The theory of evolution has sparked much controversy among Christians. Some might even argue that this idea has done more to undermine the authority of Scripture than any other modern concept. On the other hand, many Christians have apparently found ways to reconcile their faith with the theory and have insisted that, to be taken seriously by the secular public, the rest of Christendom must follow suit.
One thing is certain: The scientific community and the educated secular public alike have fully accepted evolution, and if the church hopes to have any further access to this important segment of the population with the gospel, an adequate response is indispensable.
However, up to this point, the Christian response has been anything but adequate. At first, Christians tried to argue with science by showing that evolution contradicted the plain reading of Scripture. When that didn’t work, scientific Creationism was developed, which attempted to destroy evolution by pointing out flaws in the theory. But since scientists will always choose an imperfect theory over not having a theory at all, that did not work either.
Next came an attempt to make a break from Creationism by choosing a less religious-sounding label like Intelligent Design and appealing to civil courts for equal access to the science classroom in order to compete for the next generation. Needless to say, these efforts failed miserably as well. Today evolution is stronger than ever, and the only things we hear from the opposition anymore are pathetic attempts from people who are so underqualified that they are piling on embarrassment on top of embarrassment. Some creationists have even stopped fighting evolution altogether and are now just trying to hang on to the religious crowds by misleading them into thinking that mainstream scientists are losing faith in evolution.
At the other end of the spectrum we have theistic evolutionists, who in their attempt to reconcile the Bible with science have failed in convincing both the Christian and the scientific communities (although scientists are much more willing to tolerate this second group, at least for the time being). Finally, there is an ever-growing third group of people who, in order to protect their own faith, have become anti-science, anti-education, and anti-intellectualism altogether, not realizing that this only serves to give Christianity a bad name.
What Christians Need to Do First
Overall, the Christian world seems to be out of ideas on how to deal with this difficult question, even though most are aware that it is eating away at the very foundations of the faith and is especially damaging to the youth. Creation scientists from all over the world continue to meet regularly to exchange ideas and strategies and to share their findings. Nonetheless, there is no viable solution in sight.
Meanwhile churches are frustrated that evolution is making inroads into their own private schools and is being promoted even by denominational employees. Church leaders as well as lay members are feeling pressed to take a firm stance either for or against the theory that is splitting the church before our very eyes.
And yet, I am going to argue in this paper that there is something else Christians should be doing first.
There are several things to keep in mind as you read this essay:
- The article is written for theists and therefore works under the assumption that the reader does believe a personal god exists.
- In the article I am addressing theists who accept evolution, since this is the group that is most likely to disagree with what I have to say, but the material is relevant to all theists.
- Since this particular group I am addressing differs in their view of Biblical inspiration, I will be writing this without taking into consideration the Bible, theology, or Christian tradition at all, but simply following logically the relationship between the existence of God and scientific methodology.
- The essay is also written so as to hopefully make sense to people without a science background.
My argument can be summarized as follows:
- Science works under an assumption of naturalism.
- The lack of alternative scientific models affects the level of certainty regarding evolution.
- It is possible to study supernatural phenomena using methodological naturalism.
- Therefore, it is premature for Christians/theists to accept evolution.
Naturalism in Science
Naturalism is the philosophical viewpoint that everything arises from natural properties and causes and that the supernatural (gods, angels, demons, miracles, magic, etc.) does not exist.
Methodological naturalism, in contrast, is not a claim regarding the nature of reality but simply a tool or a protocol to be followed when doing science. In essence it is saying, “We don’t know if the supernatural exists or not, but we’re going to work under the assumption that it does not. We’re going to pretend for the time being to know for a fact that there is no God, etc., and we’re going to look for natural explanations for everything that happens or that exists.”
Misconceptions About Naturalism
In general, I run into two misconceptions when it comes to the role of naturalism in science. First, some people underestimate the extent of that role. They have a hard time believing that science really does have a bias toward naturalism and against God.
To this group I recommend a thorough study of the scientific method and of how methodological naturalism applies. Read these two articles written by prominent scientists on the topic. One of the authors, Barbara Forrest, is at the forefront of the fight against Creationism and Intelligent Design.
- Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism: Clarifying the Connection by
- How Not to Attack Intelligent Design Creationism: Philosophical Misconceptions about Methodological Naturalism by Maarten Boudry, Stefaan Blancke, and Johan Braeckman
Another group recognizes the naturalistic bias of science but considers this a flaw in the scientific process when, in fact, this is actually its strength. While there isn’t enough time to explain just why in this essay, consider that humanity has, for millennia, used many different methods in trying to understand the natural world with little success. Science, on the other hand, has taken us from the stone age to the space age in just 300 years. The success of the scientific process is so evident that the only recourse for people who disagree with it is to come up with a better methodology and then take several years or decades to demonstrate to the scientific community and the world that this new methodology produces better results than the current scientific method.
Implications of a Naturalistic Approach
However, as effective as the scientific method is, we need to consider the implications of working under a naturalistic paradigm. Scientists apply this methodology not only to the development of living organisms but to every aspect of our universe. Christians/theists who accept evolution because they feel the need to harmonize their theology with science are not going far enough. The only kind of god that is compatible with the scientific process is a god that has had no involvement whatsoever in the development of our universe and has never performed any kind of miracles or interacted with humanity in any way. And if that’s the god that exists, why would we even care that he exists?
Yes, more is known about the development of living things than some aspects of physics or cosmology, but the same process that has led to the present conclusions regarding life on earth will inevitably lead to similar conclusions regarding the universe as a whole.
Can theists, then, find any place in science for the supernatural? I’ll look at this question further in Parts 2 and 3 (coming on Thursday and Friday).
Questions for discussion:
Do you agree that the naturalistic methodology of science is one of its strengths?
If there is anti-supernatural bias in science, how can scientists who believe in God correct for this bias?