Atheists and agnostics often turn to scientism and naturalism to explain phenomena in the environment to the purposeful exclusion of anything supernatural. Scientism is the belief that we should believe only in what can be proven scientifically, while naturalism is the belief that physical events only have physical causes (Craig, 2011). I call this “Naturalism of the gaps” to mimic the often received charge of “God of the gaps,” which atheists and agnostics claim we fill gaps in our knowledge with God. The intention of this blog is to offer reasons to reject naturalism and scientism. If you would like to listen to a video instead, please click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pglqa_M8obU
“But if naturalism is true, there is no God, and hence no God (or anyone else) overseeing our development and orchestrating the course of our evolution. And this leads directly to the question whether it is at all likely that our cognitive faculties, given naturalism and given their evolutionary origin, would have developed in such a way as to be reliable, to furnish us with mostly true beliefs. Darwin himself expressed this doubt: “With me,” he said, “the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?” (Platinga, 1994)
Scientism and naturalism cannot explain many aspects of our lives. In a debate with Peter Atkins, William Lane Craig identified five areas in which various truths cannot be proven by science. I have quoted his five points below:
- “Logical and mathematical truths cannot be proven by science. Science presupposes logic and math, so that to try to prove them by science would be arguing in a circle.
- Metaphysical truths, like there are other minds other than my own or that the external world is real or that the past was not created five minutes ago with an appearance of age are rational beliefs that cannot be scientifically proven.
- Ethical beliefs about statements of value are not accessible by the scientific method. You can’t show by science whether the Nazi scientists in the camps did anything evil as opposed to the scientists in western democracies.
- Aesthetic judgments…cannot be accessed by the scientific method because the beautiful, like the good, cannot be scientifically proven.
- And finally, most remarkably, would be science itself. Science cannot be justified by the scientific method. Science is permeated with unprovable assumptions. For example, in the special theory of relativity, the whole theory hinges on the assumption that the speed of light is constant in a one-way direction between any two points A and B. But that strictly cannot be proven. We simply have to assume that in order to hold to the theory.”
In summary, we cannot simply adhere to scientism and naturalism as they fail to explain many aspects of our lives that we experience. But one of the biggest refutations of such beliefs is found in our cosmology.
For most of human history, many people believed the universe was eternal and unchanging and life was an infinite regress. In other words, life begets life, which begets life, and so on. Many in some Eastern religions still believe the universe is in an eternal cycle of growth and regeneration.
Yet in the 1920s, Edwin Hubble cast doubt on such theories. Hubble observed that galaxies outside of the Milky Way existed and their light appeared to be stretched, which is a sign they were rushing away from the earth. A Catholic Belgian physicist studied Hubble’s observations and interpreted findings as evidence of an expanding universe, which was a possibility within Albert Einstein’s field equations of general relativity. According to what was dubbed the “Big Bang” theory, the universe inflated, expanded and cooled, starting from a very small, very hot singularity that emerged into what we know of the universe today.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument is as follows:
- Everything that begins to exist has a cause.
- The universe (time, space, and matter) began to exist.
- Therefore, the universe has a cause.
The Big Bang suggests a start date for time, space and matter of around 14 billion years ago, so whatever existed prior to the Big Bang and caused its sudden inflation must necessarily lack those qualities. The cause of the Big Bang must be an uncaused first mover that is transcendent in time and immaterial, intentional, and powerful. These are the characteristics of a Supreme Being and Creator who started the expansion of the universe from nothing.
Prior to the discovery of the Big Bang, Albert Einstein struggled with the theological implications of a universe in a mode of expansion, so he created a cosmological constant, also known as a fudge factor. Einstein considered himself an agnostic. He didn’t believe in a personal God or an eternal life, noting that this life was enough for him. His cosmological constant served as a repulsive force, which kept the universe from collapsing under its own weight. It also enabled Einstein to favor a static universe over one with a start date. A Boston University physicist and Einstein scholar named Michel Janssen noted that “Einstein needed the constant not because of his philosophical predilections but because of his prejudice that the universe is static” (Overbye, 1998). Einstein stubbornly held to his cosmological constant until 1931, when after a visit with Edwin Hubble at an observatory at Cal Tech, he abandoned it and never mentioned it again, calling it “theoretically unsatisfactory anyway” (Overbye, 1998). Since then, the Big Bang theory has come to be well-accepted by NASA and the vast majority of scientists all over the globe.
Astrophysicist Hugh Ross (2018, p. 28) has indicated that all Big Bang theories share “(1) a transcendent cosmic beginning that occurred a finite time ago; (2) a continuous, universal cosmic expansion; and (3) a cosmic cooling from an extremely hot initial state.”
Interestingly, we have Biblical support for each of these points. In other words, centuries before 1925 when the Big Bang was promoted by Abbe George Lemaitre, Job, Moses, David, Isaiah, John, Zechariah, Paul and other Biblical authors noted the creation and expansion of the universe. Hugh Ross (2018) identified the verses as follows:
A transcendent cosmic beginning that began a finite time ago
Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
Isaiah 45:18 “For this is what the LORD says – he who created the heavens, he is God.”
