Evidence for God
In the land of empirical evidence, science is king. Science employs careful observation and precise measurement of the physical evidence. Inductive reasoning draws these facts together to reveal and expand our knowledge of the physical world.
The revelations of science often are so breathtaking that we forget science’s limitations. For example, science explores and understands only the physical world. Science is unable to study or measure or in any way address non-physical realities such as emotions, values, morals, or beliefs. These non-physical realities can shatter our lives with a devastating, transformational power which science cannot address.
Science also cannot provide absolutes. This includes absolute proof. The inability to produce absolutes is inherent in empirical data and inductive reasoning. Since science consists of empirical data and inductive reasoning, she inherits their shortcomings. Science may predict the possibility of an absolute—such as absolute zero—but a predicted possibility is not an actual absolute.
Thus, science is not a world-view. A world-view provides answers for the ultimate questions of life; absolute answers such as: Who am I? Why do I exist? Is there any meaning to life? Do good and bad, right and wrong exist? Science cannot answer such questions. Science needs a world view to give it meaning and direction.
Atheism believes it can serve that purpose. What are atheism’s answers to these questions. For example, “Who am I?” Atheism says I’m a glob of organic material. Why do I exist? There is no reason or purpose for my existence. The world is dark and empty. Atheists believe love is a lie. Kindness is foolishness. At death I cease to exist. These are some of atheism’s answers. Atheists try to make us believe these are the “scientific” answers to these questions. But that’s a lie.
Christianity has better answers. Who am I? I am a special creation of God. I am made in God’s image. Why do I exist? To bring glory to God. Science is one way to do this. God told us to explore this world. (see Genesis 1: 28 below) As we explore this world every new discovery shows us the incredible complexity of God’s creation. Life is a glorious mystery given to us by God. Exploring these mysteries brings glory to God. What if, one day, we know too much? God is not afraid of that. So we marvel at His magnificent Creation! And with His blessing we explore.
This Christian foundation for science may seem strange to us. Many people believe atheism or materialism are the only world views that can support science. The term “atheistic scientist” seems normal and rational, much to the chagrin of scientists who believe in God. But the beginning of modern science was dominated by Christians. Science was considered a partnership between man and God. God commanded us to fill the earth and subdue it. Science is our obedient response to God’s command. Science is an important tool used by man to explore God’s marvelous universe.
Christians as Scientists
Modern science began as a branch of philosophy called “natural philosophy.” Many scientists during the Middle Ages believed they were doing a work given to them by God. They based their belief on Genesis 1: 28 where God gave this command to Adam:
God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (NAS)
As I said, the earliest scientists in Western history believed in God. Many of the early scientists in Europe were members of the clergy. One early example is Roger Bacon (c. 1220-1292). Bacon was a Franciscan friar. Like any good scientist he made observations and gathered facts. His methods were similar to those of experimental science today. He studied mathematics, optics, astronomy, and chemistry (AKA alchemy). He even described a process for making gunpowder.
Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) was a church official in Poland. He served the church in various capacities but never took holy orders (in other words, he was never ordained). His major work, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres was published in 1543. Copernicus dedicated the book to Pope Paul III. He wrote in Book I of Heavenly Spheres, “I shall try—with the help of God, without Whom we can do nothing—to make a more detailed inquiry concerning them [the planets].”
Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) brought mathematics and physics into the study of astronomy. He was amazed at the mathematical harmonies used by the Creator to build the universe. He wrote in his book Harmonies of the World (1619), “Thou my soul, praise the Lord thy Creator, as long as I shall be: for out of Him and through Him and in Him are all things . . . To Him be praise, honour, and glory, world without end. Amen.”
Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) felt the same way about God. He wrote in Mathematical Principles (1687), “This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being. And if the fixed stars are the centres of other like systems, these, being formed by the like wise counsel, must be all subject to the dominion of one.”
Newton believed that God is the Creator of the universe. God is not part of His Creation. He is separate from it. Newton was not a pantheist. However, he did believe, “He [God] endures forever, and is everywhere present; and, by existing always and everywhere, certainly the Maker and Lord of all things cannot be never and nowhere.”
The universe is built upon natural laws given by its Maker and Lord. These God-given laws are the same everywhere and at all times. This belief in the universality of natural law is a foundation of modern science.
These scientists were not Christians in only name. They fervently believed in the power and presence of God as seen through His universe and its laws.
So what happened?
