SCIENTIFIC PROBLEMS FOR SCIENTISM

 

Dr. Robert C. Newman

Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute

Biblical Theological Seminary

Hatfield, Pennsylvania

 

            Abstract:  Five areas are examined in which scientism -- the view that the cosmos is all that exists, and that it is entirely explicable by natural law -- has shown itself to be problematic even from the perspective of scientific evidence.

 

One of the major opponents of biblical Christianity in the West since the rise of modern science has been scientism, the claim that -- to use the words of Carl Sagan -- “the cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.”[1]

 

This view has been given various names, depending on the nuance in mind.  As an absolutizing of science to be the only means to true knowledge, it is called scien­tism.[2]  As the claim that matter-energy is the ulti­mate reality, it is called materialism.[3]  As the belief that everything can be explained by the operation of purely natural forces without miracles at all, it is called naturalism.[4]  As the view that all the com­plex organization in our universe has developed by unguided processes working within natural laws, it is called evolution­ism.[5]  Though there is some divergence among these views, for simplici­ty in this paper we will lump them together and call them scien­tism.

 

Scientism has had significant influence beyond the circle of its own proponents.  It changed the definition of what consti­tutes true scholarship.[6]  In every academic field it led to the rise of models which banished the supernatural from their own territory.  Some examples are: 

 

1. Liberal biblical criticism, e.g., the JEDP theory, that the first five books of the OT were not written by Moses, an eyewitness of miracles narrated in them, but by anonymous authors and editors living centuries later and reworking myths and legendary material;[7]

 

2. Darwinian evolution, the claim that all the diversity of life on earth can be explained by the operation of random varia­tion and survival of the fittest;[8]

 

3. Marxism, the ideology that human political history is totally economics -- in particular, the struggle of various social classes for domination;[9]

 

4. Freudianism, the claim that human behavior is a result of non-logical, non-moral forces acting upon or within the human psyche.[10]

 

These models, in turn, have provided ammunition for groups with very different worldviews than scientism, which have typi­cally used it to shoot at biblical Christianity.  Muslims, for in­stance, use liberal biblical criticism to discredit the Bible and keep their people from seriously consid­ering its message.[11]  Liberal Christendom has adopted most of the results of scientism, turned many away from the faith, all the while trying to retain some place for spirituality and religion.[12]  Libera­tion theology has bor­rowed its in­sights from Marxism.[13]  The New Age movement has taken over evolu­tion and given it a pantheistic or polytheis­tic fla­vor.[14]  Even with­in evangeli­cal Christendom, there has been some heavy influ­ence from non-bibli­cal psycholo­giz­ing.[15]

 

Here we propose to look at five areas in which scientism has made large and influen­tial claims, and to show that such claims face serious scientific problems -- not just theologi­cal objec­tions as would convince only committed Chris­tians.  In this way, I trust, we may be strengthened our­selves, and become more effective in helping those around us who may be attracted by scien­tism or by its ideas which have pene­trat­ed into other cir­cles.  The five areas we shall consider are: (1) predic­tion; (2) continu­ity; (3) mindless­ness; (4) eternality; and (5) locality.

 

1. Prediction 

 

The French mathematician Pierre Simon de Laplace (1749-1827) was one of the early proponents of the idea that the universe is a vast machine which can be explained totally by the operation of natural laws.  His popular work Exposi­tion of the System of the World (1796) proposed that the sun and earth had arisen from a large gas cloud.  Shortly thereafter, Laplace was reportedly introduced to Napoleon, who asked him what place this left for God.  “Sire,” he replied, “I have no need for that hypothe­sis.”[16]

 

Laplace and others claimed that since the world operated totally on the basis of natural laws, it would in principle be possible (once these laws were discovered) to calculate the entire future merely by knowing the position and velocity of all the particles in the universe at one time.  Let us call this the Laplacean program for prediction.  To the extent that this project was substantially fulfilled, it would be a powerful apologetic for the worldview of scientism.  In fact, the mere attrac­tion of the idea itself, given the astonishing advances science was making, convinced many that scientism was true even without this test.

 

The Laplacean program, however, has always been in trouble computa­tionally.  Consider, first of all, the question of how big a computer would be needed to make this calculation.  Even assuming that nothing but particles and forces exist, one would need to be able to calculate the movement of each particle in the universe under the influence of every force acting on it.  There appear to be at least 1080 elementary particles which would need to be tracked by the computer.[17] Each of these parti­cles exerts at least one kind of force on all the other particles within the range of that force, and the range for two of these forces -- the electro­mag­netic and gravitational -- is effectively infinite.[18]  The number of calculations involved for each time-step is thus astronomically larger than even the number of atoms and electrons in the universe! 

 

A far more economical strategy would be to build a universe just like ours and watch what it does.[19]  But to do this, we need to know exactly what our universe has in the way of parti­cles and forces.  Then we need to get this information set up in the form of a parallel universe.  Then we need to place all the particles in their proper locations with the right velocities.  Then we need to figure out how to make this universe run much faster than ours does so it can get ahead of ours and be of some use for predicting the future.  The project looks like something God might do, but nothing we will ever be capable of!

