The Case for a Creator: Pursuing All Possibilities

The Case for a Creator, Chapter 2

Before embarking on his interviews, Strobel makes a statement about his investigative strategy:

In selecting these experts, I sought doctorate-level professors who have unquestioned expertise, are able to communicate in accessible language, and refuse to limit themselves only to the politically correct world of naturalism or materialism. After all, it wouldn’t make sense to rule out any hypothesis at the outset. I wanted the freedom to pursue all possibilities. [p.28]

This is a favorite complaint of creationists, that scientists’ insistence on natural hypotheses unfairly excludes whole classes of legitimate explanations. But in reality, the strict reliance on naturalism is not an arbitrary choice, but a necessary prerequisite for doing science.

At its most fundamental, science is a way of knowing, one that involves formulating testable hypotheses about the world and then checking to see if the evidence supports or disproves them. This is an incredibly productive strategy of undoubted power, one that in just a few hundred years has assembled a remarkably comprehensive picture of the world we live in and has given us tremendous power to shape that world in accordance with our desires.

The key to science is testability, or alternatively, falsifiability. We need to formulate our hypotheses so that they can be definitively put to the test. That way, we can winnow true ideas from false ones and gradually close in on the way reality truly works. If we had no way to do this, we would be stuck with an endless horde of competing ideas and no way to choose between them, and scientific progress would be impossible. (Readers will note that this is also a good description of the situation that does in fact exist among the world’s religions.)

But what Strobel and his crew advocate is the inclusion of supernaturalism in science, in the form of an all-powerful creator whose motivations are unknowable and who can violate natural laws at arbitrary times and places to achieve his purposes. Clearly, this hypothesis is not one that can be tested in any meaningful way. In fact, it would foreclose scientific progress altogether by forcing us to always consider that the results of any test might be due to supernatural intervention.

Those who advocate a non-natural science never explain to the rest of us what that would look like. In fact, they don’t seem to have any clear idea of it themselves. When the Templeton Foundation, which promotes conciliation between religion and science, offered funding to the advocates of intelligent design to test their ideas, they received no research proposals – a clear measure of the creationists’ true devotion to scientific inquiry.

This is not to say that science conclusively disproves the supernatural. In principle, science can never totally rule out a supernatural explanation, precisely because they are not testable. But for the same reason, science cannot provide evidence for such explanations – unless they’re formulated so that they can be either proved or disproved. For obvious reasons, creationists are mightily reluctant to offer hypotheses that can be put to the test.

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Those who advocate a non-natural science never explain to the rest of us what that would look like. In fact, they don’t seem to have any clear idea of it themselves

    Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.

  • existentialdrift

    Prior to the development of fundamentalism in the late 19th century, there was a tradition among Christian scientists to try to understand God’s universe in a naturalistic fashion. In the end, they might attribute everything to God, but they were searching for, and would only accept, evidence that relied solely on observation.

    Fundamentalism, though, has altered that completely. Of course, theirs is not the same tradition as those earlier scientists, because fundamentalism arises from anti-intellectualism. Fundamentalists seem actually afraid to know, so they run to fantasy beforehand. Thus, the insistence on “literal” readings of supposedly “scientific” parts of the Bible; none of their honest forebears would have accepted such a thing.

    They show a marked intellectual dishonesty. They want their beliefs to be taken seriously and to stand on par with scientific knowledge (well, they actually want them to displace that knowledge), but those beliefs aren’t about understanding the world at all. They’re about running as fast and as far from it as possible, something that has been characteristic of fundamentalism since its inception (and that actually goes for all forms of fundamentalism, not just the Christian variety).

  • prase

    In fact, an explanation which is not testable in any way can be hardly called an explanation. To have something explained is to understand it better and know more about it. “God did it” doesn’t increase one’s knowledge about the fact even a little.

    The anatomy of “God did it” answers is simple. First, they resemble sentences like “my neighbour did it”, which are valid answers to some questions (as long as my neighbour is not omnipotent). Second, they contain the word “God” which has almost magical power to force a lot of people to stop asking. And third, they have a holy book to be backed with as a traditional authority. So “God did it” is not an answer, instead it means “your question cannot be answered, so stop questioning”.

    I would suggest to omit words like “explanation” or “hypothesis” when speaking about supernaturalism. Supernatural “explanations” are explanations in the same way atheism is a religion.

  • Chuck

    Ebon, you yourself have pointed out that sometimes supernatural claims are testable. Surely the idea, humans have souls, makes some predictions. Everything in religion is based on that idea. Disprove it, and the rest unravels.

  • prase

    What testable prediction is derived from existence of souls? How can we test it?

  • NoAstronomer

    You could add to this essay that once a supernatural claim makes a testable claim it ceases to be supernatural and is added to what we call the natural world. Science contains numerous examples of claims that at one point in the past were untestable.

    I don’t like the use of the word ‘materialism’ since it has additional undesirable connotations. In fact I’m sure that it’s use by theists is a deliberate tactic.

    Also I agree with prase.

  • exrelayman

    Reginald,

    I am dense. Please explain connection between what you cited and what you stated.

