Is the presupposition of naturalism in science good for the pursuit of truth?

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

This topic came up recently in a discussion, and I wanted to be sure that all my readers were aware of how to think about the work that the presupposition of naturalism does in supporting naturalistic views of science. When I was little, way back in the 1990s, Phillip E. Johnson’s work on the definitions of science, evolution and creation were very important stuff. He was everywhere, doing lectures on university campuses and debates on the radio with Eugenie Scott. I was able to get a bunch of this audio from Access Research Network on AUDIO CASSETTES, but now that’s all obsolete.

Thankfully, I was able to find an old column written by Johnson in the Wall Street Journal, and preserved by Access Research Network.


A Chinese paleontologist lectures around the world saying that recent fossil finds in his country are inconsistent with the Darwinian theory of evolution. His reason: The major animal groups appear abruptly in the rocks over a relatively short time, rather than evolving gradually from a common ancestor as Darwin’s theory predicts. When this conclusion upsets American scientists, he wryly comments: “In China we can criticize Darwin but not the government. In America you can criticize the government but not Darwin.”

That point was illustrated last week by the media firestorm that followed the Kansas Board of Education’s vote to omit macro-evolution from the list of science topics which all students are expected to master. Frantic scientists and educators warned that Kansas students would no longer be able to succeed in college or graduate school, and that the future of science itself was in danger. The New York Times called for a vigorous counteroffensive, and the lawyers prepared their lawsuits. Obviously, the cognitive elites are worried about something a lot more important to themselves than the career prospects of Kansas high school graduates.

The root of the problem is that “science” has two distinct definitions in our culture. On the one hand, science refers to a method of investigation involving things like careful measurements, repeatable experiments, and especially a skeptical, open-minded attitude that insists that all claims be carefully tested. Science also has become identified with a philosophy known as materialism or scientific naturalism. This philosophy insists that nature is all there is, or at least the only thing about which we can have any knowledge. It follows that nature had to do its own creating, and that the means of creation must not have included any role for God. Students are not supposed to approach this philosophy with open-minded skepticism, but to believe it on faith.

[…]All the most prominent Darwinists proclaim naturalistic philosophy when they think it safe to do so. Carl Sagan had nothing but contempt for those who deny that humans and all other species “arose by blind physical and chemical forces over eons from slime.” Richard Dawkins exults that Darwin “made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist,” and Richard Lewontin has written that scientists must stick to philosophical materialism regardless of the evidence, because “we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”

So, if you’re having a discussion with a person who believes in naturalism – that everything in nature can be explained by material forces alone – then they will give you a stock response to all of your evidence for something outside of nature.

  • Origin of the universe? That’s not science
  • Cosmic fine-tuning? That’s not science
  • Origin of life? That’s not science
  • Cambrian explosion? That’s not science
  • Habitability-discoverability? That’s not science

It’s not that the people who did the science around these discoveries invoked God, and that’s why it’s not science. On the contrary, the mainstream scientists who made these discoveries scrupulously left God out of their microscopes and telescopes. These discoveries – which have only gotten worse for the naturalists as more details emerge – do not have easy naturalistic explanations. If you ask the naturalist for an explanation, they will resort to various sorts of speculations:

  • future science will undermine all our current knowledge
  • we are in an unobservable multiverse that exists eternally
  • aliens seeded the Earth with life, and THEY evolved
  • there are lots of fossils we haven’t discovered yet
  • there are lots of stars and planets we haven’t discovered yet

What’s the answer to this arguing from ignorance?

I think ridicule is best. You need to start by telling the full story about how these discoveries were made. Name the scientists, state the dates. Tell the whole story of how the science was done. Do this for each discovery. Then, at the end, ask them which of these scientific discoveries they deny. Ask them for naturalistic explanations of the ones they accept. Pretend to be confused, then concerned about their sanity. Finally, you should be as condescending as possible, and just explain that we can’t believe in fairies and unicorns. Explain things to them as if they were a child: we have to base our worldview on what science has revealed. We can’t hold out for Santa Claus to come down the chimney with new science that undermines all we have discovered. We have to go with the science we have today, and the science we have today says Creator and Designer. That is the best explanation of the what we know right now. And the trend is that these discoveries are becoming even MORE difficult for naturalism to account for. I guarantee you that the average rank-and-file atheist knows more about Star Wars and Star Trek lore than they do about actual scientific discoveries that threaten their beloved religion of naturalism.

Try to make your face look like Tucker Carlson:

When dealing with a naturalist fundamentalist, make the Tucker Carlson face
The Tucker Carlson face conveys a mix of confusion, disappointment and horror

For God’s sake, even Richard Dawkins admitted in his debate with John Lennox that a good case can be made for a deistic God from the science we have now. If Dawkins can admit this, then you need to be extremely harsh to the village atheists.

If the word “naturalism” is all new to you, you should probably read the whole article and this longer article as well. The longer article really explains the different definitions of the words that are used in these debates. Johnson’s an excellent writer, and you will learn a lot.

3 thoughts on “Is the presupposition of naturalism in science good for the pursuit of truth?”

  1. The most sad point I find with the demand to adhere to 100 common ancestor evolution is that because the evidence is so weak and destroyed, even if it were true that a child can see the flaws and be skeptical. Only fear or authority can hold the line
    As a result the scientific micro evolution small change that we can prove is questioned by many and there is no need for that. But if your grand claim is preached as true based upon existence of micro evolutions then people will naturally question even what is true.
    They should work on what we can prove scientifically. As a theist I have no limit necessarily to how far back we can modify genetics. If a limit is there we will find it otherwise study away.
    If aliens or other things exist they neither prove nor disprove a God.
    A theist doesn’t need the fanciful stories and myths of aliens and multiverse to be Tue or not true
    As you truly stated the naturalists Beleive in the fairy tales and unicorns.


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