Naturalism and the Christian Apologist
by Eric Chabot
Any of us who have been engaged in the apologetics endeavor knows that it can take up enormous amounts of our time. The reason for this is the fact that when it comes to Christian apologetics (which is the rational defense of the Christian faith), it really takes a multidisciplinary approach. The one area that always creeps up into apologetics is the issue of naturalism which says that nature is the “whole show.” In other words, there are really two general kinds of explanations for events: intentional accounts (which demonstrate signs of value, design, and purpose) and non-intentional accounts (which lack values, design, and purpose). Naturalists generally only punt to one kind of explanation- non-intentional accounts.
In other words, please don’t ever say there is any agency or interference into the natural world by an outside cause that is non-natural. As Vern Poythress says:
“ Methodological naturalism says roughly that modern science does conduct itself and should continue to conduct itself with the assumption that in the areas that it investigates, all the particular events and all the general patterns take place according to general laws that for practical purposes can be regarded as impersonal; and even if there are some exceptions, these are best ignored for the sake of getting on with the task of science. Methodological naturalism can be converted in some people’s minds into ontological or metaphysical naturalism, the view that there is no personal God and that the physical domain is all that there is. For philosophical and religious reasons, some people use methodological naturalism as a stepping stone toward ontological naturalism. But logically the two are distinct. Methodological naturalism more modestly proposes a practical restriction on the kind of hypotheses that scientists may consider, based partly on the pragmatic argument that the restriction will help science make progress rather than getting caught in fruitless byways. A number of people maintain that science by definition has a firm commitment to excluding the supernatural.” (see Redemming Science: A God Centered Approach, pgs 261-264).
In the world of the New Atheists, science is limited to the following range of concerns:
1. Science only is concerned with the material aspects of the natural world. 2. Science restricts itself to the secondary/natural cause and would forgo consideration of a primary cause (such as a divine/intelligent primary cause) as part of the explanatory structure. 3. Science seeks to reduce the systems observed to their component parts as a way of simplifying observation and explaining the behavior of the higher levels of organization.
Naturalism (as currently discussed and advocated by Richard Dawkins, some atheists, etc) is not a discovery of science. It must always be viewed as a presupposition of science as presently practiced. Therefore, the rules of the game have been rigged in advance…
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