The current sentiment regarding science versus God is, “Surely, you can’t be a scientist and believe in God these days!” It’s a viewpoint expressed by many people over the years. Others don’t even bother asking the question, stopped by their own doubts. After all, they say, science has given us such marvelous explanations for the universe. Why worry about theology when science can explain it all in pluralistic, naturalistic, a-moral, empirically-based conclusion? Belief in God, say the atheists, is so last-century. They claim we’ve come too far as a species to continue believing in a magical, omniscient, spiritual “creator.”
Stephen Hawking, in the last book he published before his death titled Brief Answers to Big Questions, wrote, “I think the universe was spontaneously created out of nothing, according to the laws of science. If you accept, as I do, that the laws of nature are fixed, then it doesn’t take long to ask: What role is there for God?”
Hawking further said, “Did God create the quantum laws that allowed the Big Bang to occur? I have no desire to offend anyone of faith, but I think science has a more compelling explanation than a divine creator.” Hawking was, of course, burdened and blessed with the mind of a brilliant scientist—his IQ was 160. He had no room for conjecture or speculation regarding the origin of the universe, or whether God (and the ethereal world of the spirit) exists. His explanation for the origin of the universe began with quantum mechanics, which explains how subatomic particles behave. Hawking held the opinion that protons and neutrons seemingly appeared out of nowhere, stuck around for awhile, and then disappeared to a completely different location.
In fact, Hawking said the universe itself, in all its mind-boggling vastness and complexity, could simply have popped into existence without violating the known laws of nature. Here’s the thing, though. Even if it were possible for subatomic particles to appear out of nowhere, that still doesn’t explain away the possibility that God created the proton-sized singularity that preceded the Big Bang, then flipped the quantum-mechanical switch that allowed it to pop! Of course, Hawking kinda put all his eggs in one basket. He held the scientific opinion that black holes hold the secret to the origin of the universe. Black holes are collapsed stars that are so dense nothing, including light, can escape their pull. These phenomena represent a dense singularity. Gravity is so strong in this ultra-packed point of mass that it distorts time, light and space.
It was Hawking’s contention that time does not exist in the depths of a black hole. Accordingly, he held the opinion that there was no time before the Big Bang. Hawking wrote, “For me this means that there is no possibility of a creator because there is no time for a creator to have existed in.” This argument will do little to persuade those who believe in God. That was never Hawking’s intent. As a scientist with a near-religious devotion to understanding the cosmos, Hawking sought to know the mind of God by learning everything he could about the self-sufficient universe around us. While his view of the universe might render a divine creator and the laws of nature incompatible, it still leaves ample space for faith, hope, wonder and, especially, gratitude.
A COMMON VIEWPOINT
Many today say belief in God is “old-fashioned.” Some believe religion belongs to the days when no one really understood the universe. Several noted scientists have said it is considered lazy to simply say, “God did it.” Stephen Weinberg, theoretical physicist and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, said,
The world needs to wake up from the long nightmare of religion. Anything we scientists can do to weaken the hold of religion should be done, and may in fact be our greatest contribution to civilisation [sic].
I propose this: If science and God do not mix, why do we have so many Christian Nobel Prize winners? In fact, between 1900 and 2000 over 60 percent of Nobel Laureates were self-professed believers in God. There cannot be an essential conflict between science and God because all truth is God’s truth. God has revealed Himself in general revelation (science, physics, nature) and special revelation (the written Word of God).
The conflict between militant atheists and theists is not a battle of facts; rather, it is about worldviews. We must remember that all scientists have assumptions, presuppositions, biases, convictions, values, and prejudices. A worldview is the framework of our most basic beliefs that shapes our view of and for the world, and is the basis of our decisions and actions. In fact, worldview can cause us to see, to some degree, on what we expect and are predisposed to see.
Frankly, I think it is wrong to suggest that science is the only way to truth. This is what’s known as “scientism.” Some notion of “truth” and “justification” is ordinarily implied by “knowledge,” which makes the science versus religion argument rather cyclical. It lends support to the concept that the mere accumulation of facts indicates a grasp of truth itself. If science were the only way to truth, we’d have to discard half the faculty members in any school or university—history, literature, languages, arts and music, for a start. Indeed, we’d be cutting out all metaphysical disciplines, including philosophy. This would please Einstein because he believed scientists make poor philosophers. Stephen Hawking, a brilliant scientist, was not much of an accomplished thinker outside of the realm of science.
