Science and the Existence of God

Do you believe in God?

Have you ever been put in the spotlight and asked just that question?

640px-Lisa_on_the_witness_stand

You are on the spot now – What say you?

With biting humor, Bill Maher looked at modern belief in God in his 2008 documentary, Religulous. It is cleverly made, but quite often uncomfortable to watch. Why would any educated, intelligent person in the twenty-first century believe in God any more than they would believe in Santa Claus, Zeus, or a Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Can a Reasonable, Rational, Science-believing Person Believe in God?

 Common Arguments for the Existence of God

  • First cause argument: why is there something rather than nothing? Everything in existence was “caused” by something or someone. God is the “first cause” of everything and he started the chain of all other causes. This argument actually predates Christianity – it was proposed by Aristotle in the fourth century B.C.
  • Design argument: the universe displays intricate and complex design. Just as a complex machine or a fantastic example of architecture points to the existence of its designer, the universe also points to a designer (God).
  • If you can imagine it, then it is so: if it is possible for God to exist, then he exists. (I know- doesn’t make a lot of sense. This isn’t a very popular argument).
  • Love is real: and so is morality, beauty, and loyalty. The non-physical aspects of life cannot be completely explained in a purely materialistic way. There is a reality (God) that is not material or physical.
  • Logic argument: some things are always true and this truth does not depend on human minds. This argument says that things like logic, science, and ethics do not make sense in the absence of God.

The sometimes uncomfortable truth is this: we cannot absolutely prove God’s existence. None of these arguments settles the case once and for all. Some of the arguments are flawed.

All the same, reasons for belief in God can be meaningfully discussed and taken as evidence that he exists.

The Problem of Evil

How can a good, loving, and all-powerful God allow evil and suffering in the world?

 Of all the challenges to faith, few are greater and have caused more believers to abandon their faith than the problem of evil (The Language of Science and Faith, p. 127).

Actually, the problem of evil is a conundrum for both believers and nonbelievers.

For nonbelievers, the problem is truth. If truth is not absolute, then there is no absolute morality. “Right and wrong” are simply artifacts of culture and human social development. In the absence of an absolute morality, no one can complain about the unfairness of any kind of suffering or injustice….it just is what it is.

For believers, the problem is inconsistency. Believers must reconcile the apparent conflict between a loving, all powerful God in charge of a world filled with Holocausts, human trafficking, terrorists, disease, and natural disasters.

The Problem of Human Evil

Humans are free-willed beings. From a Christian perspective, free will is a gift from God that gives meaning to life. We were not created as programmed robots that act in a predetermined way. We can choose to accept the love of God – or not. Free will also means that humans are a primary source of evil in the world. Humans are free to choose murder, theft, torture, trafficking, and lies.

Only an actual choice – real freedom – can give us a genuine relationship with God. But with real freedom, evil is always an option.

The Problem of Evil in Nature
plague

Yersinia pestis

Disasters  in the natural world cause untold suffering. Polio cripples and malaria kills. People die in tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods.

And on a daily basis, vipers have poison, bees sting, mosquitoes bite, and cats torture their prey before they kill it. Predator and prey in the animal kingdom, where death and suffering are ironically the way of life.

Some Christians do back-bends with their theology in order to reconcile the violence of nature with a good Creator God and the perfection of Eden. A popular explanation is that no animals were carnivores prior to the sins of Adam and Eve in the garden.

We have to suppose that every animal on the planet had its way of life dramatically transformed by the curse. Sharp teeth and poison glands – and the genetic code to produce them – had to pop into existence, since animals were now going to start killing each other for the first time (Language of Science and Faith, p. 131).

vegitarian lion

Quite simply, there is just no evidence in the fossil record of carnivore-style teeth suddenly appearing – and teeth fossilize very well. Additionally, natural laws such as gravity, force, and tectonic plate movement must be suspended in order to support the supposition of a perfect, nonviolent world: no animal deaths from falls, no squishing an insect with a carelessly placed hoof, no earthquakes or volcanoes.

Overwhelmingly, it is clear that death, suffering, and natural disasters were commonplace billions of years before humans appeared.

