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Saturday Sermon: Over and Above Naturalism

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May 19, 2012 Tags: Science & Worldviews

Today's entry was written by the BioLogos Editorial Team. You can read more about what we believe here.

The full sermon can be downloaded from Ecclesia Church's website.

Pastor Joseph Barkley of Ecclesia Church extols the greatness of the God who has brought forth incredible works and engaged humankind in relationship. In the first part of the sermon “Over and Above Naturalism,” Barkley admires the factual knowledge unlocked by science, and yet reminds the Church that those material descriptions fail to answer the question of ultimate significance. There are people who do not believe in the greater meaning of life or a higher being, but rather cling to scientific analysis as the sole source of understanding about the universe. Barkley explains the outcomes of such naturalism, and later (in part 2 of this sermon) suggests that material creation is not an end, but a beginning that speaks of its majestic and powerful Creator who loves us.

Barkley first highlights amazing facts about the human body to demonstrate God’s ingenuity. Human bones, for instance, are five times stronger than a piece of steel with the same density and length. He then focuses on a picture of DNA looking down its long axis from top to bottom. That image reveals order and beauty in an arrangement that looks strikingly similar to a stain-glass window. During a visit to Italy, Barkley surveyed such intricate stain-glass windows in cathedrals, as well as masterful art pieces in museums, and yet, to him, none compare to the incredible structures that were hidden deep within the human body long before we were able to discover them or their beauty.

This age of modern science has unveiled much about our world, answering some of the “biggest questions we have.” However, Barkley affirms (along with most good scientists) that science cannot answer all questions by itself. He offers a simple analogy articulated by writer John Lenox:

Aunt Matilda makes a beautiful cake. It is then sent to the laboratories of a nutrition scientist, a biochemist, a physicist and a mathematician. No doubt one will receive a report of its nutritional value, its composition of molecules, and the behavior of the molecules, but all scientific analysis will never reveal to the investigators why Aunt Matilda made the desert to begin with. She brought it into existence, and alone can answer why.

Just as these experts could not describe why the cake was made, so scientific knowledge does not reveal the point of existence—why there is something rather than nothing. This answer is not inherent within the created thing, but is dependent on its Creator. Therefore, if there is a why, there must also be a who. People have more recently asserted that there is neither why nor who. This is naturalism: the faith that there is no who which could generate significance (a why) beyond sensory observation.

This worldview requires the universe to be the product of countless undirected events with no intent behind them. Furthermore, it requires that humans have no purpose to their existence, and that death is their final end. Such ideas, says Barkley, logically affect people’s behavior: “If nothing happens when we die and there is no grand design and we are not accountable to an absolute morality (as many people tend to think more and more); if we are not ultimately responsible for those things, then what motivation, logically, what motivation do we have to self-sacrifice, to love, to be kind?”

Some posit the idea of a collective consciousness that leads humans to act for the survival of the human species on the earth. According to Barkley, this still implies there is something beyond the physical occurring; that we are not the purely material beings that naturalism declares. He then suggests that naturalism relies just as much on a faith in empirical science as a Christian relies on faith in a creator God. At the conclusion of his argument, Barkley plants a seed of wonder by asserting that all the great scientific discoveries are not just describing a purposeless world, but are rather hinting at the greatness of the One who formed it.

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