By Dr Gary R. Habermas
Originally published in Bibliotheca Sacra 146:584 Oct-Dec (1989): 437-450.
Idealism was the dominant philosophy in the Western world in the early 20th century, a holdover from its prominence in the previous century. Stressing the metaphysical reality of mind or spirit and the epistemological centrality of ideas, idealism stood in stark contrast to naturalism, which took its position as the dominant school of thought in the middle of this century. Naturalistic convictions often included the supreme reality of matter, the belief that nature could potentially explain all phenomena, and faith in the empirical, scientific method as the chief means of discovering facts. Such beliefs continue to exercise control on many areas of study.
One interesting facet of the history of ideas is the possibility that either new data or new ways of interpreting the data will encourage new paradigm (or world view) shifts in thinking.1 Many trends indicate that just such a major shift may now be taking place. Just as idealism gave way to naturalism earlier this century, naturalism may now be losing its position of supremacy as a world view.
Physicists Puthoff and Targ, after research at Stanford Research Institute, published Mind-Reach, whose first chapter, “When the Paranormal Becomes Normal,” appropriately asks, “Where will you be standing when the paradigm shifts?”2 The authors consider that a shift in thinking may be occurring.
1. Of special interest is Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 2d ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970). The present article uses the term “paradigm” to denote a world view, or an interpretive model for explaining reality.
2. Harold Puthoff and Russell Targ, Mind-Reach (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1978).
In agreement with this thesis Koestler explains that a “profound transformation of the physicist’s world view” is now taking place—a change that involves the shattering of many established scientific concepts. He holds that those who ridicule the recent studies in parapsychology are in approximately the same position as those who belittled Einsteinian physics earlier this century. A similar breakthrough in studies of the human mind may now be imminent.3
An issue of the SCP Journal was dedicated to an investigation of these changing trends. As reported by Fetcho: “Science, the health professions, and the arts, not to mention psychology and religion, are all engaged in a fundamental reconstruction of their basic premises.”4 In another article Albrecht and Alexander note the rising influence of these new developments:
In the last five years, however, both the scope and the intensity of the occult/mystical encroachment upon the consciousness of the scientific “establishment” have greatly increased. . . . Certainly the Eastern/ occult view of reality is riding on the momentum of a cultural and intellectual shift of enormous proportions—and not just in physics.5
What reasons may be given for such alleged changes in the contemporary world view? As Kuhn points out, one paradigm is often basically intolerant of change, even though nature must frequently be forced into its inflexible conception of reality. Further, contrary facts are sometimes ignored.6 Some believe that naturalists are often guilty of suppressing the facts to propagate their dogma.
A more subjective reason for change is that people are ready for a new way of thinking. When such a time arrives, a different model suddenly “appears” and begins to influence contemporary thought.7
A number of factors suggest that the influence of the naturalistic, radically empirical paradigm may be declining. Naturalism fails to give an adequate answer in four areas: methodology, the origin of life, theistic argumentation, and philosophy of the mind.8
3. Arthur Koestler, The Roots of Coincidence: An Excursion into Parapsychology (New York: Random House, 1972), p. 50.
4. David Fetcho, “In Face of the Tempest, Jonah Sleeps,” SCP Journal, August 1978, p. 3.
5. Mark Albrecht and Brooks Alexander, “The Sellout of Science,” SCP Journal, August 1978, pp. 19, 26.
6. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, p. 24.
7. Compare Kuhn’s major thesis with that of C. S. Lewis in one of his technical works, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964), esp. pp. 218-23.
8. The purpose of this article is not to develop contemporary arguments in each area, but rather to chart trends that may illustrate a general direction in recent thought. It is hoped that presenting a survey of the research of numerous scholars will acquaint the reader with a broad perspective of where new paradigms may be headed.