 

Two basic discoveries of this century -- quantum phenomena in the 1920s and chaotic behavior more recently -- only serve to bury this project even deeper under its own arrogance.

 

The strange world of the very small with its quantum phenom­ena has frightened both Chris­tians and non-Christians.[20]  The problem with which we are here concerned, however, involves our inability to locate the position and velocity of the small elementary particles exactly.  This is more than just a matter of limited precision in measurement, which afflicts all human activity.  The fact is that the nature of light and matter is such that to measure position more and more accurately, we have to use light of shorter and shorter wavelength, and so larger and larger energies.  Eventually we cross a threshold where the energy of the light we are using disrupts the very thing we are trying to measure.  To measure a particle's position very accurately, we lose information on its velocity; to measure velocity, we lose information on posi­tion.  The upshot is that we cannot even set up our parallel universe exactly in the first place, and (even if we could) we would have to be satisfied with statis­tical predictions of what will occur rather than specific de­tails.

 

Much has been made in the past few years of so-called chaotic phenomena.[21]  Nature often does not behave as simply as we would like.  Though scientists have tended to think that small errors in measurement will only produce small effects in predic­tion, it is now clear that this is not the case in many situa­tions.  For instance, in the complex world of weather -- the interaction between our air (with its dust and water vapor) and the sun, land and oceans -- a small change will not always remain small, but may grow so large that predic­tion is impossible.  The situation is called the butterfly effect, because it appears that the disturbance produced in the air by the flight of a single butterfly might sometimes make a big difference in the weather a conti­nent away and a week later!

 

Thus the Laplacean program is dead.  Even if the universe were a closed system of cause and effect, it would not be possi­ble to prove this by making predictions of what must happen.  The Christian worldview, by contrast, features the interven­tion of a prayer-answering God, a common experience among believers and one which has often functioned to bring unbelievers to salvation. More pub­licly testable is the phenomenon of fulfilled prophecy, which has rightly been an important part of Chris­tian evidences for most of church history.[22]

 

2. Continuity 

 

Scientism has shown a distinct antagonism toward (and fear of) discontinuities in nature -- apparent gaps, breaks and singu­lari­ties.  Doubtless this is because such phenomena smack of divine interven­tion and have regularly been used by Chris­tians as evidence of such.  This antagonism shows up quite strongly in both cosmolo­gy and biolo­gy, though we will save our comments about cosmology­ for the section “Etern­ality,” below.

 

One of the major attractions of Darwin's evolutionary pro­posal (for himself and many of his followers) was that it pic­tured all change as virtually continuous, being produced by the natural selec­tion of innumer­able small variations.  The discon­tinuities between present varieties of living things was seen as the result of slow, rela­tively contin­uous pro­cesses acting over long periods of time.  The violent reaction of biologists in the 1940's to Goldschmidt's “hopeful monster” hypoth­esis (with its large mutational jumps) illustrates the powerful emotions raised by even a naturalistic attack on continu­ity.[23]  But neither the fossil record nor the testable abilities of the Darwin­ian mechanism really suggest that this assumption of continu­ity fits reality.

 

Though it is “the trade secret of paleontolo­gy,” it is true that there are no transitional sequences of fossils between upper levels of the biological classifica­tion scheme.[24]  Darwin felt the force of this objection, one of the strongest presented in his own time.  He proposed that the fossil record was woefully incomplete, but that -- should it be possible to fill it in sometime in the future -- these transitions would surely show up. 

 

The 135 years of collect­ing since Darwin wrote his Origin of Species have turned up an enormous number of fossils from all over the earth -- we now have something like 200 million fossils catalogued in museums.[25]  Still no transi­tional fossils!  Already by the 1930's, this lack of transitions was troubling enough to require evolutionists to postulate that all significant evolution takes place in small, isolated groups of plants or animals, so that we would hardly be likely to find the transition fossils.  We will say a bit more about this under our discussion on mecha­nism, below.  Enough here to note that the major events of evolu­tion are missing from the record.  Certainly the fossil record is no argument for continu­ity!

 

Another fossil problem is the shape of the fossil record.  Textbooks commonly picture the fossils as showing a “tree of life,” beginning with a single trunk early in earth's history (representing the primitive single-celled organisms), followed by the major branches into plants and animals.  On each of these branches in turn, we have smaller branches and then twigs going off to form the living things which exist today.  Ignoring the fact that most of the branching junctions on this tree are hypo­theti­cal, the tree has the wrong shape.  If Darwinian evolution is true, it should begin with one species, which would gradually mutate into more species.  Then the species should become diver­gent enough to form genera, the genera eventually forming fami­lies, and so on upwards in the biological classification scheme to phyla, the major body plans among the plants and animals.  Instead, the fossil record is upside-down!  Virtual­ly all the animal phyla appear to have formed in a very brief period called the “Cambrian explosion” right near the beginning of multi-celled life, and none (or one) have formed since.[26]  This certain­ly looks like a disconti­nuity!