SAM HARRIS AND THE “ZERO-SUM” ARGUMENT
“Surely you can’t be a scientist and believe in God, can you?” Well, why not? Oh, is it because science has given us such convincing, all-conclusive, accurate explanations of the universe—how it got started, where matter came from, who started the ball rolling—and demonstrates that God is no longer necessary? Today’s leading atheists tell us belief in God is “old fashioned” and lacking in vision. They think theology belongs in the past; the good old days when people lacked a “scientific” understanding of life and matter.
There is an alleged inherent antagonism between science and theology. In fact, militant atheists are prone to portray an ongoing war between the two. Sam Harris wrote The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. It is in this book that he addresses the idea of that there is a zero-sum battle between science and religion. Zero-sum relates to or denotes a situation in which whatever is gained by one side is lost by the other. In game theory and economic theory, a zero–sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which each participant’s gain or loss of utility is exactly balanced by the losses or gains of the utility of the others. Examples of zero-sum games include “Rock, Paper, Scissors,” “Matching Pennies,” “Dictator Game,” and “Cake Cutting.” Harris believes we must decide either science is right or theology is, to the exclusion of the other. Both cannot be right.
To say that science and God are incompatible—that either science is right or God is right to the exclusion of the other—is to write off any chance of science proving God’s existence. As I noted in my blog post “God, Science or Both” (Jan. 10, 2019), science as an organized, sustained enterprise arose in human history in Europe, during the period of civilization called Christendom—the Middle Ages and Early Modern period during which the Christian world represented a geopolitical power that was juxtaposed with both the pagan and Muslim world. Pope Benedict XVI has gone on record saying reason is a central distinguishing feature of Christianity. An unbiased look at the history of science shows that modern science is an invention of Medieval Christianity, and that the greatest breakthroughs in scientific reason have largely been the work of Christians.
If science and God do not mix, there would be no Christian Nobel Prize winners. To the contrary, 60 percent of all Nobel Laureates between 1901 and 2000 were Christians. It is not science that divides these men and women; rather, it is their worldviews. Science is science; truth is truth. Carl Sagan was noted for saying, “The cosmos is all that is, or ever was, or ever will be.” Of course, this is not a statement of science, to be put in the same category as the scientific statement that gravity obeys an inverse-square law. Sagan’s statement is merely an expression of his atheistic, naturalistic worldview.
But is science the only way to truth? That idea, which even today is widespread, is a belief called “scientism.” The working definition of scientism is an ideology that promotes science as the purportedly objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values. From the standpoint of normal English word usage, any attempt to reduce knowledge to some variant of “justified true belief” is an artificial specification of what is considered knowledge, in which belief is planted within us—privileged creatures with a conscience, or consciousness, as knowledge-bearers. Science is certainly focused on the accumulation of knowledge vis-à-vis making observations, determining an explanation for conditions, and conducting experiments to prove the experimenter’s conclusions.
In other words, science should be the end-all regarding all questions. Okay, but how does that work? What exactly does science explain? For instance, what does the law of gravity explain? Surely, that’s obvious, right? The law of gravity explains gravity. You may be surprised to learn that it doesn’t, actually! Rather, it gives us a proven mathematical way of calculating the effect of gravity so that we can work out the amount of thrust needed for a Boeing 737 to leave the ground, or do the calculations needed for a rocket to escape the Earth’s gravitational pull. That’s it. The law does not tell us what gravity actually is. Only how it operates.
The laws of nature describe the universe; but they actually explain nothing. In fact, the very existence of the laws of nature and the mathematics of the universe is a mystery in itself. Richard Feynman, a Nobel Laureate in physics, wrote,
…the fact that there are rules at all to be checked is a kind of miracle; that it is possible to find a rule, like the inverse-square law of gravitation, is some sort of miracle. It is not understood at all, but it leads to the possibility of prediction—that means it tells you what you would expect to happen in an experiment you have not yet done.
Amazingly, the very fact those laws can be mathematically formulated was for Albert Einstein a constant source of amazement and pointed beyond the physical universe to some spirit “vastly superior to that of man.” Perhaps this should help promote the concept that a scientific explanation of something is not necessarily the only rational explanation that is possible. There can be multiple explanations that are equally true at the same time. Stephen Hawking claimed that God is not necessary to explain why the universe exists in the first place—why there is something rather than nothing. He believed science would provide all the answers. These so-called “laws” of nature are not capable of causing or creating anything, nor do they convincingly answer the pesky questions about life and the universe. They can only be applied to things that already exist.
