosophy of religion textbook Reason and Religious Belief by Peterson, Hasker, Reichenbach, and Basinger. They write:
“As we try to assess ID, it is difficult (to) feel the force of its criticism of methodological naturalism per se. Methodological naturalism is simply the process of looking for natural causes for natural phenomena, a disciplined focus that has been the secret of science’s success. Methodological naturalism is neutral about whether any nonnatural phenomenon or supernatural reality exists. The fact the some atheistic scientists---such as Dawkins and others---believe that methodological naturalism favors philosophical naturalism reflects their own misunderstanding of the neutrality of science. Ironically, this misunderstanding is shared by ID thinkers! So the theme of conflict between religion and established science is very strong in both groups.”
MAMNS could be formalized as follows:
1. Evolutionary biology is the result of the application of methodological naturalism to biological phenomena.
2. If evolutionary biology is methodologically naturalistic, then it is not equipped to adjudicate between naturalism and theism, without begging the question.
3. Thus while the evidence of evolution is not free to mention design as an explanation for biological phenomena, neither can it actually establish the lack of design. All it can do is to provide the best account of biological phenomena that we can come up with without appealing to design.
It is important to remember the context of this decision. The plaintiffs in the case were trying to impugn ID as violation of the Establishment Clause. Now if you accept the EAFN, then just as you have to worry about ID violating the Establishment Clause if you teach it in school, you would then have to also worry about the claim that the teaching of evolution in school violates the establishment clause, since the evidence of evolution would then be used to support a religious position, namely atheism. Such a difficulty could be avoided if Jones were to embrace MAMNS, however. Under MAMNS, evolution is just science doing its job, but ID is an overstepping of the boundaries of science. The Jones decision (made by a churchgoing Republican judge) makes sense only if MAMNS is a good argument.
If the argumentation here is correct, then you can accept the Jones decision, or you can accept the EAFN. But you cannot do both.