Written by Jason Petersen
February 12th is Question Evolution Day. In the spirit of this special day, this article will deal with the issue of causation. Causation is a philosophical term that is typically defined as the relationship between causes and effects. Most atheists that argue against Creationists will argue that science shows that phenomena occurs naturally and that there is no need for a Creator. This article will argue that such an assertion cannot be defended.
The Limitations of the Scientific Method
Science is normally defined as the study of the cause-effect realities of the natural world. Despite what many atheists will argue, science is not a process that can solve all sorts of problems. 1 Science was never meant to be a truth-finding method. Some will, of course, argue that science is meant to be an approximation of the truth. However, approximations are obtained via inductive methods. The purpose of the scientific method is best defined as operational.
The Problem of Induction
Induction is the process of making generalizations from more specific premises. One other common assumption in induction is that the future will remain like the past; however, as the Scottish philosopher David Hume pointed out (amongst others), there is no way to justify the assertion that the future will be like the past. Any argument that the future will be like the past simply begs the question. Despite how philosophers view this problem, this author sees a bigger issue. When one builds an inductive case, one must remember that the premises that lead to the conclusion, even if true, can still lead to a conclusion that is false. This means that even if the inductive premises are true, the conclusion can still be false. One must then ask, how is it that one can know that the conclusion that has been reached from an inductive process is true? Any appeal to the premises that lead up to the conclusion would only beg the question, for even if the inductive premises are true, the conclusion can still be false. And if the conclusion is false, then one certainly cannot argue that the conclusion of the inductive argument is likely true. Therefore, the process of induction is ultimately irrational.
Science vs God
Now an important point in this article has been reached. Induction is an irrational process, yet the scientific method relies heavily on induction. Because conclusions arrived via induction premises are not provable, it is not possible for science to prove anything. Further, the notion of an approximation of the truth inevitably cannot be considered the truth. If one says they have a general idea of what the truth is, one cannot say that they know what the truth is, for any falsehood in the approximation would entail that the approximation itself is false, for any proposition that contradicts the truth must be false according to the rules of logic. 2 To say otherwise is a unequivocal rejection of logic.
Because science cannot lead to conclusions that can be considered true, there can be no conflict between science and God. Any person that says that belief in God is irrational because the scientific method has produced natural explanations for phenomena is unintentionally flaunting their own ignorance. If one cannot prove their conclusion via the inductive method, then science is useless as a truth-finding method. The Bible is revelation from a God (2 Timothy 3:16) that cannot lie (Titus 1:2). The Bible is truth, whereas the scientific process by definition is not truth. Since the scientific method cannot produce truth, it is not any threat to Christianity, at least, on an intellectual level. 3
Naturalism vs God
Since natural causation is not an issue of science vs God, it must be an issue of differing metaphysical philosophies. The nature of causation is indeed outside the bounds of the scientific method, for the scientific method, by definitions, cannot inquire about matters that cannot be tested and observed by at least one of the five senses.
Perhaps, the unbeliever might be bold enough to proclaim, “We observe natural causation every day. How can you question it?” The reply is elementary. The unbeliever only believes he observes natural causation because the unbeliever is assuming that the causes he observes are natural. Such a case for natural causation is nothing more than circular reasoning. The unbeliever often asks the Christian to support their claims, so the Christian ought to ask the unbeliever to prove natural causation. The unbeliever may insist that we all know causes are natural, but the proper response is to continue asking the embarrassing question, “How can you know? So far you have only supported your case with circular reasoning.”
If the unbeliever appeals to the scientific method, then the unbeliever’s argument will inevitably rest on inductive premises. Induction was covered earlier, and all one must point out is that induction cannot prove the truth of a conclusion that is reached from inductive premises. The inductive approach commits the fallacy of begging the question.
Perhaps the unbeliever will argue that one should accept natural causation based on Occam’s Razor, for it would be most rational to go with the most simple idea. The mistake the unbeliever makes is two fold. First, the unbeliever has fallen prey to a common misunderstanding concerning Occam’s Razor. Occam’s Razor does not simply state that one should go with the fewest assumptions without qualification. Rather, it states that one should go with the sufficient explanation that has the fewest assumptions. 4 Second, the presumption of natural causation involves individually assuming each natural cause has lead to an effect. This means that the atheist is assuming that every single effect is a result of an individual natural cause. Causation is not a seamless instance, rather, causation happens on an individual basis. If causation happens on an individual basis, then the ontological nature of causes is individually assumed. The mechanisms for every cause must be explained individually, and as such, an infinite number of explanations for the cause must be explained. 5 Such a stance is certainly not ‘simple.’ Therefore, the unbeliever is making a large number of assumptions, for how many causes and effects has there been since the beginning of time?
The issue of God and causation will be approached by holding The Bible as axiomatic. The scriptures are clear. We live and move within His being (Acts 17:28). God is the one-true cause. All things that happen only happen because God has decreed that it will happen (Lamentations 3:37-38). Man plans his steps, but God’s will prevails (Proverbs 16:9). A ball hits the ground when it is dropped because God has decreed that it will hit the ground when it is dropped. There is only one cause, and that cause is God. God upholds all things. Therefore, in causation, the Christian only makes one assumption, and that is that God is the one true cause. Occam’s Razor, although not a hard and fast rule in logic, favors the Christian view of causation rather than the naturalistic view of causation.
By this point, this author hopes that the reader has an understanding of the issues. The assumption that all causes are natural cannot be demonstrated by the unbeliever, whereas the Christian is able to start with the axiom of revelation and demonstrate from scripture that God is the one that ultimately causes all things that comes to pass. 6 As the Westminster Confession of Faith says in Chapter III, Article I: “”God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”
2. For more information on this, see:
3. Perhaps there is a psychological impact that stems from naturalistic explanations that may cause one to question Christianity.
5. Man has a will, but it is God that decrees what will the man will have. A man may set out for a goal with their own intentions, but the consequences of setting out for that goal will ultimately be determined by God himself.
6. An atheist that does not believe in an eternal universe may say that this objection does not apply to them, but the atheist either forgets or is ignorant of the fact that the scientific method commits the fallacy of asserting the consequent. That is, the method assumes that there can only be one cause that can explain the effect, whereas in reality there is an infinite number of possible causes for a single effect. Therefore, for even one effect, there are an infinite number of possible causes if one tries to narrow down what caused the effect using the scientific method.