C.S. Lewis understood this. He wrote,
They produce no events: they state the pattern to which every event… must conform, just as the rules of arithmetic state the pattern to which all transactions with money must conform—if only you can get hold of any money… For every law, in the last resort, says: “If you have A, then you will get B.” But first catch your A: the laws won’t do it for you.
WHAT IS SCIENCE?
Science is not very easy to define. Its roots rest firmly in the term “natural philosophy.” When most people hear the word scientific they deem it to be synonymous with rational. In other words, science and reason go hand-in-hand. I shouldn’t have to tell you that it is erroneous to decide science is the only path to knowledge. All the disciplines listed above—history, literature, and so on—require the use of reason, as do most things in life. Actually, reason has a far larger scope than science. Linguistically, natural philosophy simply means “the love of wisdom about nature.” So at its base, science is a way of thinking about the natural world—making observations, looking for explanations, and doing experiments to test them. Aristotle, almost 2,500 years ago, was among the first believers in natural philosophy. He was famous for his observations of living things, with many regarding him as the father of the science of biology. Aristotle, like Plato, often preferred to reason about nature from philosophical principles rather than empirical observation. Curious, right?
Thinking philosophically about the observable realm can lead to erroneous conclusions. Plato, for example, is said to have believed that heavier objects (e.g., a canon ball) when dropped would reach the ground before lighter objects (e.g., a feather). When using natural philosophy to explain and predict nature, thereby giving less credence to the observable part of an experiment, results can certainly become skewed. We need to remember that science is a progressive human endeavor to explain the often inexplicable.
There is no science without systematic observation, measurement, and experiment. The scientific method is an empirical method of acquiring knowledge that has characterized the development of science since at least the 17th century. The approach must be systematic and logical. Obviously, science concerns itself with numerous types of inquiries. Of course, the goal is always the same regardless of the category being studied. Not surprisingly, some areas of science can be more easily tested than others. The scientific method is critical to the development of scientific theories, which explain empirical laws in a scientifically rational manner.
The scientific method has four main steps:
- Observation and description of a phenomenon or group of phenomena.
- Formulation of an hypothesis to explain the phenomena. In physics, the hypothesis often takes the form of a causal mechanism or a mathematical relation.
- Use of the hypothesis to predict the existence of other phenomena, or to predict quantitatively the results of new observations.
- Performance of experimental tests of the predictions by several independent experimenters and properly performed experiments.
Experimental tests will lead either to the confirmation of the hypothesis, or to the ruling out of the hypothesis. An hypothesis is a supposition or proposed explanation made on the basis of limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation. Science requires that an hypothesis be ruled out or modified if its predictions are clearly and repeatedly incompatible with experimental tests. No matter how elegant a theory is, its predictions must agree with experimental results if we are to believe that it is a valid description of nature. In physics, as in every branch of science, “experiment is supreme.” Experimental verification of hypothetical predictions is absolutely necessary.
Experiments can be used to test the theory directly (by observation), or researchers may test for consequences of the theory using mathematics and logic. A theory must be testable. If not, it cannot qualify as scientific. Remember the old-school theory that our universe was geocentric? In other words, Earth was the center of the entire universe and everything revolved around it. This concept was overthrown by Copernicus when he determined the sun to be at the center (heliocentric) of the universe, featuring a series of concentric, circular planetary orbits. This theory was later modified to accommodate an elliptical rather than circular orbit of planets.
Common-Sense Rational Thinking in Scripture
It is fascinating to learn that common-sense rational thinking is found everywhere in the Bible. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandments were, he said the first was to “…love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:30). Notice Jesus mentions “mind” in this list. God is not anti-reason. He specifically highlights use of our mind for evaluating the natural world.
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) believed that God has written two books, not just one. God provides us with special revelation (the Bible, or “Book One”) and general revelation (nature, or “Book Two”). Relative to general revelation Psalm 19:1-4 declares, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” In other words, God’s existence and power can be clearly seen through observing the universe. The order, intricacy, and wonder of creation speak to the existence of a powerful and glorious Creator. A “watchmaker” if you prefer.
