Examines naturalism based on three Scriptural tests to determine its validity.
is a senior environmental consultant with an electricity supply company in Sydney, Australia. He holds a B.S. with first class honors in physics from the University of Sydney, and a Ph.D. in air pollution meteorology from Macquarie University. Over the past 22 years, Dr. Hawke has worked as an environmental scientist and environmental consultant for a state government regulatory authority and the electrical power industry. He is also a certified environmental auditor with the Quality Society of Australasia.
There are two main views about the origin of the universe and the origin of life: those based on naturalism and those based on an intelligent Creator. As these events occurred long ago and are not subject to direct observation or experimental tests, both of these perspectives are mainly philosophical beliefs based on certain assumptions about the physical world.
This fact is ignored or distorted in most modern treatments of the topic of origins. For example, the March 1998 issue of National Geographic included an article titled “The Rise of Life on Earth.” The editor of the magazine wrote concerning this article on the origin of life: “Science is the study of testable, observable phenomena,” and religious faith is “an unshakeable belief in the unseen.” This “straw man argument” diverts the discussion away from the issues of science and logic to the separate topic of science versus religious faith. It also ignores the fact that there are no obvious “testable, observable phenomena” on the origin of life. Furthermore, the language used in the article demonstrates that naturalism also relies on faith in the unseen.
The naturalistic view of origins is that everything that exists can be explained by physical and chemical processes alone. This differs from the view that matter, energy, physical and chemical processes, and life were established by a Creator as revealed in the Holy Bible.
Any explanation of origins should be consistent with the body of “observable evidence” and any relevant “standards.
An environmental auditor relies on two main factors: objective evidence and agreed standards. The outcome of each part of an audit depends on comparing the observable evidence against the relevant standard. Of course, environmental standards change in time and space across the world. Similarly, any explanation of origins should be consistent with the body of “observable evidence” and any relevant “standards.” This is complicated by the fact that the evidence is viewed today, a long time after the beginning of the universe and life. Also, in a changing world, it is not immediately obvious which standards are relevant. The Bible is the only reliable and consistent source of truth; it is like a fixed frame of reference. Other authorities, such as science and logic, are not sufficient, as they may change in time and space; they are like a changing frame of reference.
The laws of physics and chemistry are examples of the relative standards of science, which change with time as knowledge develops. They were developed under present conditions and assume that the universe already exists. Two of these fundamental laws are that life always comes from earlier life and that mass/energy is conserved. Applying them to the origin of life assumes that all these conditions were true at that time. To say, then, that naturalism explains the origin of life is “circular reasoning,” as the outcome is largely determined by the assumptions made. Although these laws may describe the present world, it would be a gross assumption to extrapolate them back to the unobserved initial conditions. Yet this is done frequently by those with a naturalistic viewpoint, without acknowledgement of the uncertainties involved and the limitations of the scientific method.
The Bible is a source of “absolute” truth that has stood the test of time much longer than any other document or philosophy. Of course, as in the case of any literature, it requires interpretation as to what is historical and what is metaphorical or symbolic. Besides obvious literary techniques, the most reliable method is to use the whole message of the Bible to interpret any particular passage. Otherwise, an interpretation may not be consistent with the rest of the Bible.
The Bible contains three clear tests for determining whether a belief, teaching, or philosophy is true or false. To be true it must pass each of the three tests:
The Jesus test: This test states: “Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the Antichrist. … This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood” (1 John. 4:2–6). The question to be answered in this test is: What does it say about Jesus Christ? The Bible teaches that Christ was unique: divine and human, sinless, eternal, and the Creator. It is false to deny that Christ was the divine Son of God. Beliefs that fail this test usually claim that Christ was, at best, a great teacher or a prophet. They may even encourage the view that Christ and other events in the Bible are mythical.
The gospel test: The Bible warns about those promoting a different gospel, “If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal. 1:9). The question to be answered in this test is: What is its gospel? In other words: What is the core belief or hope? The Bible says that the root cause of all our problems is that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s requirements resulting in death. The only means of rescue is salvation by faith in Christ. “Different gospels” are those that differ from this. They either add to it or take away from it. There is a warning against adding to or taking away from the words of the Bible (Rev. 22:18–19). Broader aspects of the gospel include the original creation and the ultimate restoration of all things (Rev. 4:11, 21:1–22:6). We need to be careful when applying this test because a “different gospel” may deceive by using words similar to the true gospel but give them different meanings.
The fruit test: Jesus Christ warned, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matt. 7:15–20). The question to be answered in this test is: What kind of fruit is evident? In other words, what type of attitudes and behavior does it encourage? Is the divine nature or the sinful nature most evident? The former is characterized by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The sinful nature may involve idolatry, sexual immorality, selfish ambition, pride, hostility, quarrelling, and outbursts of anger (Gal. 5:19–23).
These tests will now be used to assess the naturalistic view of origins.
The Jesus test: As naturalism means that nature is all there is, it is associated with atheism. For example, the American Association of Biology Teachers states:
The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.
This view of origins has no need for a Creator or the divine, and so is consistent with a belief that Jesus Christ was only a human being and not divine. Naturalism clearly fails the Jesus test.
The gospel test: As naturalism assumes there is no God, it accepts no absolute standards of “right” and “wrong,” and rejects the existence of “sin” in the sense of falling short of God’s standard. Therefore, it teaches that there is no need of a savior. Its gospel is that nature has made itself and the Genesis account of origins is not true. A biblical consequence of this is that if there was no paradise at the beginning as described in Genesis, then there can be no hope for a future paradise. In fact, naturalism rejects all the basic biblical truths, such as creation, the beginning of evil, the need for salvation, and the ultimate destiny of human beings. So, naturalism fails the gospel test.
The fruit test: Naturalism supports and is associated with materialism, humanism (man is self-sufficient, capable of solving all his difficulties), and pantheism (“nature” replaces God). Its acceptance leads to less value on human life (practices such as abortion and euthanasia are more acceptable). Other examples are racism, less value on family life (marriage is less important; divorce is more acceptable), less value on morals (truth is now relative, not absolute), a “might is right” attitude that supports the strong, but not the weak (survival of the fittest, a competitive world, compassion involves saving “weak genes”).
As these are opposite to the values of the Bible, naturalism fails the fruit test. It is clear from this that the viewpoint of naturalism fails all three biblical tests for determining what is true. Therefore, it is false and is not consistent with the overall message of the Bible.
Due to the influence of the above philosophies, claims are often made in the name of “science” that go far beyond the available evidence, and some aspects of modern science have become increasingly tenuous and speculative. In fact the everyday use of the word “science” has changed from dealing with things that are observable and testable to meaning “naturalism” and so includes conjecture and dubious hypotheses.
Although we live in a “cause-and-effect” universe, ultimate causes, such as origins, are outside the realm of reliable science. Science can only reliably deal with the present world; it cannot reliably deal with the past (such as origins) or the future (such as ultimate destinies), as it cannot directly observe these. I believe all scientists should be wary of their assumptions, as these can largely determine their findings. They should also be wary of extrapolations outside the range of observation. The further the extrapolation, the less reliable the prediction. Changes in the assumptions will change the prediction. This applies in particular to boundary conditions, such as those involving initial conditions (or origins). Therefore, scientists can only speculate, imagine, and guess about the origin of life.