Evaluating Scientific Naturalism and Christianity

Preface – This is a blog post in which I posit key concepts from two worldviews against each other. Each main point (morality, ultimate reality, etc.) will be covered in greater detail in future blogs. I start with a basic summary and evaluation of scientific naturalism, then evaluate Christianity by the same criteria, and propose a defense. Again, this is a broad post. I will cover the main ideas of each worldview, separately, in later blogs. Thank you for visiting.

Introduction

The scientific naturalism worldview is at the forefront of nearly all scientifically oriented minds, and even exists as part of a blend of the modern day thinking. Traditional theism (in this case, Christianity) has grown farther from the lens of many, since Darwinian evolution started to advance with the rise of the scientism mindset. Thus, the main topic of this paper will be oriented around the contrasting nature of the scientific naturalism worldview against the Christian worldview. Using objective criteria, both will be evaluated to shed light on each one’s proposed truth claims. This blog will attempt to properly show that Christianity, not scientific naturalism, provides a better and more logically sound worldview after analyzing the main truth claims. Examining the belief system of the scientific worldview initially and its source for ultimate truth will serve to properly analyze this worldview, as truth is paramount in each one’s claims. Finally, challenging the likelihood of Christianity to be true by investigating its belief system and evaluation using the same criteria and offering a defense will provide the scope and bounds for which this blog post will focus.

Summary of Scientific Naturalism

Ultimate Reality

Scientific naturalism contends that not only is what we can verify with our natural senses as being all there is, but those things that do exist must be able to be explained from a scientific standpoint – asserting that the scientific method is the objective qualifier for truth. This worldview, then, gives no thought to a higher being or anything supernatural at all, as a real possibility; this is due to the lack of observable and testable evidence that can be analyzed in proving such a thing.

Source of Morality

For scientific naturalism, an objective morality does not truly exist. Rather, it asserts there are sets of reactions – physical and emotional – that are given in response to our natural universe and the objects therein. To acknowledge a universal morality goes against the scientific naturalism worldview. Thus, morality is taken as merely anecdotal. It claims that humans may have set of similar of emotions and reactions, but this is only because we have evolved in such a way that we are similar in every sense. A subjective “morality,” so to speak, is then refined by our upbringings and social constructs.

Human Beings

Human beings are said to be the results of very finite evolutionary steps. In all, the belief is that humans came from a single cell, and through the evolutionary process, have developed into what they are today. This first evolutionary model was introduced by Charles Darwin. Darwin’s claims are that each form of life came from another, except for the first life form, which came from non-life. It contends that non-life gave birth to life by chance with the available elements that are needed to form life, and along the way our consciousness developed through our evolution, by process of natural selection.[1]

History and the Afterlife

A wildly popular belief among many, not only those of the scientific naturalism worldview, is that the universe came from a singularity[2]; a great source of energy. This explosion of energy created all that we see and can experience and the afterlife is simply a myth of grand hopes in this worldview. Although many believe in the singularity, they have still attempted to rule out God as the reason for creation. In this worldview, God wasn’t necessary, the energy is what created all, although the reason for the energy to begin with is not explained. Because the supernatural would have to be presupposed in order to insist God had anything to do with creation or existence in this worldview, and because the supernatural has yet to be proved using the scientific method, this is immediately written off as false. Some New Atheism proponents just flat out say “no heaven, no hell, just science.”[3]

Epistemology

There’s an assertion that true knowledge is only known by which the human can observe, aptly hypothesize, test, analyze, and then conclude and theorize (and possibly confirm as a scientific law). Humans know what they know because of the scientific methods in which they are able to comprehend the knowable. Sir Francis Bacon proposed the scientific method as a way of learning more about our observable world, he himself was not an atheist, but science has given birth to elementary knowledge that is “taken as the gospel,” so to speak. The scientific method has essentially become the standard to which all knowable of the natural must be learned through, as a result of an accumulation of natural knowledge – which is essentially affect-effect driven. It gives no answer for the ultimate cause of the observable interactions – the ultimate “why.”