The naturalistic conviction that the scientific method of empirical observation and testing is the only (or the supreme) guide to knowledge has been a popular belief in many circles. Along with this position is the view that nature’s laws can explain all phenomena apart from any deity or divine purpose. Science alone yields knowable truth and other methods are unable to reveal factual knowledge. The majority of scholars, however, hold that this methodology is much too narrow and that there are other viable ways to learn. The question here is not whether the scientific method is a means of discovering truth, for virtually all hold that it is useful in ascertaining factual data. The issue is whether naturalism is an adequate world view by which to explain all events and facts. In other words in order for naturalism to be a viable paradigm, it must account for all data because it allows for no other source. But many philosophers hold that while the scientific method and mechanistic concept of nature are useful in understanding portions of the universe, they are inadequate to explain all reality.9
Also many have pointed out that there is no empirical verification of the belief that the scientific method is the only way to know facts. That is, there is no empirical means by which one can demonstrate that the only way to learn is by scientific empiricism. A comment by Brightman, leveled against mechanism, is applicable to naturalism as a whole:
If we declare that mechanism is the sole and complete explanation of everything we are going far beyond scientific verification. . . . It is arbitrary and unphilosophical to take one aspect of our scientific experience, such as the principle of mechanism, and extend it so as to cancel the meaning of our most meaningful experiences.10
Thus one may hold that the scientific method is a superior one without being the only one. What may be the best method cannot be confused with the only truth.
Just as the verification principle failed its own test of verifiability, thereby providing a major factor in the downfall of logical positivism earlier this century, so it is now being realized that any belief in strict empiricism is largely problematic for the same reasons— such a belief cannot be verified. One cannot demonstrate that scientific empiricism is the only way to learn; to suggest that it is
9. This is not a new development in philosophy, either. For example see Edgar Sheffield Brightman, A Philosophy of Religion (New York: Prentice-Hall, 1940), p. 277.
10. Ibid., pp. 377-78; cf. p. 487.
confuses good evidence with the only evidence. Knowable reality is broader than allowed by the naturalistic paradigm; naturalism fails as the only approach to truth. Other evidence points to a reality beyond that of the naturalistic paradigm.
Origin of Life
Naturalism cannot give an adequate account of the origin of life. Naturalism postulates that at some point life arose from nonlife. Spontaneous generation of some variety is therefore required. However, science has long rejected such a hypothesis. As such, naturalism attempts to describe the survival of the fittest without explaining the arrival of the fittest.11
Naturalistic science is unable to supply an answer to this question of life; atheistic evolution is incapable of adequately accounting for the data. Numerous scientific efforts involving probability theory have revealed that it is extremely improbable that chance could produce even the first complete set of genes and the proteins needed for minimal life. Coppedge found that even after making several concessions to chance the probability of a random sequence yielding just one gene or protein is 10 [to the power] 236. [footnote]12 Calculations by other scientists, even from a naturalistic, evolutionary perspective, similarly reveal that there is only an infinitesimal chance for such a beginning for life. The naturalistic physicist Guye spoke of a probability of 2.02 x 10 [to the power] 231 for chance dissymetry in an extremely simple protein.13 Salisbury suggested a probability of 10 [to the power] 415 for mutations accounting for a new enzyme.14 Yale biophysicist Morowitz calculated a probability of 1 chance in 10 [to the power] 339,999,866 for the chance formation of the correct bond energies for a minimal cell.15 Quastler postulated two extreme limits of the improbability of life occurring by chance. The smaller figure was 1 in 10 [to the power] 255 while the larger extreme was approximately 1 in 10 to the three trillionth power (13 digits).16
11. Ibid., p. 379.
12. James F. Coppedge, Evolution Possible or Impossible? (Grand Rapids Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), esp. pp. 230-36.
13. Charles-Eugene Guye, reported in Pierre Lecomte du Nouy, Human Destiny (New York Longmans, Green and Co , 1947), pp 33-34, as cited by Coppedge, Evolution Possible or Impossible? p. 234.
14. Frank B. Salisbury, “Natural Selection and the Complexity of the Gene,” Nature, October 25, 1969, p 234, cf., Coppedge, Evolution Possible or Impossible? p. 235.
