Many well known scientists believe that the realm of the physical universe is all that exists. This universe consists of matter (the “material stuff’ that we can know by our senses) and forces (such as gravity and electrical forces). In essence, they believe in nature alone. They seek to know how forces act upon matter. When looking for an explanation, they turn to “natural causes.” These laws of cause and effect can explain everything, they say, including life itself.
The Harvard genetics professor, Richard Lewontin, acknowledges that in spite of some absurdities and many failed promises along the way, scientists are committed to believing in a materialistic world and naturalistic causes. This can lead only to material explanations.
In many ways, a scientist is like a detective. He or she looks for the truth of the story, how such a thing came to be. Many possibilities must be examined according to the evidence at hand. These possibilities allow the scientist and the detective to construct theories about the cause of the event. A good theory needs to be consistent, logical and testable.
This brings us to a dilemma regarding the study of origins of the universe. We can’t repeat the experiment! We must rely solely on the evidence which has come about as a result of the birth of the universe. This does not require us to rule out the possibility of an Intelligent Designer, but many scientists would not appeal to such a source. They presuppose that the universe came about without a purpose and without a Designer. Only natural causes are allowable in such an understanding and explanation.
However, other scientists believe that such a limited view is unsatisfactory because it requires that a scientist rule out in advance some possibilities. This essentially conflicts with the enterprising spirit of scientific research. Such an approach also puts great stress on seeking answers solely within the natural world.
It is possible to have different levels of explanation. Sometimes it is sufficient to say that a car starts when one turns the key. At other times the explanation will be in terms of how the parts of an engine work to produce energy to power the vehicle. These explanations are not in conflict, as one could say that the motor engages by turning the key in the ignition. Equally well, one can explain universal origins in terms of the mechanics, or the Designer who sets the whole process in motion.
Many scientists are coming to the understanding that the universe is exceedingly finely tuned to be “just right” for life. Especially those in the field of molecular biology are willing to start talking about purpose and design in the scheme of living organisms.
Even though we can’t see a non-material world, there is much circumstantial evidence for it. The biblical view is that circumstantial evidence for the invisible Creator is plain in what has been made. “From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see His invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God” (Romans 1:20).
Although there is increasing circumstantial evidence which points to a Designer or Creator, many scientists remain committed to “natural only” causes. So even if God were staring us in the face, we would be able to ignore Him if we only consider theories which fit our restricted, naturalistic view.
TRUTH AND EXPLANATIONS
Science rests upon discovering the truth about the nature of things and events. The core of science deals with evidence which supports such a truth. Indicators for truth are neither scientific opinion nor consensus. Neither does science concern itself primarily with whether a thing could happen. It wants to know did such a thing happen?
An obvious point here is that scientific laws don’t cause things to happen. They describe what happens! Scientific explanations answer the question “How?” Classifications and labels help us to organize our knowledge, but are not themselves explanations of what we know. Scientific explanations need mechanisms.
Explanations of all sorts, whether scientific, legal or Christian, need objective evidence. This can be obtained through reliable experimentation or the testimony of many reliable witnesses. Experiments are used to accumulate scientific evidence. Testimony is used to accumulate legal evidence. Science and faith depend on criteria for determining whether something is true or not. These standards ensure that things are not arbitrarily decided.
The world of frontier physics provides a good example for us. In the world of very small particles that make up matter (the quantum realm), scientists are finding things they didn’t expect and cannot explain. This reality defies “common sense” but the truth of it is there, observed but not yet explained. Science is always underway. As we make progress, we are better able to answer the important questions, such as:
Is the so called natural causes explanation adequate and complete?
Does intelligent design provide a better explanation?