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Naturalistic science will miss a supernatural explanation (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Naturalistic science will miss a supernatural explanation (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.


Claim CA301.1:

If the correct explanation for a phenomenon happens to be supernatural, the naturalistic method of science will miss it. "With creationist explanations disqualified at the outset, it follows that the evidence will always support the naturalistic alternative."

Source: Johnson, Phillip E., 1990. Evolution as dogma: The establishment of naturalism. First Things (Oct.), 15-22.


CreationWiki response:

In their response, Talk Origins does something very subtle which can easily distract someone from the main points of creation science and intelligent design. Throughout all their points they do their very best to show the ambiguity of the supernatural and the difficulty in observing and generalizing the supernatural when this wasn't really the point. First let's look at their title and dissect it, and then understand "creationist explanations". This will then help us deal with the subtle switch Talk Origins does for its readers.

In the title, the term "Naturalistic science" has to be understood. It points to naturalism, whether philosophical or methodological, both of which are essentially the same. Neither of which will allow the supernatural as a cause for anything in this world, even if logical. Natural causes must account for everything. So if scientific findings shows limits in natural causes, it doesn't matter because natural causes must have done everything. This shows that it is not the science that is important, but the reigning philosophy of naturalism. By definition, it will exclude any other possible explanation, whether presuppositional or logical or even rational, including the possibility of the supernatural, so it is true that naturalistic "science", or rather the naturalistic interpretation of scientific evidence will always miss a supernatural explanation. There is no dispute there, whether Talk Origins tries to make the supernatural an ambiguity or a subjective uncertain thing. Whatever the supernatural is, the naturalistic mind will not accept it. That's why it is true that research today is not about finding real answers, but only confirming a naturalistic philosophy. [It should be noted that science is not naturalism, but that philosophy is one way to approach the scientific evidence (see CA301)]. Here is an example of a naturalistic mind trying to deal with scientific evidence:

The fossil record, within the framework of the hypothetical geologic column, shows no strong evidence of transitional forms, but shows sudden appearance and stasis. That's the scientific evidence, because fossils have been observed and placed by evolutionists into that geological framework. Now, because the adherent to the naturalistic philosophy cannot see anything else but gradualistic evolution, what would they see as the problem? The philosophy and hence the theory, or the evidence? Charles Darwin himself said it was the evidence that is the problem, and an significant number of his followers do likewise. Why? Because the philosophy just has to be true! Or else you have creationism and that, in their minds, is irrational, incredible, unbelievable, and it is so not because it is not logical, but because it is against the worldview, the philosophy.

Now let's look at Johnson's point. Noting the self-serving and distorted definition of science evolutionists and other scientists build for themselves, defining it as naturalistic, Johnson rightly observes that already any other view is outside the door. And logically, if any other view is outside the door, then what will all the theories say in this biased science? What will any "scientific" history point to? A naturalistic theory, such as evolution! What a coincidence!!!

Remember, naturalism is "not" science. It is an untestable belief, since nature itself cannot tell you that nature is all there is. You have to believe that. But for centuries before naturalism took hold, science was still done, but it must be because the findings didn't interfere with the modern naturalistic worldview why the science done, in the past, by creationists are still accepted but the other interpretations are not. Specified complexity, such as that in human constructions, which is seen in biology and in the amazing clockwork precision in our own planetary system, something which science can point to, is now ruled out not because it is a logical follow-on, but because it isn't naturalism, i.e., it doesn't fit with the philosophy.

What else is ignored by this naturalistic science and this Talk Origins response? When Johnson was talking about creationist evidence, is that the same as a "supernatural explanation"? Well, as far as I know, the evidence that creationists and intelligent design scientists use is normally taken from the natural world and from scientific observations. And their work is not to define the supernatural or to scientifically analyse it. The work of creationists and ID scientists is the observe the natural world and see if there is circumstantial evidence (the only evidence anyone really has, including the adherent to naturalism or its theory of evolution) that points to something within their scientific model or framework. In their models, there are testable parts and untestable parts, similar to the theory of evolution. Both frameworks allow for the supernatural, the creationist model more than the ID, but the evidence is gained by doing normal scientific research on the testable parts of the theory. ID specifies what is meant by intelligence and how to find it in the world. Creation science looks for evidence of a young earth and the impact of a worldwide flood. Both deal with speciation and the rates it can go at. Both look for reasons why animals are placed where they are now, the limits of natural selection and mutation. All of these are scientific endeavours, using what is repeatable and testable to verify or falsify the testable parts of their models.

But their work and findings and theories are rejected not because of science but philosophy and religion, the religion of the evolutionists and naturalistic scientists who think the whole world should revolve around what they say is science. Creationists and ID scientists have not asked and do not ask for their theories to be the only ones allowed in school, neither do they have the same imperialistic, all-controlling mindset of the adherents of naturalism. They just ask for fair play.