Source of Ultimate Authority

The scientific naturalism worldview in general gives authority to science and humans that analyze the results. However, it is also said that authority has no special role in the natural world. Things are what they are and science seeks to explain the results of these laws through the interactions of the natural. Authority then is really not necessary to live our lives freely as we please. Ultimate authority, in a sense that something other than the natural forces at work is responsible for all of the natural world and our human qualities, is absurd to the naturalist.

Evaluation of Scientific Naturalism

The evaluation portion of this post will focus on utilizing criteria that Groothuis (author of Christian Apologetics) uses to check any worldview against another for the sole purpose of determining the likelihood that the worldview in question is true. The criteria are meant to provide an objective reference for analyzing truth claims or concepts from any worldview. I have chosen four of the eight, to remain somewhat concise in this post, that he lists to evaluate the two worldviews.

By criterion 1 – “If a worldview asserts an essential proposition X, and X is utterly mysterious or unintelligible and sheds no light on anything (it is a bare assertion), then the assertion of X is a rational strike against that worldview

The scientific naturalism worldview asserts that morality is simply a myth and that humans have sets of reactions to things we encounter.[4] A large failure of scientific naturalism is the inability to explain the concepts of good and evil, properly. These concepts necessitate the very existence of morality, hence a universal morality that must have been given by an outside entity, a creator. Actions, reactions, and thoughts are all done in a way to achieve a desirable feeling. Despite evil in the world, this evil is still committed for the “good” the person gets from performing or thinking evil deeds. Asserting that morality is non-existent is unintelligible, as we can clearly see moral values being used in our everyday decisions – people rescue those in need each day, yet many will never receive the same payback, without morality there is no reason to believe anyone would do a good thing for anyone other than themselves, the self-seeker. Some atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, say that if the only reason religious people are “good,” then religious people are, in fact, immoral and are attempting to suck up to the watcher in the sky.[5] But, good cannot exist in this worldview, thus a moot point.

By criterion 2b – “If a worldview affirms X, Y and Z as essential elements, and any of these elements contradict another essential element (say X contradicts Y), or is self-contradictory, this worldview is necessarily false because it is logically inconsistent.”

In asserting that the universe exists (X), the universe had a beginning (Y), and the universe was not created (Z), there is an undeniable contradiction in these essential claims of this worldview. Anything that has a beginning must have been created, otherwise it is eternal and never had a beginning. The Big Bang model asserts that a singularity of extremely high energy density in the form of heat exploded and thus created all things. However, in asserting this, it comes back to creation. The singularity without an ultimate cause, in applying the law of cause and effect in a natural universe, is a logical fallacy; if this singularity had no beginning, then the essential element that the universe had a beginning must be refuted. This singularity was simply the universe in a condensed form of matter and energy. Hence, the universe would had to have existed without a point of origin, but that is not what we find here. The concept of an eternal multiverse has no good scientific evidence, so this will not be discussed as a possibility.

By criterion 3 – “If a worldview’s essential propositions are coherent (meaningfully interconnected conceptually), it is more likely to be true than if its essential propositions are not related in this way.”

The most basic assertions made by scientific naturalism (no creator, evolutionary theory, no ultimate authority, etc.) offer no coherency to the basic existence of human life (or any life). The fact that human thought would have had to have transcended the very thing it came from (natural world), only to study it and learn more about it is very peculiar, at best. Using reason and logic in explaining what is observed provides no meaningful direction. Hence, there is what we may deem as essentially valuable data subjected to fallible human reasoning and interpretation, or thought to be facts, that must fit into a shapeless worldview that continually attempts to construct and reconstruct itself based on newfound “truths.” Since truth can be changing depending on the observer, absolute truth is never known, hence truth that the worldview itself is true results in a self-refuting argument; thus it can never assert truth in anything.

By criterion 4 – “The greater the extent to which a worldview’s essential factual claims can be established in various empirical, scientific and historical ways, the greater is the likelihood that this worldview is true.”