Proverbs 8:22 “The LORD brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be.”
Titus 1:2 “…in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time…”
John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”
John 17:24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.”
Colossians 1:15-16 “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.”
1 Peter 1:20 “He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.”
2 Timothy 1:9 “He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time…”
A continuous, universal cosmic expansion
Job 9:8 “He alone stretches out the heavens.”
Psalm 104:2 “The LORD wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent.
Isaiah 42:5 “This is what God the LORD says – the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out.”
Zechariah 12:1 “The LORD, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundations of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person…”
Please note that the word often chosen in the Old Testament to describe the expansion of the heavens is “raqa,” which translates as stretching or spreading out.
A cosmic cooling (and progressive decay) from an extremely hot initial state
Romans 8:20 “For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”
Revelation 21:1 “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first earth had passed away.”
In summary, the Bible offers solid support for the creation of the universe, distinguishing it from other religious texts. Furthermore, only the Christian Lord is both immanent (within this universe) and transcendent. This point distinguishes Christianity from other religions, such as Hinduism and Islam. According to Hinduism, the gods are created and within this universe (immanent). According to Islam, Allah is transcendent as he doesn’t interact with people in this world. The book of nature and our cosmology support the Christian Lord.
So when atheists and agnostics say that there are 3,000 gods and since we believe in only one God we’re “atheists” to 2,999 others, we should explain their faulty logic. Not only are they elevating 2,999 other gods to the level of the Christian Lord (ignoring that the others have start dates), they’re failing to see they’re breaking the laws of noncontradiction. To be an atheist is to believe no God exists. To be a Christian is to believe God exists. Accordingly, one who says she believes in God cannot also be atheistic.
Psalm 19:1-6 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out to all the earth; their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun. It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth.
Craig, W.L. (2011). Is scientism self-refuting? Accessed at: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-scientism-self-refuting
Overbye, D. (1998). A famous Einstein “fudge” returns to haunt cosmology. The New York Times. May 26.
Platinga, A. (1994). Naturalism defeated. http://www.calvin.edu/academic/philosophy/virtual_library/articles/plantinga_alvin/naturalism_defeated.pdf Letter to William Graham, Down, July 3rd, 1881. In The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin Including an Autobiographical Chapter, ed. Francis Darwin (London: John Murray, Albermarle Street, 1887), Volume 1, pp. 315-316.
Ross, H. (2018). The Creator and the Cosmos. Corvina, CA: Reasons to Believe.
6 Replies to “Naturalism of the Gaps”
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Most discussions about the existence of god end up being a discussion about epistemology because, while atheists may claim that theists are failing present evidence, theists claim that they are indeed providing evidence, maybe even strong evidence by their own estimation. Thus, the issue devolves into whether or not something constitutes (strong) evidence. Evidence can be defined through one’s epistemology (the methodology by which one determines whether or not something corresponds to reality).
As far as I’ve ever seen, we as humans only have one RELIABLE epistemology available to us – specifically, the scientific method. And, in reality, limited resources (e.g., time, money, manpower) and human mistakes prevent us from executing the scientific method perfectly. Nonetheless, the scientific method undeniably continues to drive human progress – new technologies, medicines, medical procedures, more efficient and more capable machines and computers, et cetera. Additionally, the scientific method has built-in mechanism to weed out bad ideas/hypotheses – thus it can be self-correcting over time. One evidence that the scientific method stands alone in being reliable is that if one looked into research institutions around the world, including in theocracies like Iran or in Christian universities, one would consistently find that the science departments (e.g., engineering, biology, chemistry, physics, anthropology, etc.) produce pretty much all of the new technologies, patents, medicines, et cetera. Meanwhile, as far as I’ve ever heard of, no research institution has ever had a team successfully just use prayer and fasting to produce a major break through in medical procedures, cures, new or more efficient machines and computers, et cetera.
Anyone who supposedly understands the scientific method ought to know that it does not claim to arrive at absolute truths (in spite of poor nomenclature like the Law of Gravity, Moore’s Law, or even String Theory, which is not a theory, nor yet even a scientific hypothesis in the restrict sense of those words). All knowledge or facts obtained by the scientific method are tentative, and could potentially be revised or dismissed if reliable evidence dictates so; even though some facts are so reliable that there are no practical reasons to doubt them. Some theories have been incredibly well vetted, tested, and observed in natural, in multiple ways, and yet most experts still agree that they are almost certainly incomplete, and are only a limiting case of a more grander theory that is not yet known; e.g., Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Moreover, those who understand the scientific method also know that this methodology does not claim to be able to answer all questions about reality, nor does it even attempt to address the supernatural. The scientific method never claimed that it can, or even needs to, justify itself (such an attempt to do so would likely become circular, and thus not logically justified anyway – look no further than the Christian presuppositionalists for the same problem). Its justification really comes from the fact that it works in producing truly useful, often predictive, knowledge about the world that we live in.
