Occasionally I get into e-mail conversations with people who consider themselves Naturalists or Atheists. Almost always the conversation gets started because one of them objects to my view that the Theory of Evolution if not scientific fact. Of course, the first tip-off that my point is well taken is that it is called the “Theory of Evolution” rather than the “Law of Evolution.” But for committed Naturalists, that really doesn’t matter. For some reason, they still insist that it is scientific fact in spite of the fact that it isn’t.
As these conversations progress, these detractors tend to throw out all kinds of reasons to try and support their belief that the Theory of Evolution is the truth and that what I believe is superstition. The only problem is, virtually every reason they give is not based on science all. In fact, virtually every objection they throw out is based on their beliefs.
It is sometimes tricky to engage someone like this. They really do believe that their beliefs are based on science. They don’t tend to know how to make the distinction between the scientific data that they want to evaluate and the worldview belief system they filter the data through. They generally believe that the “facts” and “their evaluation of the facts” are all part of a single package that they call empirical science. In actuality this is not the case. But helping them to see that point is sometimes quite difficult because of the nature of worldview beliefs.
There are a lot of things people will say to try and make their point. Below are my top five and how to answer them. You will notice a lot of overlap between the various assertions. This is because, ultimately, everything comes back to the same problem. Thus, it becomes necessary to make many of the same points to answer the different assertions.
1. The Theory of Evolution Is a Scientific Fact
Those who make the defense that naturalistic evolution is scientific fact don’t realize the religious nature of their assertion. For the most part, their Naturalistic presuppositions are all they know. They generally don’t even realize that there are other possible worldview filters that empirical data can be run through. But even those who do realize it simply dismiss other possibilities out of hand – not because of scientific observation and experimentation, but because of their belief that any other possibility is based on superstition.
Naturalistic presuppositions assert that there is no such thing as a supernatural reality and that God does not exist. And in their thinking, since there is no God or supernatural reality, the only possibility which can account for the variety of living things on earth is natural evolutionary processes. Based on this presupposition, they declare that the theory is fact (it is just that we can’t yet demonstrate empirically how it works).
So what we have here is a theory based on a set of beliefs, not on empirical science. Naturalists declare their belief to be science because they dismiss out of hand any other possibility which might account for the existence of the life forms. In other words, they define their belief to be science and any other belief to be superstition.
The truth is, science is a methodology, not a set of beliefs. Any worldview position which believes in an orderly natural universe can do science. Christians believe in a universe which operates by natural law, so the use of scientific methodologies is completely compatible with Christian belief. It is just that we also believe that a creator God also exists who has the ability to interact with his creation without disturbing the operation of natural law.
The Christian view of the origin and development of life is a faith position based on the Christian belief that God has revealed himself and his ways in the Bible. We own that position. However, the Naturalistic view that there is no such thing as God or the supernatural is just as much a faith position. It is just that Naturalists don’t own their faith. They really do believe that naturalistic beliefs and empirical science are one and the same.
2. Macro-evolution and Micro-evolution Are the Same Thing
A second argument that Naturalists use is that natural selection is the scientifically observable mechanism which makes evolution work. Their belief is that evolution can be actually observed and manipulated in living things (micro-evolution) and that what can be observed in living things can be extrapolated to include the evolution of less complex organisms to more complex ones over a period of millions of years (macro-evolution). The only problem with this is that there is no science known to man which can demonstrate that macro-evolution is even possible.
In fact, what we do see is that there are actual barriers to macro-evolution. For thousands of years farmers and ranchers have bred plants and animals to produce hybrid varieties. They do this to try and make healthier, more useful or more beautiful varieties of living things. But there is a limit that breeders bump up against. After a certain point, they simply cannot go any further. Evolutionary scientists have tried for decades to come up with ways to breach this barrier. It is, after all, the key to demonstrating that natural selection includes both micro-evolution and macro-evolution. To date, however, there is no breakthrough on this front. Macro-evolution remains a tenet of faith, not a scientific fact.
Of course, these scientists have developed various theories as to how naturalistic evolution could have happened. They also take fossil evidence and arrange it in a way to try and show that it actually did happen. But to do this, they still must have some set of beliefs to organize around, and their organizing principles are naturalistic presuppositions. Once again it comes down to their assertion that naturalistic presuppositions are the basis for science and every other set of worldview beliefs are based on superstition. Thus, once again, they push their position by manipulating definitions rather than by demonstrating anything in the lab. They define their beliefs to be the only ones which can be used.
The Christian view is that God really does exist and he created each living organism independently. As such, there is no evolutionary path from one kind of life form to another (macro-evolution). There is the ability of each life form to adapt to its surroundings within limits (micro-evolution/natural selection), but not to go beyond that. Naturalistic beliefs, though, cannot abide the existence of God, so they continuously attempt to come up with means by which their naturalistic beliefs can be affirmed.
3. Science and Naturalism Are the Same Thing
Science is a methodology. It is the process of using observation and experimentation to gain knowledge of the material universe.
