Tag Archives: methodological naturalism

Can Science Test for the Supernatural?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Christians believe that a supernatural being can be reasoned to by working backward from effect to cause.  We observe ourselves and we observe the world around us (those are the effects) and we reason that a supernatural cause is the best explanation for the things we observe.  This is how almost all arguments for God’s existence work.

Science can shed additional light on what we observe in the world around us, so in that sense science can be employed in arguments for God’s existence.  For example, science seems to have shown that the universe had a beginning and that the physical laws and constants that govern the universe are fine tuned for advanced life.  Both of these scientific finds are often used in arguments for God’s existence.

Those who hold a naturalistic worldview (the natural world is all that exists) seem to be divided on this subject.  Some naturalists deny that science can ever be used to test the existence of God and others affirm that science can test for the supernatural and that those tests have all turned out negative.  Still others, like evolutionary scientist Donald Prothero, appear to hold both views at the same time.  Consider the quotes below from Prothero’s book Evolution.

Prothero first suggests that scientists “cannot consider supernatural events in their hypotheses.”  Why? Because “once you introduce the supernatural to a scientific hypothesis, there is no way to falsify or test it.”  He adds that scientists are not allowed to consider God or miracles (i.e., the supernatural) because they are “completely untestable and outside the realm of science.”  All right, it seems that Prothero is firmly in the camp of those who say that science cannot say anything about the supernatural.

But in the very next paragraph in his book, he completely reverses course.  Prothero explains, “In fact, there have been many scientific tests of supernatural and paranormal explanations of things, including parapsychology, ESP, divination, prophecy, and astrology.  All of these non-scientific ideas have been falsified when subjected to the scrutiny of scientific investigation. . . . Every time the supernatural has been investigated by scientific methods, it has failed the test.”

Huh??  Is your head spinning like mine?  Prothero first claims that science cannot test the supernatural and then he says that science has tested the supernatural.  Which is it?  It can’t be both.

I am not pointing this out to poke fun at Prothero, but because I see some skeptics making this mistake over and over again.  They want to desperately cling to the claim that science can say nothing about the existence of God (so that they can remove science as a tool in the Christian’s evidential toolbox), but they also desperately want to tell people how science has shown that God doesn’t exist (they retain science as a tool for skeptics to nullify the supernatural).  Unfortunately, holding both of these positions at the same time is flatly contradictory.  The skeptic must choose one or the other. Either science can test for the supernatural or it cannot.

I have seen this same mistake made in the intelligent design/evolution debate.  Evolutionists will claim that Michael Behe’s idea of irreducible complexity is non-scientific or scientifically untestable, but these same evolutionists will then produce scientific research they claim scientifically disproves irreducible complexity!  If it’s not scientifically testable, then how are they producing research which scientifically disproves it?

If you’re a Christian talking to a scientific skeptic, watch out for this skeptical two-step.  If you’re a scientific skeptic or naturalist, make up your mind which it is, because you are really confusing me.

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Must Science Exclude Intelligence as a Cause?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

According to John Heininger, the answer is “no.”  What follows is an extended quotation from John, who submitted this as a comment to our blog.  His comment makes some great points in a succinct fashion about the nature of science, especially with respect to the ruling of the Dover trial in 2005.

Methodological Naturalism: The Severing of Science.

In recent decades there have been ideologically driven efforts by versed interests to sever science and remove it from its complete and proper context; on the mistaken notion that science must be solely about naturalistic material processes, to the exclusion of all else. This assertion is neither scientific nor realistic – and is unsustainable.

Firstly, naturalistic science falls well short of ever answering ultimate questions of origins and existence. A reality acknowledged even by hard core atheists, who, none-the-less, operate on the blind faith notion that naturalism and raw materialism will increasingly explain all of reality, to the point where nothing beyond the material world is ever necessary, including God.

The noted atheistic philosopher Jean Paul Sarte however highlighted the absurdity of this aspiration, and finally conceded that this hope could never be achieved. Said Sarte, “A finite point without an infinite reference point is meaningless and absurd.” He realized that because human knowledge would forever be finite and limited humanity would never ever be in a position to have the ultimate big picture. And science has discovered that the further we push back the frontiers of scientific knowledge the more unanswered questions we have.

This is not to say that we should not continue with increased effort to discover all we can about the natural world, and always seek “firstly” to explain the mysteries of nature and the universe in purely naturalistic terms, as the empirical and scientific science method does, and does well.

Science is about the facts. It’s about discovering truths about the natural world, entirely by natural laws and processes alone (Dover). However, this is only the “initial” part of what constitutes science and the scientific method, and utterly ignores the foundational realities on which all of science ultimately rests and operates.

The foundational truth about science and the natural world is that it cannot be ultimately explained by naturalistic laws or material processes alone. Every scientist knows that all of science ultimately rests entirely on phenomena that have absolutely no naturalistic explanation.

The Dover ID trial severed science, and turned science on its head. It was decreed at Dover that natural law and material processes alone must define what is science. This turned out to be ultimately loopy logic, as the gatekeeper itself, natural law, has no naturalistic explanation, and there is nothing to suggest this will ever change (Sarte). This is rather like appointing an unidentified alien to guard planet earth from all other unidentified aliens, particularly God.

None-the-less, this loopy logic was made both the measure, and the means of defining science. It was both inadequate and defective. While matter, energy and other natural phenomena are the principle focus of science, the scientific community has absolutely no idea of what matter and energy ultimately is, or how it came into existence. This is particularly true in regard to the origin and nature of the dependent universe itself.

A contingent dying universe that is running down towards head death and maximum entropy cannot explain itself. And there is absolutely no verifiable naturalistic explanation as to how our dependent cosmos came into being, or how a dead universe devoid of energy would ever wind itself up again to the initial state of minimum entropy, a state of maximum usable energy, information, and order.

Moreover, all of science is based on material and mathematical relationships. But no scientist has even the foggiest notion of how these material and mathematical relationships came into existence. Nor is there the foggiest notion of where the cosmological constants came from, naturalistically.

Secondly, central to science is the foundational acceptance that we live in a universe that clearly manifests regularity, predictability and mathematical order. A reality every scientist in every field automatically assumes in order to be able to do science. All scientists assume we live in a universe where reason and intelligence can be applied to science, and such a universe must of necessity clearly manifest intelligence, at every level.

Therefore, to argue that the ID concept – of the universe being intelligently designed by an intelligent cause – has no place in science or science education, is to deny the foundational reality on which every field of science and western technology ultimately operates, every day, and in every way.

Methodological naturalism severs science. It’s insistence that all of science and science education must be restricted exclusively to purely naturalistic explanations is to split science in two. And specifically excludes the principle phenomena and foundational principles on which all of science is founded. And this is exactly what happened at Dover – no intelligence allowed.

The unsustainable methodological naturalism now being imposed on science and science education must be challenged. It is nothing less than indoctrinating students on philosophical naturalism and atheism, which the highest court in the United States, the U.S. Supreme Court, has ruled to be a religion, in the full sense of the word.