The Achilles Heel of Naturalism

The ancient Greek myths contain a lot of interesting stories and reveal a lot about how the ancient Greeks understood reality to operate. Essentially they believed that there were many Gods who directly interacted with the material world and humanity to affect the outcome of things on earth. One of the more well known stories concerned a man named Achilles. Achilles was actually half God and half mortal. He was conceived when the mortal Peleus, the king of the Myrmidons, had a tryst with a goddess, the sea nymph Thetis. When Achilles was born, Thetis wanted to make him immortal so she held him by the heel and dipped him head first into the river Styx. Every place that the water touched caused his body to became invincible. However, she was negligent in one place. When she dipped him in the water, she didn’t dip down far enough to get her own hand wet. This kept Achilles’ heel out of the water and left him vulnerable at that spot.

Achilles went on to become a valiant fighter and was a key figure in the battle of Troy. He personally, killed many Trojans in that war, but was himself finally killed when he was shot in his vulnerable heel with an arrow. The term Achilles heel has since come to be used as an expression which indicates a fatal weakness which an opponent is able to take advantage of in order to defeat an enemy.

Naturalism’s Problematic Implications
The Naturalistic worldview, and its various atheistic expressions, have become very prominent in Western societies in the twentieth and twenty first centuries. But we must understand, it is not just the view of God and the supernatural that is affected by this prominence. The implications for society are also quite pronounced. A Naturalistic approach to understanding reality leads to the belief that life has no ultimate meaning or value. As a result, things like abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, genocide and literally any other activity can be deemed okay if the people of the society conclude that it has some value. It is mankind, not a transcendent being, who decides what is right and good.

This kind of belief system also has public policy implications. It has led to such programs as the “one child policy” in China, physician assisted suicide in parts of the United States and several countries in Europe, and government sponsorship of human cloning research. In its worst forms, it has also led to the ovens of the Holocaust in WWII Germany, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the Cultural Revolution in China and the massacre of millions under Stalin.

Many people who claim to be Naturalists become indignant when this is mentioned because they, themselves, reject the massacres committed in the name of repressive governments. The only problem is, there is no objective reason for this outrage. If there is no objective morality and mankind has to make it up for himself, there really is no reason why a pacifistic view of societal organization should top a murderous one. It is simply a matter of the preferences of those who wield power in the society.

The Dishonest Tactics of Naturalists
In interacting with Naturalists, it is not unusual for them to try and press their advantage by interpreting data to make it appear that the supernatural does not exist. There are several approaches that they use to try and support their conclusions. They do such things as interpret biological and geological data in ways which make evolutionary theory appear to be true, misinterpret Biblical texts to make it seem that there are errors and inconsistencies, expose the hypocrisy and inconsistency of various Christians throughout history to try and discredit the Christian faith in general, and use the brute force of condescension and intimidation to silence Christians. And when pressed concerning the weaknesses of Naturalism, they will simply change the subject.

These various tactics have often been effective in silencing Christians who have not made the effort to fortify themselves with the truth. But the fact is, each and every one of these maneuvers are nothing more than smokescreens to camouflage the inherent weaknesses of Naturalism.

There are times when we, as Christians, need to engage Naturalists at this level in order to correct the record. But the most effective way to deal with the assaults of Naturalists is not at the data level. Rather, we need to work at the worldview level. Naturalism’s Achilles heel lies in the fact that its very framework has nothing to support it. And if the framework is wrong, then all of the conclusions which are built upon it will fall.

The Ultimate Problem with Naturalism
Let’s begin with Naturalism’s basic assumption – there is no such thing as the supernatural. They assert that all of existence can be explained by natural happenstance. From a worldview perspective, there are four issues that deal a death blow to the Naturalistic worldview. Let’s take a moment to define those four issues.

1. Why Is There Something Rather than Nothing
The first assumption that Naturalism makes is that since everything is natural, the material universe had to have a natural origin. This is quite a problem for the Naturalistic worldview because there are only two basic possibilities and neither one of them have any supporting evidence.

The first possibility is that matter emerged out of nothing. This is a problem because the whole idea of “nothing” goes completely against the worldview. Naturalism requires that there already be something. In fact, they will often only start their discussion with the “big bang” and simply ignore the question concerning where the material for the “big bang” came from. The second possibility is that matter, itself, is eternal. This does not mean that it has always existed in the form it is in now, but the energy and material that led to what now exists has always been around. This, too, is deeply problematic as there is no evidence to indicate that this is so.

