They may not know it, but all scientists, in effect, believe in God.
They have to in order to do their work. That’s the claim.
It may seem very cheeky to include atheists and agnostics. But sometimes, by their actions, people let slip that in a sense they know things that they say they don’t believe in. An adulterer may well say that there is not another woman, but the perfume on his collar tells a different story. What scientists actually do in their work of research and scientific method means they act as if God is there.
Yes, if you believe in a ‘God of the gaps’, a God merely there to account for the present voids in scientific explanation, then of course, as science advances and there become fewer and fewer gaps, the role of God diminishes.
But if, as Professor John Lennox of Oxford was quoted as saying in The Times last year, ‘He’s not the God of the gaps, but the God of the whole show’, then things look completely different. And the only God the Bible knows anything about is the God who is the God of the whole show (Genesis 1.1).
The laws of science
According to Scripture, God is involved in those areas where science does best, namely in areas of scientific laws. That is areas of reality involving regular and predictable events, repeating patterns. He brings forth the starry constellations in their seasons (Job 38.32). By his word, the Bible tells us, he governs the snow and the frost and the division of a living cell.
So-called ‘natural laws’ are really the laws of God or word of God, approximately described by human investigators. And the work of science depends completely on the fact that there are these regularities in the world. If there were no regularities, if randomly water sometimes flowed uphill and rhinos bred rabbits, there would be no pattern to study and scientific prediction would be impossible. But reality is not like that. There is order and pattern.
Romans 1.19,20 tells us that all people have a knowledge of God by observing the created order. Truth about God is clearly seen from what has been made. And, of course, scientists above all other people spend their time observing, letting themselves be confronted by the created order. What do they see?
Not mere coincidences
Let’s get back to those regularities on which science depends. What are they? They are more than coincidences. You might get a run of weeks in which in Guildford it always rains on Thursdays. If the sequence goes on long enough you might think you had found a scientific law. But you haven’t. It’s just a coincidence. The regularities which scientists are looking for are more than coincidences. They want to know whether the pattern, the recurrence is somehow constrained, whether it must always happen, whether it occurs according to a general explanatory principle which governs the occurrence so they can predict. And they find out that the rain is not to do with Thursdays, or Guildford; rather it is due to a certain concentration of water vapour and temperature and air pressure conditions, whether it’s Thursday or not. These general constraining principles are what we call scientific laws.
And all scientists — even the atheists — believe that these laws are ‘out there’ as part of reality. They are something independent of themselves. You don’t ‘invent’ a scientific law, you ‘discover’ it. It’s like a pot of gold buried in the ground. You uncover it. You don’t dream it into existence. And you uncover it through probing reality with experiments and considering whether your results follow a constraining principle, a law.
The method gives them away
The secular scientist discovers these laws, but he/she says they are simply brute facts. ‘That’s just the way things are.’ And they insist this is ‘Neutral’. But what they have discovered and how they have gone about discovering it actually points in a totally different direction. What they have done in essence betrays a ‘belief’ in God, and a kind of ‘seeking after’ God.
First, they set out with the idea that the universe, nature, is understandable, penetrable to the human mind. Why should that be? They offer no answer, yet they assume it. Cows or insects are able to exist perfectly happily without understanding science or mathematics. It is not necessary that we can do science to exist. But the scientist believes that for some reason the laws of the universe are penetrable to human thought. In other words, they assume that we and whatever the universe came from speak the same language in a way which is not true for other creatures. But we are personal / rational. Or, putting it another way, scientists assume that scientific law can be expressed, communicated and understood through human words / logic. But such things as language and rationality are attributes of personality. They do not belong to rocks, trees and sub-personal entities. So the assumption that scientific laws can be discovered and articulated by us actually indicates a belief in a personal origin of the universe; in other words God.
Laws and God’s attributes
Second, the characteristics of scientific law turn out to be very like the characteristics which we normally associate with God. Scientific laws are universal in time and space. For example, Kirchoff’s law concerning electrical circuits, (current arriving at any junction = current leaving) only applies to electrical circuits, but it applies to electrical circuits at any time in any place. There is an omnipresence (all places) and a kind of eternity (all times) about these laws. Newton’s laws do not apply to very small objects, or to speeds near the speed of light, but given those restrictions they do apply everywhere at all times. The laws do not change with time, applying as much today as they did 350 years ago, when Newton discovered them. They are immutable — like God. Further, these laws are almighty. They cannot be violated (except by the Creator himself, hence miracles). We have already seen that the laws have a personal character, in that they are rational and expressible in human language.
Many scientists and mathematicians comment on the elegance, simplicity, beauty of scientific law, all of which are attributes of God (Psalm 27.4). And in scientific law there is even a reflection of the unity and diversity of the Trinity. Things like Newton’s laws are one in that they apply across the universe, but that unity embraces diversity too — e.g. the law of gravitation applies to oranges as well as apples, planets and stars as well as cricket balls.
So, in seeking out these laws, scientists are in effect seeking all the things that characterise God. In that sense too they ‘believe’ in God.
Now in saying that scientific laws show something of the attributes of God we are not saying that the universe or that ‘nature’ is God. But we are saying that through his creation and upholding of the world God shows himself; a reflection of him, like in a mirror, is seen. The heavens declare the glory of God, the universe tells us something about the One who made it (Psalm 19.1). Scientific law is not God, but it is God revealing himself. This chimes in with what Paul says: ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse’ (Romans 1.20).
Suppressing the truth
If this is the case, why don’t more scientists say they believe in God? It is because they, like us all, are sinners. Therefore they suppress the truth (Romans 1.18). They conceal from themselves the fact that ‘law’ is personal and implies a maker/lawgiver to whom they are responsible. To acknowledge God would be morally too painful. Instead they either pretend that law is impersonal or they substitute something like ‘Mother Nature’ to fudge things. But basically they evade what their actions tell you they know.
In writing this article, I am much indebted to Verne Poythress’s book Redeeming Science, published by Crossway, 2006.
This article was first published in the July 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057