[Remember also that this is dealing with the unobservable past where the evidence is circumstantial, and proper science cannot really go.[1] When we deal with the present and normal science, either group of scientists can work together easily.]

So the question still is, what is this "supernatural explanation"? Does Talk Origins mean that when it comes to speciation, they expect creationists to say "God did it"? Well creationists don't say that! When it comes to the origin of life, where there is no natural law for the creation of life form non-life, is there a problem with saying that a possibility is intelligent design seeing the complexity of DNA and living beings? Is that the supernatural explanation that is so disgraceful? Either way it is mostly untestable anyway, since the conditions back then are mostly unknown and only have any meaning once they have been put into a philosophical framework.

There really is no problem with talking about Deity in science. Yes, a lot of process can be explained naturally, like the process that makes rain and the processes that make electricity work. Creationists have no problem with normal science,[2] or even natural processes when we see them. But there are fundamental questions about our past and history that is not in the same scientific context as rain-fall and electricity, repeatable observable phenomena in the present. To treat the circumstantial evidence as though there is only one possible view is wrong.



Nobody has ever come up with a useful definition of supernatural. By most definitions, something having an effect on nature makes that something a part of nature itself. So any explanation for something we see in nature can be considered natural by definition.

The operative word in this is "by most definitions". Which definitions would these be? If it were by all definitions, Talk Origins would have a point. But to say by most definitions means that there are definitions that allow the supernatural to interact with the natural, the material. It is not necessarily true that something having an effect on nature makes that something a part of nature. By analogy, a strong wind could have an effect on me, causing me to falter and hesitate, but that doesn’t make it me or part of me. One definition of supernatural is "not subject to explanation according to natural laws". So the question is, what natural or supernatural law says that the supernatural has to be part of nature to have an effect on nature? If it is true that the supernatural is not subject to explanation by natural law, then what law is Talk Origins imposing on the supernatural that it has to work like they think it should? It shows an arrogance on their part. It is apparent that in their philosophy, everything must be within the grasp of our knowledge, of our human minds. But the fact is we don't, because of our own frailty as humans, have all knowledge, not can we. A deity with the ability to create a universe, by definition, would have knowledge vastly beyond ours and logically be able, though immaterial, to effect the material world by sheer force of will and other unknown means.


We cannot observe the supernatural, so the only way we could reach the supernatural explanation would be to eliminate all natural explanations. But we can never know that we have eliminated all possibilities. Even if a supernatural explanation is correct, we can never reach it.

"... facts by themselves are essentially meaningless - they all need to be interpreted within a particular philosophical framework." [3] That is the essential point here. This Talk Origins response is shaped and crafted by that same philosophy of naturalism, i.e., they will only consider the supernatural when the natural has run its course, and it never will or at least they'll never see that it has because there's always a chance, in their worldview, that there will be a natural explanation. They are in essence saying, since we don't know, we'll trust nature. They are doing anything they can to avoid the supernatural, even, according to their own admission, if it is true.

To see how philosophical frameworks affect what you will accept, look at this example:

There are fossils in the ground. How did they get there? Now what is going to be your starting assumption? If you starting assumption is naturalism and uniformitarianism you are going to come up with some ideas about local floods, a couple of mysterious mass extinctions, but generally a long history of the earth. If your starting assumption is going to be the Bible, then a global flood would do a lot, and then some may come about by local floods. Both starting assumptions are untestable, but if you are the side of scripture, you didn't have to eliminate all of the natural explanations. They was already a biblical, non-naturalistic framework that allowed for the observable phenomenon. You could do tests to find out how a flood of that proportion and of that description could have affected the landscape through investigations of events like Mt. St Helens and experiments into hydro-thermal water and how it can create some rock layers.

Here's another example:

There is a diversity of complex animals. How did they get there? What is going to be your starting assumption? You could start with naturalism and think that either life is eternal and so are living creatures, but there is no natural law that points to eternity, everything has a beginning and later on dies. So maybe it would be a theory of evolution starting from a single celled organism and diverging to all life now. Or you could start from theism or the Bible, and see that the animals are complex, and show a similar but more advanced complexity to intelligently made things, and also the observed limits in types of animals and think there was some original blueprint [hence possibly supernatural intelligence] for all life, seeing the similarities, and also for each set or group or kind of animal that diverged within that group.

So to sum it all up in a phrase: philosophical frameworks affect what you will accept.

So no, you don't have to eliminate all naturalistic explanations before you start to think of the supernatural. You simply have to choose what framework you are going to work from and do scientific tests within that framework to see how well it holds together. In a lot of ways the framework that at least allows for supernatural explanations while including natural explanations makes more sense and accounts for not only complex systems but the histories of nations and groups that claimed to observe supernatural events.

It is because we don't have all the knowledge why we have to choose a framework, a preconceptual worldview, and you don't have to wait for all the natural explanations to pass by before you go to supernaturalism, because the other way is more open and incorporates the natural laws and the observed world, and the possibility of divine intervention, without the arrogant assumption that everything has to be natural.