For Naturalism, the conclusion emerges out of the faith assumption that there is no supernatural, rather than out of any real evidence. In other words, Naturalism is completely based on a set of philosophical assumptions rather than on empirical evidence.

2. Life from Non-life
The second problem with Naturalism relates to the existence of life. To begin with, scientists do not even really know what life is. It is one of those things where you know it when you see it, but no one has been able to identify a way to generate it or prolong it beyond a certain point. In order to provide an explanation for the origin of life, Naturalism depends on Darwin’s theory of evolution. The best it can manage is that given the right circumstances, materials and enough time, life will naturally emerge.

This, again, is purely a faith presupposition. Nothing like this has ever been witnessed and researchers have not been able to demonstrate scientifically that it is even possible. In fact, there is not even a theory as to an actual mechanism that could cause it to happen. Again, the starting point is nothing more than the philosophical assumption that matter is all that exists. With that assumption, the only logical conclusion is that life had to somehow emerge from non-life, but there is no empirical evidence that this is true.

3. Evolution of One Species from Another
The third problem with the Naturalistic worldview relates to how the various forms of life emerged. As we observe the world, it is evident that there are many species of plants and animals. Somehow, all of these different forms must be accounted for.

Once again, Naturalists turn to Darwin’s theory to make their case. The only problem is, they are still unable to identify a mechanism which allows for this to happen. The traditional approach has been to credit the process of natural selection for the evolutionary changes. This argument says that given enough time, the mutation of one species can cause it to evolve into another. In other words, they equate evolution with natural selection.

However, this is simply not true. Natural selection works within a single species but has very strict limits. Various plant and animal breeders have worked with this process for literally thousands of years to produce hybrid outcomes, but they have never produced a new species in the process.

On top of this problem comes the issue of irreducible complexity. The various parts of plants and animals, from the cellular level on up, are so complex that the parts would have had to emerge fully evolved and operational to have the advantageous effects that Darwin’s theory requires. This simply cannot happen and, itself, goes against the theory’s methodological explanations.

While Naturalists continue to cling to Darwin’s theory, it simply cannot account for the complexity of life as we see it. It is another nail in the coffin of Naturalism.

4. Consciousness from Non-consciousness
The final giant problem for Naturalism is to account for the existence of consciousness. Human beings are self-conscious creatures who are capable of self-awareness with the ability to consider complex problems and the implications of those problems.

The Naturalist, once again, begins with the assumption that this must be a natural phenomenon and can, therefore, be accounted for by natural means. The common explanation is that the human brain has evolved to a high enough level to be capable of the computations required for self-conscious thought.

The only problem is, this conclusion has no basis in science. There is no evidence whatsoever to support the idea that consciousness could come from non-consciousness. Again, the conclusion emerges from the philosophical presuppositions, not from the evidence.

Naturalism is a Religious Faith
There is one more point that has been referenced throughout the article but needs to be plainly stated. Naturalism claims that all of reality can be accounted for naturally, yet is itself a faith position. There is no natural reason why reality should be organized the way Naturalism says it is.

  • Naturalism’s assumptions concerning the origins of material reality – No scientific evidence.
  • The assumption that life came from non-life – no scientific evidence.
  • The assumption that one species of life can evolve from another – no natural explanation as to how that could happen or proof that it ever has.
  • The assumption that consciousness came from non-consciousness – no scientific evidence.

Naturalism starts with the assumption that there is no God who could have created life. With that assumption, it has no choice but to look for a natural explanation for everything. Science and empirical study are only brought into the picture to try and support the worldview. It is not, itself, the source of the worldview.

What is the Truth?
Something is truth. Either there is a God or there is not. If one begins with presuppositions that are in line with the truth, it should be evident that those assumptions line up with what we actually experience as our universe operates.

If the God exists who is described in the Bible, it is perfectly logical that he could have spoken reality into existence out of nothing. If God is a living person as revealed in the Bible, it is absolutely reasonable that he is capable of creating life on earth. If God created the world as described in the Bible, it completely rational to believe that he created each separate species of living organisms. And if God is who he has revealed himself to be, consciousness had a prior consciousness to come from.

This certainly does not imply that we have all of the answers. There are things about God and spiritual reality that are simply beyond what has been revealed, and likely beyond what we are capable of understanding. But Biblical faith is certainly in line with the way humanity understands and interacts with the material world in a way that Naturalism simply cannot match.

© 2006 Freddy Davis