Saturday, April 26, 2014

Has Science Buried God?

I had the privilege of attending the Pensmore Dialogues at Patrick Henry College on April, 4 and hearing Dr. John Lennox speak on the topic “Has Science Buried God?”, a common claim of skeptics today.  What follows is a brief summary of his lecture.

Those who would argue that we have no more need of God because of science may be somewhat confused regarding the matter.  The reason for this is that there are several areas of confusion about the subject.

First, there is the charge that the conflict is between science and religion.  But is that where the conflict really lies?  No.  This is the first area in which there is confusion.  The conflict is not between science and religion, but actually about the nature of ultimate reality.  On the one side is the worldview of materialism - the universe is all there is, was or will be.  On the other is theism - there is more to reality than mass/energy.  The reason the conflict is not between science and religion is because science grew out of a religious cultural foundation – medieval Christianity.  The early fathers of science believed they would find law in nature because there was order in the universe, the result of creation by a natural Lawgiver.

There are those that argue that belief in God is a delusion, like our childhood beliefs in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, etc.  But is that really the case?  How many people have come to believe in Santa Claus when they were adults?  But how many millions have come to believe in God as adults.  There are also arguments from psychology.  Religious belief is the result of a delusion that comes from a wish fulfillment for a father figure.  But can’t that argument be reversed and applied to atheism as well?  Is it possible that atheism is the result of a delusion that comes from a wish fulfillment that one does not want to have to answer to any ultimate authority?

Second, there is confusion over the nature and identity of God.  Some argue with the school yard rhetoric akin to “my dad can beat up your dad” by saying “we’re all atheists, I just lack belief in one god more than you.”  For others, the central dilemma comes down to “who created the creator?”  But upon examination, we find that the ancient gods are profoundly different from the God of theism.  The ancient gods were the product of some activity within the universe.  But the understanding of the Christian God, as revealed in the Bible, is that He is not a created being, He is a necessary, self-existent being.  Everything - all matter, energy and space - is contingent on His existence.  He is not a god of the gaps, a place holder for something we cannot explain.  He is in fact the God of both what we do understand and what we do not understand.  He is the God of the whole show.

Third, there is confusion about the nature of scientific explanation.  Some would say that science is the only way to determine what is true.  But this is an example of a statement that fails its own test.  If it is true, then it had to be determined scientifically.  But how can it be scientifically determined that science is necessary to determine what is true? 

And what do we mean by the “nature” of scientific explanation?  Just exactly how does science explain gravity?  Well, it does a great job of mathematically describing the effects of gravity and how objects behave when subjected to gravitational forces.  But what exactly is gravity?  What about energy?  We can measure it, quantify it, predict it, describe how it’s created and used, but what exactly is energy?  We know they are “forces”, but no one knows what they are.  We must remember that there is a difference between explanations of function and explanations of purpose.  Even school children know the difference when asked to choose between automotive engineering principles and the workings of an internal combustion engine or Henry Ford when explaining the existence of a Model T motor car.

This confusion also effects the “who created the creator” question, which is a complex question, that is a question that has hidden assumptions.  In this case, the assumption is that the creator is himself a created being.

A classic example of this type of confusion is Stephen Hawking’s statement, ‘Because there is a law of gravity, the universe can and will create itself out of nothing.”  For one thing, to say there is something, a law of gravity, is in direct contradiction to nothing.  The law of gravity is not no-thing, nor is a quantum vacuum.  Likewise, to say that x creates x, presupposes the existence of x to explain the creation of x.  The laws of nature depend on the existence of the nature they describe in order to explain their own existence.  This all leads us to the logical conclusion that nonsense is still nonsense, even if spoken by the world’s brightest scientists.

Finally, there is confusion over the nature of faith.  Every scientist has a faith that is essential to their work in science.  That faith is trust based on the evidence.  Scientists have faith in the regularities of nature and the applicability of mathematics.

There are those who are working hard to redefine faith as believing in something for which there is no evidence.  But this is simply a modern rhetorical ploy.  They will also point to Jesus’ statement to Thomas in the Gospel of John as evidence that belief is really a blind faith.  Because he saw Jesus, he believed.  But blessed are those who have not seen, yet have believed.  You see, there it is, blind faith.  There are two problems with this.  First, seeing is only one type of evidence and second, read the next few verses.  The whole book of John is written to be evidence. 

Ultimately, the issue can be boiled down to the question about what is at the root of our being.  For the atheist, mass/energy is primary and mind is a derivative of that.  For the theist, mind is primary and mass/energy derives its existence from mind. Two Biblical statements demonstrate this relationship: “In the beginning was the Word (the Logos, purpose, meaning)” and “…and God said…”  God has given us the immeasurable dignity of being created in His image, with the curiosity and intellect to ask questions and explore creation.  Perhaps it is time to begin life’s biggest adventure: getting to know the Creator revealed to us through the Son.

That you may know, Roger

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