In a typical application of the scientific method, a researcher develops a hypothesis, tests it through various means, and then modifies the hypothesis on the basis of the outcome of the tests and experiments. The modified hypothesis is then retested, further modified, and tested again, until it becomes consistent with observed phenomena and testing outcomes. In this way, hypotheses serve as tools by which scientists gather data. From that data and the many different scientific investigations undertaken to explore hypotheses, scientists are able to develop broad general explanations, or scientific theories.
Only a rookie who knows nothing about science would say science takes away from faith. If you really study science, it will bring you closer to God. — James Tour, Nanoscientist
Does the Big Bang explanation contradict the Creation explanation? It does not. First, the Big Bang is not an explanation at all. It is more akin to a characterization; a conclusion that there was a beginning. It says nothing about how the universe came to exist in the first place. Scripture does provide the “why” of the universe. God created the universe: there was a beginning caused by God. So, Big Bang courtesy of God, perhaps? For me, the precision with which the universe exploded into being provides even more persuasive evidence for the existence of God. This is the so-called teleological explanation. The phrase derives from the Greek word telos, which means “design.”
The teleological argument states that the existence of God can be determined from the evidence of order and design in nature. The argument goes like this:
- Every design has a designer
- The universe has highly complex design
- Ergo, the universe had a Designer
Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) wrote, “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being.” It was William Paley (1743-1805) who proposed the argument that every watch requires a watchmaker. The argument goes like this:
Imagine you’re walking along in the woods and you find a diamond-studded Rolex on the ground. What do you conclude is the cause of that watch: The wind and the rain? Erosion? Some combination of natural forces? Of course not! There’s absolutely no question in your mind that some intelligent being made that watch, and that some unfortunate individual must have accidentally dropped it there.
Scientists are now coming to understand that the universe in which we live is like that diamond-studded Rolex, except the universe is even more precisely designed than the watch. It’s been said that the universe has been fine-tuned to enable life on Earth—a planet with countless of unlikely and interdependent life-supporting condition that make it a tiny oasis in an endless, vast, hostile universe. For example, the conditions necessary for life to be able to spring forth on Earth, include exactly the right recipe of Earth’s oxygen level (21 percent), atmospheric transparency (relative to solar radiation reaching the surface of the planet), and a precise gravitational interaction between Earth and the moon.
Donald Page, theoretical physicist, focuses on the study and explanation of quantum cosmology and theoretical gravitational physics. He was a doctoral student under Stephen Hawking in addition to publishing several journal articles with him. Page is a Christian. He calculated the odds against our universe randomly taking a form suitable for life as one out of 10,000,000,000 to the 124th power—a number that exceeds all imagination. Moreover, there are about two thousand known enzymes, and the chance of obtaining them all in a random trial is one in 10 to the power of 40,000. This is such an outrageously small probability that could not be met even if the whole universe consisted of organic soup. Additionally, there are questions regarding DNA—where it came from, or the transcription of DNA to RNA, which many scientists admit cannot even be numerically computed.
In a 2008 article in The Guardian (UK), Richard Dawkins wrote in regard to teachers who believe creation is an alternative to evolution, “We are failing in our duty to children, if we staff our schools with teachers who are this ignorant—or this stupid.” The real battle is aligned with the fact that these people do not want to accept Christianity because they will not accept that there is a God to whom they are answerable.
The public has been misled relative to Darwinism, creationism, and the existence of the spiritual realm. Our children are taught in public schools that evolution is only scientific and belief in God is only religious. This pigeonholing has the effect of placing truth and knowledge squarely on the shoulders of science. Interestingly, Sam Harris’ zero-sum approach to the Bible versus science screams loudly that either science is right or Christianity is right. It leaves absolutely no room for science being able to prove the biblical account of creation, life’s meaning and origin, the accuracy and inerrancy of Scripture. Unfortunately, militant atheism and evolution is causing many people to stumble and not listen whenever a Christian wants to discuss the concept of a Divine Designer and a message of creation over evolution.
It’s important to note that secular evolutionists must oppose biblical creationists because if what Christians are saying is right—that God is the Creator and man is a sinner in need of salvation—then their entire philosophy is destroyed. The basis for their philosophy decrees there is no God and ultimately man is not accountable to anyone but himself. If evolution is not true, the only alternative is creation. That is why evolutionists will cling to the Darwinian philosophy even if the evidence is totally contradictory.
It is truly a spiritual question.