The Rise of Empirical Science
During the Late Middle Ages and early years of the Enlightenment (around the 15th and 16th Centuries) a great intellectual struggle consumed Europe. For several hundred years the dominant intellectual style was something called scholasticism. In scholasticism, knowledge was gained by appealing to the great, wise authorities of the past.
The knowledge written down by wise men in the past served as the authoritative basis for new knowledge. In Christian lands, the Bible was the foremost of these authorities. Other authorities included early Church fathers and ancient philosophers. Two of the foremost authorities (after the Bible) were Plato and Socrates. But Aristotle surpassed every authority when more of his works were available to Western society. By the end of the Middle Ages, Aristotle held the rank of the greatest philosopher in the ancient world. But many of his discoveries were proven incorrect by later scientists.
The new science was growing. Copernicus, Kepler, Brahe, Newton, Galileo—the list of scientists continued to expand. It seemed nothing could hold it back—except Scholasticism.
When some of these ancient authorities were set aside, science began to grow. For example, in 1210 the natural (physical) works of Aristotle were banned from the University of Paris because Aristotle was a pantheist. The University of Paris was considered the greatest university in that world at that time. Roger Bacon studied at the University of Paris. Thus, in Bacon’s student years the works of Aristotle had less influence on his development. Bacon stands almost alone as a scientist in the 13th Century. This may have been the reason.
When Copernicus demonstrated that the sun is the center of the planets, scholasticism hindered acceptance of this theory. Scientists in the Catholic Church supported his theory. Scholastics hated it. The scholastics argued, “None of the ancient authorities wrote about this. They believed the earth is the center of the universe. Therefore, Copernicus must be wrong.” The Church listened to the scholastics. Copernicus’ books were removed from the index of approved books. His theory was discredited by the scholastics.
Newton came along almost two hundred years later with theories that contradicted Aristotle’s theories. One example is Newton’s laws of motion. Newton’s laws of motion were based on observation. He ignored Aristotle’s laws of motion. Newton’s laws are a foundation for modern science. But Newton lived in England in a later time (17th Century). England split from the Catholic Church more than one hundred years earlier. The Scholastics had less influence in that place and time.
It was time for a change. It was time for scholasticism to go. What would replace it? Science. The day of the Enlightenment was dawning. Science seem right for the times. It was based on empiricism and observation of empirical data. Science was based on reason. It was rational. And so, the new basis for knowledge became science: inductive reasoning applied to empirical data.
The New Science
Francis Bacon (1561-1626) provided the philosophical basis for the new science in his book The New Organon (1620). The book’s first principle set forth the limits of the new science.
Man, being the servant and interpreter of Nature, can do and understand so much and so much only as he has observed in fact or in thought of the course of nature. Beyond this he neither knows anything nor can do anything. (Aphorism I)
Bacon described two ways of “searching into and discovering truth.” The first is deductive reasoning from authoritative principles. This is a definition for scholasticism. The second method is inductive reasoning from data observed by the senses. This is the way of the new science. He wrote in aphorism XIX:
There are and can be only two ways of searching into and discovering truth. The one [scholasticism] flies from the senses and particulars to the most general axioms, and from these principles, the truth of which it takes for settled and immovable, proceeds to judgment and to the discovery of middle axioms. And this way is now in fashion. The other [science] derives axioms from the senses and particulars, rising by a gradual and unbroken ascent, so that it arrives at the most general axioms last of all. This is the true way, but as yet untried.
That was Bacon’s point. Scholasticism was unfit as a process for scientific discovery. The new way of science from observation and inductive reasoning was as yet untried. The time had come for the scientific method to advance. Bacon continued.
It is idle to expect any great advancement in science from the superinducing and engrafting of new things upon old. We must begin anew from the very foundations, unless we would revolve forever in a circle with mean and contemptible progress.
Reason and empirical observation became the cornerstone of modern science. But man does not need God for this. The next, obvious question was forthcoming.
Who Needs God?
Enter the atheists.
In 18th Century Europe, atheism experienced phenomenal growth in size and influence. France was foremost in this regard, producing prominent atheists such as Rousseau, Diderot, and Baron d’Holbach. In 1770, Baron d’Holbach published The System of Nature. One startling new idea in that book is captured by this statement:
Man is the work of nature, and subject to her laws, from which he cannot free himself, nor even exceed in thought. A being formed by nature, he is nothing beyond the great whole of which he forms a part. Beings supposed to be superior to, or distinguished from, nature, are mere chimeras, of which no real idea can be formed.
