Saturday, April 2, 2011

Our limited friend

Many times science is pitted against the existence of God, as if you need to accept one or the other.  Is science in direct opposition to God?  Many who are naturalist would agree that the two fields of science and theology have nothing to do with one another.  For the naturalistic scientist, science trumps all arguments as the only reasonable avenue for ultimate truth.

Those who hold a naturalistic view do so with the assumption that the material universe is all there is.  Evolutionary scientist, Richard Dickerson has this to say about science, "Science, fundamentally, is a game. It is a game with one overriding and defining rule. Rule No. 1: Let us see how far and to what extent we can explain the behavior of the physical and material universe in terms of purely physical and material causes, without invoking the supernatural."[1] Niles Eldridge adds,  “If there is one rule, one criterion that makes an idea scientific, it is that it must invoke naturalistic explanations for phenomena … it’s simply a matter of definition—of what is science, and what is not.”[2]  But, can all reality be explained on a purely naturalistic level?

On a naturalistic level, all truth is determined by scientific investigation, but can this view take us to an ultimate truth as to how things really are?  What if a supernatural realm exists?  Obviously, if this is the case, then science only offers a limited view of truth.  Science writer, Kitty Ferguson, states, "if the supernatural world exists, and if it is inherently beyond testing by the scientific method, then there is truth beyond the range of scientific explanation."[3]

Science, although helpful in many ways, is itself limited.  There are a multitude of questions that science will never be able answer.  Where did the universe come from?  Surely, no credible scientist would say it came to be from nothing?  Why do we have the freedom of thought?  Will the naturalist say that we are simply programed machines?  And, if that is the case, why should anyone be held responsible for their actions?  How does one explain history on a naturalist scheme?  What formula can be offered to account for the resurrection of Jesus?  How about philosophical knowledge; is logic testable by way of the scientific method?  Do moral values open themselves up to the realm of science?

Scientific naturalism seems to be severely limited.  In fact,  scientific naturalism assumes that we can only think in one direction.  Richard Lewontin makes this point by saying, "We have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations…that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”[4]  But again, if truth is ultimately what is important, naturalism fails to answer in a comprehensive way.

What exactly is naturalism?  It is a one way, limited pursuit, as to what can be known in the material universe.  Naturalism can never answer the ultimate truth question, because of its limitations.  Not only does scientific naturalism turn out to be limited, but it presents itself as a philosophy in which to view the world.  Philip Johnson sums up naturalistic science, stating, "Evolutionary naturalism takes the inherent limitations of science and turns them into a devastating philosophical weapon: because science is our only real way of knowing anything, what science cannot know cannot be real."

 [1]  Dickerson, Richard, The Game of Science:Perspectives on Science and Faith (Vol. 44, June 1992), p. 137
[2]  Eldridge, Niles, The Monkey Business: A Scientist Looks at Creationism, Washington Square Press, 1982
[3]  Ferguson, Kitty, The Fire in the Equations, p. 82-83
[4]  Lewontin, Richard, Billions and Billions of Demons, p. 28

1 comment:

Keith Rozumalski said...

Nice article Shelby. I often hear naturalists say there is as much proof for Santa Clause, ferries or unicorns as there is for God. We actually can rule out some of these entities with the Santa Principle which says that a person is justified in believing that X does not exist if all of these conditions are met:

1. The area where evidence would appear, if there were any, has been comprehensively examined, and
2. All of the available evidence that X exists is inadequate, and
3. X is the sort of entity that, if X exists, then it would show.

This works for supposed physical entities such as Santa, unicorns and Sasquatch because we should be able to find them in the world but haven’t been able to. This doesn’t rule out God because he is immaterial being that can’t be detected by our senses or current technology. We also can’t rule out the multiverse because we have no way to perceive any universe besides our own.

Immateriality is a crucial attribute of God because in a pre big bang world with no physical building blocks a god composed of physical matter couldn’t exist. An omnipotent, immaterial necessary being is needed to spark the big bang and form the universe.
An eternal being would have to be immaterial because entities such as stars, humans, animals that are composed of physical matter will die as their parts break down. Our organs break down or our DNA starts mutating leading to our death. As the fuel in stars starts to run out nuclear fusion begins to stop causing the star to die a heat death. However, spiritual entities are not composed of physical parts that can break down or be torn apart. Since spiritual entities are not dependent on physical parts for their survival they are immortal. This is why souls must be immaterial if they are to be eternal.

Prior to 1875 humans had no knowledge that X-rays existed because we couldn’t perceive them with our senses. This of course doesn’t mean that X-rays didn’t exist prior to 1875 it just means that we didn’t know they existed. In much the same way the spiritual world could exist even though we don’t have a way to scientifically prove it at this time. Will we ever be able to invent the spiritual version of a Geiger counter? I’m not sure, but not being able to empirically prove the spiritual world doesn’t prove its nonexistence.