1. Loftus: “Science proceeds according to methodological naturalism, an approach which presumes for the sake of empirical inquiry that everything we experience, if it has a cause at all, has a natural cause.”
That science presumes that everything we experience on a regular basis has a natural cause is not problematic for Christian theism. In fact, for the Christian the order of the universe is a reflection of its creator’s nature, as C.S. Lewis explains that “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a legislator” (1). To be able to utilize the tools of science to investigate the natural world such an effort presupposes order in nature, however, this is problematic for atheist. The atheist presupposes uniformity in nature, as well as attempts to use reason to draw conclusions on past experiences. He uses such uniformity to understand the natural world and how it works, yet he has no basis on which to do so on his worldview. The atheist cannot appeal to experience of uniformity (such as the sun will rise tomorrow like it did today) because that would beg the question as it is already assuming uniformity on his worldview. Why does the universe adhere to uniformity if there is no intelligence involved to hold it all together? On atheism, the universe is just one big, meaningless result of cosmic explosion and expansion. Yet, despite this he still conducts his science on the basis of this uniformity in nature.
So, I don’t find that science proceeds “according to methodological naturalism” problematic for Christianity, I think it is an accurate description. Then Loftus quotes the atheist philosopher Paul Kurtz who says that it is a “principle within the context of scientific inquiry; i.e., all hypotheses and events are to be explained and tested by reference to natural causes and events. To introduce a supernatural or transcendental cause within science is to depart from naturalistic explanations.”
Firstly, not all scientific theories are best explained by naturalistic hypotheses (some are left wide open), and obviously the Big Bang is one such case as seen in the lengths that atheists go in an attempt to explain it away. Atheist astrophysicist Hawking admits that “Many people do not like the idea that time has a beginning, probably because it smacks of divine intervention” (4).
Secondly, I agree with Kurtz that “To introduce a supernatural or transcendental cause within science is to depart from naturalistic explanation.” I think that is a fair analysis, however, when the theist argues for the existence of God what he does is summon data from the realms of science & philosophy and thus use it in the form of a deductive argument (via a syllogism). Now, the theist is not claiming that the Cosmological Argument is a scientific proof of God, rather he is using scientific data to support the conclusion that God exists.
2. Loftus: “Before the advent of science, most people either praised gods for the good things that happened to them, or tried to appease them when bad things happened. Many believed that sickness was caused by sin, that rain was the result of a god becoming pleased with their efforts, that drought indicated when a god was displeased, and so on. Science wasn’t content to accept the notion that demonic possession caused epilepsy, that sickness was a punishment from God, that God alone opens the womb of a woman, or that God sends rain. We now have a scientific explanation for all of these things and benefit tremendously from those who assumed that all caused phenomena have natural causes. We can predict rain, understand how babies are born, and prevent a host of illnesses. Such progress cannot be reverted and is ongoing.”
This really doesn’t say much in all honesty. What people once believed about illnesses, birth or rain in ancient history says nothing about the truth claims of any worldview. All Loftus has done is inform us about the ancient beliefs of people.
Secondly, underlying Loftus’ point here is the assumption that naturalistic hypotheses explain God away, or leave no room for God to work in. However, this is false as on the Christian worldview the physical universe was created by God, hence why the famous scientist Johannes Kepler described science as “thinking God’s thoughts after Him” (1). Loftus also assumes here that God does not intervene in his creation. Sure, we know why it rains, but that does not mean God cannot cause a downpour in a moment’s notice by manipulating the physical forces of nature if it suited his purposes. It is also thanks to the Christian worldview that we have the very tools from which we can study nature and make predictions (refer to point 3 in our previous rebuttal). Other than that there isn’t much more to say.
3. Christians like Alvin Plantinga object to the use of methodological naturalism in many areas related to their faith. Plantinga argues that the Christian scientific community should “pursue science in its own way, starting from and taking for granted what we know as Christians.” But see what he’s doing here? When establishing the background factors in a Bayesian analysis, he recommends that Christians simply assume their most contentious conclusions as their starting point.
I won’t comment on Plantinga’s work but there is an irony here. Loftus charges Plantinga as assuming the Christian worldview as his starting point, but Loftus does the exact same thing. Loftus assumes philosophical naturalism when he reviews any and all data, scientific or not. He is no benchmark of neutrality. Other than that many former skeptics actually became believers without assuming the Christian faith as their starting point (see Part 1 point 1). Loftus’ challenge fails to address that aspect.
Too be continued..
1. New World Encyclopedia. 2014. Johannes Kepler. Available.
2. Flew, A. 2004. My Pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: An Exclusive Interview with Former British Atheist Professor Antony Flew. Available.
3. Hoyle, F. 1982. The Universe: Past and Present Reflections. p. 16.
4. Hawking, S. 1988. A Brief History of Time. p. 46.