15. Harold J. Morowitz, Energy Flow in Biology (New York Academic Press, 1968), p. 99, cited in Coppedge, Evolution Possible or Impossible? p. 235.
16. Henry Quastler, The Emergence of Biological Organization (New Haven, CT Yale University Press, 1964).
Naturalists typically respond that life in the universe could have occurred by chance because of the vast amount of time—about 20 billion years. However, this begs the question in favor of naturalism, and as many have pointed out, even this is not enough time. Using Guye’s probability figure, even if the possible combinations were produced at the speed of light, it would take 10 [to the power] 243 [billion years] to obtain even one protein molecule on earth!17
More recently astronomer Hoyle and his colleague Wickramasinghe concluded that there is only one chance in 10 [to the power] 40,000 that even a single enzyme could have evolved by random processes, a figure that is “statistically impossible.” It would require more attempts to form one enzyme than there are atoms in all the stars in all the known galaxies. This statistic was not arrived at by guessing but by computations based on the necessary components of enzymes.
Therefore according to Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, spontaneous generation is impossible, requiring a miracle. “Because of the impossibility of the chance formation and development of life anywhere in the universe”1 8 and since the universe is not eternal, they have abandoned the steady state theory Hoyle helped formulate years ago.19
Yockey studied the likelihood that naturalistic processes could account for the origin of life, which would involve some form of spontaneous biogenesis. He concentrated on explanations for the existence of information content in living organisms as contained in DNA.20 There is more information in the DNA in one human cell than there is in all the books in the Library of Congress, and that one cell contains far more information than there is human knowledge concerning the entire universe!21
Yockey concluded that the spontaneous origin of life could not account for the encoding of this tremendous amount of data.
The “warm little pond” scenario was invented ad hoc to serve as a materialistic reductionist explanation of the origin of life It is unsupported
17. Guye, reported in du Nouy, pp 33-34, and cited by Coppedge, Evolution Possible or Impossible? p. 234.
18. Chandra Wickramasinghe’s testimony appears in Norman L Geisler, The Creator in the Courtroom Scopes II (Milford, MI Mott Media, 1982), pp. 148-53.
19. Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasinghe, Evolution from Space (New York Simon and Shuster, 1981), idem, “Hoyle on Evolution,” Nature, November 12,1981, p. 105.
20. See, for example, Hubert p Yockey, ‘An Application of Information Theory to the Central Dogma and the Sequence Hypothesis,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 46 (1974) 369-406.
21. Robert Gange, Origins and Destiny (Waco, TX Word Books, 1986), pp. 162-64.
by any other evidence and it will remain ad hoc until such evidence is found. . . . One must conclude that, contrary to the established and current wisdom a scenario describing the genesis of life on earth by chance and natural causes which can be accepted on the basis of fact and not faith has not yet been written.22
True, these studies do not completely rule out naturalism. However, they do present a formidable roadblock to a rational formulation of a naturalistic theory for the origin of life.
Some naturalists hold that since life exists, naturalistic evolution must have occurred, in spite of the improbabilities. Others contend that some as yet unknown laws must have allowed life to begin without the action of any supernatural Being, again in spite of the improbabilities. These solutions beg the question. It is circular to assume naturalistic evolution to be the case in spite of the evidence against such nontheistic solutions.
Naturalism cannot account for the origin of life. Naturalism requires spontaneous generation and ignores an array of enormous odds against chance development of human life. Theistic Argumentation When theistic argumentation is brought up, a negative response is often evoked. Few care to approach the question of God’s existence by venturing into the world of abstract reasoning. Yet different avenues of inquiry have appeared in what had been treated by some as a stalemate. And again naturalism appears to be losing ground.