According to d’Holbach, man is a work of nature, nothing more. Everything man does—his ideas, his works, his passions—are produced from nature. Man cannot know anything outside of nature. Man cannot know God. God is a mere chimera—a mythological monster.
Newton believed the orderliness and precision of nature was a manifestation of God. Atheists accepted Newton’s mathematics but rejected his beliefs. “The universe,” they squawked, “is nothing more than a big machine. No watchmaker or timekeeper is needed to keep the universe running. If God exists, we don’t need Him.” Big words from tiny men.
An atheist medical doctor named Julien Offray de La Mettrie (1709-1751) discovered that animals and plants respond to sensory information. Many plants seek sunlight. Animals have more advanced senses. The senses of higher animals are similar to those of humans. From this observation La Mettrie argued there is no significant difference between animals and man. Man is nothing more than a complex animal.
Despite all the ways in which man is superior to the other animals, putting him in the same class as them is doing him a great honor. The fact is that up to a certain age he is more of an animal than they are, because he is born with less instinct. Which animal would die of hunger in the middle of a river of milk? Man alone!
The Bible states mankind is made in the image of God. La Mettrie asks, “How could this be so? There is no God.” And there is no physical evidence to confirm (or deny) that man is made in the image of God.
Man is a complex machine. According to La Mettrie, only scientists are qualified to explore this machine. Theologians and philosophers get in the way.
Physicians have explored and thrown light on the labyrinth of man; they alone have revealed the springs hidden under coverings that hide so many marvels from our sight. . . .
I repeat: these are the only scientists who have the right to speak on this subject. What could anyone else, especially the theologians, tell us? Isn’t it ridiculous to hear them shamelessly holding forth on a subject they are in no position to understand? . . .
Man is a machine—such a complex machine that it’s initially impossible to get a clear idea of it or to define it.
La Mettrie also believed in the power of atheism to remake the world.
. . . the universe will never be happy unless it is atheistic. . . . If atheism were generally accepted, all the branches of religion would be destroyed, cut off at the roots. No more theological wars, no more soldiers of religion—those dreadful soldiers! Nature, now infected by sacred poison, would get back its rights and its purity. Mortal men, deaf to all other voices, would calmly follow only the spontaneous promptings of their own individual being, which are the only ones that it is dangerous for us to disregard, the only ones that can lead us, along the pleasant paths of virtue, to happiness.
What are these “pleasant paths of virtue?” La Mettrie was a hedonist. He believed “virtue” consisted of limitless self-gratification. Happiness came through satisfying your lusts. But La Mettrie’s hedonism led to an early death.
The Bible says, “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6: 23) La Mettrie proved this to be literally true. In 1748, La Mettrie fled to Prussia and lived under the protection of Frederick the Great. In November 1751, La Mettrie feasted at the home of the French ambassador to Prussia. To show the joy of gluttony, La Mettrie ate a large portion of pâte de faisan aux truffes. Apparently, the pâte was spoiled. La Mettrie died of food poisoning a few days later.
But the damage was done. Atheism provided a world-view for the primitive science of the 18th Century. And if atheism can do this, why bother with religion? It’s easier to succumb to lust than to follow Christ. (see Matthew 7: 13-14)
The Marriage of Atheism and Science
Atheism and primitive modern science seemed a perfect fit. Atheism believed only in the physical world. For atheists there is no other world. If beliefs or values cannot be expressed physically, those beliefs and values do not exist. They are irrational. They are not real.
Emotions must be explained in physical terms. For example, our bodies trick us by attracting us to a person of the other sex. We call it love but there is no such thing. “Love” is nothing more than a dance of hormones for the survival of the species. Love itself does not exist.
Atheism believes only in the physical world. Science limits its exploration to the physical world. These attitudes appear almost identical but in reality they are quite different. Atheism refuses to believe in anything beyond the physical world. Science is limited to the physical world but good scientists make no claim regarding worlds beyond the physical. Non-physical entities, beliefs, values, emotions are beyond the scope of science.
Modern atheism redefined the words reason, reality, and the real. Reality is limited to the physical world. Only the physical world is real. Since the physical world is everything, reason is applied only to this world. But reason is a property of the mind. According to atheism’s way of thinking, reason does not exist. It is not physical. Atheism claims to be a kind of Cult of Reason. In reality, it is only a cult of lies and confusion.
But early modern science and atheism hold similar core beliefs. The term “early modern science” refers to the science that developed beginning in the Late Medieval period and the Renaissance. Early modern science continued to the end of the nineteenth century. What did atheism and this early modern science have in common?
