“Is God or science the more rational way to explain the universe? Are they inevitably opposed ways of understanding why we are here?”
By Pierce Rosney, St John Fisher High School, Harrogate
First, I would like to start by saying the issue is not science versus religion. The real issue is at a deeper level: it’s a world view issue. The problem is not science itself, but certain conclusions that scientists have reached when it comes to the big questions. The more appropriate question is, I think: Which world view does science and rationality fit better? The theistic world view or the naturalistic and materialistic world view?
It’s extremely important to note that there are scientists on both sides of this debate. An interesting fact is that half of all Nobel Prize winners have been theists. Another example of this is that the two people directing the human genome project were Jim Watson, an atheist and Francis Collins, a Christian. To understand science better we must go back to its origin and realise that most of the pioneers of modern science were Christians. Their faith did not hinder their study of science but provided a motivation for it. As C S Lewis famously said: “Men became scientific because they expected Law in Nature, and they expected Law in Nature because they believed in a Law Giver.” People might argue that they were theists because that was the trend of their time, but I would ask why they did not become atheists when they started to make great scientific discoveries. People ask you to choose between science and God because they have a wrong understanding of both God and science. They have a primitive and pagan view of God and they think that Christians believe in the ‘God of the gaps’, such as the god of the Babylonians, who was used to explain things unknown, such as the sea, the weather and the sun. No, we believe in the God of the Bible, the eternal creator and sustainer of the universe. When science makes progress, the ‘God of the gaps’ disappears but the ‘God of the Bible’ is praised.
The second point that these atheist scientists misunderstand is the nature of explanation. John Lennox, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, provides a small illustration. He asks: “Why is the water boiling? Is it because the particles are being agitated? No, it is because I want a cup of tea!” It is clear that, as well as a scientific explanation, we must also have a personal agent explanation. We therefore don’t need to choose between science and God; they are different types of explanations.
On another note, I think it is very important that we recognize that science has limits. As the biologist Sir Peter Medawar stated: “The existence of a limit to science is made clear by its inability to answer childlike elementary questions, such as: “How did everything begin? What are we all here for?”” Some scientists do not acknowledge this truth and take science to an absurd extreme. Bertrand Russell once said: “Whatever knowledge is attainable must be attained by scientific methods, and what science cannot discover, mankind cannot know.” The mathematician, John Lennox, maintained: “Mr Russell was quite the logician, but logic left him when he stated this.” Indeed, his statement was not a scientific one and therefore, following his own logic, it should not be acknowledged. But science has indeed a limit – we cannot reduce questions of meaning to science and physics. Taking the illustration of the boiling water once again, through scientific methods we can discover how the tea was made but we can never discover why it was made. We need the personal agent explanation for this, and for us Christians, we find it in the words of the Bible.
I would now like to turn your attention in a different direction and talk about fine tuning and how this points us directly to the Creator God. This has often been referenced by atheists as one of the strongest arguments made by theists. The fundamental idea is that the basic constants of nature must be in an extremely tight range for carbon life to exist. Very simple examples of this are: if the earth were slightly closer to or further from the sun than it currently is, life on earth would not be possible. Another example of this is that if the earth’s axis were tilted in a slightly different direction, we would burn to death in the day and freeze at night. Isaac Newton stated: “Don’t doubt the Creator because it is inconceivable that accidents alone could be the controller of this universe.” Or as Johannes Kepler, a brilliant mathematician, wrote: “The chief aim of all investigations of the external world should be to discover the rational order and harmony that has been imposed on it by God and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics.” To ‘do science’ you must have total faith in the absolute rationality of the universe, but why have such faith if the universe is the product of mindless and accidental processes?
On a final note, I would like to look deeper into ‘Darwin’s doubt’. Indeed Charles Darwin, the father of the theory of evolution, who used so aggressively to argue against the existence of God, stated: “But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.” As the American philosopher, Thomas Nagel said: “Evolutionary naturalism implies that we shouldn’t take any of our convictions seriously, including the scientific world picture on which evolutionary naturalism itself depends.” Atheism ultimately undermines the validity of the very rationality we need, not only for science, but for any thinking whatsoever. I find the fact that atheists trust so deeply in the rationality of the mind (brain) which is for them ‘the end product of a mindless uncontrolled process’, contradictory. You must have faith in the absolute rationality of the brain and universe to ‘do science’ in the first place. With a naturalistic world view, I find no reason for such faith.
I would like to conclude with the following: we must be very careful that we do not act as if God, science and rationality were somehow opposed. We must understand that depending on your world view, you can reach opposite conclusions with the same scientific data. In fact, with what I have just argued, it appears that atheism taken to its logical conclusions implodes on itself. The world view of theism is perfectly congruent with the rational mind which we possess and the universe we observe.
To end with some words by Paul the Apostle: “For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” The choice is ultimately yours. Are you going to put your faith in God or in what some scientists have claimed, based upon their materialistic world view?