    Chuck,

    The tremendous evidences of astronomy, atomic science, geology, etc. constitute proof of an ancient earth to roughly 99% of scientists. From YEC argumentation, it is clear that this evidence doesn’t prove anything to them. So what is proof – who decides something is proven? “Yes it is!” “No it isn’t!” doesn’t get us very far, does it?

  • http://gretachristina.typepad.com/ Greta Christina

    I sought doctorate-level professors who have unquestioned expertise, are able to communicate in accessible language, and refuse to limit themselves only to the politically correct world of naturalism or materialism. After all, it wouldn’t make sense to rule out any hypothesis at the outset.

    Emphasis added, to make this point:

    He is, in fact, ruling out a hypothesis at the outset. He is ruling out the hypothesis that the natural/ material world is all there is. By seeking out consultants who don’t limit themselves to the natural/ material world, he is essentially refusing to talk to anyone who doesn’t already agree that the supernatural world exists.

  • http://friendlyhumanist.blogspot.com Timothy Mills

    I would expand on NoAstronomer’s comment (#5) by saying that, to science “natural” simply refers to anything that interacts with the observable world. That renders it accessible to some sort of measurement, so we can formulate and test hypotheses about it.

    Go through a list of supernatural claims and see how many you can count that don’t involve some interaction with the observable world. There aren’t many – life after death is the only big one that comes to mind. Scientific naturalism, as properly defined, definitely does not rule out most supernatural claims a priori.

    But, as you say Ebon, it’s a convenient rhetorical position for Strobel’s ilk to take, regardless of the fact that it’s dead wrong.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    exrelayman: I am sorry about your density, but I don’t explain my jokes. My feeling is that if you have to explain a joke, it probably wasn’t funny. So if you didn’t find it funny, have a nice day. I’ll survive.

  • Tom

    prase, have you read any Strugatsky? There’s a discussion in Roadside Picnic, between two men of the scientific persuasion who are trying to actually define reason itself, and how it is manifested in man, that your comment reminded me of:

    “How about this: ’man, as opposed to animals, is a creature with an undefinable need for knowledge’? I read that somewhere.”

    “So have I,” said Valentine. “But the whole problem with that is that the average man — the one you have in mind when you talk about ’us’ and ’not us’ — very easily manages to overcome this need for knowledge. I don’t believe that need even exists. There is a need to understand, and you don’t need knowledge for that. The hypothesis of God, for instance, gives an incomparably absolute opportunity to understand everything and know absolutely nothing. Give man an extremely simplified system of the world and explain every phenomenon away on the basis of that system. An approach like that doesn’t require any knowledge. Just a few memorized formulas plus so-called intuition and so-called common sense.”

  • Mathew Wilder

    Exrelayman:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nobody_expects_the_spanish_inquisition

    It’s a quite funny joke, but it makes absolutely no sense for Reginald to use it where he did.

  • exrelayman

    Thanks Mathew. Haven’t seen any Monty Python. No problems Reginald – some of my humor falls on unappreciative ears also!

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com/ OMGF

    exrelayman

    Haven’t seen any Monty Python.

    Really? I thought you were referring to it earlier when you said:

    “Yes it is!” “No it isn’t!” doesn’t get us very far, does it?

  • David Ellis


    Those who advocate a non-natural science never explain to the rest of us what that would look like. In fact, they don’t seem to have any clear idea of it themselves.

    We could have found archaeological evidence of humans side by side with all other living organisms going back to the earliest time.

    We could have found a universe that consisted of just one solar system.

    We could have found geological evidence that the earth was only a few thousand years old.

    There no problem imagining what the findings of science would have looked like in a world where the creation story of a particular religion was true. That just isn’t the world we found.

    Instead we find religious people who are scientifically literate enough to accept at least some science fighting a constant retreating battle to make the findings of science fit, somehow, with their religion.

  • David Ellis


    Surely the idea, humans have souls, makes some predictions.

    Such as?

    If we could confirm out of body experiences that would go a long way to verifying souls. But most religions don’t claim this necessarily occurs. And it hasn’t been convincingly shown to occur.

  • prase

    re Tom, #10: Unfortunately, I haven’t. Based on your quotation, probably I should.

  • Ben

    The key to science is testability, or alternatively, falsifiability. We need to formulate our hypotheses so that they can be definitively put to the test.

    Theory, the development of any human race is a predictable process, similar to watching a child develop in the womb. In our humanities case we entered that final and predictable phase of OMY GOHA FOMA – (Oh my God , the kids have found the matches) in 1945 with the explosion of the first nuclear weapon at Hiroshima. From that point forwards our humanity entered a predictable potentially self-destructive phase in i’ts development. This is a testable theory, we are the test! and their is a prediction. If you think this is science-fiction, then within the context of this theory, so are the dangers of nuclear war ,and over-population.
    There is an interesting quote ‘ the more primitive a race, the more deistic it is. If you had the technology to go to the stars, you would do exactly the same thing, and it does no harm to be pleasantly received and respected as Gods. In fact it is quite amusing and it is in fact the only way an advanced humanity can approach a lesser advanced society’. Clearly today we are much more advanced so this approach is hardly appropriate any more, given that our scientists are now approach the very early stages of artificially creating life.It does not need much imagination to see where these experiments by our scientists will lead, through progression of design, as evidenced by the wonderful theory of Evolution, except that the speed of progression would be so much quicker. When our scientists create life, they will become Creators, like those whom our ancestors mistook for God or Gods.