 

The Darwinian mechanism -- mutation and natural selection -- is very attractive not only because it avoids discontinuity but because at first sight it seems to be obviously true.  If variation occurs in all populations of plants and animals (and it does), and if those variations which help an organism better to survive in a given environment are more likely to be passed on to the next generation than their competitors (they are), then how could we avoid getting better and better plants and animals in the course of time?  This appears to be true, and suggests that Darwin's discovery of natural selection really has located a mechanism by which organisms adapt to changing environ­ments.

 

But Darwinists typically jump from here (microevolution) right to so-called amoeba-to-man evolution (macroevolution), without taking seriously the question of whether a mechanism for small-scale change will really produce large scale changes.  Since extrapolation from one size-scale to another in other sciences often breaks down (e.g., weather to climate, or Newtonian physics to relativity), we need to look at the data to see whether or not it does here also, rather than just plugging in our worldview to solve the question.

 

When we look at the data, we find trouble.  Even if mutation and selection can change (a few) dark and (many) light colored moths into (a few) light and (many) dark ones, it doesn't follow that it can produce moths in the first place.  Attempts to simulate mutation and natural selection on a computer do not work.[27]  Apparently random processes cannot be expected to produce high levels of organization even in the time and space provided by our whole uni­verse.[28]  This is a problem not only for producing the first living things from non-living,[29] but also for all the really substantial changes thereafter.  These latter changes require fully functional pathways from one working system to another, like converting a Volkswagen into a Cadillac without taking it off the road.  How do we get legs to change to wings with all the intermediates not only fully functional, but good competitors with everything else in their ecological niche?  How convert scales to feathers?  Or a two-chambered heart to a three- and then a four-chambered one?  Similar problems exist for explaining the simplest functional forms of various biochemical systems necessary to photosynthesis, locomotion, vision, and respiration.[30]  A great deal of hand-waving takes the place of evidence or even specific proposals for pathways here.

 

Creation­ists are regularly sneered at for their “God of the gaps” explana­tion, which was frequently plugged into places later explained by natural law.  The same procedure, however, is regularly used by scien­tism in the form of a “natu­ral law of the gaps.”  Just as Bible-believers have sometimes inserted miracles anywhere in science there appears to be a gap, proponents of scientism will in the same places (1) suggest an unknown natural law, (2) propose that there is no gap but only missing data, or (3) invoke the semi-miracu­lous powers of mutation and natural selec­tion to bridge the chasm.  But science has not succeeded in filling in these gaps.  On the contrary, it appears that several of them are gaps in reali­ty.

 

3. Mindlessness 

 

For scientism, the only kind of minds that exist in the universe are those which have developed in the course of its history by mutation and natural selection.  Some think this has happened only once -- here on earth -- but the more popular view is that life and intelligence may be rather common out there.[31]  In either case, the beginning of the universe as we know it, and of life, are mind­less.  Both Dar­win[32] and recently Daw­kins[33] try to ex­plain real­i­ty without recourse to a mind behind the uni­verse.  Darwin's work, in fact, has been widely hailed as destroying Paley's argument that design implies a designing mind behind it.[34]

 

But the existence of design in inanimate nature is devas­tating to this program, and so is the question of where the complex organization came from that characterizes even the simplest living things.

 

In non-living things -- like the basic forces of the uni­verse, the nature of the chemical elements and compounds, the frequency of various environments in the universe -- there is no mutation and natural selection to produce the observed order.  How is it, then, that our universe is not only fit for life (if it weren't, we wouldn't be here), but that this fit involves a level of “fine-tuning” that takes one's breath away? 

 

For example, the precise fit between the four basic physical forces in our universe is staggering.  The strongest force known is the strong nuclear interaction, 100 times stronger than the electromagnetic force.  Electromagnetism, in turn, is a thousand times stronger than the weak nuclear force, and the weak force 10 million billion billion billion (1034) times stronger than gravity.  These forces span a range in strength of nearly 40 powers of ten, yet small changes in the strength of any one of them would render the universe uninhabitable. 

 

If the strong force were only 5% weaker, stars wouldn't burn; if it were 5% stronger, stars would ex­plode.  If electro­magnetism were a few percent stronger or weaker, the elec­trons around an atom would be held too strongly or too weakly; in either case, there would be insuf­ficient chemical bonding for life molecules.  If the weak force were a few percent stronger or weaker, there would be no elements heavier than hydrogen and helium outside stars, thus no planets to live on and no chemicals to support life.  If gravity were slightly weaker, stars would never get hot enough to turn on their nuclear furnac­es and no heavy elements would be formed; if slightly stronger, the stars would be too hot, burn up too quickly, and provide no stable environ­ment for life.  A precise balance between gravity and the expansion speed of the universe is necessary for it to form galaxies and stars.  The positive and negative charges of the electromagnetic force must cancel out almost exactly so that gravity can domi­nate at astronomical distances and provide habitable planets around efficient stars.[35]

 

The uniqueness of many chemical elements and the compounds they form is also striking, but too involved for discussion here.[36]

 

Though science (and science fiction) writers regularly picture a universe with lots of earth-like planets and intelli­gent beings living on them, the right conditions for life now look like they may be unique to earth in the entire universe.[37]  Certainly we live in a universe that would look designed to an unbiased observer.