If the supernatural where real, then a new RELIABLE epistemology would need to be established in order to prove (provide sufficient evidence beyond all reasonable doubt) that the supernatural corresponded to our reality. It is not atheists that are claiming that there is a god with supernatural abilities. Thus, the burden of proof is one those who are making that claim to first delineate and establish this new RELIABLE epistemology, and then use it to produce the requisite evidence that would show that their god is real.
I don’t know of anyone who actually makes the argument as it is stated here. This seems like yet another strawman of what atheists actually say/argue. The wording is incredibly important. It’s not that people are saying that all things must be proven through the scientific method (scientism), nor that all events in reality must have a natural explanation/cause (naturalism), but that so far no one has provided a reliable mechanism (epistemology) by which we can undeniably and unmistakably attribute the cause of an event to something supernatural. Atheists do not need to exclude, or rule out, any/all potential supernatural causes, they (and everyone else) merely need to acknowledge that we don’t have the tools to isolate and prove supernatural causes (and we may never have such tools as they may not exist).
It is important to understand that if one wishes to be rational in their thinking, then she/he ought to demand (sufficient) evidence prior to believing in a claim. Also, one ought to moderate one’s own belief to the quality of the evidence provided – partial evidence only warrants partial belief. Otherwise, one may easy become a gullible fool. For example, if a stranger approached you and told you that he/she encountered intelligent extraterrestrials on a hike in the woods the day before, and these beings demonstrated a far superior technology than our own. Unfortunately, these aliens are malevolent and plan on torturing each human for weeks-on-end, until finally putting each of us death, unless all of us collect as much precious metals as we can in the next year, and given them to the stranger relaying this story to you, to be eventually collected by the extraterrestrials. Do you default to being credulous of this stranger’s tale until you can prove that he/she was either lying or mistaken? Or, you you default to skepticism of this unsubstantiated claim until sufficiently high quality evidence is presented to you?
Finally, and maybe most importantly, the rational person accepts that often the best and most honest answer to most questions is “I don’t know”. We cannot all be experts at all things, but we can be honest about what evidence we do or do not have. The default is not to believe in a god because it may be psychologically satisfying, or because that god’s supernatural powers can be used to fill in gaps in our collective knowledge, but to simply remain skeptical and admit when we don’t know things.
As stated above “William Lane Craig identified five areas in which various truths cannot be proven by science.” The way you write this implies that the 5 points are “truths”, and thus I’m led to understand that you can actually prove those 5 points to be true – by all means please do so!
Again regarding these 5 points…
1. The first and last points are basically the same thing. I’ve addressed them in my previous comments/posts.
2. Math and logic do not need to be stated separately since math is a subset of logic.
3. The examples in the second point are merely things are most people accept for practical reasons, and science is not claiming that they are provable or even necessarily true.
4. The third point implies that there is such a thing an inherent or absolute evil. It would not even be worth addressing until/unless you first demonstrate that there is a inherent or absolute evil. The entire concept really only makes sense in a religious context.
5. The fourth point is a red herring in that most, if not all, aesthetic judgments are intended to be subjective, and thus do not need to be proved.
As for the the Kalam cosmological argument, if you could prove the second point in the syllogism you would undoubtedly have a Nobel prize in physics. The universe, according to modern physics, is not fundamentally comprised of “time, space, and matter”. Rather it is comprised of quantum fields, which themselves give rise to perceived space, time, and matter; all three of which are relative to the observer, not fundamental in any practical way. Moreover, our current understanding of the evolution, including the concept commonly referred to as the Big Bang, has nothing to say about the absolute origin of the universe (some speculate that it was merely a phase change in certain properties of the universe much like liquid water becoming water vapor). Especially, it does not claim that the universe has a definitive beginning; in fact, the very concept of time breaks down in a sufficiently compact and dense universe at very high temperatures (energies).
Another Nobel prize in physics is “nye at hand” when you prove the transcendence of the Christian god. Frankly physicists would love to know for sure whether or not something can, let alone did/does, exist outside of our universe. By all means, don’t hold back here, prove that “outside of our universe” is a real thing. I and many others will be disappointed to find out if this claim of god’s transcendence is not backed with any real evidence, but rather is merely stated to be true by Christians only to remain logically consistent with the unsubstantiated Biblical claim that god created the universe, and thus he must have existed outside of, and independent of, this universe.
Finally you’ll also need to prove that the Big Bang must be caused by a “Supreme Being and Creator” rather than some other process, conscious/intelligent or not, natural or supernatural. At least scientists in this field have the humility to not claim anything, since we clearly do not understand all natural processes, nor do we have any reliable mechanisms to identify and prove supernatural processes. Again, a statement like “I don’t know what are the origins of our universe” seems to be the much more honest and humble answer, wouldn’t you agree?