In the opening scenes of Disney and Pixar’s Wall-E, the titular robot returns home from a full day of garbage cleanup with a little pile of treasures to add to his extensive collection. Carefully, Wall-E puts each item in its place, but a spork stumps him. Does it go with the spoons or with the forks?
Like Wall-E, many of us like to fit things, people, and ideas into neatly structured categories. In the realm of science-faith issues, there seems to be a tendency to compartmentalize the different “sides” of the discussion. As an example, check out the mission statement for Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins’ foundation:
The mission of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science is to support scientific education, critical thinking and evidence-based understanding of the natural world in the quest to overcome religious fundamentalism, superstition, intolerance and suffering.
It’s daunting for Christians (or any person of faith, really) to engage in the discussion when we’re pigeon-holed in a category with “fundamentalism, superstition, intolerance and suffering.” Meanwhile, the claims to clear thinking, free thought, rationality, and reason appear to give the naturalistic worldview an edge in the marketplace of ideas.
But are naturalism and all its branches of thought always as reasonable and logical as they’re portrayed to be?
Closer inspection reveals a number of questionable philosophical assumptions undergirding the naturalist worldview. Christian philosophers Kenneth Samples (of Reasons To Believe) and Dr. Paul Copan (of Palm Beach Atlantic University) both do excellent jobs of analyzing naturalism’s assumptions in their respective books—A World of Difference (Samples) and “How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong?” (Copan).
For example, some branches of naturalism hold to scientism, a philosophical concept that exalts scientific knowledge over other forms of knowledge. It is not, however, the same thing as science itself (the study of the natural world). Samples explains:
Scientism maintains a very narrow focus in the types of things it permits as candidates for authentic knowledge and truth….Restricting the possibility of knowledge to the realm of the natural sciences means that religious, philosophical, aesthetic, and moral statements have little or no contribution to make in terms of knowledge and truth.
Copan points out (emphasis original):
The viewpoint of scientism is both arbitrary and self-refuting (and thus incoherent). It demands that all truth-claims have to be scientifically (empirically) verifiable. However, this viewpoint is simply arbitrary. Furthermore, there’s no way to verify scientifically that all truth-claims must be scientifically verifiable. This viewpoint isn’t the result of scientific research (a scientific conclusion); it’s a philosophical assumption.
Not only are such assumptions incoherent, they also place unnecessary and hindering limits on the possible explanations for the nature of the universe and the human experience. Excluding supernatural explanations and theological and philosophical knowledge reveals a prejudice against the nonnatural that is, in Copan’s words, “arbitrary and dogmatic.” Science can’t explain everything. As Samples puts it, “In reality, science alone cannot explain some of the most meaningful human realities of life (for example, values, aesthetics, and meaning).”
It’s no secret that Christianity (indeed, all belief systems) has its fair share of nonsensical and radical devotees. However, it is not fair or even correct to label us all as irrational or ignorant simply because we believe in a supernatural God. Likewise, naturalism is not as uniformly logical and clear-minded as its followers like to claim. Neither group—believers nor skeptics—can be defined by such neat categories.
Perhaps we all belong with the sporks.
Resources: Check out these books by Kenneth Samples and Paul Copan for a little logic and reason from the Christian side of the fence.
- A World of Difference by Samples
- Without a Doubt by Samples
- “How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong?” by Copan
- Is God a Moral Monster? by Copan
Special event: On March 24, people from every facet of the secular movement will converge on Washington DC for a Reason Rally billed as “the largest secular event in world history.” Christian apologetics groups like Ratio Christi and the Apologetics Bloggers Alliance are joining together to represent Christ lovingly and gently in this unique environment. Check out their efforts at www.truereason.org/.
Subjects: Atheism, Philosophy of Religion, Philosophy of Science