Creation: How does creationism differ from naturalism?
Naturalism, associated with atheism, views creation as merely the product of time, energy, and chance. As Carl Sagan famously said, “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”1 Or, to say it another way, the ultimate explanation of everything from life to love is to be found in particle physics, string theory, and whatever governs the elements of the material world, as there is nothing beyond the physical world and its atoms.
Likely the most famous proponent of naturalism is Charles Darwin (1809–1892). Darwin was an English naturalist who founded the modern theory of evolution. He published his proposal in the 1859 book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. The lengthy original title is often shortened to On the Origin of Species, both because of its length and racist overtones. While it seems that Darwin never disbelieved in the existence of a God of some kind, his evolutionary theory has been used in an effort to explain the origin of life apart from God. In fact, atheist Richard Dawkins says that “although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”2
As Christians we freely accept the experimentally verified fact of micro-evolution—that species can and do adapt to their environments. In fact, micro-evolution may be simply yet another evidence of the goodness and mercy of God upon his creation, since it helps a species adapt to its environment so as to help protect it from predators. However, Christians are not free to accept thesis of atheistic, naturalistic-evolution—that one species can evolve into another species entirely by random application of natural processes.
Although it reigns as the dominant paradigm for over one hundred years, the theory of natural evolution continues to be questioned by both Christian and non-Christians. Antony Flew, the preeminent philosopher of atheism, abandoned his failed theory in 2004.3 Thomas Nagel, an atheistic philosopher, argues that the materialist version of evolutionary biology fails because it cannot account for the existence of mind and consciousness. He suggests scientists need an entirely different kind of theory to explain the emergence of life, and in particular conscious life.4
The reasons for the lack of confidence in naturalistic evolution are many, but the following are some of the most implausible leaps of faith that it makes, all of which require at least as much faith as believing in an eternal creator God.
1) Naturalistic evolution purports that nothing made everything. Sometimes this claim goes by the term spontaneous generation. Essentially, no-thing causes every-thing to spring into existence, although this is not considered a miracle because there is no God. Francis Collins, who headed of the Human Genome Project, says, “I can’t imagine how nature, in this case the universe, could have created itself. And the very fact that the universe had a beginning implies that someone was able to begin it. And it seems to me that had to be outside of nature.”5
Naturalistic evolution is put in a quandary between the undeniable evidence that the universe had a beginning and the equally undeniable principle that nothing comes from nothing.
Most scientists give credence to the big bang theory, which states that there was some sort of initial incident that set in motion events that in time led to the formation of the world as we know it; thus, the big bang accounts for the continual expanding of the universe. Stephen Hawking wrote: “Almost everyone now believes that the universe, and time itself, had a beginning at the big bang.”6 While Christians would see Big God rather than big bang, the point in either case is that the universe is not eternal but had a beginning.
In desperation to avoid the quandary of a universe with a beginning, they speculate that there might be an infinite number of invisible parallel universes stretching back into eternity, without a shred of evidence to support their imagining. How can they criticize Christians for being people of blind faith? We have all the historical evidence for Jesus and his resurrection to support our faith, while they have absolutely nothing for their mythology.
2) Naturalistic evolution purports that chaos made order. The basic telling of the history of the universe according to atheistic naturalism is that the orderliness of our universe is the result of cataclysmic disorder, chaos, and chance that together resulted in great orderliness. As a general rule, our life experiences confirm to us that great chaos and disorder do not, in and of themselves, lead to harmonious order. On this point, the astronomer Fred Hoyle “claimed that the probability of life arising on earth (by purely natural means, without special divine aid) is less than the probability that a flight-worthy Boeing 747 should be assembled by a hurricane roaring through a junkyard.”7
Additionally, Stephen Hawking has said, “The odds against a universe like ours emerging out of something like the big bang are enormous. I think there are clearly religious implications.”8 Furthermore, Hawking admitted, “It would be very difficult to explain why the universe would have begun in just this way except as the act of a God who intended to create beings like us.”9
The teleological argument(telosmeans “purpose” or “design”) seeks to convince from the amazing harmony in all of creation that the world has been ordered by an Intelligent Designer who is God. In its simple form, the argument contends that when we see something that is designed, we rightly assume that an intelligent designer created it. Further, the more complicated something is, the more intelligent the designer must have been.
