“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.'”– Psalm 14:1
We all hold to certain fundamental assumptions about reality. These assumptions act as a sort of lens through which we interpret our experience of reality. Collectively, these assumptions are known as our worldview. Because we all hold a particular worldview, none of us can claim to be truly “neutral” in any regard. Understanding this concept is essential, and if you haven’t read my article on this topic yet, you should.
Since we presuppose fundamental ideas about knowledge before we even begin to interact with reason and evidence, how can we ever know which view of reality is true? Greg Bahnsen offers a solution: We are simply to ask the question “which worldview makes human experience intelligible?”(1) This means stepping into the shoes of both parties, looking through the lens of their worldview, and determining which worldview comports with our experience of reality. In a previous series, I outlined the failure of the atheist’s worldview to explain our experience of moral truth (part 1, part 2, and part 3). In this article, I will focus on another area of human experience: Scientific knowledge
Find ten people who are not Christians, and at least nine of them will cite “science” as a component of their rejection of Christian truth claims. Some see science as disproving the miraculous claims in the Bible, such as the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead. Some see evolutionary theory or big bang cosmology as a contradiction of biblical claims. Others simply see science as superior epistemology. The individual arguments aren’t particularly important here. The point is that unbelievers frequently appeal to science when articulating their rejection of God.
Yet there is a fundamental irony to this that is nothing short of worldview-shattering for the unbeliever. The word “Universe” comes from the latin roots unus which means “one” and versus which means “to turn”. The Latin universus literally means “turned into one.”(2) That our universe is a collection of diverse parts, unified into an orderly, rational, predictable system is expressed in the etymology of the term itself.(3) This principal is known as the uniformity of nature, and it is the foundation upon which the scientific method is built.
Science itself is a systematic methodology of observing physical evidence and making inferences based on those observations.(4) This means that science depends entirely on the uniformity of nature. The principal of uniformity holds that material cause and effect relationships will produce the same results if all conditions remain the same. Bahnsen notes that our reasoning “tacitly assumes that the universe is such that uniformities are expected and exhibited in similar things even though they are separated by time and space – that the way things happen can be viewed as instances of general laws and what has occurred in the past is a reliable guide for predicting and thus adjusting to the future. (5)
For example, we know that the fundamental principals of physics that allow aircraft to fly will be the same tomorrow as they are today. We also know that the temperate required to produce chemical reactions in our body will be the same in both Canada and Africa. Without the principal of uniformity, scientific investigation would be impossible, as it relies entirely on an orderly, rational, coherent, and unified system. (6)
But we can take this further. As the Philosopher Bertrand Russell observed, “The general principles of science, such as the belief in the reign of law, and the belief that every event must have a cause, are as completely dependent upon the inductive principle as are the beliefs of daily life” (my emphasis).(7) In other words, we assume the uniformity of nature in everything we do. When we jump we expect gravity to bring us back to earth. When we talk we expect the sounds we make to reach the ear drums of the person we speak to. When we open the refrigerator, we expect to find food inside, not a black hole.
Try asking someone if he is skeptical about floating away from the surface of the earth when he gets up out of his chair. Any sane person would simply laugh at this suggestion. Why? Because we are strongly committed to the belief that the laws governing the universe are uniform through space and time. But where do we get this commitment, and is it rational? Here we must return to the original question posed in this article: Which worldview can make sense of our experience of reality?
For the Christian, uniformity of nature is to be expected. Scripture states that God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1). This means God is the author of the physical laws and constants of the universe. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul details the extent of God’s creation, writing
“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col 1:16-17)
The greek sunistemi in the phrase “hold together” is literally “to cause to stand together.” God is the unifying principal that brings harmony and order to the universe, and apart from his continuous sustaining activity, all would fall apart (Heb. 1:2-3).(8) Bahnsen also notes that because the universe was created “by him” and “for him,” The universe does not exist without reference to God. This means we can never expect to properly understand the universe apart from him. (9)
Thus the Christian has the word of the creator himself on which to ground his trust in the principle of uniformity. In fact, science as we know it was birthed in the cradle of Christianity (10). It was trust in God’s word that lead Christians to the belief that the universe was rational, orderly, and discoverable. Prior to the mid 1800’s, science was seen as a form of religious devotion, and it was religious faith that lead to the discoveries of men like Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, and James Clerk Maxwell. (11)
In contrast, the atheist’s worldview can provide nothing to support his belief in the uniformity of nature. If we lived in an unguided and purposeless universe, we could simply marvel at the inexplicable uniformity of nature we experienced. We would also have no reason to think this uniformity extended to all places, or that it would continue to exist in the immediate future.
