We are beginning a short sermon series this morning addressing some of the objections that people have to the Christian faith. This morning, we are looking at the question: How can we believe in a Creator God in a scientific age? It’s an important question in our culture, isn’t it? Many people these days would say that science has done away with the need for God. Celebrities on TV, in newspapers, and even on the side of buses, argue passionately that evolution has done away with the need for a God who created us – – you may even have made this argument yourself! As scientific discoveries reveal more and more detail about our bodies, about our world, and about the universe, it seems to many that there is less room for God.
This was also an important question for me personally. 20 years ago, I had just left home to start a science degree at university, specializing in chemistry and geology. I loved (and still love) science – particularly the way it helps us to understand what we see around us. As an eighteen-year-old student, without really having done much research on the matter, it seemed clear to me that belief in a God is simply superstition – a million miles away from the careful scientific study I loved.
So the first thing that surprised me at university was how many Christians I met. Intelligent men and women, many of them fellow science students, who understood just as much about the world as I did, and yet had and still have a clear faith in a creator God. Friends who went on to achieve PhDs in scientific subjects, some of whom still work in scientific research 20 years later.
This finding, that there are many scientists who are also Christians, was not unique to my university course. There were a number of academic studies in the late 20th Century that found similar results: when scientists were surveyed, the number expressing a belief in a personal God was about the same as those who claimed to be atheists. Clearly, when we look at the evidence, we see that there is no barrier to being a scientist and also believing in God.
It seems to me that most objections from scientists to God’s existence come down to the question of evidence. It might be summarised as, “Science has not shown any evidence that God exists, so I have no reason to believe that he does”. I’d like to take a moment to explain why I think that this argument is incorrect – firstly on a logical level, and secondly because there is evidence for God’s existence.
It’s surprisingly difficult to get agreement on a definition of exactly what science is. Most would agree, though, that it starts with the collection of evidence. Something is measured, the measurement is repeated to make sure that it is valid, and a theory is developed to explain those measurements. To take a simple example, according to legend, Isaac Newton watched an apple fall from a tree. Presumably, this was not just one apple, either: unless there are strong winds, apples and other objects will always fall downwards from a height. So, Sir Isaac developed the theory of a gravitational force which directs objects downwards towards the earth. This theory was then tested against other situations, such as the motion of the planets, and was found to be consistent with the observed movements, so that the theory became widely accepted.
Why can’t we do the same thing with God? We could observe our universe, see if there are any observations which can’t be explained by other means, and then we would have evidence for God’s existence. This idea has been a popular response to the rise of science: “ah yes” someone would say, “biochemistry might explain how the cells of your body work now, but it doesn’t explain how those cells came into being. That must be the work of God.” It is often assumed by atheists that this is how Christians view the interaction of God and science. The idea can be summarized as the “God of the gaps” theory – evidence for God is found in the gaps between the areas of scientific knowledge. The result is that, as the areas of science have expanded, the gaps between them have shrunk, so that God appears hardly relevant at all.
The underlying problem with this theory, as with many failed scientific theories, is that it makes incorrect assumptions. For example, it treats God’s activity as being in competition with other processes in our universe, as if they are mutually exclusive. A Creator God, who made the entire universe, must also have made the physical laws by which it operates. He doesn’t stop being Creator just because we are able to describe the law of gravity. Secondly, it puts God on the same plane as the material world of the universe – it says that, if God exists, we must be able to measure him, to observe him, to touch him. However, any Creator God must exist at least partly outside of the universe he created. Even if we could find no evidence at all for God, it would only mean that he had not entered into the universe he made. At most, we would be agnostic about God’s existence.
Now, of course, none of this means that a Creator God does exist, let alone that we were created by the God whom Christians follow. It’s still an important question though – it’s going to affect everything we understand about our universe and about our place in it. In an age where we meet all sorts of different world views, why should we believe in God and how do we know what should we believe?
Our Bible passages this morning claim that we can be sure that God exists and we can know what he is like. Not because we are clever and can work him out, but because God has revealed himself to us in three different ways. Three ways that we can answer that question: how can we believe in God in an age of science?
Firstly, God has revealed himself in Creation. You may know the argument that creation is like a pocket watch found lying on a hillside, whose intricate detail points to the existence of a creator, a watchmaker. It is a view that Richard Dawkins addresses in his book, The Blind Watchmaker. The claim of the Bible, though, is that our creator God is not a watchmaker, blind or otherwise, who has made the universe and wound it up, and left it to run itself. No, the Bible claims that God is constantly active in Creation, running it and sustaining it. There is an on-going relationship between God and the things he has made.
And so, in Psalm 148, all of creation is called to acknowledge God and to praise him. The scale of the Psalm is comprehensive: the heavenly host of angels, the celestial grandeur of the sun, moon and stars, and the heavens themselves are called to give praise to God for his work in creation. And then the response comes from the earth: the mountains, forests, wild and domestic animals all praise God. Last of all mankind, from the greatest to the least, made in God’s image, are called to praise God for his greatness.
