The Nature of Naturalism | The Institute for Creation Research
The Nature of Naturalism

The arrogance of anti-creationists stems largely from their pride in offering natural explanations for the world instead of supernatural explanations. No matter how much evidence can be shown for God's action in nature, secular scientists always rule it out of bounds from the outset, because they argue that any appeal to the supernatural is forbidden in science. It is time to challenge this claim, because it is flawed at its core. The natural/ supernatural distinction breaks down under scrutiny.

"Natural" is a slippery word. Its meaning is dependent on context. We think of nature when visualizing wildlife and natural parks, or untamed wilderness, or unprocessed food. But we also speak of human nature, natural affection between family members, and natural reason (i.e., common sense). Natural can mean probable, normal, sensible, or unadorned. It can mean the sum of traits that characterize an object--that is its nature. The Bible says the natural man does by nature the things in the law.1 It even speaks of the divine nature!2 Clearly, nature and natural are very flexible words.

Scientists assume one meaning, but then switch meanings in practice. Nature is supposed to be limited to the universe of particles and forces. To them, that excludes gods, angels, and whatever other "superstitious" entities are not amenable to sense perception. Intelligent Designers intervening in the natural order (i.e., doing miracles) are out. But then the scientists will turn right around and use reason and morality, which cannot be reduced to particles and forces. Some of the objects in their toolkit would be hard to distinguish from ghosts.

Consider the following non-physical entities frequently discussed in scientific literature: action-at-a-distance, singularities, infinities, consciousness, mind, extraterrestrial intelligence, the placebo effect, and unobservable phenomena like the interiors of stars, dark matter, dark energy, quarks, superstrings, the Big Bang, the origin of life. Some physicists even posit parallel universes or an infinite multiverse. How natural is that?

Then there is the whole realm of concepts: information, mathematics, the laws of logic, philosophy, history, reason, the scientific method, rationality, classification, causation, induction, objectivity. Science itself is a concept. It requires additional non-physical concepts: the moral categories of truth, honesty, ethics, integrity, and fairness. These all refer to absolutes that are timeless and universal. Science, therefore, depends on a host of things that extend beyond particles and forces.

Within the biblical worldview, these things all cohere and make sense, but how can a so-called naturalist derive concepts from particles? The journal Nature recently said that science itself is unnatural: "Science insists on the value of truth even when it is inconvenient or harmful; most people's beliefs tend to reinforce their self-interest. In this unnaturalness lies the great strength of science."3 Well, then, if it is unnatural, is it supernatural?

Since a materialist has no categories for up or down, it doesn't matter if you call it unnatural, non-natural, or supernatural: it won't fit in a natural box. A scientist is therefore a supernaturalist in spite of himself. Any time he offers a scientific explanation, avoids self-interest, or seeks the truth, he plagiarizes the biblical worldview. Any time she creates something by design, or uses concept words like observation, information, or causation, she is a supernaturalist, aware of it or not. Supernaturalism is inescapable.

Kurt Gödel famously proved that mathematics cannot validate itself. David Wolpert recently extended this into all scientific reasoning. As paraphrased by Binder, he proved that "the entire physical Universe cannot be fully understood by any single inference system that exists within it."4 Welcome to supernaturalism, everybody!

Biblical creationists have the resources to understand the world, because they know the One who made it. Denying a transcendent Creator undercuts science. The bottom line: everyone is a supernaturalist, and everyone believes in miracles. Intentional miracles have more explanatory power than chance miracles. Bible believers, therefore, can do better science. Don't let evolutionists get away with nonsense about disallowing the supernatural in science. Pulling the rug out from under oneself is not natural.

References

  1. Romans 2:14.
  2. Romans 1:20; 2 Peter 1:4.
  3. Editorial. 2009. Humanity and evolution: Charles Darwin's thinking about the natural world was profoundly influenced by his revulsion for slavery. Nature. 457 (7231): 763-764.
  4. Binder, P.-M. 2008. Philosophy of science: Theories of almost everything. Nature. 455 (7215): 884-885.

* David Coppedge works in the Cassini Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The views expressed are his own.

Cite this article: Coppedge, D. F. 2009. The Nature of Naturalism. Acts & Facts. 38 (4): 19.

The Latest
NEWS
Fossil Chromatin Looks Young
What are the odds that a buried animal would still have intact DNA after 125 million years? Researchers publishing in the journal Communications Biology...

NEWS
Inside October 2021 Acts & Facts
How is the Lord’s handiwork on display at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park? Does the universe look old? What can we learn about science and...

NEWS
Two-Volume Series: Restoring the Truth about Origins
The subject of origins continues to attract interest from the public and the scientific establishment. Understanding our origins informs us of who we are...

ACTS & FACTS
Creation Kids: Floods Form Fossils Fast
Christy Hardy and Susan Windsor* You’re never too young to be a creation scientist! Kids, discover fun facts about God’s creation with...

ACTS & FACTS
A Battle for Hearts
Since the ICR Discovery Center for Science & Earth History opened in fall of 2019, tens of thousands of people have walked through our doors. They...

APOLOGETICS
Eating Bugs Isn't Always So Simple
The Lord Jesus Christ deserves glory for why He made Earth’s diverse creatures, and He also deserves glory for the complicated details of how...

ACTS & FACTS
Does the Universe Look Old?
Since distant galaxies are billions of light-years away, some understandably assume that distant starlight must have taken billions of years to reach...

ACTS & FACTS
Hawaii Behind the Scenes
ICR Research Scientist Dr. Brian Thomas and ICR Video Producer Clint Loveness, with help from friends and family, recently shot footage in Maui, Hawaii,...

ACTS & FACTS
Mutation, Design, and Faith
Any alteration in a cell’s DNA sequence is a mutation. These changes can come from copying errors, exposure to chemicals or radiation, or from...

ACTS & FACTS
Another Function of 'Junk DNA' Discovered
For decades, evolutionists suggested that huge sections of our genome (about half) did not actively code for the production of proteins or polypeptides—and...