 

Proponents of scientism speak rather glibly about a natural­istic origin of life through a series of chemical reactions in the atmosphere, oceans and tidal ponds of the early earth.  But when actual details and scenarios are examined (as Robert Shapiro does in his book Origins), and when actual numbers are supplied for the probabilities, the whole idea moves from the plausible to the ludicrous.[38]  The time and opportunity are not there -- not on earth, not on a thousand earths, not in a thousand uni­verses.  As William Dembski has said, “the probabilistic resources” of the universe are insuf­ficient for something like this to have taken place.[39]

    

But a mind can construct a level of order that would never happen by chance.  That's why an archaeolo­gist can look at a chipped stone and immediately discern it is an arrowhead, the work of a mind and not of the random chipping and cracking that nature produces.  Yet the amount of information contained in the exact placement of the chips that make the stone an arrowhead is minuscule compared with the information stored in the simplest DNA molecule.  Thus, the claim that the universe was initially mindless is merely the proposal of a world­view and not the conclusion of a scientific research program.  The enormous amount of information stored in DNA points rather in the opposite direction.

 

4. Eternality 

 

In scientism, the universe must somehow be eternal.  Propo­nents of scientism generally realize that there is no rational alternative within their system to postulat­ing that the uni­verse (in some sense) has always existed.  Recall Sagan's remark that “the cosmos... is all that ever was.”  The recent triumph of the big bang cosmology in its no-bounce form badly undercuts this claim.  Let's see how this is so.[40]

 

In the last century, atheists typically opted for the visible universe being eter­nal and basically static.  They were aware that no known laws would allow the stars to burn forever,  but no one knew how to make them burn as long as they obviously had.  They knew that gravity was only attractive, so that a static universe would have to have some force holding the stars apart or it would eventually collapse.  Yet the problem of a universe with a beginning was not squarely faced.

 

As we learned more about atoms and their nuclei in this (20th) century, it was realized that mature stars burn by convert­ing hydrogen into helium.  Life-spans were calcu­lated for the various star-sizes, and it became apparent that the visible universe had not been around forever, but only for some billions or tens of billions of years.  A long time, no doubt, but pretty short when compared to infinity.

 

About the same time, it gradually became apparent that the universe was expanding -- distances between ourselves and all galaxies but the local ones were in­creasing.  Einstein could already have predicted this in 1915 from his general theory of relativi­ty, but the atmosphere of scien­tism at the time was so much against this that he added a “fudge factor” to make the universe static.  It wasn't until Slipher and Hubble measured the reces­sion rates of various galaxies that the fact had to be faced.  We live in a universe in which the galaxies are moving apart.

 

But if the universe is getting bigger, it must once have been smaller.  Extrapolating this trend backward into the past would point to a universe which was very small and very hot at a beginning some billions of years ago.  The Catho­lic astronomer George Lemai­tre made such a proposal in the late twenties (the earliest version of the big-bang theory), and the history of cosmology since then has been a frantic attempt to avoid this beginning in spite of mounting evi­dence in its favor.

 

George Gamow, for instance, sought to change the beginning into a bounce.  In his view, the universe from eternity past had existed as a mass of thin hydrogen gas which was collapsing under its own gravity until just a few billion years ago, when it became suffi­ciently dense and hot to rebound.  Other cosmologists decided this single-bounce universe was too contrived and opted for an oscillating universe which bounced every hundred billion years or so.  Both models restored the idea of an eternal universe and were the popular versions of the big-bang theory until quite recently.

 

Meanwhile Fred Hoyle, Thomas Gold and Herman Bondi tried another tack to rescue the universe from a beginning.  They proposed an infinite, eternal universe with stars running down and galaxies moving apart, but each place always looking about the same because new matter was continually popping into existence to fill up the gaps and provide new star-fuel.  They called this the “steady-state” universe.

 

New discoveries in astronomy put pressure on the steady-state theory first.  The model predicted that objects such as galaxies and quasars should be uniformly distributed through­out space (so long as the volume being considered was big enough to average out random fluctuations).  But in the 60s and 70s it became apparent that there were far more objects long ago (at great dis­tances) than there are now.  Then the radio radiation predicted by the big-bang theory was discov­ered, and for most astronomers, this put the last nail in the steady-state's coffin.  The universe was hotter and denser in the past than it is now.

 

Since the early 70s, the competition has been between various forms of the big-bang theory.  Did the universe begin at the big bang?  Or was the big bang just a bounce from a previous contract­ing phase of its history?  One problem was that a universe which collapsed to the densities and tempera­tures that character­ize the big bang would not bounce but become a black-hole.  And if the theory of general relativity is true, then space and time (as well as matter and energy) came into existence at the big bang.  Thus the big bang itself appears to be a creation event!

