Are we not plunging continually backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there an up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night and more night coming on all the time?
But...if naturalism is true... well, then, don't we need to accept reality and deal with it? And isn't it the case that science has pretty much demonstrated naturalism to be true?
Isn't it the case that even Christian apologist Philip Johnson admits that naturalism has, philosophically speaking, essentially won the day?
The most influential intellectuals in America and around the world are mostly naturalists, who assume that God exists only as an idea in the minds of religious believers. In our great universities, naturalism—the doctrine that nature is “all there is”—is the virtually unquestioned assumption that underlies not only the natural sciences, but intellectual work of all kinds.
Naturalism has essentially won the day.
And because of this, it's hard to even have a discussion with many atheists, who equate science with naturalism. For them the issue of the truth of naturalism is a closed issue. For them, the first and greatest commandment of the modern world, engraved on stone tablets by the fingers of men like Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking reads, "I, Science, am the Lord thy God that brought thee out of bondage to religious superstition. Thou shalt have no other gods before me."
So, is it true? Has "science" demonstrated the truth of the naturalist worldview?
1. First, the question of God's existence and whether or not a spiritual world exists---these are questions that are philosophical in nature, and religious. They're not questions that even could be answered by the use of the scientific method.
And it isn’t difficult to understand why this would be the case.
After all, the methods of science (observation, experimentation, etc.) are methods designed for the investigation of the empirical world. So how could such methods be used to demonstrate that "nothing exists but the empirical world?"
Or put another way, since science is all about investigating the natural world, if there existed entities other than or outside the natural world (for instance, God, angels, human souls) would they not by definition be outside the realm of what science investigates? In which case, how could science determine that they don't exist? In other words, because God, angels and human souls are spirit rather than material, it’s no evidence of God's non-existence that no scientist has seen Him in his microscope or telescope. Nor it is evidence of the non-existence of angels and human souls that no scientist has been able to weigh a soul on a scale or mix up a batch of angels in a test tube.
In short, it’s no evidence of the truth of naturalism that scientists applying the scientific method, employing scientific instruments and conducting scientific experiments---all designed for the study of the natural material universe---find only a natural material universe.
Makes sense. So how is it that so many in the scientific community speak as though naturalism has somehow been demonstrated or proven to be true?
2. It turns out that naturalism is something that is assumed. It's an article of faith.
Christian Philosopher Dallas Willard takes up this issue in an article titled Knowledge and Naturalism. Using atheist philosopher John Searle as an illustration of this trend of academics assuming the truth of naturalism, he points out how Searle will speak of "our scientific view of the world" and of "all our generally accepted theories about what sort of place the universe is..." and, without batting an eye, ask rhetorically, "After all, do we not know from the discoveries of science that there is really nothing in the universe but physical particles and fields of forces acting on physical particles?"
Searle assumes that everyone with a brain understands naturalism to be true. This is something we "know" from "the discoveries of science."
Well, not so fast. As Willard explains, while there are a number of scientific fields, each with its own subject matter and particular methodology (e.g. chemistry, astronomy, physics, mathematics, biology, anatomy, geology) “none of them has as their subject matter reality as a whole...”
Because of this, he argues...
…[H]ow can [the scientific method] support claims about the nature of reality as whole?.... Could one possibly find the place in some comprehensive and duly accredited scientific text or treatment, or some technical paper, where it is demonstrated or necessarily assumed by the science concerned that all that exists consists of particles or fields or strings--or whatever the proper subject matter of the science is?
It’s certainly the case that the modern scientific community, for the most part, holds to a naturalist worldview. It’s also certainly the case that naturalism is taught as though it were a proven fact of science, as though it were something “science” had actually demonstrated as true. The reality, however, is that naturalism is not even something that could be demonstrated as true on the basis of “science.”
Rather, naturalism serves as one of the agreed upon ground rules of modern science. It’s something that is stipulated. It’s an assumption that is made.
Naturalism, in other words, is something assumed rather than demonstrated.
