How do we know that God exists? How can we know what God is like? Psalm 19 points us to two ways we can be certain that God exists and that show us what God is like. For the Psalm writer, the most obvious are all the ways God has revealed Himself in his Word, the Law of Moses. The law of the Lord and the statutes of the Lord, God’s precepts and commands and decrees reveal his righteousness and holiness and lovingkindness.
10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.
For us as Christians, God’s Word the Bible brings Jesus to us. Jesus the Son of God has revealed God’s character and the saving actions of his death and resurrection bring us God’s salvation. So we know that God exists and what God is like through the Bible. But Psalm 19 reminds us that there is a second way in which all people can know these things, whether they are believers or not.
1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
Everybody to the ends of the world can know that God exists and what God is like because He has revealed himself to the whole earth through his marvellous creation. Psalm 8 says the same.
Psalm 8 1 LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory in the heavens. …
3 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?
As well as through his Word the Bible, God’s glory and majesty have been revealed in the beauty and grandeur of his Creation. The Apostle Paul told the Romans that the created world clearly reveals everything that people need to know about God.
Romans 1 19 … what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 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 people are without excuse.
Paul is saying that everybody should be able to see that God exists and what God is like from the things He has created. For many people this is true. Many people can see the hand of God in the beauty of a spectacular sunset or the night sky. Others find God in the sheer scale and power of thunderstorms and waves crashing on to the shore. Many people are touched by the wonder of childbirth, others by the beauty of mathematics. Scientific study reveals so many indications of God’s design within the complexities of creation, from how the brain works, to how DNA controls inheritance. God the Architect is indeed revealed in all that He has created.
So why is it that so many people today think that God doesn’t exist? How can they look at the wonders of creation and not see the hand of God? There are a number of reasons for this, but I believe that one of the most significant is the rise of science and the widespread belief that “science has disproved God.” In the popular view and especially in the media, modern science appears to leave no room for God in His world.
Growing up I was fascinated by science. Growing up in a non-Christian home I had been convinced by the popular view presented by the media that science had disproved religion. I became a Christian while I was studying sciences in the Sixth Form and needed to rethink all my mistaken assumptions. I went on to read Natural Sciences at Cambridge. As a leader in the Christian Union, I never kept my Christian faith a secret, so it was inevitable that while I was a student, other students, lecturers and even professors asked me questions about the compatibility of science and religion. Then I spent five years teaching chemistry and computing and pupils and colleagues also often asked me about science and the Christian faith. I remain convinced of the truth of something we learned in Religious Studies A Level. There is no conflict between science and religion, only between bad science and bad religion.
At London Bible College I learned a very important principle. In many situations, truth lies not in either/or but in both/and. In particular for today, I am persuaded that we do not need to make a choice between either science or Christian faith. Rather, if we want to understand the world and our human condition, we need both science and Christian faith. I am more convinced than ever that Christian belief and scientific study are entirely compatible. It was Albert Einstein who said, “Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.”
Suggestions that science has disproved religion often focus on the supernatural in general and on miracles in particular. And then there are questions about the existence of God. So this morning I want to say a few things about these issues and about the relationship between science and Christian faith.
From the start we should recognise that there have been many important scientists who have had a deep Christian faith. Back in the seventeenth century the German physicist Johann Kepler was the first astronomer to formulate the laws which describe how the planets move in the sky. He was also a Christian and he was convinced that God had created the universe according to a divine plan which human beings could come to understand. It was Kepler who coined the phrase that all scientists are simply “thinking God’s thoughts after him”. Other notable scientists who were Christians have included Newton, Boyle, Pascal, Faraday, Volta, Mendel, Kelvin and Heisenberg. Friends from university and many Christians in the churches I have served have worked in different branches of science.
Nevertheless, many other people believe the popular view that science has disproved religion and even that science has replaced religion. People say, “we don’t need God any more” and “with the rise of science human beings have outgrown God”. This widespread opinion does not come so much from scientists themselves. Instead it comes from the media’s presentations of science and religion, from David Attenborough’s subtly atheistic natural history programs to Richard Dawkins’ explicit attacks on Christian faith. I am convinced that the idea that science has disproved religion is mistaken. So let’s start by thinking around questions about
Science and the supernatural
One commonly held view is that science has now explained away everything which used to be understood in terms of the supernatural. Of course, this is an assertion and not an argument. It flies in the face of the reality that very many people do have an instinctive and intuitive belief in the supernatural, whether they believe in any religion or none.
The reason that science can appear to discount the supernatural is that the underlying presuppositions of science exclude anything supernatural. At the deepest level, science presumes that the only things which exist are those which can be observed and touched and experimented on. That is an assumption, a presupposition. It is an essential assumption if you want to do work in science, but it is an unhelpfully mistaken and limiting presupposition if you want to live in the real world. Science is used to dealing with certain kinds of evidence – observations and measurements. The hardest thing I found in moving from studying science to studying theology was learning that there are different kinds of evidence as well as scientific experiments, for example the evidence of historical documents, or of personal testimony. These other kinds of evidence need different skills if you are to handle and interpret them properly. The world is overflowing with evidence for existence and activity of God – but sadly some scientists are so locked into their ways of handling evidence and their ways of looking at the world that they can’t accept the testimony of Christians about answers to prayer or God speaking in dreams and visions. Many scientists want to put the Bible under a microscope instead of letting its truth touch their hearts.