 

Stephen Hawking attempts to avoid a creator at this point by postulating that the universe popped into existence without a cause![41]  His suggestion is so at odds with the basic methods of science that he should be ashamed to hold such a theory and simulta­neously sneer at Chris­tians for their supernatu­ralism.  We at least propose an adequate cause for the universe.  Thus the apparent non-eternality of our universe is a serious scientific problem for scientism.

 

5. Locality 

 

In a universe with matter-energy as the ultimate reality, one would naturally expect the interactions between particles to be local, one bumping against the other.  This is how the an­cient Greek atomists viewed it.  When Newton proposed that forces operated at a dis­tance by means of fields, the material­ists of his time were very skeptical; it seemed to them to smack of spirit­ism.[42]  Even after physi­cists got used to Newton's idea of fields, the basic view was that two particles inter­acted by direct (local) contact of each with the field produced by the other.  The rise of quantum mechan­ics has put serious pressure on this idea, and it now appears that there is something like instan­taneous interac­tion between widely sepa­rated loca­tions.

 

Some of the strangeness of quantum phenomena in this regard can be seen in the famous two-slit experiment and its relation to the controversy over whether light is particle or wave.[43]  In an otherwise darkened room, light is sent out from a very small source at one end of the room and detected by a photograph­ic plate on the wall at the other end.  With no inter­vening screens, the plate will just fog up rather uni­formly, which either waves or particles might do.  If a screen with a single narrow slit is set up a few feet in front of the wall, the plate when developed will show one strongly exposed line which is an image of the slit, but with a pattern of dimmer lines around it, a phenome­non called “diffrac­tion.”  These extra lines are not something particles would make, but this is how waves operate.  When the screen is made with two paral­lel slits in it, the pattern changes to a whole series of nearly equally bright lines (called an “interfer­ence pattern”) rather than just two images of the slits.  Again, what we would expect from waves.  So light is a wave, right?

 

Now comes quantum mechanics.  If we turn down the intensi­ty of the light to a very low level, it will not only take a long time for this two-slit interference pattern to form, but if we look at the plate we will see that the pattern forms by an increasing number of dots on the plate which gradually form this pattern, rather than by the whole inter­fer­ence pattern just getting clearer as more light arrives.  Apparently, the photo­graphic plate is absorbing the light at a particular spot each time (rather than all over at once), as though the light was arriving in parti­cles instead of waves!  But particles wouldn't form inter­ference pat­terns, and waves wouldn't be absorbed at single points.  What is happen­ing?  Are we dealing with some kind of dispersed, non-local particles?

 

We're not finished yet.  If one turns down the intensity of the light so much that only one “light-particle” would be in flight from the source to the plate at any time, we still get our interference pattern!  But if we block up one of the slits, or even try to measure which slit the particle went through, the pattern won't form!  The same results are obtained if we run the experi­ment using electrons rather than light.  Somehow the particle “knows” about the other slit, whether you think it only goes through one of them or both at once!  There is something decidedly non-local about matter and light.

 

This non-locality can extend to great distances, as we see more clearly in Einstein's attempts to circumvent the uncertainty principle.  Einstein proposed measuring two identical particles which had just sepa­rated from one another in a decay event.  Since they are identical, they will be moving at equal speeds in opposite directions.  So if we measure the speed of one and the position of the other, we indirectly learn the speed and position of both, violating quantum uncertainty.  And if we measure the two when they are far enough apart, neither will know what kind of measurement we did on the other, since information cannot be conveyed faster than the speed of light.  But a version of this experiment has recently been done, and Einstein was wrong. Somehow the one particle did “know” what was done to the other, even though there was not time for light to travel from one to the other![44] 

 

Theo­r­etical physicist John Bell has also shown that, if the quantum facts are correct -- no matter what sort of theory we use to explain them -- reality must be non-local in the sense that mutual influences can take place at rates exceeding the speed of light.[45]  Here again, we arrive at a scientific result that is counter-intuitive to scientism, but consistent with a God who is everywhere present and need not wait for light to bring information from some distant source.

 

Conclusions

 

In this paper we have looked at five areas where the view of reality proposed by scientism is challenged by actual scien­tific observa­tion.  We called these areas prediction, continuity, mindlessness, eternality and locality.

 

First, we saw that the predictive program of Laplace which, if successful, would have effectively demon­strated the truth of scientism, has collapsed.  The structure of nature is such that there appears to be no way from within the universe to make accurate predictions beyond rather trivial ones that are either broad-stroke, short-term or local.  By contrast, the biblical evidence of fulfilled prophecy22 (though not discussed here) points beyond this universe to the transcen­dent God of the Bible.