• Reductionism – Early modern science often took a reductionist approach in exploring the world. Think about it. How can science begin to study complex systems such as the human body or the weather? It’s easiest to break the complex system into small pieces. Each of these small parts can be examined in detail. This method helps us understand the whole.
For example, one way to begin a study of the human body is to study each system one at a time. First study the heart; then the lungs; then the stomach; and so on. This is a reductionist approach for studying complex systems.
Atheism is reductionist in approach but it goes one step further. Atheism crosses into reductionism. Reductionism is a philosophical interpretation of facts. It is part of a belief system. According to John Polkinghorne, (see http://inters.org/reductionism)
A reductionist believes that a complex system is nothing but the sum of its parts. An account of it can be reduced to accounts of individual constituents. An antireductionist believes that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. There are holistic properties that cannot be described in purely constituent terms.
Scientists may be reductionist for the purpose of studying a complex system. Atheism use reductionism as part of their belief system. Atheists realize the works of God are extremely complex. Complexity leads us to wonder when we consider God’s great creation. Atheists use reductionism to destroy the wonder.
• Materialism – Science is a method for studying the physical world. It’s realm is the material world. This is not because matter is the source of all truth. Rather it’s because science by definition is limited to the physical world. So, when a scientist says he cannot prove the existence of God, he is not saying that God does not exist. The ability to prove the existence of God is beyond the scientist’s ability.
Atheists, as you might expect, take this a step further. Atheists are materialists. They believe in materialism. Yes, it’s a belief system. Materialism states that the physical world is the only world that exists.
In other words, the only things that exist are those you can see, feel, smell, touch, taste, hear, or entities proven by science (such as radio waves, atoms, magnetism, etc.) There are no spirits or spiritual worlds. Even emotions can be explained by interactions of chemicals in your brain in this very material world.
Scientists are limited to the physical world. Atheists cannot see beyond the physical world. Scientists gaze intently into the physical world. Atheist are afraid to look anywhere else.
• Inductive Reasoning – There are two types of reasoning—deductive and inductive. Deductive reasoning starts with established statements of fact and uses them to draw a conclusion. Inductive reasoning starts with evidence. Conclusions are drawn from this evidence.
Science, obviously, is based on inductive reasoning. Scientists start with the evidence. They discover more information about the evidence through a series of experiments. After repeated experiments the scientists are ready to draw some conclusions.
There is one huge weakness with inductive reasoning—it does not provide absolute proof. Inductive reasoning is used to form and refine theories. But theories always need to be open to further refinement.
Atheists go beyond scientists. They use inductive reasoning to define every aspect of their reality. Their entire reality consists of matter and material evidence. This sort of evidence is open to inductive reasoning. Atheists have no proof for their metaphysical claims (such as God does not exist or matter is the only reality). They accept these beliefs by faith.
These common core beliefs bound science and atheism together. But then something happened. Science started to mature. Science no longer is in its infancy. God is making a comeback. Science is growing up. Her vision is improving. Science now is beginning to see well enough to make out the shadow of God.
God Makes a Comeback
Something changed during the Twentieth Century. Science was able to reach further in every direction. New visual telescopes and radio telescopes, both those on the ground and those in space, exponentially increased our ability to see the stars. Physicists added to this knowledge using math. The best know example is Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
Einstein’s relativity and the Big Bang theory transformed our understanding of the universe. The Theory of Relativity changed what we thought we knew about time, space, gravity, and other parts of the universe. The Big Bang Theory resulted in an even bigger change. Science proved the universe is not infinite or eternal. Our universe started once long ago. Someone (or something) had to start it.
Science continued to look at very small things. Atoms grew in complexity throughout the century. Then the atom was split. Atomic energy was born. Quantum mechanics turned upside down everything we know about very small things.
Biology also is coming of age. Great advances resulted from the ability to look into a single cell at the molecular level. The discovery of DNA demonstrated the incredible complexity in a cell. Could this complexity happen through random interaction between atoms, chance, and natural selection? It takes a lot of faith to believe in Darwinian evolution.
The most recent scientific discoveries provide powerful evidence for the existence of God. Although the evidence does not rise to the level of proof (certainty), the quantity and quality of the evidence convinces many people that God exists.
Science is growing up. It has outgrown reductionism. Materialism is strained as the barrier between the physical and the metaphysical becomes more difficult to define. Science is able to see further now. She sees well enough to glimpse the shadow of God.