  • nfpendleton

    (Readers will note that this is also a good description of the situation that does in fact exist among the world’s religions.)

    Bravo. This is win in a bottle.

  • Chuck

    Such as?

    How about Callosal Disconnection?

    This is something we observe. Perhaps it can be reconciled with the claim “humans have souls”, but to do so would be completely ad hoc. If the religionist is honest, he has no choice but to admit that there are reasons to believe his theory is wrong.

  • bbk

    I’ve been trying to find a way to relate this to my theist friends without having to utterly destroy their basis for belief just to get the point across. How can you say that you are open minded and at the same time say that their belief system is not an option for you without implying that their belief system is easily dismissed as rubbish? If I can figure out a way to do that, I will be set for life to live amongst these people in relative harmony.

  • exrelayman

    OMFG,

    If ‘Yes it is! No it isn’t!’ was in Monty Python, then my use of same was an instance of synchronicity. Never heard of it that way. I think Ben Franklin said something pretty similar regarding the nature of a quarrel between 2 ‘devines’, which I saw in the quotes section of Positive Atheism.

  • John Nernoff

    Writer “e’ says in comment #7: So what is proof – who decides something is proven? “Yes it is!” “No it isn’t!” doesn’t get us very far, does it?

    Creationists, among others religious, conveniently accept scientific proofs all the time when trying to explicate various religious claims. Holy texts are authenticated by comparing ancient manuscripts; authorship is established by historical analysis; appeal is made to the reliability of Isaiah, for example, by scientific studies of textual consistency; miracles are confirmed by meticulous assembly of reports; modern medicine is brought into service by the Vatican to verify Lourdes’ miracles; the world’s ancient literature has been combed through time and again and subject to literary analysis for the least mention of anything in the Jesus story; studies of roman crucifixion habits and tomb burials are accepted if they support anything in the New Testament.

    Creationists I am sure run to doctors’ offices and hospitals whenever prayer fails. Modern antibiotic treatments are probably never refused when trying to treat bacteria which have evolved antibiotic resistance; radiometric dating as a basis for many lab studies are eagerly accepted; or are they refused because of the unreliability of elements’ half-lives?

    I wonder if they use energy derived from coal and oil? Millions of year old fossil materials? Oh no, I’d rather freeze to death. Hmm, modern automobile technology or horse and buggy like the Amish (who have a pathological fear of buttons, yes BUTTONS, and need to use pins on their clothing). Modern book publishing, new papers and inks, the internet, space satellites? Or are they shunned in favor of papyrus and smoke signals?

    How much longer can we go on with this hypocrisy and stupidity?

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    He is, in fact, ruling out a hypothesis at the outset. He is ruling out the hypothesis that the natural/ material world is all there is. By seeking out consultants who don’t limit themselves to the natural/ material world, he is essentially refusing to talk to anyone who doesn’t already agree that the supernatural world exists.

    Greta Christina wins the thread for that comment. If Strobel claims to be pursuing all possibilities, then he should be speaking to at least one person who does believe that natural laws are sufficient. He doesn’t do this, instead interviewing only people who believe in an active supernatural component to the evolution of life.

    Of course, it’s his book; he can limit his “investigation” to whatever ideas he wants. But if that’s what he’s going to do, he ought to stop being dishonest by pretending he’s giving an open-minded survey of all the options, when in fact he’s chosen his interviewees carefully to advance one specific and widely scientifically rejected hypothesis.

  • Leum

    who have a pathological fear of buttons, yes BUTTONS, and need to use pins on their clothing

    Hey, buttons can be scary.

  • velkyn

    “In selecting these experts, I sought doctorate-level professors who have unquestioned expertise, are able to communicate in accessible language, and refuse to limit themselves only to the politically correct world of naturalism or materialism. After all, it wouldn’t make sense to rule out any hypothesis at the outset. I wanted the freedom to pursue all possibilities”

    Ah, the claims of how reality isn’t somehow “really” what is out there. I do wish that those who claim this would be required to pick up a white-piece of metal with their bare hands. So much for their solipcism then.

    If science is oh-so bad, why won’t these people refuse to use the other benefits of science like medicine, computers, forensics, etc? Why, they’re hypocrites! Lazy and evidently so ignorant that they think no one notices.

  • http://www.BlueNine.info Blue Nine

    On May 16, 2009, 6:12 pm, Ebonmuse posted:
    Of course, it’s his book; he can limit his “investigation” to whatever ideas he wants. But if that’s what he’s going to do, he ought to stop being dishonest by pretending he’s giving an open-minded survey of all the options, when in fact he’s chosen his interviewees carefully to advance one specific and widely scientifically rejected hypothesis.

    Doesn’t Strobel do this in every one of his “Case For X” books?


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