The problem of induction, as this is known, was first discussed by the famous atheist philosopher David Hume, who reckoned it insolvable.(12) Because of his commitment to solving it in the context of an atheist worldview, he was quite right. The atheist has no choice but to simply assume induction leads to knowledge, without any rational justification for that belief. This is an attitude not of science, but of faith; a faith that is blind and unguided and contains no knowledge or foundation- It is simply asserted.(13)
The almost immediate response to this accusation is that we have every reason to believe the future will be like the past. After all, we have a lifetime of experience to show us that the laws of nature are consistent, and thus we can predict with something close to certainty that things will continue as they always have. The problem with this view is that it is a textbook example of the question-begging fallacy. I am not alone in this assessment. Bertrand Russell eloquently described the error in answering the problem of induction in this way:
“The inductive principle is equally incapable of being proved by an appeal to experience. Experience might conceivably confirm the inductive principle as regards to the cases that have been already examined but as regards unexamined cases it is the inductive principle alone that can justify any inference from what has been examined to what has not been examined. All arguments which on the basis of experience argue as to the future or the unexperienced parts of the past or present assume the inductive principle. Hence we can never use experience to prove the inductive principle without begging the question.” (my emphasis) (14)
This means that the unbeliever cannot claim to have scientific knowledge of any kind, as the foundational principal of induction (on which all scientific knowledge rests) is a baseless assumption; a question mark hanging in the air. Russell was consistent on this point, and conceded that the acceptance of the laws of physics as true was “a purely personal affair, not susceptible to argument.” In other words, consistent atheism leads to subjectivism.(15)
As with the problem of morality, we see that atheism taken to its logical conclusions is absurd. When discussing this topic with the unbeliever, you will find that he almost immediately recognizes the presence of absurdity in the discussion, but not its origin. He and will often laugh-off the notion that gravity might cease to exist tomorrow, or that turning the key in his car might suddenly cause a nuclear explosion. But this is the futility of the unbelieving mind in action. The Christian is not arguing that we should think these things. In fact, only an insane person would consider these absurdities possible. The point is that if the atheist was consistent with his worldview he must consider all of these absurdities possible.
And yet he does not. Like the Christian, the atheist assumes the future will be like the past, despite the irrationality of this belief given his atheism. Thus, when the atheist appeals to science in defense of his unbelief, he is borrowing capital from the Christian worldview in order to attack it. He is a walking contradiction.
This is why scripture says “The fool in his heart says ‘There is no God'” (Psalm 14:1). The term fool does not speak to the unbeliever’s intelligence, but to the futility of attempting to understand the world while simultaneously rejecting the God who created it. Scripture plainly states that the unbeliever already knows God, but suppresses the truth of God in unrighteousness, leading to darkened and futile thinking (Rom 1:18-21). It is this noetic effect of man’s sinful nature that allows very intelligent atheists to hold to these irrational and contradictory views of reality (Prov 1:7; 2 Cor 3:7-16). Thus, it is God’s grace alone that will save the unbeliever from his sinful nature and the cognitive dissonance it leads to.
Trying to out-think this problem by turning to philosophy is like turning to liquor to deal with emotional pain. Nothing is solved, nothing goes away, but the alcohol dulls the immediate experience of the problem and its threat becomes tolerable. Only by placing faith in Christ, who is himself the foundation of all truth (John 14:6), can the unbeliever be freed from this condition and saved from God’s wrath.
- Greg Bahnsen, The myth of neutrality, retrieved 2016-02-14.
- “Online Etymology Dictionary”. http://www.etymonline.com. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
- Bahnsen, Greg (2007). Demar, Gary, ed. Pushing the Antithesis. Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision. p. 186.
- “Our definition of science – The Science Council”. The Science Council. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
- “Atheism & Induction, Greg Bahnsen vs. Edward Tabash” (PDF). 1993-01-12. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
- Bahnsen, Greg (2007). Demar, Gary, ed. Pushing the Antithesis. Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision. p. 187.
- “The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell”. http://www.personal.kent.edu. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
- Wenham, G.J.; Motyer, J.A.; Carson, D.A.; France, R.T., eds. (1994). New Bible Commentary. Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press. p. 1266.
- Bahnsen, Greg (2007). Demar, Gary, ed. Pushing the Antithesis. Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision. p. 185.
- Oliphint, Scott (2013). Covenantal Apologetics: Principals & Practice in Defense of Our Faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway. p. 210.
- “Science owes much to both Christianity and the Middle Ages : Soapbox Science”. blogs.nature.com. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
- Vickers, John (2016-01-01). Zalta, Edward N., ed. The Problem of Induction (Spring 2016 ed.).
- Oliphint, Scott (2013). Covenantal Apologetics: Principals & Practice in Defense of Our Faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway. p. 120.
- Russell, Bertrand (2012-05-04). The Problems of Philosophy. Courier Corporation. p. 47.
- Bahnsen, Greg (2007). Demar, Gary, ed. Pushing the Antithesis. Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision. p. 185.