Watches and Widgets

It's hard to be an atheist in America. Even our language is permeated with Christian overtones. I'm not talking only about figures of speech, like "God only knows." Even science cannot get rid of references to God. Take the field of biology. No matter how hard they try, biologists cannot avoid talking about purpose. Philosophy professor Lowell Nissen, writing in a journal called Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science, says biology cannot get rid of the language of purpose. Think of some simple examples. Why do animals have eyes? In order to see. Why do they have ears? In order to hear. In fact, biological structures are strikingly similar to manmade tools, where the purpose is its defining feature: A camera is made to take pictures, a watch is made to tell time. But if you're an atheist, this common-sense way of talking poses a serious problem. If eyes and ears have a purpose, that implies someone made them for a purpose. It implies that there's a Creator—an idea that atheists want to banish from science. Professor Nissen says the language of purpose threatens to take biology right outside the boundary of natural science. But that's not true, of course. Great figures in the history of biology, such as Carl Linnaeus, John Ray, and Georges Cuvier, believed that God created living structures for a purpose—and that belief did not make them any less scientific. The fact is that the notion of purpose is no threat to natural science; it's a threat only to naturalistic science. There's a big difference. Natural science merely means the study of nature. But naturalistic science means the acceptance of a philosophy that nature is all that exists. Naturalism is simply atheism in scientific garb. Scientists who adhere to it are forced to deny purpose in the world—because that would imply a Creator. So, ironically, biologists keep using the word purpose, because there's no other way to talk about things like eyes and ears. But they redefine the word. We're not talking about divine purpose, they say; we're just talking about functions. When we ask why animals have eyes, we may say it's for the purpose of seeing—but all we really mean is that seeing is the function of eyes. But that redefinition just won't wash. The function of seeing can't explain why eyes exist. Seeing happens only when eyes already exist. Redefining purpose as function puts the cause after the effect; it puts the horse after the cart. There is simply no way to get rid of purpose in biology. It would be a lot smarter to get rid of the dogma of naturalism. If we accept that God designed the world, then the language of purpose makes perfect sense. Eyes really were made for seeing—made by God. So as Christians we should be eager to talk about divine purpose in the world. The fact that biology cannot get along without the notion is a great argument we can use with our skeptical friends. Contrary to what philosophical naturalists tell us, real science acknowledges the Creator—who made the world for a purpose.


Chuck Colson


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