I am continuing on from Kevin’s post “Science or Naturalism?” in this article, and my purpose is to flesh out the difference between what is truly science and what is not. Like Kevin, I have tremendous respect for mathematics and the natural sciences, because as the great minds of Galileo and Newton believed, so too do I believe that science is looking at God’s creation through a particular empirical lens. Recently, I finished reading a heady exposition on this very subject authored by the world renowned philosopher Alvin Plantinga titled Where The Conflict Really Lies. The thesis behind this brilliantly written volume is that “there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism.” In other words, the Christian and indeed the theist stand justified and enlightened by empirical science, as it is merely another angle from which we can approach God’s creation around us. Alvin Plantinga asserts that there are really no threats from current science, even the mainline theory of evolution as it is described today, to the theistic worldview and more specifically the Christian’s perspective. In fact, Christians should NOT be afraid of science, or even of evolutionary theory, because the real conflict is between the naturalistic worldview and evolution. Evolution is merely the empirical explanation of how the natural world around us, teeming with beautifully complex organisms, came to be what she is today. The naturalist’s worldview attaches certain theological additions to current evolutionary theory, namely that there are no supernatural intentions or designs behind the natural world in which we live today. Plantinga picks the tenets of naturalism apart and shows how they are merely theological add-ons to the current evolution theory. He illustrates how much of ‘science’ proceeds from a methodological naturalism, where the scientists must divorce their belief in God with belief in science or, in other words, take God out of the picture altogether. They proceed in their empirical findings by altogether eliminating a background knowledge or backdrop of a divine intellect in their worldview. As Kevin pointed out, this is far from the original scientists’ background beliefs about the universe and world in which we live.
Plantinga goes further in his argument that there is no conflict between Christian theism and science: he critiques naturalism as incompatible with science itself. He quotes Nietzsche, one of the most anti-theistic philosophers of late as writing this:
“It is unfair to Descartes to call his appeal to God’s credibility frivolous. Indeed, only if we assume a God who is morally our like can “truth” and the search for truth be at all something meaningful and promising of success. This God left aside, the question is permitted whether being deceived is not one of the conditions of life.”
This, from Nietzsche, the militant anti-theist? Even a broken clock is right twice a day, think about it. He means here that without an immovable, objective standard for truth, our ‘truth’ claims and beliefs are all in jeopardy of being false. The most interesting thing in this quote is the last sentence where without this standard for truth (God), a condition for life or a condition we would all find ourselves in would be a reality where nothing we believe can be proven as true: our faculties would not lend themselves to true beliefs. In other words, our senses would not be trustworthy in themselves, the reality around us may not indeed be reality! This is the inherent self-defeater in naturalism. Without an objective standard for establishing what is true and what is not and without reliable cognitive faculties (our 5 senses of touch, smell, taste, sight, and hearing), we cannot know ANYTHING to be true. Under the naturalistic perspective, our senses do not match up with how the world really is and we cannot trust them, so what makes the naturalist think that they can prove the naturalistic worldview to be truth? To expand a bit further, without reliable cognitive faculties, what makes the naturalist think that she can prove anything related to empirical truth, i.e. science? Empirical, rational science, the beautiful enterprise that so many Christians shy away from, depends on the perfect match between our cognitive faculties and the world around us; this perfect match, the fact that we can depend on our senses depends on the existence of a standard, God. So it is easy to conclude that rational science ultimately depends on the premise of the existence of this objective standard. This is a very condensed version of the argument that Plantinga offers, but I believe he shows the theistic and indeed the Christian community that there should be no fear of the atheistic and especially of the naturalistic worldview. He shows that these theological ‘add-ons’ called naturalism have an inherent self-defeater built into them, rendering them incompatible with empirical, reliable science and ultimately false in themselves.
As Christians, we must remember that many times, people are a product of their past experiences, so they may have embraced various atheistic conclusions about the world around us, but we must do our very best to exude the love of Christ to smother them in the reality that is the Gospel. We must not shy away from dialogue with the scientific community. Rather we should embrace it and take on life’s most difficult questions from all angles, including the natural sciences. Science answers the question ‘how’ when the bible does not speak on this, but moreover, Christianity answers the questions ‘why’ when science fails to produce an answer to the existential questions in life.