Quite frequently I read articles claiming to advance scientific knowledge. Science is the use of observation and experimentation to discover things about the natural universe. The practice of science is supposed to be completely neutral. Scientists run experiments, then neutrally evaluate the results. Whatever the results show is supposed to be recognized as the way natural reality works. There are some situations, though, where the science establishment doesn’t work that way – when the scientists are not honest or competent.
For certain, dishonesty and incompetence sometimes contribute to bad science. But there is a more insidious problem that is all too common – the inability of some scientists to distinguish between science and naturalistic philosophy. Science is only able to deal with things that are subject to the laws of nature, but many scientists make assumptions about the natural universe that are based on philosophical presuppositions, not science.
This, of course, moves us straight into the arena of religion. Naturalistic scientists begin with the assumption that the natural universe, operating by natural laws, is all that exists. If that is true, “nothing” is outside the possibility of empirical inquiry. So, when scientists who hold that belief do their research, they begin with the assumption that what they are studying has a natural, scientifically demonstrable explanation. But is that actually true?
Recently, there have been numerous articles in various science magazines dealing with the topic of consciousness. It seems that these days there is a great deal of dissension within the community of scientists who study this – to the extent that some of them are calling out others as fake scientists.
The online magazine, The Conversation, recently published an article by Tim Bayne, professor of philosophy at Monash University in Australia, entitled, Nobody knows how consciousness works – but top researchers are fighting over which theories are really science. This was a report on infighting at the 26th annual meeting of the Association of the Scientific Study of Consciousness, in New York City.
Since scientists don’t actually understand how consciousness works, they have developed various theories. It seems there are four major theories and various scientists champion different ones.
- Integrated Information Theory is the idea that consciousness is identical to the amount of “integrated information” the brain contains, as opposed to that contained only by its parts.
- Global Workspace Theory proposes that the information processed in various parts of the brain are “broadcast” into a mental workspace, that then allows widespread access to other parts of the brain.
- Re-entrant Processing Theory attempts to integrate information both within the body’s sensory systems as well as across the entire brain hierarchy.
- Predictive Coding Theory theorizes that the brain has a built in model of how it perceives reality, then detects gaps between the model generated by the brain and what is being sensed in the environment by the body’s sensory organs.
These, of course, are not the only theories of consciousness. Recently one scientist proposed a theory that sees consciousness as a fundamental aspect of reality, like an electrical charge.
At this point, it is not actually necessary to understand the technical intricacies of any of these theories. What needs to be noted here is that each one is based on a naturalistic worldview. That is, they“assume” that consciousness is strictly a function of the operation of the natural universe. In all of them, consciousness is viewed as a physical phenomenon, not a spiritual one, and all of the scientists who work in this field believe that one day science will completely understand it.
But the truth is, nobody knows how consciousness works. Every one of the theories above is based on a non-scientific assumption – that the natural universe, operating by natural laws, is all that exists. That is a religious belief.
While naturalistic scientists don’t know how consciousness works, they do have requirements for studying it. They require that researchers provide a “mechanistic” explanation. That is, only a naturalistic explanation is acceptable. Any other kind will not even be considered.
What we have here is an assumption that Naturalism and science are essentially the same thing. Naturalists can’t even conceive of the existence of science without it being an expression of a naturalistic worldview.
But Naturalism is not science. It is a worldview belief – a set of assumptions about how reality is structured – and worldview beliefs can’t be studied empirically. There are actually four worldview categories, and Naturalism is one of the four. It is a way of understanding reality that dismisses the possibility of any kind of transcendent reality – no God and no spiritual realm. If that is true, then certainly consciousness must have a natural origin. But that assumption is not science, it is religion. And the same problem exists in other areas of “science.”
Astronomers, in trying to understand the cosmos, inevitably must deal with the universe’s origin. And over the years, they have developed several theories about it. The reason there are so many is that astronomers don’t really understand how the cosmos works.
Another example relates to quantum theory. Quantum is the branch of physics dealing with the physical properties and behavior of atoms and subatomic particles. Once again, scientists have numerous theories about how the quantum world exists and operates, but no one really knows.
And we could continue listing other fields that have the exact same problem – like evolutionary biology and geology. The theories in each of these fields, when studied using the assumptions of Naturalism, often end up being based on religious beliefs (their faith in Naturalism), not on science.
Of course when Christians point out these problems, they are immediately dismissed as ignorant because “their beliefs are based on faith.” But wait! That insult is faulty.
First, Naturalists require that Christians prove the existence of God using naturalistic proofs. But they can’t even prove their own naturalistic beliefs with naturalistic proofs.
Second, they “assume” that God doesn’t exist. But how do they know? The truth is, they don’t know. They just assume it.
Naturalists want Christians to prove the existence of God using science, but they ignore the other legitimate proofs that are out there. What about logic? What about human experience? These are also legitimate forms of evidence, especially when dealing with things that cannot be studied by science. And when working with worldview beliefs, we are grappling with things that are outside the scope of science. Interestingly, while most naturalistic scientists are totally unaware of it, even they must use logic and human experience to create and explain their theories.
Indeed, science does not have all the answers. There are some things that simply cannot be dealt with by science.
These days, though, naturalistic scientists have attempted to usurp science by filtering it through naturalistic philosophy. It simply does not work.
While the existence of God cannot be proven using science, He can be proven personally. God is an objectively real person who can be known in an objectively real personal relationship. And those who are willing to seek Him based on the way He has revealed Himself can know Him. Those who “do” that, know that they know Him because, as spiritual persons created by Him in His image, they have entered into a relationship with Him that reflects the way reality is actually structured.
Freddy Davis is the president of MarketFaith Ministries. He is the author of numerous books entitled The Truth Mirage, Rules for Christians Radicals, Liberalism vs. Conservatism, and his latest book Shattering the Truth Mirage and has a background as an international missionary, pastor, radio host, worldview trainer, and entrepreneur. Freddy is a graduate of Florida State University with a BS in Communication and holds MDiv and DMin degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a popular speaker, particularly on the topic of worldview and its practical implications for the Christian life. He lives in Tallahassee, FL, with his wife Deborah.
You may also contact Freddy at Leadership Speakers Bureau to schedule him for speaking or leadership engagements.
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