In this post, I’ma be droppin’ some science! Now for those of you who left that goodness way back in your junior year of high school, hakuna matata, we’re not gonna go that deep. But for whatever reason, I’ve wandered my way into many conversations concerning antagonism between faith and naturalism, and so much of it seems unnecessary and unfortunate. I’ve taken then to some serious pondering and discovered a few tidbits that have cleared a lot of confusion up for me, and I hope they do so for you too. Plus, I’ve tried to make them ones that aren’t the same ole arguments you’ve heard from others. Shall we?
Supernatural can be natural, and natural can be supernatural
First some definitions. A naturalist is someone who believes there are only natural causes. A supernaturalist is someone who believes there can be supernatural causes-often labelled a theist if the most significant of those causes is a single creator entity/being. One of the most divisive assumptions accepted by both of these mentalities is-ironically-the division of things into natural or supernatural. Even though such a separation might seem totally necessary, harmless, and even helpful, it’s actually none of these. Whaaaaat? It’s a problem for the supernaturalist because they’ve too hastily (and needlessly) embraced giving critical aspects of their belief system-like God-a label that naturalists by definition can’t believe in or value. It’s a problem for the naturalist because myriad things that once could not be naturally observed/evaluated (and therefore could not be believed to exist) are now unequivocally considered natural and quite believable. For example from this radiologist, X-rays did not convert from being supernatural to natural once we were finally able to observe them and at least partially explain their effects. They always were natural simply because they exist, independent of our ability to fully observe and explain them. Why then does the naturalist-encouraged by the supernaturalist-likewise define God as supernatural and therefore unbelievable? God himself (at least the Christian one) has given us multiple ways to directly observe him and even experiment on him, especially as the physical person Jesus (e.g. John 20:24-29). He repeatedly and intentionally makes himself “natural” in the Bible and will continue to do so into eternity, when those who wish can see his face (Job 33:22-28). I am not saying we will ever be able to fully observe or explain everything about him, but the naturalist cannot do either with X-rays, yet still believes they exist, so why repeat the X-ray error of the naturalist 150 years ago and believe God can’t likewise be in part naturally understandable and exist? What truly is natural is simply what truly exists, and the supernaturalist/naturalist tendency to arbitrarily label God as supernatural to elevate him to an unbelievably distinct status only makes him precisely-but falsely-that to so many. After all, wouldn’t God consider himself perfectly natural?
Everyone has a god requiring faith and a religion that results
No, I’m still not crazy. Think about it, whenever anyone-secular or churchy-labels something a “god” (e.g. a celebrity, spiritual entity, football, money, etc.), there is really only one thing all those gods have in common: a preeminent, authoritative presence in the life of whoever believes in that god. Yes, we sometimes use “god” to refer to a creator or friend or other things, but the term essentially always implies the idea of an elevated standard worthy of some kind of worship. We all have a standard of truth or authority that is worshiped or considered insubordinate to other standards, so fundamentally, we all have a god. Sometimes our god changes. Always our god requires faith. By definition, the naturalist’s god is the preeminent standard “Everything has a natural/physical cause”, a faith-requiring god, as there is no natural proof that such a god is true (Click to tweet). Other standards like “Some things have supernatural/non-physical causes” must be and are subordinated to this god by the naturalist. The theist, of course, believes by similar faith in the authority/truth of a named god, such as Yahweh, and is also unable to prove such a deity is true. Whatever conclusions or constructs that necessarily result from either of these gods-or any other god-is a faith-based religion, a worldview. And whoever gathers together to encourage each other in such a religion-whether in an academic hall or cathedral-is a church (perhaps causing us to reconsider any hypocrisy and discrimination present in the way some overzealously define the separation of church and state!). The original Greek word for church merely means “assembly”, after all! I don’t (and can’t) bring this up as an argument for the innate superiority of one god/religion over another, but that’s my whole point. So much of the assumed conflict between the naturalist and the theist assumes (on both sides) that one approach to truth is innately superior to the other, when both are innately and similarly faith-based religions. Religions that subjectively choose belief in quite different gods, yes, but it’s a lot easier to meaningfully converse with each other about how and why we arrived at these gods when we acknowledge we’ve already valued and taken the same first steps on that journey, instead of walking on separate paths that can’t stoop to join each other on the way.
We all believe in a god of the gaps
Seriously? Yes. “God of the gaps” is the notion that people often answer questions that leave gaps in their knowledge with God. In our society, it’s typically a response given by some Christians and heavily criticized by naturalists and more shyly by other Christians who want to be viewed as perhaps more intellectual and less mystical. I’ve always found this amusing, but kind of tragic, as both critical parties rely on “god of the gaps” as much or even more than those who are being dismissed. Naturalists-again by definition-must and do fill their gaps in knowledge with their faith-based god “Everything has a natural cause”. And the theist-however intellectual-must fill at least some gaps with their faith-based personal deity, or there’s no role for such a god at all in creation, particularly in its creation! To any theist who believes that God created this physical universe and also created beings within it capable of learning, these beings will certainly fill some gaps with non-God explanations while always having gaps that can only be filled by God! In other words, for any such theist, “God of the gaps” is not just a perfectly valid notion, it’s inevitable truth! The problem for both the naturalist and theist is not that they embrace “god of the gaps”. They all do and all must. It’s that they employ “god of the gaps” too quickly and universally. Ironically, the naturalist makes this mistake far more than the theist, since he always faithfully fills his gaps with his god, while any theist at least recognizes some gaps do and will have non-God explanations. “God of the gaps” should not divide us; it should unify us, but only by welcoming it appropriately. For all the reasons above and many more, naturalists should seek to fill their gaps with natural explanations but honestly and objectively recognize that some gaps may need to be filled with (actually pretty natural) “supernatural” explanations, including God. Theists-particularly Christians-should seek to fill their gaps with the glory, eternal power, and divine nature of God that he himself beckons us to explore in this physical world (Psalm 19:1-4, Romans 1:20), while still proudly (not shyly) maintaining that some gaps can only be filled by him! God-certainly not Bill-is the ultimate science guy, because he knows that the responsible and ethical pursuit of physical knowledge will teach us more about him (Click to tweet). When we embrace the wondrous use of science as a tool without assuming that it therefore must be a god, we can all begin to fill our gaps more appropriately and more together.
So when I drop some science, I’m more picking it up and enjoying it as God intended us all to. Hope you enjoyed it too!
If you’re a ponderer like me and want to explore rational and refreshing solutions to other faith-related questions, check out my free e-book/book series Healing Hereafter, just two clicks away, starting here!