Naturalism, on the other hand, is a belief system. Its basis is the belief that the material universe is all that exists – there is no such thing as a supernatural reality.
Since science is purely a materialistic tool, Naturalists have tried to claim exclusive use of it by asserting a dichotomy between science and faith (particularly the Christian faith). As such, they try to promote the idea that science is purely the domain of Naturalism and that no other worldview system can legitimately use it. They reason that since Christians believe there is also a supernatural reality, Christianity and science are incompatible.
What they are missing, though, is that Christians believe in both an orderly natural world and a supernatural reality. Christians firmly believe that God created the natural universe to operate based on natural law which can be observed and experimented upon. The fact that Christians believe God exists does not change that in any respect. Christians also believe that God is capable of interacting with his creation without disturbing the operation of natural law. Because of that, the Christian faith and science do not conflict with one another.
The truth is, if a person were to use purely naturalistic presuppositions, modern science would not even make sense. It assumes chaos and randomness as foundational beliefs. It has no explanation as to how matter originated, how it was able to organize itself and where the laws of nature came from. The Christian faith, on the other hand, understands matter to have been created by God who did so in an orderly fashion. As such, it makes sense that human beings could study and understand it. It is not a coincidence that the original modern scientists were Christians and not Naturalists.
4. The Theory of Evolution Is Not about Abiogenesis
The Theory of Evolution assumes naturalistic worldview presuppositions – that everything in existence can be accounted for based on the laws of nature. In interacting with people who believe in Darwinistic evolution, the topic of the origin of life must, at some point, come up. Based on a naturalistic worldview, the only possibility is that nonliving matter, at some point, was able to form itself into something living for the evolution of life to begin its journey. This development of living organisms from nonliving matter is called abiogenesis – sometimes also referred to as autogenesis or spontaneous generation.
Interestingly, when this topic comes up, the advocates of naturalistic evolution desperately try to change the subject. The usual approach is to simply assert that the Theory of Evolution is not about abiogenesis; evolution is only about the development of life forms that already exist. Unfortunately for them, the two really can’t be separated. They are both necessary expressions of the same worldview beliefs.
While, strictly speaking, the Theory of Evolution is not about abiogenesis, the two still cannot be separated. If all of reality has a natural origin, then the living things that exist in that reality had to have originated somewhere. In the naturalistic world, that origin had to be nonliving matter. In a very real sense, it is also the origin of naturalistic evolution itself.
This truth creates a massive problem for Naturalists. There is no science which has ever been able to demonstrate that spontaneous generation of life is even possible. In fact, science seems to demonstrate the exact opposite – that life cannot spontaneously emerge from non-life.
5. Naturalism Is about Fact, Not Belief
Unless a person has made the effort to study worldview, the worldview presuppositions that he or she holds are unconscious. Worldview beliefs form the foundation of an individual’s very understanding of reality. The possibility that competing beliefs could be true are virtually unimaginable. As such, it is not surprising that those who hold a naturalistic worldview would think that their beliefs about reality would be true.
But for Naturalists there is an extra matter that contributes to this belief. Since their presuppositions assert that the material universe is all that exists and that it can be completely known by scientific inquiry, the belief that Naturalism is based on fact is reinforced.
The only problem is, Naturalism is a belief system. Naturalists believe that the natural universe is all that exists and there is no supernatural reality. This cannot be verified empirically – it is a faith statement. They believe that matter and energy are either eternal or that they spontaneously appeared – neither of which is empirically verifiable. They believe that life emerged out of non-life – another statement of faith. They assert that lower life forms have evolved to higher life forms – in spite of the fact that this cannot be scientifically demonstrated. They also believe that consciousness emerged out of non-consciousness. Once again, this belief is based on faith, not science.
This fifth point is much like the belief that science and Naturalism are the same. They aren’t! Naturalism is a belief system pure and simple. Its foundational presuppositions cannot be known empirically.
Truth vs. Untruth
There is some way that reality is actually structured and it is not structured any other way. Either God exists or he does not. If he does, he exists in some objective form. If he does not, there is some other objective organizing principle for how the universe exists.
Naturalists believe, specifically, that God does not exist and that the universe is, somehow, self-organizing. Of course, they are free to believe this if they wish. But they must also recognize that their belief is not based on science, but on their worldview presuppositions. If they want to demonstrate it scientifically there are four things they must be able to empirically show: 1) An origin for matter and energy (or demonstrate how it can be eternal), 2) how life originated, 3) how living organisms can evolve from lower to higher forms, and 4) how consciousness emerged from non-consciousness. It is not enough for them to make up theories, they must be able to demonstrate them empirically. Until they do, what they assert about these things is nothing more than unsubstantiated “beliefs,” not science.
As Christians, our beliefs about the structure of reality are even more defensible than those of Naturalists. It is not that the existence of God and our relationship with him must be defended in order to be true. We can live confidently in our faith even if we are not good at giving a verbal defense. That being said, developing and improving our ability to stand up for our faith has great value both in promoting personal confidence in our faith and in sharing a witness to those who are outside of a personal relationship with God.
© 2012 Freddy Davis