Time magazine noted that a “quiet revolution” taking place in philosophical circles has reopened the logical quest for a rational theism. Pointing out that science has been less presumptuous and closed minded on such issues in recent years, the article notes the revival of newly refined arguments for God’s existence, many of which utilize the “modern techniques of analytic philosophy and symbolic logic that were once used to discredit belief.”23
John Donnelly edited an anthology of essays by key philosophers in the linguistic analytic tradition who argue for a revival of certain forms of natural theology. Donnelly also points out the irony of using such philosophical techniques in this way when they had once been considered anathema to any theological formulation.24
Theistic argumentation has taken on some decidedly new fea-
22. Hubert P. Yockey, “A Calculation of the Probability of Spontaneous Biogenesis by Information Theory,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 67 (1977): 396.
23. “Modernizing the Case for God,” Time, April 7, 1980, pp. 65-66, 68.
24. John Donnelly, ed., Logical Analysis and Contemporary Theism (New York: Fordham University Press, 1972), “Editor’s Preface.”
tures in contemporary thought. Even some scholars who have not been very interested in the past are taking more notice. Rather than developing any specific case, a few recent trends will simply be noted.
For example Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, both previously nontheistic, have concluded that God must exist. To counter their own agnosticism, they concluded that one is “driven, almost inescapably” to the conclusion that a Creator is responsible for the design and spread of life in the universe. In fact Hoyle and Wickramasinghe concluded that these calculations conclusively demonstrate the existence of God, so much so that it can no longer be questioned on scientific grounds, for the Creator’s existence has been brought “into the realm of empirical science.”25
Yockey’s research has led others to accept God’s existence. Gange asserts that though vast quantities of information were utilized when the first living things appeared, nature itself was not the source of this complexity.26 Capitalizing on Yockey’s statement that the vast information in living systems is the same as the mathematical pattern of a written language,27 Geisler asks how such could result from a chance system. Some, however, hold that it is unjustified to “jump” from such data to God’s existence. But definite and extremely complex patterns of information proceed from intelligence. One is justified, Geisler argues, in concluding that this data proceeded, not from chance development, but from an intelligent, ordered beginning.28
Naturalism, in its attempt to explain life, must resort to some form of infinite regress. But Craig, among others, utilized the cosmological argument for God’s existence to argue cogently that infinite regress in the universe is not possible, according to the canons of both philosophy and science. For instance any infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite and therefore cannot exist. Also a temporal series of events is a collection formed by successive addition, but it cannot be an actual infinite.29
25. Wickramasinghe in Geisler, The Creator in the Courtroom Scopes II, pp 148-53, cf., Evolution from Space, p. 130.
26. Gange, Origins and Destiny, pp. 79-80.
27. Yockey states, “The sequence hypothesis applies directly to the protein and the genetic text as well as to written language and therefore the treatment is mathematically identical” (Hubert p Yockey, “Self-Organization Origin of Life Scenarios and Information Theory,” Journal of Theoretical Biology 91  16).
28. Norman L Geisler, “The Collapse of Modern Atheism,” in The Intellectuals Speak Out about God, ed. Roy A Varghese (Chicago Regnery Gateway, 1984), pp. 142-44.
29. William Lane Craig, The Kalam Cosmological Argument (New York Barnes and Noble, 1979), part II His particular form of the cosmological argument, called the Kalam argument, refers to the impossibility of infinite regression.
Astronomy uses the expansion of the universe to date its absolute beginning, which again makes infinite regress untenable. Also the second law of thermodynamics reveals that the universe is running down, thereby pointing up that the universe is a finite number of years old. For Craig, the only way out of the dilemma is to conclude that God exists and is personal in that He chose to create the universe.30
One other approach to the existence of God should be mentioned. This is the eclectic, cumulative argument recently popularized by Swinburne, who holds that while individual deductive theistic arguments are not compelling, the total inductive effect of many of them lends probable weight to theism.31
The current revival of theistic arguments, from the analytic philosophical tradition and from contemporary science, is yet another sign of the current dissatisfaction with naturalism. Since infinite regress is untenable, these arguments take on new significance, both individually and collectively. They provide the best explanation for the existence of the universe and life, which cannot be said for the naturalistic hypothesis.
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