NATURALISM MUST BOW TO THEISM (C. 1958)

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Excerpted from The Evidence of God in an Expanding Universe, edited by John Clover Monsma. New York: G.P. Putman’s Sons, 1958

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By Olin Carroll Karkalits, Chemical Engineer

B.Sc, Rice Institute, M.Sc, Ph.D., University of Michigan. Formerly Research Chemist with Shell Oil Company; there­after on Chemical Engineering staff, University of Michigan. Presently Group Leader, Process Development, American Cyanamid Company. Member American Institute of Chemi­cal Engineers. Specialist in chemical engineering catalysis.

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Throughout all the ages of human history man has asked three profound questions: Whence came I? Why am I here? Where am I going?

Many hundreds of books on metaphysics have dealt with these questions. The riddle of existence is an age-old problem. The thesis of this chapter is that theism provides the most satisfactory answer to a rational mind. It accounts for ob­served reality better than any other view and leaves a smaller residue of unanswered questions than any alternative con­cept.

With regard to metaphysical beliefs, scientists in our modern world apparently fall into two major classifications. One group, undoubtedly the larger, may be classed as “naturalists.” The smaller group may be referred to as “theists.” This is an oversimplification from a technical viewpoint. We use the word “naturalist” here in a loose sense to describe that metaphysical approach to reality which presupposes that “Nature is the ultimate reality.” By “Nature” is meant all phenomena, all events, that arise out of matter and energy acting in time and space. The naturalist asserts that all reality is explained by principles inherent in Nature, and that there is no necessity of postulating a God, as the theists do, to explain reality. Before discussing these diverse and opposing views, let us consider what is involved in the term “the world of reality.”

Philosophers have loudly debated what is meant by “reality.” The phenomenalist, the positivist, the idealist, the realist, the theist—all are sure to disagree. The writer assumes that the average scientist is willing to make a “common sense” approach to the problem and will not seriously object to the following description of what we call “reality”:

The world of reality is that observed by our senses and conceived by our minds. Earth, sky, water, trees, animals, men, are all observed by rational human beings possessed of their full senses and reasoning faculties. A poor tenant does not doubt that his ever-demanding landlord is real (although he may wish he were not!). Such items as these (and the list could be extended indefinitely) all have real existence.

Now, in addition to external objects in our world of reality there are, for want of a better word, “internal” objects of reality within man himself. These may perhaps be expressed as the world of inner perception, of cognition, of experience, of feeling. Man is “aware” of himself. He is able to think abstractly. He is able to transcend time and space limitations and conceive himself to be something, someone, or someplace which or where he is not. He possesses the ability to reason. He has sensations, and the memory of past sensations. Moreover, he anticipates future sensations and predicts, on the basis of past experience, what course of action he will take within the limits of possibility. He has volition, intellect, and desire.

Human beings have a sense of right and wrong, a standard of conduct. Man has a conscience, a moral nature, a feeling of obligation to himself and other people, an inner compul­sion which suggests a pattern of conduct and attitudes. Such words as courage, devotion, bravery, loyalty, faithfulness, friendship, love—they are descriptions of man’s nature, of the “inner reality.”

It has already been stated that there are two opposing views predominant in our modern world for explaining what we have called “the world of reality.” Let us, very briefly, explore the strength and weaknesses of each. No attempt will be made to prove one false and the other true, beyond all dispute. To attempt this would be presumptuous. Theism is not true because the Christian God can be proved by argu­ment to exist. Our source of information concerning the Christian God, or the Christian conception of God, is the Bible. But theism as such, aside from the Bible, is by all means plausible; in fact is, as we hope to show, more reason­able than naturalism.

We first call upon the naturalist to explain the external world of reality. His basic assumption is the eternality of matter (or energy, since matter is a manifestation of energy). The earth and our solar system apparently do have a finite age, but the elements of which they are composed have always existed. By a very slow process of evolution life has emerged from the inanimate, and finally man has evolved. All of his experiences are the result of physico-chemical prin­ciples. The order and symmetry of the physical world are inherent properties of matter and energy. For example, a rainbow appears in the sky because sunlight is refracted into its component parts in passing through water droplets sus­pended in the air. All external reality is simply “matter and energy acting in time and space.”

Internal reality requires a more subtle explanation by the naturalist. Our sensation of touch is explained by electrical impulses passing along a nerve fiber from the point of contact to the brain. The brain is a vast electrical network and the center of our nervous system. Our sense of morality is merely “herd instinct,” or “enlightened self-interest,” at work, based upon our experience that we get along better that way. A mechanistic or naturalistic explanation can be set up to explain (more or less) almost any phenomenon in the internal world of reality, as well as in the world of external reality.

Now let us take a look at the weaknesses of naturalism. In the first place, it affords no satisfactory explanation of the origin of the universe, or cosmos. There are numerous evi­dences that point to a beginning of the cosmos. The astro­nomical observation of an expanding universe is best explained by postulating a time of beginning wherein the component parts were in a dense state (or “wound-up” state). All galaxies and stellar bodies are observed to be retreating away from each other at a very great rate of speed. Many of the spiral nebulae seem to have unwound about two and one-half turns. Furthermore, the second law of thermody­namics (heat energy) is very strong evidence of a beginning of the cosmos at some finite time. This law (based on all our observations in the physical sciences) indicates that the entropy of the universe is increasing; which means that it (this law) predicts a time in the future when all cosmic bodies will be at substantially the same temperature. This can only be true if now, and in the past, they are and were not at the same temperature. It is true that they will never be at identically the same temperature, since the driving force diminishes as the temperatures approach equality. But this does not deflate the practical consequences of the argu­ment. There is no satisfactory explanation for this “entropy clock” if matter and energy are eternal, and the cosmos had no beginning.

The Thinker in The Gates of Hell at the Musée Rodin

Naturalism also has difficulties explaining the world of internal reality. Physico-chemical principles may be used to explain to a large degree how our bodies and our brain func­tion, but they do not explain why. Why does man differ in so many ways from the animals? Why does he alone have a “God-consciousness”? In all the researches of man there is not a single instance of any animal erecting an altar to worship. Is it adequate to equate brain with mind? How can we explain memory, conception, reasoning? Naturalism has no adequate explanation.

The theistic worldview answers these questions in a most reasonable way. There is a “Super-Mind” back of the order, plan and symmetry of the universe. This Being created all matter and energy at a finite time. He “wound up” the stellar bodies and gave the initial impetus for an expanding universe. He created the earth with conditions favorable to life. The odds against these things happening by chance are about one in a hundred million, according to Eddington. This Being made man in His intellectual likeness—a spirit with a personality and a will. He implanted the God-consciousness in man. He implanted the moral nature in man, consistent with His own nature. Law and order exist at His behest. Beauty, truth, courage, faithfulness, goodness, love, and other virtues are derived from these same qualities in God himself. Man’s mind is derived from God’s mind, and is more than the material brain, which is the tool of the mind.

To answer man’s basic questions, theism asserts: (1) God made man, and all reality; (2) God’s purpose for man is to have fellowship with Him, and to honor Him with a life of perfect dedication and service; (3) God wants this fellow­ship, this dedication and service continued eternally in an after-life.

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