 

Second, we saw that the attempt of scientism to explain reality without recourse to discontinu­ity in nature faces serious empirical challenge.  We looked in some detail at gaps in the fossil record and at the inadequacy of the Darwinian mecha­nism, both of which point to real discontinuity in the history of life.  We might also have mentioned the origin of the universe and the origin of life as further examples.  All these are consistent with a theism in which God sometimes reveals himself by intervention in nature.

 

Third, we saw that Darwin and Dawkins' proposal of no mind behind the universe is no better than its ability to explain such apparent design as is known to exist.  Though this proposal is widely hailed as successful in biological evolution -- which we dispute in our discussion under “continuity,” above -- it founders in explaining evidence of design in inanimate nature, both the structure of the universe as a whole and the specific “fine-tuning” of our own environment here on earth.  Rather, these features are just the sort of thing we would expect from a Designer like the God of the Bible.

 

Fourth, we saw that the necessity for scientism to have a eternal universe has stumbled over the evidence that the cosmos began at the big bang some billions of years ago.  Those who espouse a materialist worldview must now retreat to a uni­verse popping into existence without cause, thus abandoning one of the primary axioms of science.  Or they must propose that our uni­verse is just part of a much larger universe of which we can never have any evidence, thus abandoning their claimed empirical superiority over Christianity.  The believer's faith in the unseen is at least based on objective evidence of divine revela­tion.

 

Lastly, we saw that the program of scientism to have a universe of merely local causation -- where particles and fields only interact by contact -- seems to be doomed by developments in quantum research.  The apparently instantaneous interaction at a distance observed in Aspect's experiment seems more consistent with an omnipresent, omniscient God than with a universe of mindless particles and fields.

 

This should encourage us as Christians not to fear the forces of secularism which seem so powerful and daunting in the media and education today.  The God of the Bible really exists.  He has not left himself without testimony.  We can trust him to keep his promises.  He will not abandon us to our enemies.  May we seek to study and proclaim the truth, both as it is revealed in God's word, the Bible, and in God's world, the universe.

 

References:

 



[1]. Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Random House, 1980), p. 4.

[2]. “scientism,” Webster's Third New Internation­al Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged (Springfield, MA: G. and C. Merriam Co., 1966), def. 2, p. 2033; Webster's Ninth New Colle­giate Dictionary (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1983), def. 2, p. 1051 gives a more pejorative meaning: “an exaggerated trust in the efficacy of the methods of natural science applied to all areas of investigation.”

[3]. “materialism,” in Webster's Third Unabridged, def. 1a, p. 1392; Webster's Ninth Collegiate, def. 1a, p. 753, gives: “a theory that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality and that all being and processes and phenomena can be explained as manifestations or results of matter.”

[4]. “naturalism,” Webster's Third Unabridged, def. 2, p. 1507; Webster's Ninth Collegiate, def. 2, p. 780, gives: “a theory denying that an event or object has a supernatural significance; specif. the doctrine that scientific laws are adequate to account for all phenomena.”

[5]. “evolutionism,” Webster's Third Unabridged, def. 2, p. 789, is somewhat broader than what I have in mind here: “adherence to or belief in evolution, esp. of living things.”  I am concerned with the specifically naturalistic version of this as promoted by Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York:  Norton, 1986) and critiqued by Phillip E. Johnson in his paper “The Religion of the Blind Watchmaker,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 45 (March, 1993): 46-48.

[6]. Note Webster's Third Unabridged under “scientism,” def. 2, p. 2033: “a thesis that the methods of the natural sciences should be used in all areas of investigation, including philosophy, the humanities, and the social sciences: a belief that only such methods can fruitfully be used in the pursuit of knowledge.”  A helpful recent response to this claim is Roy A. Clouser's The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories (Notre Dame, IN:  University of Notre Dame Press, 1991).

[7]. For the classic presentation of the JEDP theory, see Julius Wellhausen, Prolegom­ena to the History of Ancient Israel (1878; English reprint, Cleveland:  Meridian, 1957) and S. R. Driver, An Introduc­tion to the Litera­ture of the Old Testament (1897; reprint, Cleveland:  Meridian, 1956).  Otto Eissfeldt, The Old Testament:  An Intro­duc­tion (Oxford:  Blackwell, 1965) gives a rather detailed tour of the whole liberal scheme of biblical criticism, with material on the JEDP theory in pp. 155-241.  Evangelical responses are given (in general) by R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1969) and specifically for JEDP by William Henry Green, The Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch (1895; reprint, Grand Rapids:  Baker, 1978); Oswald T. Allis, The Five Books of Moses (Philadelphia:  Presbyte­rian and Reformed, 1964); and Allan A. MacRae, JEDP: Lectures on the Higher Criticism of the Pentateuch (Hatfield, PA:  IBRI, 1994).

[8]. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species (1859; frequently reprinted, e.g., New York:  Collier, 1962); Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker.

[9]. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York:  International Publishers, 1948). For evangelical responses, see Francis Nigel Lee, Communism Versus Creation (Nutley, NJ:  Craig Press, 1969); Lloyd Billingsley, The Generation That Knew Not Josef (Portland, OR:  Multnomah, 1983).