Note that there is no mention her of how God created, of the timescales. That is irrelevant – as Creator, God is in charge of the universe, whatever the process concerned. Rather, it is God’s authority in creation which is most evident in the Psalm. God commanded, and everything was created. There is no part of God’s creation where God’s authority does not extend. And there is no splendour in creation that can match the splendour of God.
So, the next time that you are walking to the top of a hill and see a magnificent view, it should remind you that it was created by a God who is more magnificent still. It’s a motivation that works for scientists, too. As we learn more about our creation, whichever aspect we are studying, it should prompt us to worship God more, not less.
Secondly, God has spoken in the Old Testament. Hebrews 1:1-3 tells us that “in the past God spoke through the prophets at many times and in various ways”. While the knowledge of God that can be obtained from creation is a general passive one, available to all people, this verse is talking about a much more active communication by God.
“At many times and in various ways” here is somewhat of an understatement – as we read through the Old Testament, we see that God spoke to Joseph in the form of seemingly bizarre allegorical dreams. He spoke to Moses through a bush that was on fire and yet never burned up. He spoke to Balaam through the donkey he was riding. The list goes on: fleeces of wool wet one day and dry the next, writing appearing on the wall during a crowded dinner party. Strange dreams and even stranger interpretations.
I’ve heard and read objections from atheists that such events are impossible, and so cannot be believed. A bush cannot be on fire without being consumed – the fuel must be consumed to provide the fire. But I think that rather misses the point. When the Creator of the universe is speaking, he is not bound by the rules that he put in place for the universe. Indeed, if the miraculous element of these encounters was removed, then it would be all too easy to dismiss the presence of God altogether.
I’ve been married for 12 years. Imagine if, during that time, I lived according to a predictable timetable: I got up at the same time every day, spent the same amount of time in the shower, ate the same breakfast cereal, left for work at the same time, and so on. Imagine too, that I only ever said the exact same things to my wife, day in, day out. The same conversation every day. Now, for some people, the idea of such predictability might appeal, but I really don’t think it would be much of a marriage. There would be no room for relationship, for interaction.
And so it is with God. By and large, the universe he created runs along regular repeatable patterns. The same physical laws apply day in, day out. The speed of light in a vacuum is always just less than 3 x 108 m/s. The gravitational constant is always 6.67 x 10-11 Nm2/kg2. God is a god of order, not chaos. But he has made us for a relationship with him, so sometimes he has communicated with us in ways that break the usual pattern of events.
Over a period of some two thousand years, God revealed himself to the people that he had chosen. Different individuals, in different situations, but providing a consistent insight into the character of God. These revelations are recorded for us in the Old Testament of the Bible, so that we can know God as well.
Thirdly, and finally, God has revealed himself in the form of his Son. Jesus is the exact representation of the Father, yet lived among us in human form. He freely admitted to being God, claiming that he and the Father are one, and that he had come to do his Father’s work. His divine nature was demonstrated by the miracles he performed, culminating in his own resurrection from the dead. I’ve already said that God is not a part of our universe, and so cannot be subjected to scientific investigation. The amazing claim of the Christian faith, though, is that 2,000 years ago, you could have done just that. You could have measured, observed and tested God.
Of course, that’s no longer true now. Where does it leave us? Well, once again, we have the evidence written down for us, in the gospel accounts of the New Testament. Eye witnesses who were there with Jesus, who saw the miracles he performed, have documented it specifically so that people like us get to share in that experience. The gospel writer Luke, who was a doctor by training, explains it in the opening verses of his gospel account, which he dedicates to his friend Theophilus: Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
We shouldn’t think that this is somehow less rigorous than a scientific experiment. In fact, science relies on the reporting of others, in peer-reviewed journal accounts, in order to make progress. If a scientist had to verify every single background principle for himself every time he wanted to carry out an experiment, nothing would ever get done, and no progress would be made! Even if, in theory, it might be possible to replicate an earlier experiment to verify its results, in practice this is next to impossible. Scientists working with DNA are highly unlikely to have the skills, the time, or the equipment to replicate Rosalind Franklin’s important crystal structure, but will still routinely make use of the double helix structure she demonstrated.
What matters is the reputation of the work we are following. Did the original author know what they were talking about? Have others been in agreement? The same questions apply to historical documents such as the 1st century gospel accounts. We find that the gospel writers were supremely well qualified to describe the life of Jesus, and their accounts were readily accepted by their contemporaries. The evidence for Jesus’ life and works is extensive, far more so than any other historical figure.
We haven’t got time today to go into this topic in detail, but I’d recommend some further reading if this is of interest. One of my favourite books on the subject is ‘The Case for Christ’. It’s written by Lee Strobel, a man who used to be an investigate journalist for the Chicago Tribune. He set out to show that the claims of the Christian faith could not be trusted, and ended up being converted himself.
How can we believe in a Creator God in a scientific age? Because we have evidence of God’s existence – most importantly, in the person of Jesus. Evidence that withstands scientific scrutiny. We will never know everything about God in this lifetime, but we can be certain of what he has revealed to us.