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Explore how a Christian can view scientific naturalism. Learn how science can complement faith and discover how to reconcile scientific findings with Christian beliefs. Dive into a discussion that respects both faith and scientific inquiry.
Scientific naturalism, also referred to as philosophical naturalism or methodological naturalism, is the philosophical foundation of science. It posits that the natural world is all that exists and that all phenomena can be explained in terms of natural causes and laws. It eschews the supernatural, asserting that anything considered “supernatural” simply represents a phenomenon not yet explained by natural science. From the viewpoint of a Christian, understanding and responding to scientific naturalism can be complex but can also serve as a profound testament to one’s faith.
The Bible establishes that God is the creator of all things. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1, ASV). Thus, from the Christian perspective, God’s hand is behind all of nature, all its laws, and all its beauty. We read, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1, ESV). This lays the foundation for Christians to view scientific naturalism as an exploration of God’s creation rather than a denial of His existence.
Although scientific naturalism emphasizes empirical investigation, it can be aligned with Christian beliefs in that it helps understand the intricacies of God’s creation. Science can be viewed as a method to comprehend how God structured the universe, from the laws of physics to the complexity of biology. As the Book of Proverbs affirms, “It is the glory of God to conceal things, but the glory of kings is to search things out” (Proverbs 25:2, ESV). It does not deny God but encourages us to seek out and understand His magnificent works.
Scientific naturalism, in essence, argues that natural laws govern the universe, and nothing is beyond the purview of these laws. In contrast, Christians believe in a God who created these laws and can supersede them – God is not bound by natural laws but operates in harmony with them for His purpose. Miracles in the Bible, such as Jesus walking on water (Matthew 14:25-31, ESV) or turning water into wine (John 2:1-11, ESV), represent such instances.
The belief in an active, personal God who interacts with His creation fundamentally distinguishes Christian thought from the premises of scientific naturalism. The Christian God is not a deistic entity who simply sparked the universe into being and then stepped back, but a theistic God who continually interacts with His creation. This belief underlies Christian practices such as prayer, where believers communicate directly with God, seeking His guidance and intervention in their lives (Philippians 4:6-7, ESV).
The challenge for Christians lies in balancing an understanding and appreciation of scientific knowledge while maintaining faith in a personal, interactive God. The dichotomy between scientific naturalism and Christianity becomes apparent when exploring issues like the origin of life, evolution, and the nature of consciousness. Scientific naturalism might attribute these to purely natural processes, while Christians see them as evidence of a divine creator.
A key principle that can guide Christians in this endeavor is the belief that all truth is God’s truth. In this context, truth discovered through scientific inquiry does not undermine God’s truth but complements and enriches it. This attitude allows Christians to embrace the findings of science without undermining their faith.
“For example, Christians can hold a deep respect for the scientific study of the natural world while maintaining essential theological beliefs. They can appreciate the findings of astronomy, geology, and other sciences that indicate an ancient universe while still firmly believing in the special, separate creation of humanity as described in Genesis. In this view, God created the universe billions of years ago, set up the natural laws, and directly created all life, including human beings, within a biblical timescale. This perspective does not require endorsing the theory of evolution but instead maintains that God is the ultimate source and shaper of all life. ‘So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.’ (Genesis 1:27, ASV).”
Regarding the issue of consciousness, scientific naturalism may claim it as an emergent property of the brain, but Christians can see it as an affirmation of the biblical truth that humans are unique among God’s creations, made in His image (Genesis 1:27, ASV). Christians can affirm that the human capacity for reason, self-awareness, and moral judgment are gifts from God, not mere by-products of evolutionary processes.
In conclusion, the Christian perspective on scientific naturalism should not be one of confrontation but of integration. Scientific naturalism provides a useful framework for investigating the natural world and discovering the laws that govern it. However, for Christians, this must be complemented by the recognition of a sovereign God who created the natural world and continues to interact with it. While there may be apparent conflicts between the conclusions of scientific naturalism and the teachings of the Bible, these can be viewed as opportunities for deeper understanding, dialogue, and growth in both scientific and spiritual knowledge.
Clarifying and Expounding
Scientism is a belief that science holds the only keys to truth and understanding the world. Those who advocate for scientism are called scientific naturalists, and they often believe that the physical world is all that exists, negating any supernatural or spiritual aspects.
There are two types of scientism: strong and weak. Strong scientism states that a claim is only true if it has been scientifically tested and validated. It completely excludes any truth not derived from science. On the other hand, weak scientism acknowledges that there might be truths beyond science, but it asserts that science is the most authoritative source of knowledge.
These viewpoints have significant implications for fields like theology. If strong scientism is correct, then theological knowledge would not be possible. If weak scientism is correct, theology would have to lean on science for validity, reducing the interaction between theology and science to a one-sided conversation.
But is scientism valid? For starters, strong scientism contradicts itself. It is not a scientific claim but a philosophical stance asserting that only scientifically proven claims are true. Yet, it presents itself as a truthful, rationally justified belief. This means that it is essentially saying, “only science is true, and this non-scientific statement is also true.” This contradiction makes strong scientism necessarily false.
Both types of scientism face two more issues. First, scientism fails to acknowledge the basic assumptions required to conduct science itself. Science depends on certain philosophical presuppositions, such as the existence of an external world, the orderliness and knowability of this world, the existence of truth and laws of logic, the reliability of our cognitive and sensory faculties, the effectiveness of language to describe the world, and the existence of values, such as honesty in testing and reporting.
Strong scientism dismisses these presuppositions because they aren’t based on scientific validation. Weak scientism undermines its validity by placing scientific conclusions above the philosophical premises that they are built upon, which is absurd.
Second, there are rational beliefs outside the realm of science that are true. Strong scientism doesn’t acknowledge this, making it an inadequate representation of our intellectual pursuits. Even some non-scientific beliefs (like “It’s wrong to torture babies” or “I am currently contemplating science”) have more justification than certain scientific beliefs. Weak scientism fails to account for this fact.
In conclusion, both types of scientism are insufficient. For a balanced worldview, Christians (and, indeed, everyone) should aim to respect and integrate both science and theology.