Classic advocates of the teleological argument from design include Christian philosophers Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) and William Paley (1734–1805). Paley’s watchmaker analogy stated that if you came across something as complex as a watch, you would rightly assume that an intelligent designer made it. Likewise, as we walk through the world, we continually encounter things made with far greater complexity than a watch, such as the eye you are using to read these words. Biochemistry professor Michael Behe made similar points in his argument for “irreducible complexity”: that certain biological systems, like an eye, are too complex to have evolved from simpler predecessors.0 They had to come into existence as complete systems. Therefore, we are logically compelled to believe that these things were intelligently designed by God.
In recent decades, the “fine-tuning argument” has also gained prominence as a form of the teleological argument. Proponents note that these basic physical constants must fall within very narrow limits if intelligent life is to develop. For example, our world’s constant gravitational force, the rate of universe expansion, the average distance between stars, the nature of gravity, earth’s distance from the sun, earth’s rotation period, and even our carbon dioxide levels are so finely tuned for life on our planet that no logical explanation other than God is tenable. Collins says:
When you look from the perspective of a scientist at the universe, it looks as if it knew we were coming. There are 15 constants—the gravitational constant, various constants about the strong and weak nuclear forces, etc.—that have precise values. If any one of those constants was off by even one part in a million, or in some cases, by one part in a million million, the universe could not have actually come to the point where we see it. Matter would not have been able to coalesce, there would have been no galaxy, stars, planets, or people.11
Even our own human bodies support this argument. Further findings in science continually increase our understanding of the wondrous complexity of the human body, including the fact that just one human DNA molecule holds roughly the same amount of information as one volume of an encyclopedia.
3) Naturalistic evolution purports that impersonal matter made personal humanity. Naturalists have reasoned that in addition to the material world, immaterial things such as emotions and intelligence are simply the result of impersonal, unfeeling, and unintelligent matter. Yet, this entire proposal defies logic. How can matter that does not feel create people who weep? How can matter that does not think create not only the physical organ of the brain but the mental thoughts that accompany it? How can impersonal matter create a person with an identity and personality?
Indeed, the burden of proof is on the naturalist to explain the untenable, whereas the Christian simply states the biblical fact that our personal, passionate, and infinitely brilliant God made us with bits of his glory in our heart, mind, and personality. Furthermore, if our views of justice and morality were nothing more than neurochemistry hardwired into us, then we would lose the right to be morally outraged at such things as genocide, rape, murder, and racism. When we deny the dignity of humanity as created in God’s image, we saw off the branch upon which we sit to defend it.
4) Naturalistic evolution purports to be unbiased science. But faith beyond any evidence is still required. Attempts to trace a possible genetic line of transition from one species to another or explain intermediate forms which could survive have so far been fruitless. Further, the atheistic naturalists continue to reject any possibility of the hand of God in the making of the world. This is, as Romans 1:18 states, because they suppress the truth due to hardness of heart against God. As Harvard professor Richard Lewontin said, “We are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations.”12 He continues to insist that this “materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.”13
In addition, Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg says, “I personally feel that the teaching of modern science is corrosive of religious belief, and I’m all for that!”14 He goes on to say:
From my own point of view, I can hope that this long sad story will come to an end at some time in the future and that this progression of priests and ministers and rabbis and ulamas and imams and bonzes and bodhisattvas will come to an end, that we’ll see no more of them. I hope that this is something to which science can contribute and if it is, then I think it may be the most important contribution that we can make.15
Yet, if all we are is simply the result of time and chance, and our thoughts are no more than the random collision of matter, why should we trust our minds to tell us anything truthful or to be a trustworthy guide in scientific discovery? On this point, the prominent atheistic philosopher Thomas Nagel asks if we can have any “continued confidence in reason as a source of knowledge about the nonapparent character of the world? In itself, I believe an evolutionary story tells against such confidence.”16
Indeed, there is no conflict between experimental science and Christian faith. However, there is a conflict between Christianity and atheistic naturalism, because it will not allow the possibility of a Creator God.
If someone asked you for the best reason is to believe in a Creator God, what would you say?
1Carl Sagan, Cosmos (New York: Random House, 1980), 1.
2Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: Norton, 1996), 6, emphasis in original.
3Antony Flew, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind (New York: HarperCollins, 2007).
Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, Oxford University Press, 2012.