Notice, there's a kind of philosophical sleight of hand taking place here. It goes like this: As science comes to understand the natural world better (the object of scientific examination), somehow "naturalism" (the philosophical position which asserts that nothing exists but the natural world) is shown to be true. And thus "Science" has demonstrated that God is nothing but a fanciful notion, as idea "born," as one atheist put it, "of the trembling minds of our ancestors.”
Now, someone might respond, “OK, so science cannot demonstrate the truth of naturalism as a worldview. But given the mind-blowing and undeniable successes of science, doesn't it make sense for us to accept what the majority of scientists believe about the nature of reality?
3. No. The successes of science in the fields of engineering and medicine and so many other fields have come as a result of the continued investigation of the natural world---something that obviously can be done by both those who believe in God and those who do not.
Until relatively recently, most of the great scientists of history were theists rather than atheists: Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Pascal, Descartes, Boyle, Francis Bacon, etc., etc. In fact, the man who fathered the big bang theory was George Lemaitre, a Belgian Catholic priest.
The successes of science have no logical connection to the belief that “all that exists is the natural world.” And since this is not something science has or could ever prove, the continued insistence of atheists that in some way science has demonstrated that naturalism is true—well, it’s either a purposeful sleight of hand, an attempt to sneak the naturalist worldview in on the white lab coat-tails of science, or it's just the result of unclear thinking.
"OK, but isn't it the case that science must assume a naturalistic worldview? After all, a scientist who proposed that it might be fairies who make leaves turn yellow in the fall is not likely to pursue the matter far enough to discover the real reason leaves turn yellow—the natural reason. Doesn't bringing God into the picture derail scientific investigation?"
4. Understood. So long as the naturalist scientist also understands that his absolute insistence upon “natural explanations” for everything ultimately limits his ability to come to the truth.
After all, if naturalism is true then obviously there must be a natural explanation for everything. What other kind of explanation could there be? But what if naturalism isn’t true. What if the universe we live in is more like the universe the Christian theist believes it is? What if God exists and the real world is comprised of material as well as non-material realities? What if God’s existence and our creation in God’s image and likeness is what accounts for human consciousness and freewill and the existence and authority of the laws of logic by which we reason and come to truth? What then?
In this case, wouldn’t the naturalist’s insistence on allowing as possibilities for discussion only natural explanations—wouldn’t this lead him away from the truth?
Imagine, for instance, investigating the feeding of the five thousand or the healing of the ten lepers or the resurrection of Christ and being told that only natural explanations are allowed. The condition would be equivalent of saying that the true explanation of these events will never be known.
Surely, most people expect science to be an unflinching and courageous search for the truth of things, whatever that truth might be. By assuming at the outset the truth of naturalism, modern science winds up being not a search for "the truth" but a search for natural explanations of everything.
And this seems to be the case not merely when what is being examined is leaves turning yellow but even when what is being examined has all the appearance of being non-material in nature, is experienced universally as non-material, cannot even be conceived in material terms---like the mind, thoughts, reason, personal consciousness. Doesn’t matter to the naturalist: these must be somehow reducible to material and only natural explanations will be entertained for them.
Even when a firm insistence on “natural explanations only” results in the very elimination of what we all know to exist (e.g. intentions, beliefs) or the reduction to deterministic biochemical processes of what we all know to be free (e.g. thoughts, the will), still the only explanations considered acceptable for discussion, the only explanations conceivable, the only explanations to be in any manner entertained by rational minds are—you guessed it—natural explanations.
Even when an adherence to naturalism destroys the very possibility of knowledge by reducing the very process of reasoning by which we come to knowledge to a deterministic physical process, the naturalist will continue to insist on "natural explanations only."
It’s enough to make you wish you were insane.
No. Naturalism is accepted as true by an increasing number of Westerners not because it has been demonstrated scientifically to be true, but because it is thought to have been.
In our next lesson we'll begin presenting the positive philosophical arguments for God's existence.