The claim that the natural is all that exists suffers because there is no way to assert that science provides evidence for this worldview claim, this is high-grade circular reasoning. Because the scientific method can gather data about the observable, this makes it a useful tool. However, in the scientific naturalism worldview, the scientific method is given absolute precedence for evidential truth-claims. The method itself is limited in that is can only be used to the natural and observable, it cannot consider anything that may exist outside of the natural, therefore scientific naturalism cannot refute the supernatural because it cannot prove the supernatural false – the lack of measurable evidence for the supernatural does not mean evidence for non-existence. The scientific method is limited in that it can only observe those things in the present, it cannot observe things that are not observable to us now (yet it is used to extrapolate data to so-called “millions of years ago” all the time). This limits its use and although it is a great tool for users who can interpret objectively (which no one can), it is not robust enough to assert truth in all things.

            By criterion 8 – “Worldviews should not appeal to extraneous entities or be more complex than is required to explain what they propose to establish.”

Scientific naturalism asserts that the material world and the observable, that can be tested, is all that is knowable. In a sense, this worldview is simplistic at first glance, yet to establish the worldview requires complex reasoning in establishing “truths” and indeed is far more subjective than a worldview should be in determining the ever-changing truth-claims. In a world that supposedly has given rise to humans by chance, we have certainly gone to great lengths to explain what we observe. This seems to contradict any real purpose, so why bother examining anything? Why bother striving to exist? To simply be here by chance is completely outside of the human minds desire to question and answer things from purpose, origin of life, and reason for existence. The non-correlation is unquestionably difficult to attempt to realize in a reasonable and logical fashion, when considering scientific naturalism as true.

Evans states that “children are ‘cognitively prepared’ for belief, even before they are capable of understanding the complex ideas of any given religion. This poses a serious challenge to the Christian notion that the creator has left his creatures free to disbelieve.”[6] In actuality, this does not contradict what Christianity teaches, since we are told that humans have suppressed the truth through their wickedness (Romans 1:18), but through what God has created all are without excuse for unbelief in God (Romans 1:20). Therefore, although we are fallen, we can conceive God. Being able to believe as a child merely means we are susceptible to teachings at a young age, no grave challenge at all.

Evaluation of Christianity

By criterion 1 – “If a worldview asserts an essential proposition X, and X is utterly mysterious or unintelligible and sheds no light on anything (it is a bare assertion), then the assertion of X is a rational strike against that worldview

Christianity asserts that universe and all life forms were created by God and humans were made in the image of God. This assertion explains the source for morality. Considering that morality exists in each of us, a moral God that created humans with similar traits seems to give an adequate reason for why we would have such a thing as morality. Contrasting with the scientific naturalism worldview, morality gives a reason for caring about anyone, otherwise we would all do whatever is best for our own gratification and no one else. Even asserting that God created all that is seen is not something that has evolved from the scientific naturalists view, put in another way, Feldmeier states that “Creation involves a question of the origin of our being—not motivated by intellectual curiosity, but by existential interests.”[7] Indeed, this makes sense when we consider that we were a product of God’s creation.

By criterion 2a – “If a worldview affirms X, Y and Z as essential elements of that worldview, and none of these individual elements contradicts another essential element, the worldview may be true because it is not logically inconsistent.”

In Christianity, the universe exists (X), the universe was given a beginning (Y), and the universe was created by God (Z). These essential elements do not contradict each other. The universe can be created by God, a transcendent being, because we exist and a beginning is not illogical. There is nothing that is contradictory about this. In fact, it is telling about the origin of existence. Hence, this worldview can be true based on these non-contradictory factors, when compared to scientific naturalism, which stumbles explaining the singularity and a beginning without introducing God or some creator – the singularity simply was; this is a failure of logic.

By criterion 3 – “If a worldview’s essential propositions are coherent (meaningfully interconnected conceptually), it is more likely to be true than if its essential propositions are not related in this way.”