 The Problem of Evil and Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design (ID) is an explanation of origins that is touted as an alternative to evolution. The Intelligent Design argument says that the exquisite and complex features of creation point to a Designer (understood to be God) who individually designed each component of the natural world. Intelligent Design highlights helpful components of nature such as the human eye, the human blood clotting mechanism, and interesting things like the “cute” little motorboat-like flagellum of bacteria (p. 132).

Intelligent Design proponents, however, do not talk about the more sinister “designs” in nature: the incredibly well-designed and successful AIDS virus or the really efficient bacteria that killed millions with plague. And then there is the especially charming species of wasp that lays its eggs in a caterpillar. When they hatch, the baby wasps nourish themselves by eating the internal organs of their hosts in the order that ensures their hosts live as long as possible (Language of Science and Faith, p.130).

Some have suggested that Satan is responsible for the creation of the distasteful things in nature, but this is elevating Satan to the level of creator (p. 133).

I can’t go there.

How Might Evolution Help Faith?

By faith we believe that all creative power comes from God, but this power can be wielded by nature to form, build, shape, and create. Tides, rivers, wind, even gravity are constantly forming and reforming the earth.

In the most minute sphere of the physical world – the subatomic level – things really get interesting. Identical electrons will “choose” to behave in different ways. This behavior is random and is not predictable.

…many processes in nature exhibit a genuine unpredictability that looks, for all the world, like freedom (p. 134).

Analogous to the freedom given by God to humans is the freedom given by God to all creation. God does not micromanage human behavior, and the result is that we humans abuse our freedom and bad things happen. Bad choices are the result of autonomy. Likewise, God does not micromanage nature. In its autonomy, nature will produce some bad designs (from a human perspective).

Humans and nature have been granted freedom by their Creator – neither are programmed robotic creations.

So why doesn’t God intervene? No one can explain why God doesn’t stop great evils like the Holocaust. No one can resolve the problem of when and why God chooses to intervene in human history or in nature.

It does help, however, to realize that genuine freedom – the very real freedom that allows us to love God – has to allow evil.

If God constantly intervened and blocked the consequences of the moral choices of humans every time they lead to evil, moral responsibility would disappear (p.140). We would be free to lash out, harm, and even murder those who anger us, confident that God would swoop in and undo the results of our wrath.

If God constantly intervened and blocked the consequences of natural laws, our world would be unpredictable and science wouldn’t work.

Moral Laws and God

Just as some use evil to argue against the existence of God, the unfairness of evil can be interpreted as support for God’s existence. Whenever we complain about the unfairness of a situation like cheating, bigotry, or third world debt, we are appealing to some sort of higher standard – the way things “should be”. If we are nothing more than an assemblage of chemicals, why should it matter?  One molecule owes nothing to other molecules. Our moral sense of right and wrong transcends our material selves.

It has been suggested that our moral selves evolved as our big brains evolved. It is true that caring and helpfulness and other positive traits are beneficial and could have evolved to aid human survival. It is entirely possible that God could have used natural processes to produce moral standards in humans, but there is currently no compelling theory for this (Language of Science and Faith, p. 143).

The prevalence and universality of moral standards is completely consistent with the existence of God. 

If we accept the reality of such moral laws, then we must ask about their origins. God is a reasonable conclusion to such exploration (Language of Science and Faith, p. 144).

Evolution Helps Faith – Really

The subject of evolution makes a lot of Christians really nervous. Many smart, thoughtful believers consciously avoid even investigating evolution for fear that science is corrosive to faith.

In addressing the age-old question of “how can a good God exist when there is so much evil in the world”, science is a positive. Evil, both human and natural, are the results of the freedom in creation. God is not the cause of evil.

Our universe appears to have a beginning. It appears to be fine-tuned for life. Our universe appears to have a place for love and purpose. To deny the existence of God is to say that the universe is not really as it appears – it’s all an illusion.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Psalm 14:1

This series is a chapter by chapter discussion of The Language of Science and Faith by Karl W. Giberson and Francis S. Collins, with my commentary and my observations.

****************
I believe that the heavens declare the glory of God.
I believe that day after day the cosmos pours forth speech and night after night the cosmos reveals knowledge.
I trust that the evidence and knowledge that is revealed is true because the Creator of the cosmos is Truth.

One response

  1. Pingback: Science or Faith – Do We Have to Choose? « Janet K. Ray

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