Modern Science & The Principle of Causality



"Those who devote themselves to the purpose of proving that there is no purpose constitute an interesting subject for study" - Alfred North Whitehead 

Scientific discovery, determinations, and just plain good logical reasoning to conclusions require that we properly understand and apply the principle of causality. The principle of causality is one of the first principles of science because, after all, science in its most rudimentary definition is simply a search for causes.  When science goes astray, the reason usually has to do with bad reasoning due to a bad philosophy which is either not known or not understood by the scientist who holds it. This is critical so that one avoids confirmation bias when looking for causes and when interpreting results. In short, bad philosophy always produces to bad science.

Since one can get a PhD in science and never take a class on logic and critical thinking it should not surprise us that many scientists have no idea that the philosophy of naturalism/materialism is the worldview that is being smuggled into their work. I was on an apologetics panel at McLean Bible Church with three men who all had advanced degrees and I made this statement. One gentleman, who had two PhD's, confirmed my statement to the surprise to many in the audience.

Image result for basketballSo what is my point? The philosophy of naturalism/materialism has neutered the principle of causality by minimizing it to merely material and efficient causes which is only two of the four causes! The four types or aspects of causality are final, formal, material, and efficient causes. The material cause is the matter or stuff that a thing is made of. The efficient cause is what brings a thing into its form, or to put it philosophically, what moves a thing from a state of potentiality to actuality. The formal cause is the form, structure, or pattern the matter exhibits. The final cause is the thing's purpose or end goal; i.e., why the thing exists in the first place. When you put all of this together, you have a complete explanation of a thing, whatever that thing may be.

The best way to explain it is with a common example. If I was holding a basketball in front of you and I ask you, "What is this and what caused it?" How would you explain it? First, you would notice that it is a basketball. Now, of course prior experience informed you already what a basketball looks like, but let's leave that aside for a moment.


In this example the rubber and leather are the material cause, the machines in the factory running on electricity and controlled by people are the efficient cause of the basketball. The formal cause or design would be the shape that the basketball fills into. Now, the final cause is it's purpose which is to be used to play the sport of basketball. All four causes give you a complete picture of the effect, a basketball, and it's cause, how it came to be, why it has the shape it does, and most importantly, why it exists in the first place. Maybe you can see the philosophical problem of minimizing the principle of causality already. What if you said that you do not know why the ball exists and tried to tell me that it is not designed because your philosophy removes those two causes from the very beginning. How questions are both incomplete and unsatisfying without why questions.

Image result for teapotHow about one more example. Let's say that you are a modern 2-cause scientist, which means you are half baked, and you come over to my house to visit. As you come into the kitchen you see a teapot on the stove and I ask you, "why is the water boiling on the stove?" So, you proceed to tell me that the heat from the stove is causing a reaction (efficient cause) among the H2O in the teapot (material cause), thus this explains the phenomena. Is that a complete answer? No, you left out the big why and only gave me a how. For a complete explanation, you missed it. The complete answer of why includes the fact that I wanted to make you a cup of tea (final cause/purpose) which is why I chose a teapot over a frying pan (formal cause/design).

Let me make it personal with the number one question people ask themselves: Why am I here and what is my purpose? This is internal evidence within you that the material "how" answer is incomplete. God, provides the why.


Until He Returns,

Peter P. Lackey, Jr.

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