The Christian worldview explains the origin of life, the fall of mankind, the need of a savior, the death and resurrection of a savior, and the redemption that is given to those who believe. This worldview gives a very complete story starting in Genesis and ending in Revelation for the plan of mankind. The premise is that after God created Adam and Eve, they disobeyed God, which brought evil into their view and brought death upon them. God made covenants with humans in order to give them a law to follow, a savior was foretold in the Old Testament, the savior in Jesus Christ was born and eventually died for our sins, setting the foundation for the rise of Christianity through His crucifixion for our sins, and the Holy Ghost as the helper that was sent to aid believers in the walk of faith. Jesus says he will return for His believers and will judge those who do / did not believe. The basic propositions of the Bible give a coherent account of history and through the future, when Christ returns. This differs from naturalism in that there is coherent purpose, although the coherency alone does not prove the Bible is true in its assertions.

By criterion 4 – “The greater the extent to which a worldview’s essential factual claims can be established in various empirical, scientific and historical ways, the greater is the likelihood that this worldview is true.”

There has been found nearly 50 people of the Bible that are now proven to have existed. Biblical archaeology has un-earthed key things such as verifying the Jericho walls indeed fell as told in the Old Testament, evidence for Joseph in Egypt (Old Testament), 24,000+ manuscripts of the New Testament alone, and utilizing arguments such as the minimal facts argument, give high probability that not only did Jesus exist, he died on the cross, was buried in a tomb, the tomb was found empty, and there were hundreds of witnesses that saw His resurrected self. These are all things that can attest to the historicity of the Bible and truth in the Biblical accounts. If acceptable truth can be established in the Bible, then we can take the Bible as truth without any presuppositions.

By criterion 8 – ““Worldviews should not appeal to extraneous entities or be more complex than is required to explain what they propose to establish.”

The Christian worldview is actually a simple and non-complex worldview. Because we are not perfect as a result of the fall, our Creator has decided to redeem us because of His love, mercy, and grace. We are a creation that God has made for the purpose of glorifying Him. This can only be done if we ourselves are unspotted. Naturalism searches high and low, near and far, to the depths of outer space to remove God from the equation. It is important to know that this worldview is only quite new and therefore does not have the historical foundation that Christianity has, which gives us ultimates for truth, morality, etc. Whereas scientific naturalism sinks in trying to explain away these fundamentals of human life.

Defense of Christianity

Historicity of the Bible

Given that the New Testament continues and builds on the Old Testament, we will do well to focus on its (New Testament) historicity. Currently, there are around 24,000 manuscripts (5,000 in Greek) of the New Testament writings, no other ancient writings are comparable to this. Biblical archaeology has been able to conclude that nearly all of these writings were within 50-150 years of the dates of their expected happenings. Such as the death and resurrection of Jesus and the eyewitnesses who encountered the risen Jesus. It is written in the Old Testament (Isaiah 53) that the Lord would be born without sin, be delivered to His people for death, and crushed for all sins of mankind.

This is seamless with the New Testament writings in each of the Gospel accounts (Matthew Mark, Luke, and John) that describe Jesus’ sinful life, His teachings, His delivering to the Jews for crucifixion, and His death on the cross. Given the historicity, these events should be taken very seriously to have occurred. Because the New Testament regularly refers to Old Testament writings as truth revealed from God, we can assert that since the New Testament writings are also proof of truth in the Old Testament. We also have evidence that proves the existence of a number of authors (mainly Kings) from the Old Testament writings.

There are a number of secular writings that support the New Testament. One such is Pliny the Younger, who stated that Christians “met twice on a fixed day…to sing a hymn to Christ as if to a god.”[8] This type of extra-biblical support offers a testimony on behalf of Jesus. Christianity should be strongly considered as a highly plausible worldview on these few examples of historicity alone.