[10]. Robert D. Nye, Three Psychologies: Perspectives from Freud, Skinner, and Rogers, 2nd ed. (Monterey, CA:  Brooks/Cole, 1981), pp. 2-3.

[11]. e.g., Maurice Bucaille, The Bible, the Qur'an, and Science (Indianapolis, IN:  Ameri­can Trust Publica­tions, 1979).  For an evangelical re­sponse, see William Campbell, The Qur'an and the Bible in the Light of History and Science (Upper Darby, PA:  Middle East Resources, 1992).

[12]. Hugh Ross Mackintosh, Types of Modern Theology: Schleier­macher to Barth (London:  Nisbet, 1937); William Hordern, A Layman's Guide to Modern Theology (New York:  Macmillan, 1955), ch. 4.  For evangelical responses, see J. Gresham Machen, Chris­tianity and Liberalism (1923; reprint Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1946); Carl F. H. Henry, ed., Christian Faith and Modern Theology (New York:  Channel, 1964).

[13]. Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis, 1973); J. Andrew Kirk, Liberation Theology (Atlanta:  John Knox, 1979).  For a recent evangelical response, see Humberto Belli and Ronald H. Nash, Beyond Liberation Theology (Grand Rapids:  Baker, 1992).

[14]. e.g., see Marilyn Ferguson, The Aquarian Conspiracy: Personal and Social Transformation in Our Time (Los Angeles:  Tarcher/St. Martins, 1987), pp. 157-167; Benjamin Creme, Maitreya's Mission (Amsterdam:  Share International, 1986), pp. 151-197.  For evangelical responses, see Douglas R. Groothuis, Confronting the New Age (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity, 1988); Vishal Mangalwadi, When the New Age Gets Old (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsi­ty, 1992).

[15]. William Kirk Kilpatrick, Psychological Seduction (Nashville:  Nelson, 1983); Martin and Deidre Bobgan, Psychoheresy (Santa Barbara, CA:  Eastgate, 1987); Gary R. Collins, Can You Trust Psychology? (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVar­sity, 1988).

[16]. The Napoleon/Laplace story is mentioned in several places, e.g., James Hastings, ed., Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics (1909), 2:178a.

[17]. See D. W. Sciama, Modern Cosmology (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1971), pp. 124-125; P. C. W. Davies, Accidental Universe (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1982), pp. 59, 76-77.

[18]. The range of a force is the distance within which the force has a signifi­cant effect.  For the strong nuclear force, this distance is roughly the diameter of an neutron or proton (10-13 cm).  For the weak nuclear force it is about one hundred times smaller.  For the electromagnetic and gravita­tional forces, the strength decreases with the square of the distance from the source instead of having a rather sharp cutoff as the other two forces do.  Thus their range is sometimes spoken of as infinite, though obviously their significant effect becomes negligible at finite distances.  In any case, the range of the electromagnetic and gravitational forces is much longer than those of the two nuclear forces.

[19]. This would replace the many parts in the computer to represent each particle with just one -- the particle itself.

[20]. P. C. W. Davies and J. R. Brown, eds., The Ghost in the Atom: A Discussion of the Mysteries of Quantum Physics (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1986); Nick Herbert, Quantum Reality: Beyond the New Physics (Garden City, NY:  An­chor/Doubleday, 1985); Hugh Ross, The Creator and the Cosmos (Colorado Springs, CO:  NavPress, 1993), ch. 12.

[21]. James Gleick, Chaos: Making a New Science (New York:  Viking, 1987).

[22]. A survey of biblical prophecies, both those already fulfilled and others still future is given by J. Barton Payne, Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy: The Complete Guide to Scriptural Predic­tions and Their Fulfillment (New York:  Harper and Row, 1973).  Books specifically dealing with fulfilled prophecy as evidence for the truth of Christianity are Robert C. Newman, ed., Evidence of Prophecy (Hatfield, PA:  IBRI, 1990) and John Warwick Montgom­ery, ed., Evidence for Faith (Dallas:  Probe/Word, 1991), part 4.

[23]. Phillip E. Johnson, Darwin on Trial, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity, 1993), pp. 37-41.

[24]. The phrase is Stephen Jay Gould's in Natural History 86, no. 5 (1977): 14.  See also Charles Darwin, Origin of Species, ch. 10; George Gaylord Simpson, The Major Features of Evolution (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1953), p. 360; Steven M. Stanley, Macroevolution: Patterns and Process (New York:  Freeman, 1979), p. 82.

[25]. D. Raup, “Conflicts Between Darwin and Paleontology,” Field Museum Bulletin (Jan 79): 22.

[26]. Stephen Jay Gould, in “The Power of This View of Life,” Natural History (June 94): 8, says: “All but one phylum arose in a single geological whoosh, within some five million years or so, at the dawn of Cambrian times, 530 million years ago...”  See also Jeffrey S. Levinton, “The Big Bang of Animal Evolution,” Scientific American (Nov 92): 84-91; Richard A. Kerr, “Evolu­tion's Big Bang Gets Even Bigger,” Science (3 Sept 93): 1274-75.

