In the previous two posts, I have described the naturalistic worldview, and laid out an argument by C. S. Lewis against naturalism. In this post, I’ll offer a second argument against naturalism, this time by the American philosopher Richard Taylor. If you had a hard time following Lewis’ argument, hang in there. This one is easier, and more pictorial.

Picture yourself sitting on a train. You look out the window and see a collection of rocks that spell out “The British railroad welcomes you to Wales.” You have never seen these rocks before, and you must decide what these rocks are doing there and whether or not to believe what the rocks are telling you.

You can explain the rocks and their message in one of two ways. The first option is to believe that these rocks arrived in their current positions by random chance. In other words, over the ages impersonal forces acted upon each of the rocks, and each rock finally came to rest where it is now. No intelligent force collected the rocks and made them spell out “The British railroad welcomes you to Wales,” they just happened to fall into place in such a way that this message appears through their formation.

The second option is to believe that these rocks were placed in their current position by an intelligent being. Someone developed a plan, collected the rocks, and put them where they are in order to spell out the message “The British railroad welcomes you to Wales.”

It’s important to recognize that each of these possibilities is valid. Rocks do get eroded and moved by the forces of nature. People do pick up rocks and set them in specific places. But while we may legitimately choose to believe either of these possibilities, we also need to be careful about the inferences we draw from them.

If we assume that the rocks came to be there by chance, then what are we to make of the sentence they spell out? If we believe the rocks came to their current position by chance and just happen to have formed the sentence “The British railroad welcomes you to Wales,” then we would be foolish to believe that we are actually arriving in Wales. In other words, we may well believe that the rocks got there by chance, but we should not believe any message that randomly situated rocks appear to be sending.

But if we believe that the rocks were placed there by an intelligent being, then it would not be illogical to look at the message the rocks spell out and take that message at face value.

To put it the other way around, if we are going to believe the message that the rocks spell out, then the only logical choice is to believe they were placed there by an intelligent being, not by chance.

Taylor likens this to believing the messages that we receive from our five senses and our minds. If we believe that our senses and our minds came about by chance, then we really should not believe what our senses or our minds tell us. If they came together randomly through impersonal forces, then why should we trust the messages we receive from them?

If we are going to trust the messages that we send from our five senses and our minds, then the only logical choice is to believe that they were designed with a purpose. The irony in this argument is that the naturalistic scientists who are studying nature and saying that everything came to its current form by chance are trusting their supposedly randomly formed senses and minds in order to reach their naturalistic conclusions.

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Mark Beuving

Mark Beuving currently serves as Associate Pastor at Creekside Church in Rocklin, CA. Prior to going back into pastoral ministry, Mark spent ten years on staff at Eternity Bible College as a Campus Pastor, Dean of Students, and then Associate Professor. Mark now teaches online adjunct for Eternity. He is passionate about building up the body of Christ, training future leaders for the Church, and writing. Though he is interested in many areas of theology and philosophy, Mark is most fascinated with practical theology and exploring the many ways in which the Bible can speak to and transform our world. He is the author of “Resonate: Enjoying God’s Gift of Music” and the co-author with Francis Chan of “Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples.” Mark lives in Rocklin with his wife and two daughters.

5 COMMENTS

    • Still, I think there is a general consensus that the role of science isn’t necessarily to “prove” anything beyond all doubt, but is more for the purpose of bringing us to the most probable explanation.

      In other words, if one believes that life, and ultimately their own senses, evolved from completely natural, random circumstances… they may not ever be able to “prove” something as fundamental as “I exist” or “what I see in front of me reflects reality”. However, they CAN at least come to what is the most probable solution given the information at hand.

      I hope that made sense. I’ve enjoyed this little series.

      • Thanks for weighing in Justin. I like the depth of thought.

        I think that Richard Taylor’s analogy still poses a great question whether we’re trying to prove something with certainty or simply trying to point to what is “most probable.”

        You have a good point when it comes to the possibility of a train analogy “proving” something. We should be clear that all this does is give us some food for thought. Hopefully it makes us all better as we challenge the assumptions we make in interpreting the world around us.

  1. there are a couple of flaws in this analogy… first, it only says “The British railroad welcomes you to Wales.” if you understand the language being spoken/spelled… if a person is non-English speaking, than it really doesn’t say anything to them. it minus well just be rocks in random locations. Sure, you could still argue the “design” but that still doesn’t change the rational the message is sending. Secondly, the difference between us being able to trust our senses compared to the rock’s message is the fact that we are able to test them scientifically to know if they are true/valid. lastly, even if you were going to say “I don’t understand how this could have happened without a creator” doesn’t mean it didn’t… it just means you don’t understand it… throwing a god in the place where one doesn’t understand something is not intellectually honest. and let’s say I were to even grant you that there was a designer (I won’t, but for the sake of argument) it is another GIANT leap to get to your god of the bible as that designer…

    • Travis,

      Thanks for stopping in. I enjoy getting some pushback on these. Here are some thoughts:

      1) The language that the “message” of the rocks is “written” in is irrelevant. The analogy only applies to people who see an apparent “message” written in a rock formation. When they think they see such a message, they must decide if it is indeed a message (which implies intentionality) or if it only appears to be a message and is only a random rock formation. This analogy would work in any language.

      2) You are suggesting that we can scientifically test the “messages” that our minds and senses send to us, but I would push back by asking, How? If my mind and my five senses tell me there is a tree in front of me, how am I to test the validity of the messages I am receiving from my mind and my senses? Through scientific experimentation? If I cannot trust my mind and my senses to tell me that a tree is in front of me, how am I to trust my mind and my senses to tell me that a scientific experiment confirms the existence of that tree? The whole point is that if our minds and our senses are the products of blind, irrational, impersonal forces, then we have no reason whatsoever to trust that what they are telling us is valid.

      3) You said: “even if you were going to say ‘I don’t understand how this could have happened without a creator’ doesn’t mean it didn’t… it just means you don’t understand it… throwing a god in the place where one doesn’t understand something is not intellectually honest.” But in saying this, you are the one who is not being intellectually honest. I said no such thing. Read the post carefully and you will see that I was not trying to prove God’s existence, I was sharing an argument against naturalism. To say that one cannot disprove naturalism without trying to prove theism is a logical fallacy. In a courtroom setting, this would be the equivalent of not allowing a defendant to prove his innocence unless he were also able to prove who did commit the crime. The same thing goes for you comment, “let’s say I were to even grant you that there was a designer (I won’t, but for the sake of argument) it is another GIANT leap to get to your god of the bible as that designer…” Once again, read the post carefully and you’ll see that I wasn’t trying to prove the existence of a designer, let alone a designer as specific as the God of the Bible. I do believe that the God of the Bible is necessary for any plausible explanation for the world we find ourselves in, but that wasn’t the point of my post.

      I’d love to hear your thoughts in light of these clarifications. What do you think?