RPM, Volume 18, Number 8, February 14 to February 20, 2016

Scientific Determinism vs. Christian Predictability

Covenantal Apologetics: Principles & Practice in Defense of Our Faith

By K. Scott Oliphint

pp. 121-122


Sam Harris has written a masterful exposition of the myth of free will. And the reason that free will is a myth, Harris and I understand as committed scientists, is that all that happens is the product of a materially determined process. Since everything that happens, happens according to that process, there can be no real choice for human beings. We, too, are simply products of the processes of our material make-up. Science can continue apace because reality is so marvelously and determinatively predictable. It moves inexorably as it is materially determined to move.


If I am materially predetermined to believe what I believe, and you are as well, then what we believe is simply a product of our material selves. We have no choice at all about what we believe; and why we believe what we do makes no sense to discuss at all, since the "why" is embedded in our predetermined matter.

It seems to me that you have gotten yourself into an intellectual bind. If the universe is unguided, then what you think about science is nothing more than a random figment of your own imagination. In that case, science cannot ground or found its own enterprise; the best it can do, as David Hume showed us centuries ago, is depend on some kind of subjective "habit." And a habit is no way to try to uncover the mysteries of the universe; because it is subjective, it has no bearing on whether or not the universe is knowable or predictable. For that, something much stronger is needed. What's needed is actual predictability. And that comes only in Christian theism.

If, on the other hand, your friend Sam Harris is right, then all the things you and I have discussed—science, religion, predictability, etc.—are also just figments of our imagination. They are not in any way the products of our own decision making. Your humanism is exactly the same as my Christian theism. They both are produced by our material composition. And if that is the case, there is nothing left for us to talk about. Our respective beliefs are little different than the fizzy head of a draught beer; they're just a matter of materially determined characteristics.

So, I leave you with this thought. Neither unguided naturalism nor predetermined physicalism can give you what you want; neither can give you a way to be committed, as you are, to "scientific inquiry" as your starting point for knowledge. Only Christian theism can give you that. Only in Christian theism can science begin and thrive. Without Christian theism, your commitment to science is nothing more than a meaningless, purposeless noise. Like your own existence, it makes no sense whatsoever; either it is an unguided, chaotic datum, or it does what it was predetermined to do. In either case, there can be no real meaning ascribed to it.

But if God has created the universe and has come down to act in and for his creation, and if he has condescended in his Son to remedy the problem of those who are committed to opposing him, then it will only be repentance and trust in Christ that will allow for a proper view of the world, "scientific inquiry," and ourselves.

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