Supernatural Theories in Science

(originally published in Creation Matters, vol. 10, No. 4, July/August, 2005.)

Evolutionists have insisted that science is necessarily about naturalistic explanations and theories. It can’t, they argue, consider supernatural explanations because those are beyond the realm of observation and experimentation and are thus inaccessible to science. Moreover, to open the door to these kinds of explanations, some darwinists insist, would be a big step back for science, which has debunked the ideas of fairies and magic potions. It would return our scientific society back to the Dark Ages. Eldredge provides one example:

“If there is one rule, one criteria that makes an idea scientific, it is that it must invoke naturalistic explanations for phenomena, and those explanations must be testable solely by criteria of our five senses.” (Eldredge, Niles, 1982, The Monkey Business: A Scientist Looks at Creationism, Washington Square Press, New York, p. 82.)

Often called methodological naturalism, evolutionists like Ruse have attempted to imbed these ideas in the modern definition of science:

“Furthermore, even if Scientific Creationism were totally successful in making its case as science, it would not yield a scientific explanation of origins. Rather, at most, it could prove that science shows that there can be no scientific explanation of origins. The Creationists believe that the world started miraculously. But miracles lie outside of science, which by definition deals only with the natural, the repeatable, that which is governed by law.” (Ruse, Michael, 1982, Darwinism Defended, Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA, p. 322.)

First, let’s establish a point of history. The great classical scientists held to supernatural explanations of origins. Yet they were the ones that initiated and advanced scientific inquiry at a pace unmatched in history. Kepler famously wrote,

“The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony which has been imposed on it by God and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics.” (Kepler, Johannes, Defundamentis Astrologiae Certioribus, Thesis XX, 1601.)

“I was merely thinking God’s thoughts after him. Since we astronomers are priests of the highest God in regard to the book of nature it befits us to be thoughtful, not of the glory of our minds, but rather, above all else, of the glory of God.” (Morris, Henry M., Men of Science, Men of God, Master Books Inc., P. O. Box 727, Green Forest, AR 72638, 1982, pp. 11-12.)

One of Isaac Newton’s primary goals for the Principia Mathematica was to show that the laws of physics revealed supernatural design in the universe. In his correspondence with Richard Bentley, wrote:

“When I wrote my treatise about our Systeme I had an eye upon such Principles as might work wth considering men for the beleife of a Deity & nothing can rejoyce me more then to find it usefull for that purpose.” (Newton to Bentley, 1977, “10 December 1692,” The Correspondence of Sir Isaac Newton, ed. H.W. Turnbull, J.F. Scott, A. Rupert Hall and Laura Tilling, University Press, Cambridge, p. 233.)

Yet this attitude did not keep science from debunking mystical theories and superstitious explanations of natural phenomena. It precipitated it.

Secondly, we must understand that, as the Nobel prizewinner Pauling once said, “Science is the search for truth, the effort to understand the world;” (Pauling, Linus, “A Nobel Scientist Speaks,”Liberation, No. 11, February 1958.)  Science never establishes anything in the absolute sense. All our facts, theories, and laws are held with certain provisions and are tentative. New evidence might come along that would demonstrate that our previous interpretations were somehow mistaken. Or someone could provide a more elegant theory.

Nevertheless, science is all about finding the best explanation, the actual facts, and the real events. Laws like gravity, biogenesis, and thermodynamics are “true.” But there is no reason to rule out a certain explanation before starting the investigation, just because it might be distasteful to someone, or because it might fit or not fit with a particular religious revelation. The best explanation of the evidence should be allowed to win on its merits. It is perverse to hold a theory that is false or that is less than the best just because we have refused to consider certain options.

Thirdly, lets consider three examples of how science actually can consider supernatural explanations.

