Saturday, November 23, 2013

Naturalism and Supernaturalism

The words nature, natural, naturalist, and naturalism are English terms sometimes surrounded by confusion. Nature refers to the physical world including plants, animals, landscape, and other features and products of the earth surrounding humankind. Natural denotes that which exists in or is caused by nature. A naturalist is a person versed in natural history, particularly zoology and botany.

If we replace the letter “t” in naturalist with the letter “m” in naturalism, confusion may enter the picture. Naturalism confers a substantially different meaning than may be conveyed in the terms nature, natural, and naturalist. The term naturalism connotes that nature is all there is; nothing exists beyond the natural world. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy claims early proponents of naturalism such as John Dewey “urged that reality is exhausted by nature…” Other sources state that “instead of using supernatural or spiritual explanations, naturalism focuses on explanations that come from the laws of nature.” To those with a scriptural worldview, such a belief comes with lots of baggage.

What then, is the conflict between naturalism and supernaturalism, if any? Naturalism states “nature is all there is.” Supernaturalism, in contrast, posits that God, the supernatural agent, may enter the realm of the natural to impact that realm. Our previous blog post proposed miracles as effects which contravene natural causes. However, we proposed that God is the Author and Creator of wondrous events in both spheres.

God is the Creator of everything. In the beginning, God authored the universal physical laws. These laws are governed by dozens of physical constants. They have applied since the creation event up until the present moment. Scientists have established the factual truth of these laws by multiple scientific experiments and observations.

Lest our readers lose interest in this discussion, we assert that the interaction of naturalism (“nature is all there is”) and supernaturalism (the essence of God and his occasional entry into our human realm) is a source of lively conflict between scientists whose science is fundamentally naturalistic and theistic scientists and laypersons who are willing to allow a supernaturalistic foot in the door of the discussion room. We respect the wonderful methods and discoveries of science, but our concern persists that naturalists and theists have constructed a dichotomy: Science investigates only the natural realm, we are vociferously counseled. The counselors’ voices have become so loud that the entry of “a divine foot in the door,” a caution offered by evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin, is unacceptable even if our investigations signal such possibilities may be profitably investigated.  

Many naturalistic scientists propose, as did paleontologist Stephen J. Gould (1941-2002), the idea of NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria)--that the two spheres of reality, naturalism and supernaturalism, be kept separate. If people choose to believe in the supernatural and miracles, that is their private matter and their beliefs should be respected, according to Gould. The effort of naturalistic scientists to disconnect the realm of the supernatural from the natural may promote their belief that the supernatural does not possess the same degree of reality as the natural.

Genesis 1 proclaims “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” He authored the natural world and provided laws which have persisted from the beginning and continue to the present. God has also authored the supernatural world. He supernaturally acts within the natural world on occasion, intervening within persisting natural laws. Either way, it is imperative to recognize that God created both natural and supernatural spheres. We discover unmistakable evidence that the Creator occasionally “re-entered” the sphere of cosmic existence to initiate miracles. Examples include new life forms appearing at the Cambrian Explosion, periodic initiation of other novel forms of life, including modern man, and performance of mighty biblical miracles.

Our blog consistently proposes that naturalistic evolution is a deficient explanation for the array of life present today on earth. Instead, we propose that God has supernaturally and miraculously intervened from time to time in geologic history. On the other hand, natural processes sustained by God, even though not miraculous, are evident in our daily lives. These processes are a source of wonder to be acknowledged by mankind created in the image of God. Most important is recognition that natural and supernatural realms are both elements of God’s created universe.