We may not be able to scientifically observe the supernatural, as we do other living creatures. But we can test the records that claims that the supernatural did act and work in the natural with what we can see, and see the consequence of such actions. We can use it as a framework to understand the world and do science in it. But people have claimed to see the supernatural, so it is not the case that we cannot observe the supernatural! It is just that we cannot pin it down like other living creatures and observe their composition and habitat. But as I said before, we can observe possible consequences of divine acts, through science and logic.

Also, we may not be able to scientifically observe the supernatural, but there is a lot of the evolution theory that cannot be observed, yet is to be taken as truth. So if the problem is observation, evolutionists have problems too.


Suppose we do conclude that a supernatural explanation is correct. It is impossible, even in principle, to distinguish one supernatural explanation from another. Many people, including many scientists, are willing to accept certain supernatural explanations on faith. There is nothing wrong with that as long as they don't claim special privilege for their faith. Some people, however, are not satisfied unless others believe as they do; this group includes all those who want to make the supernatural a part of science. Since they cannot make their case by using naturalistic evidence, they must resort to other means, such as force of arms. (This is not hyperbole. Such groups continually attempt to get political enforcement on their side.)

Firstly, how would making this distinction be any different from proving the existence of the supernatural?

Also, many people, including scientists, are willing to accept certain naturalistic explanations on faith, yet they do claim special privileges and make that faith "science". An example is the leap between the observed changes within living organisms being very limited and not increasing genetic information, and the unobserved mega changes proposed by the theory of evolution which have huge increases in genetic information, changes from one kind of animal into another (i.e., from a bacteria to a fish) and creative powers given to natural selection and mutation, which have to be taken on faith. It seems that Talk Origins is using double-talk (being two-faced) when it comes to faith in the supernatural and faith in the natural. Both things require faith, and both have effects that would be seen in the natural world. But only one gets forced on the public.

I would like to ask what do Talk Origins mean by "make the supernatural a part of science"? It's strange how inconsistent they are in this point because on another part of their webpage, they look talk about scientifically studying the efficacy of prayer, something linked with the supernatural. I think the problem isn't so much having the supernatural as part of science, but that adherents to naturalism cannot accept it. The real problem is the deceptive way in which philosophical assumptions are obscured, hidden under a veil of scientific objectivity. Evolutionists are guilty of that, to say the least.

There are some people who are not satisfied unless others believe as they do. That includes the evolutionists who impose their belief on everyone and wish to make their religion, naturalism, the very definition of science. They are among those who slap lawsuits on labels in texts books, fire or isolate teachers who teach opposing theories, demonize their opponents. Evolutionists are not the innocent. I'm not saying creationists are perfect, but this accusation falls on everyone. The real issue is the place of religion and untestable philosophies in science class.

Using science properly, we can understand more about the world around. There are evidences within the world that confirm the existence of the supernatural, of a Deity.


If we do miss a supernatural explanation, so what? Supernatural explanations cannot be generalized so the explanation does not matter anywhere else. The usefulness of science comes from the ability to apply findings to different areas. Any supernatural explanation would be useless.

It is important if we miss a supernatural explanation for two reasons:

  1. If it is missed, then it will be always explained away by an alternate and most likely invalid way, which leads to the following point;
  2. If this supernatural explanation is integral to parts of the actual events, and it is ignored or a false, naturalistic explanation is put in the place of the actual events, then you would be teaching a lie for the sake of the naturalistic explanation.

The statement of Talk Origins is akin to say, "if we miss the truth, so what?", and this is exactly the case. Because of their philosophical or religious allegiance to naturalism, they will close out possible truths, not for the sake of science but because of their religious belief. So they don't care about truth, just about making sure evidence fits their beliefs.

Talk Origins is simply saying that if the supernatural explanation is the truth, then it is useless. They make science the be-all and end-all of everything. If it is useless for science, which is it not, then it is simply useless. Understanding how the supernatural creator works helps us to understand how it impacts our lives and how it should affect our priorities and beliefs. It would also help in science because the effects of the supernatural act would be natural, so we could investigate that and see if and how the effects can be generalized.

Creationist accounts of origins are not disqualified. People are free to believe whatever religion they choose. P. E. Johnson and others like him merely object to their religion not being taught as science to the exclusion of all other religious interpretations (not to mention to the exclusion of all of science).

This wasn't Phillip Johnson's point at all. His point is that interpretations of scientific evidence is biased to one religious dogma, that of naturalism, and it is unfair to treat scientific evidence so one-sidedly. The naturalistic theory of evolution is full of weakness and flaws and no other model of history which would impact the natural world now is allowed, not because of science, but because of an naturalistic religious worldview. That is what is what is wrong with the system.


Related References

  1. The Limitations of Science and its Method
  2. The Limitations of Science and its Method
  3. Missing? or misinterpreted?


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