        1. The word supernatural has for some become synonymous with divine. It should not be. Any phenomenon that is can not be explained as the outworking of natural laws is, by definition, super (or beyond) natural. Physicists have a fancy term for situations in which our current laws break down – a singularity. Examples in the mainstream scientific model include the state prior to the Big Bang and the scenario in the middle of a Black Hole. These are situations that are beyond our natural laws. Indeed, the Big Bang is supposed to have produced our natural laws. But how is a singularity different from a miracle? It really isn’t very different. Neither are repeatable or observable and so they fail Ruse’s criteria above. But I believe we can conduct tests to determine the reasonableness of these scenarios. Science puts the emphasis on testability, and does not rule out the supernatural. When approached the right way the supernatural can sometimes be testable science. Gödel’s Theorem (from the logic of mathematics) is an example. (See Remine, Walter, 1993, The Biotic Message, St. Paul Science, Saint Paul Science, St. Paul, MN, pp. 49-53.)
        2. Science, as was observed above, has debunked various paranormal explanations. Fairies and magic potions were not disproved because science refused to consider them. Rather, the phenomena that was purported to be magical was demonstrated empirically to have a better explanation and so the magical explanation was falsified. For example, I once read the story of a cave in Hawaii that emitted low moaning noises on particular nights…supposedly demonstrating that it was haunted. But careful investigation established that when water levels reached a particular height, the wind blowing through the cavern naturally made the peculiar noise. The winds typically picked up at night along the coast and so it was a natural phenomenon and not supernatural. But if scientists actuallyhad established that a particular paranormal activity was the most reasonable explanation of the evidence, that would not turn our society back into the Middle Ages. Indeed, it would not be any different from any other advance of knowledge. The only area that would be affected would be our understanding of that particular phenomenon.
        3. Lastly, we can easily imagine a scenario where science today could substantiate a supernatural explanation as reasonable. Now we would all agree that science has had success in establishing naturalistic explanations and we could concur that extraordinary claims should be backed by extraordinary evidence. But let’s say that I claimed to heal people merely by laying hands on them and praying. We could together visit a hospital and you could observe my healing patient after patient. But then we could get more precise about it and actually monitor the injury on video to confirm that the exact time of healing was as soon as I prayed. We could have a test group and only pray over some of them and then submit each group to objective testing. The phenomenon could be duplicated at other institutions and in other locations to rule our any local influence. Over time, it could be established that the best explanation for the supernatural healing phenomenon was my prayer. Science could not say anything about the source of my power or the methodology of my channeling it. It would be forced to merely be descriptive in its explanation, much like we do today with our fundamental understanding of energy & matter or with the scenarios we call singularities.

Evolutionists have been fundamentally inconsistent in this regard. They have experienced success in keeping creationism out of the schools by claiming it is completely unscientific and teaching it violates the Constitution’s establishment clause. Yet they simultaneously hold that the evolutionary hypothesis beat out the design hypothesis in the arena of science. And they claim that their evidence demonstrates creationism is false. But they can’t have it both ways. They can’t proclaim the scientific evidence (like homology in biology, patterns in the fossil record, and certain embryological stages) favors evolution over against a Designer hypothesis, if the Designer hypothesis is not even scientific to begin with. Starting with Darwin and continuing today, leading evolutionists have used scientific evidence to cast doubt on their being a Designer of biological systems.

“If our reason leads us to admire with enthusiasm a multitude of inimitable contrivances in nature, this same reason tells us, though we may easily err on both sides, that some other contrivances are less perfect. Can we consider the sting of the bee as perfect, which, when used against many kinds of enemies, cannot be withdrawn, owing to the backward serratures, and thus inevitably causes the death of the insect by tearing out its viscera?” (Darwin, Charles, On the Origin of Species, P. F. Collier & Son, 1909, p. 214.)

“Ideal design is a lousy argument for evolution, for it mimics the postulated action of an omnipotent creator. Odd arrangements and funny solutions are the proof of evolution—paths that a sensible God would never tread but that a natural process, constrained by history follows perforce.” (Gould , Stephen Jay, The Panda’s Thumb, 1980, p. 20-21.)

“[W]hy should the bones of man, bat, porpoise, and mole have the same nature and order? Such similarities help no one. Supporters of the argument for design were, therefore, compelled to fall back on suppositions that God had all sorts of subsidiary creative intentions, like achievement of symmetry and order and harmony.” (Ruse, Michael, Darwinism Defended: A Guide to the Evolution Controversies, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1982, pp. 41-42.)

“[T]he design of the eye does not appear on close inspection to be completely ideal. The rods and cones that sense light are the bottom layer of the retina, and light has to pass through the nerves and blood vessels to reach them Similar imperfections of the human [body]…defy the existence of a truly intelligent planning of the human form.” (Collins, Francis, The Language of God, Free Press, 2007, p. 191.)

If the Design Hypothesis could be scientifically evaluated and rejected, then the design of biological organisms could also be evaluated and confirmed by the evidence. Some evolutionists have even gone so far as to claim that the existence of God is, in fact, a scientific question. For example, Dawkins writes, “Either he exists or he doesn’t. It is a scientific question; one day we may know the answer, and meanwhile we can say something pretty strong about the probability.” (Dawkins, Richard, The God Delusion, 2006, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, NY, p. 70.)

In conclusion, we would state that science certainly can consider supernatural explanations. Science is, after all, a very practical affair that is aimed at gathering knowledge of the world to achieve workable solutions to human questions and issues. If some supernatural phenomenon was repeated with any regularity, no silly “rule” would keep naturally inquisitive folks from conducting experiments. If a supernatural explanation is the best, then it ought to be presented. Once this philosophy of science issue is cleared out of the way, it becomes easier for the design hypothesis to get a fair hearing at the table. Creationists still have a lot of work to do to bolster their case, but we should not let evolutionists rule out a supernatural explanation before the evidence has even been considered. Evolutionist Sean Carroll states, “Science should be interested in determining the truth, whatever that truth may be–natural, supernatural, or otherwise.” (Carroll, Sean, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself, 2016, p. 133.)