The Resurrection of Jesus

The existence of Jesus is essentially agreed upon by most scholars of history, regardless of religious beliefs. The following list of events is agreed upon by said scholars, but not exclusive:

  1. Death of Jesus by crucifixion
  2. Jesus was buried in a known tomb
  3. The tomb was found empty
  4. There were eyewitness accounts of Jesus after his death

These minimal facts[9] are meant to be used to assert that Jesus did in fact die, was put in a tomb, was not found when he was sought in the tomb, and hundreds of people, including His disciples, saw Him postmortem. The contextual biblical accounts of Peter and Paul (mainly) in Acts can be used as a supplement beyond the minimal facts.

Objective Truth and Moral Values

Considering that mankind has universally had a sense of moral values that is followed in a general sense, we can find this phenomena in uniformity with what we are told in the Bible, which is that God created man in His image. Being told that God is love and that mankind are fallen, we can also then assert that because of the nature of man, we are absolutely moral creatures of God that know the difference between good and evil. However, we are not perfect because of the fall, hence even though we know that evil is bad, we as humans continue to do evil things.

Objective truth is given to us in the form of the Holy Spirit, when we believe in Christ and fully repent to God. The spirit helps us to discern much of the truth of the world, albeit our truth is not perfect, our redeemer is Truth and has given us sufficient truth to live truthful lives. Relative truths make the notion and very definition of truth fall apart; thus truth in Christianity is a better option for belief.

The Problem of Evil

The problem of evil is not a mere one. Haught believes that one of the main reasons for religious followers is that religion provides an answer for suffering.[10] This could not be further from the truth. The problem of evil (and suffering) is one of the largest arguments against Christianity in the face of an almighty and all-loving God. However, in order for us to be able to fully glorify God, we must be able to have free choice. This means that humans are free to do as they please.

God need not interfere in all cases of evil, although he very easily could, this would give no separation from those who do evil things and those who do good. For God to have created a world in which evil was never a possibility would have meant that God would have not ever been able to be glorified fully, as he would have merely made mindless humans without a legitimate care to anything. This is counter to what he wants, he wants to be glorified and loved as He loves us.

To create us as programmed to love Him always would mean to have created a people that were simply unable to truly love. The mere ability to choose between obeying God and disobeying was the gift that was given to the first humans. Because they chose wrong, evil was known to them and then came into the world. If evil exists, goodness must also, and if goodness exists, there must be a reference for all of this, hence God.

Conclusion

This post has sought to evaluate scientific naturalism and Christianity worldviews at the core. In doing so, I have provided evidence for a lack of coherency, livability, and logical sense in the scientific naturalism worldview. Conversely, the Christian worldview has given ample detail about how the origin of life began, purpose, and ultimate truth in an otherwise unreasonable world. Christianity not only answers the most basic questions, and therefore is highly plausible, it gives evidence for why Christianity should be highly considered by anyone looking for truth. The gospel of Jesus ultimately relies on faith for believers, but in the truth we expect to find reasons to believe, and Christianity certainly offers reasons.

References

[1] Phillip E. Johnson and John Mark Reynolds, Against All Gods: What’s Right and Wrong About the New Atheism, (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2010), 50.

[2] William Lane Craig and Quentin Smith Theism, Atheism, and Big Bang Cosmology,(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 110.

[3] William Lane Craig and Chad V. Meister, God is Great, God is Good: WhyBelieving in God is Reasonable and Responsible, (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2010), 7.

[4] Andrew Sneddon, A is for atheist: An A to Z of the Godfree Life, 1st ed, (Durham, NorthCarolina: Pitchstone Publishing, 2016), 116.

[5] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008), 259.

[6] Dylan Evans, Atheism: All That Matters, Enhanc Cr ed., (Boston, Massachusetts;Abingdon, United Kingdom: Hodder & Stoughton, 2014).

[7] Reinhardt Feldmeier, Hermann Spieckermann, and Mark E. Biddle, God of the living:A Biblical Theology, (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2011), 251.

[8] Amy-Jill Levine, Dale C. Allison, and John D. Crossan, The Historical Jesus in Context, (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 2009) 380-381. 

[9] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011), 540.

[10] John F. Haught, Is Nature Enough?: Meaning and Truth in the Age of Science, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 167.

“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” — Jesus Christ

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