[27]. Murray Eden, “Inadequacies of Neo-Darwinian Evolution as a Scientific Theory,” in Paul S. Moorhead and Martin M. Kaplan, eds., Mathematical Challenges to the Neo-Darwinian Interpretation of Evolution (1967; reprint, New York:  Alan R. Liss, 1985); Mark A. Ludwig, Computer Viruses, Artifi­cial Life and Evolution (Tucson, AZ: American Eagle, 1993).

[28]. William A. Dembski, “On the Very Possibility of Intelli­gent Design,” in J. P. Moreland, ed., The Creation Hypoth­esis: Scien­tific Evidence for an Intelligent Designer (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVar­sity, 1994), pp. 113-138, followed up by the actual evidence in the succeeding chapters.  More detail is given in William A. Dembski, “The Incomplete­ness of Scientific Naturalism,” in John Buell and Virginia Hearn, eds., Darwinism: Science or Philosophy? (Richardson, TX: Foundation for Thought and Ethics, 1994), pp. 79-94.

[29]. Fred Hoyle compares this to the likelihood of a tornado assembling an airplane from parts in a junkyard!  “Hoyle on Evolution,” Nature (12 Nov 81): 105.  See my discussion in Robert C. Newman, “Self-Reproducing Automata and the Origin of Life,” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 40 (1988): 24-31 and responses in PSCF 41 (1989):26-28 and PSCF 42 (1990): 113-14.  See also Ludwig item in note 27 above.

[30]. Michael J. Behe, “Molecular Machines: Experimental Support for the Design Hypothesis,” paper presented at the national meeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, Seattle, 1993; see also Michael J. Behe, “Experimental Support for Regarding Functional Classes of Proteins to Be Highly Isolated from Each Other,” in Buell and Hearn, Darwinism: Science or Philosophy?, pp. 60-71.

[31]. Carl Sagan, The Cosmic Connection: An Extraterrestrial Perspective (New York:  Dell, 1973); Edward Regis, Jr., ed., The Extraterrestrials: Science and Alien Intelligence (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1985); G. Siegfried Kutter, The Universe and Life: Origins and Evolution (Boston: Jones and Bartlett, 1987); Thomas Michael Corwin and Dale Wacho­wiak, The Universe: From Chaos to Conscious­ness (Orlando, FL:  Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989).  Some evangelical per­spective is provided in the August 1977 issue of the SCP Journal and in Hugh Ross' The Creator and the Cosmos (Colorado Springs, CO:  NavPress, 1993).

[32]. See Johnson, Darwin on Trial, 2nd ed., p. 33, and Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, p. 249.

[33]. Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker.

[34]. Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, pp. 4-6, 37; John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (New York:  Ox­ford University Press, 1986), pp. 76-87.

[35]. Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God, 2nd ed. (Orange, CA: Promise, 1991), ch. 12; Ross, The Creator and Cosmos (Colorado Springs, CO:  NavPress, 1993), ch. 14; see also P. C. Davies, The Accidental Uni­verse (Cam­bridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1982) and Barrow and Tipler, An­thropic Cosmological Principle.

[36]. See Barrow and Tipler, Anthropic Cosmological Principle, ch. 8.  Much of this material was originally collected in Lawrence J. Henderson, The Fitness of the Environment (1913; re­print, Magnolia, MA:  Peter Smith, 1970).

[37]. Hugh Ross has compiled this material in his Creator and the Cosmos, ch. 15.  More detail and documen­tation is provided in his Fingerprint of God, ch. 14.

[38]. Robert Shapiro, Origins: A Skeptic's Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth (New York:  Summit Books, 1986).  See also Charles B. Thaxton, Walter L. Bradley and Roger L. Olsen, The Mystery of Life's Origin: Reassessing Current Theories (1984; reprint, Dallas:  Lewis and Stanley, 1992).

[39]. See note 28.

[40]. Robert C. Newman, “The Evidence of Cosmology,” in John Warwick Montgomery, ed., Evidence for Faith (Dallas:  Probe/Word, 1991), pp. 71-91; Ross, Fingerprint of God, chs. 6-10; and Ross, Creator and the Cosmos, chs. 3-11.

[41]. Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes (Toronto:  Bantam, 1988), ch. 8.

[42]. A. Rupert Hall, From Galileo to Newton 1630-1720 (London:  Collins, 1963), p. 312; Nancy R. Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton, The Soul of Science:  Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy  (Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, 1994), pp. 73, 89-90.

[43]. J. C. Polkinghorne, The Quantum World (Princeton:  Princeton University Press, 1984), pp. 34ff; Davies and Brown, Ghost in the Atom, pp. 7-13.

[44]. Davies and Brown, Ghost in the Atom, pp. 13-17.  I have simplified the discussion considerably.

[45]. Nick Herbert, Quantum Reality, pp. 50-52.