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A reader claims that “natural” phenomena are the only valid scientific explanations. Dr. Jason Lisle, AiG–U.S., examines this often repeated claim.
Jason Lisle wrote in regard to the distant starlight problem: “It is ridiculous to argue that a supernatural explanation is wrong because it cannot be explained by natural causes.” For this to be true we would have to redefine astronomy in a way that it would no longer be a natural science. The advantage of retaining it as a purely natural science is that there are observations we can make that allow us to choose between competing theories. When the CBR [cosmic background radiation] was discovered in 1965, it allowed astronomers to determine that the Big Bang was a better explanation for the Cosmos than the Steady State Theory. If supernatural explanations are allowed, which would we use? There are Buddhist, Hindu, and many other supernatural explanations, in addition to the one found in the Bible, for astronomical phenomenon and no observation we can make or experiment we can perform that would favor one over the other. Natural explanations may or may not represent reality but they are testable.
—Dr. S.K., U.S.
Just wanted to thank God and AiG for the Creation Museum. A couple of our Sunday school classes recently visited the museum and loved it. It is truly an inspiration and comfort to have a biblical-based Creation model to both educate and evengelize the world. It was such a blessing to discuss with the youth at various displays the difference between our biblical theology and the world’s view. We continue to support you in all ways and look forward to returning again soon. Many teachers picked up materials in the bookstore for their classes. We will be using your VBS material in June.
—Pastor B.V., U.S.
Praise God for the work being done through the Creation Museum! Answers in Genesis is precisely the explantion needed by so many doubters. I already believe regardless of substantiated evidence, but how wonderful to be vidicated through science. Biology and chemistry are my passions. I am so often questioned on how I can be a “scientist” and a Christian. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. Now I can with confidence ask non-believers how they can be a scientist and not believe in the one true God. Thank you. I look forward to visiting your museum in the future.
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Jason Lisle wrote in regard to the distant starlight problem: “It is ridiculous to argue that a supernatural explanation is wrong because it cannot be explained by natural causes.”
All I’m pointing out is that a vicious circular argument is bad reasoning. I would hope that most people would immediately realize that is true.
Consider the argument I’m critiquing: “(A) A supernatural explanation is wrong because (B) it is not explained by natural causes.” Since (B) is essentially synonymous with (A), the argument is circular. It concludes that all things must be explained by natural causes (A) by simply assuming that all things must be explained by natural causes (B). This is not a good argument. So, my assertion that such an argument is ridiculous is valid.
For this to be true we would have to redefine astronomy in a way that it would no longer be a natural science.
Not at all: astronomy is a natural science in the sense that astronomers study nature. However, there is nothing in the definition or methods of astronomy that requires it to be “naturalistic.” There is nothing in astronomy that precludes the possibility that God created the universe in six days as He said He did in Genesis. In fact, if God were not constantly upholding the universe in a consistent way, science would not be possible as shown here: Evolution: The Anti-science.
Your email implies that you believe that astronomy should be approached with the philosophy of methodological naturalism. Naturalism (metaphysical naturalism) is the belief that nature is all there is; it assumes that there is no God—at least not a transcendent Creator. Methodological naturalism is the belief that we should approach science from the perspective of naturalism—regardless of whether or not naturalism is actually true. In other words, a methodological naturalist might believe in God, but he or she believes that we should restrict our conclusions to natural explanations—that we should essentially pretend that God does not exist when we approach science.
Such an approach is arbitrary and irrational. Why should we dismiss the possibility of creation before any investigation of evidence? The notion makes even less sense for those who are convinced that God does exist. Why would a theist assume in practice the exact opposite of his conviction? Unless it is possible to prove that God does not exist (which it isn’t), to simply assume that He does not (if only in methodology) would be arbitrary—without justification. Methodological naturalism is irrational.
As an analogy, consider people studying the construction of a car. Can you imagine one of them arguing, “We must assume this car came about by the forces of nature acting over time with no designer as we study how it works, even though we know this isn’t true.” Such an approach would be absurd. Yet some people use effectively the same approach when studying God’s creation.
The advantage of retaining it as a purely natural science is that there are observations we can make that allow us to choose between competing theories.
The advantage of assuming that the universe is completely empty is that it makes the math a lot easier. But it would be ridiculous to assume such a thing, since we have evidence to the contrary!
Likewise, simply arbitrarily dismissing a supernatural explanation for the origin of the universe may make it easier to choose between the remaining ones. But it’s not at all rational, since we have evidence to the contrary.
When the CBR [cosmic background radiation] was discovered in 1965, it allowed astronomers to determine that the Big Bang was a better explanation for the Cosmos than the Steady State Theory.
This is the fallacy of bifurcation (false dilemma). Some secular astronomers argue that there are only two options: steady state and big bang; steady state cannot justify the cosmic microwave background, so they conclude the big bang must be true. But, of course, there is a third alternative: the Bible is true. Neither the big bang nor the steady state can account for the uniformity of nature upon which science depends, but the Bible can.
If supernatural explanations are allowed, which would we use?
How about the one written by the God who actually created the universe, knows everything, never makes mistakes, and never lies? Only God’s account of origins makes sense of scientific observations and provides rational justification for the methods of science and reasoning.
There are Buddhist, Hindu, and many other supernatural explanations, in addition to the one found in the Bible, for astronomical phenomenon and no observation we can make or experiment we can perform that would favor one over the other.
Actually, every experiment we perform demonstrates the truth of the Christian worldview, and the falsehood of others, such as Buddhism and Hinduism. Scientific experimentation relies on the principle of uniformity—the notion that the future will resemble the past. However, only the biblical worldview can account for uniformity. That is, without the Bible, there would be no basis for uniformity and, hence, no possibility of science. This is explained in my article: Evolution: The Anti-science.
Other worldviews cannot make sense of science. As one example, Hinduism teaches that the universe is Maya—illusion. But science would be impossible if the universe were merely an illusion. How could we study something that does not actually exist? Hinduism teaches that there are no distinctions, and that all is one. But science presupposes distinctions; if there is no difference between the stars, planets, galaxies, and quasars, then astronomy would be meaningless.
Natural explanations may or may not represent reality but they are testable.
Any philosophy that arbitrarily dismisses possibilities that are potentially true is a bad philosophy. Naturalism arbitrarily dismisses the possibility of a supernatural origin and is thus a bad philosophy.
The Bible teaches that in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3), and therefore, we should not be robbed of such treasures by secular philosophies like naturalism. Such philosophy is “after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.” (Colossians 2:8).
To be clear, we have nothing at all against the idea of natural law. Natural law is simply the name we give to the normal way God accomplishes His will and upholds the universe. One of the problems with the big bang is that it assumes that the origin of the universe can be explained by natural law. However, the Bible tells us implicitly that God created the universe by a different method than the way He currently upholds it (because Genesis 2:2 says that God finished His work of creation by the seventh day—so He is no longer doing what He was during the Creation Week). Therefore, it is anti-biblical to argue that the universe was created by the same laws of nature that it currently exhibits.
I hope this clears up the confusion.
Jason Lisle, Ph.D.