Looking at Science to Find God?

Looking at Science to Find God? January 2, 2015
Source: Wikipedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

First, Eric Metaxas explains at The Wall Street Journal how scientific discoveries are pointing towards the existence of God:

Today there are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart. Without a massive planet like Jupiter nearby, whose gravity will draw away asteroids, a thousand times as many would hit Earth’s surface. The odds against life in the universe are simply astonishing.

Yet here we are, not only existing, but talking about existing. What can account for it? Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident? At what point is it fair to admit that science suggests that we cannot be the result of random forces? Doesn’t assuming that an intelligence created these perfect conditions require far less faith than believing that a life-sustaining Earth just happened to beat the inconceivable odds to come into being?

This is familiar territory for anyone who is at least marginally conversant in Christian apologetics, intelligent design, and other subjects. Though the piece is too brief and too general to be considered a genuine “argument” for theism, it is an exercise in what Christian philosophers would call an “argument from Design.” Metaxas uses inductive reasoning to point out that scientific data about the unique life-supporting characteristics of our planet and solar system suggests that such an environment did not come about by chance. “The greatest miracle of all time,” Metaxas concludes, “is the universe itself.”

Francis Beckwith, though, isn’t moved. In fact, he worries that this kind of reasoning may backfire against Christians:

But is this the right way to think about God as Creator? Is the rational basis for believing in His existence really dependent on the deliverances of modern science? Should one calibrate the depth of one’s faith on the basis of what researchers tell us about the plausibility of the “God hypothesis” in recent issues of the leading peer-reviewed science journals? The answer to all three question is no, since God is not a scientific hypothesis.

A few points:

1) Beckwith appears to be reading a lot into Metaxas’s relatively brief piece. He accuses Metaxas of unwittingly “conced[ing] to the atheist his mistaken assumption that the rationality of belief in God depends on the absence of a scientific account of whatever phenomenon is in question.” I’m not convinced at all Metaxas has done such a thing.

Beckwith’s accusation seems to depend on the assumption that one cannot ascribe causality without making causality itself the reason for belief. But surely that’s an unnecessary assumption. If I were diagnosed with terminal cancer, I would urgently request that everyone I know pray for a miracle of healing. If I were indeed miraculously cured, I would (I hope!) ascribe that healing to God. Obviously, such a testimony would in no way imply that God is more real because he healed my cancer, only that I and many others had now experienced a spectacular evidence of something we already believed true. In other words, discovering the spectacularly unique nature of our cosmos does not need to be a vindication for theism in order to be a meaningful manifestation of it.

2) It’s possible that what Beckwith most strongly objects to is the language of “make the case,” eg, the notion that scientific study ever puts forth a “proof” for God. Admittedly, when it comes to Christianity and faith, adopting the vocabulary of the Enlightenment is usually not the best course. However, any discussion about this should carefully consider Romans 1. In that familiar passage, Paul, discussing the scope of mankind’s rebellion against its Creator, intensifies the cosmic treason of unbelief by magnifying the imprint that God has left on Creation:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.[ESV]

“So they are without excuse” is a significant sentence. Whatever else Paul might mean by declaring that God’s attributes are “clearly perceived” in the created world, he plainly teaches that this knowledge, this natural revelation, serves an epistemologically judicial function: It renders unbelief inexcusable. Paul believes that the natural world is an unalterably persuasive evidence of God, so much so that to persist in unbelief (as human beings do) is nothing less than “suppressing the truth.”

The implication of this is that the truth about the universe always points to its Creator, whether or not its inhabitants acknowledge the fact. Beckwith is worried that Metaxas’s apologetic method leaves God at the mercy of the academic sciences. That concern is valid but, in this instance, misplaced.

3) As a philosophy graduate, I really want to cheer Beckwith’s elevation of philosophical inquiry over scientific discovery. I think he’s absolutely correct that the sturdiest road towards theism is the philosophical one. But again, I think he’s knocking down an argument that Metaxas doesn’t intend to make. Nothing in Metaxas’s article suggests that science should be the “starting point” for theism. To go back to my miraculous cure, it is not inconsistent at all to believe that God is real whether or not He heals terminal cancer and also to proclaim such instances of healing as genuine manifestations of God’s reality.

The Resurrection is a good example here. Christ was alive before He appeared to the Apostles. The Apostles believed He was dead before they saw Him alive, which Jesus later attributes to their lack of faith. Yet in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul, explaining the Gospel, makes a point of saying that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to “more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.” The point of mentioning that most of those witnesses to the resurrected Jesus are still alive is clearly to inspire the Corinthian readers to seek those people out. Of course, the eyewitness reports are not why Jesus is alive, nor are they the central reason Christians believe in Jesus today (since no such eyewitness have existed for 2,000 years). The New Testament simply is not interested in the hard dichotomies between faith and evidence that contemporary believers often create

In sum, I think Beckwith has read much more into Metaxas’s article than is there. I actually agree with both writers and find no meaningful disharmony between them.



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