God and Science: Friends or Foes #3

11. God and Science #3 ResultsFor the past two weeks I’ve explored whether the history and philosophy of science are at war with belief in God. The final bastion in which the conflict hypothesis has taken shelter is admittedly the most formidable for the Christian—the results of science.

ATHEISM 2.0: The God Hypothesis is Unnecessary

Before the dawn of modern science Christian Europe was the learning capital of the world, and yet it held many false ideas about how the universe operates. This is not to say that people were unintelligent, but merely ignorant of the law-like operations governing the motions and reactions of atoms and molecules. When confronted with inexplicable phenomena or effects it was a logical step, for those with a belief in a supernatural agent, to invoke God as an explanation. How did the universe come about? “God did it!” How did life develop on our planet? “God did it!”

Many naturalists/atheists, following a stream of belief I call Atheism 2.0, are less aggressive than their New Atheist counterparts, and merely find God redundant as an explanation for the origins of the universe and the development of intelligent life. These amicable atheists are happy to tip the hat to Christianity historically as useful in the rise of a scientific worldview. However, just like a child eventually replaces their parent in the world, so naturalism has surpassed theism as the better model to inspire the scientific endeavour. When Napoléon read the astronomical treatises of Simon Pierre Laplace and asked where God fits into his theories, Laplace’s response was telling, “I have no need for that hypothesis!” Two centuries later many cosmologists argue the same; we have no need to posit a Creator to explain the origins of the universe. Similarly, when Charles Darwin penned The Origin of Species in 1859, the scientific community was given an alternative explanation to the religious account as to how intelligent life could develop on our planet. Both in cosmology and biology, no longer was it necessary to say, “God did it!” The “god of the gaps” was running out of places to hide.

TYPES OF EXPLANATION: Agency and Mechanism

Sophisticated theism and Christianity, however, do not posit a “god of the gaps” but rather a God of the whole show! The naturalist often suffers from category confusion when they believe God is the mechanism and not the intelligent agency behind it. Let me explain.

Consider a scientist enters a house. Given a knowledge of the law-like operations of the universe and the materials and engineering required to build the structure, an in depth explanation of the mechanism used to construct the house could be offered. But no one believes that such an explanation as to how it was built excludes the existence of an architect. Nor would one expect to find the architect within the design itself, as though he/she became a wall or a staircase. What one can recognise within the house, however, are signs of intelligent design. Take it one step further. What if the architect has revealed their designs that make predictions about the house? Cannot these predictions be tested against the house’s reality? So does the universe exhibit “signs of intelligence design” and does science verify or falsify Christian claims about the world?

THE RESULTS OF SCIENCE: Christianity Confirmed by Science

What does science says about the origins of the universe? Christianity arose amidst a Greek philosophical climate that believed that the universe (matter and energy) was eternal, and yet the Hebrew writer had claimed, “In the Beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). The doctrine of Creation Ex Nihilo (lit. out of nothing) had been ridiculed by the most respected atheist writers all the way up until the 1920’s and 1930’s when it was first discovered, and has since been overwhelmingly corroborated, that the universe seems to have had a beginning in the finite past some 13.7 billion years ago. What seems more rational to believe? That the universe popped into existence out of nothing without a cause? Or that it had a cause: the universe was created out of nothing just as the Christian Scriptures predicted? As one Christian apologist has put it, it seems a Big Bang needs a Big Banger.[1]

What about what science says about the fine-tuning of the universe? In the first picoseconds of the universe, the time it takes for something travelling at the speed of light to cross the breadth of a hair, roughly 50 universal constants hardwired into the natural laws had to be so finely-tuned, like 50 dials precisely tuned for a combination lock, for the universe to be capable of sustaining life AT ALL. By way of analogy, Professor John Polkinghorne, a brilliant theoretical physicist and the president of Queen’s College, Cambridge, describes the probability of something like this happening by chance with the image of a man taking aim and firing an arrow at a two-inch target on the other side of the known universe, some 20 billion light years away, and hitting the target bull’s-eye. Whether it’s the ratio of gravity, the cosmological constant, the strong or weak nuclear forces, their fine-tuning has not only been perplexing to naturalistic scientists seeking an alternative explanation, but also to figurehead atheists. Christopher Hitchens, before his death two years ago, had said that he found the Fine-Tuning argument for God’s existence most intriguing. Anthony Flew, the Richard Dawkins of a previous generation, gave up his Atheism in favour of Deism (a distant Designer) because he found the scientific evidence for design compelling. On this point Sir Fred Hoyle remarks … “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”[2]

The Christian predictions of a created universe in the finite past and a designed universe capable of sustaining life, these are two claims that have been corroborated by the scientific endeavour as it seeks to describe the mechanism of God as an intelligent agent. There are still questions to be asked and explored, especially around the relationship between human origins and the biological past of our planet. But there are by no means decided in either science or theology. The conversation is fruitful and ongoing.

THE VERDICT: A Match Evident in the Heavens

Over the last three weeks we’ve explored three approaches to science (history, philosophy, results). Although each of these has libraries written concerning them, a brief overview reveals nothing to suggest an inherent conflict between God and science. The war is rather in between two worldviews or explanations of the evidence—theism and naturalism. My contention is the theism generally, and Christianity in particular, not only better undergirds the scientific endeavour but in turn is verified in its claims by the discoveries of science.

Francis Bacon, one of the first thinkers who sought to reconcile the emerging fields of knowledge, described nature and Scripture as God’s two books through which he reveals himself. Both books need to be carefully read. Both books need to be rightly interpreted. And upon this the awed observer will find that science and Scripture, by God’s hand of providence, are a match made evident in the heavens.

Dan Paterson is director of operations at Traverse, and a Pastor at Ashgrove Baptist Church.

[1] Even if one posits Quantum Physics to explain the standard Big Bang Cosmology, the same philosophical argumentation against an infinite regress of causes simply pushes the challenge of origins and fine-tuning one “quantum leap” back (pardon the pun!).

[2] Sir Fred Hoyle, “The Universe: Past and Present Reflections”, Engineering and Science, Nov 1981, 8-12.