The same problem arises when some scientists think about miracles. Many people think that miracles can’t happen. The necessary underlying assumption in science is that the things will always keep on happening in the world in the same way. If you do an experiment today and get a certain result, then if you do the same experiment again tomorrow under the same conditions you will get the same result. That is how all the “laws of science” are discovered and explored. If events did not occur the same day after day nobody could do any science at all. On the other hand, by definition a miracle is God breaking or suspending those scientific laws which He created, and He sustains. God is the Creator – He is allowed to do such things if He wants to. But science will inevitably have difficulties on any occasion when God chooses to break His own rules. Science has problems with interpreting anything happening today which won’t necessarily happen again tomorrow unless God repeats the same miracle. Science can observe but cannot process unrepeatable events which can’t be experimented upon, especially anything where you can’t control all the variables and only change what you want to investigate. So bad science rejects reports of miracles because such events cannot be handled in the ways science is equipped to do.
To say “miracles don’t happen” is an assumption. The most any person should say is, “if miracles do happen, I haven’t seen any”. That is the limit of how far scientists should go – good science knows its limitations. On the contrary, many people, believers and non-believers, have seen miracles. We have seen healings and answers to prayer. I have seen miracles and experienced God’s healing in my own life. So, I believe in the God who works miracles. Good science should never reject evidence of miracles just because it doesn’t fit into its philosophy or conflicts with its presuppositions. Scientists should always be open to re-examining their assumptions until they fit with the real world.
J. B. Phillips wrote, “God is not discoverable or demonstrable by purely scientific means, unfortunately for the scientifically-minded. But that really proves nothing. It simply means that the wrong instruments are being used for the job.”
The conflict is not between science and religion, only between bad science and bad religion. We can say similar things about a second important issue – the question of
The existence of God
People say that science has disproved God. God couldn’t have made the world, God couldn’t speak through prophets or heal people, because science has explained everything supernatural, including God. Some people confidently declare ‘‘there is no God’’ as if this were a proven fact. All anyone can legitimately say is, ‘‘if there is a God, I haven’t seen evidence of His existence yet’’. People who say ‘‘God does not exist’’ are only expressing their personal belief. As a teenager I used to argue vigorously that God couldn’t exist. Then God proved me wrong. Someone who declares God cannot possibly exist is making the same mistake as someone who insists that Australia cannot possibly exist, just because they haven’t personally been there, or somebody who says “the Queen doesn’t exist” because they have never met Her Majesty and refuse to believe the pictures or the people who claim they have met her.
Many people’s minds are closed to all the evidence for the existence of God. But Christians have seen that evidence. We have experienced the power of God and seen Him at work. Scientists should not ignore the evidence but rethink their scientific assumptions. The biologist Louis Pasteur said, “Posterity will one day laugh at the foolishness of modern materialistic philosophers. The more I study nature the more I am amazed at the Creator.” “Science brings men nearer to God.” Many scientists would agree with him.
Let me tell you a little story. Two people were walking along a riverbank one day when they saw a man across the river. “How can we get across?” They shouted. “Why would you be wanting to do that then?” The man asked. “We want to get to the other side” they explained patiently. “Don’t be daft,” the man replied. “You’re already on the other side!”
The way we all see the world, our world view, depends on where we are standing, where we are coming from and on our point of view. We do not always interpret what we see correctly. Our interpretations can be distorted by our presuppositions, our preconceived ideas, the things we assume and take for granted. Especially if we only see part of the picture, we may well completely misunderstand what we see. This is the challenge which some scientists face when they come to think about God. How all of us interpret stories, facts, events and evidence, can be blinkered by our presuppositions.
We are familiar with optical illusions. Rubin’s vase looks like the silhouette of a vase but look again and it appears to be two faces turned towards each other. Look at these two pictures. What do you see? (PICTURE)
On the left is Wittgenstein’s duck-rabbit illusion: you can see either the duck or the rabbit in the picture, but not both images simultaneously. On the right is a picture of a woman? But what do you see? To one view it is a refined young woman. Look again and it appears to show an old woman. Both images are there in the picture. When your mind switches from seeing one to seeing other the picture has not changed, only your perception or your interpretation of it. It is possible to get so locked into viewing one of those kinds of pictures in a particular way that you can’t see the other possibility. But once you have seen both images it is impossible to argue that only one image is there and the other is not. In these optical illusions it takes a perception shift, known as a gestalt shift, to see the image in its different ways.
Many people are so blinded by the way the media suggest that science has replaced God that they simply cannot see God. Some scientists and very many other people are so locked into their way of looking at the world that they genuinely cannot see the evidence for God which is all around them. But for anyone who looks for it the evidence is there plain to see. All it needs is a shift in perception and people can see the world in a new way.
Romans 1 19 … what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 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,
Science describes the way the world works. Faith is concerned with the God who is above science. God created and sustains the scientific laws which scientists study. The Almighty and Eternal God is before and beyond the universe of space and time which science studies so God in Himself is inevitably beyond the scope of scientific study. Science is very good at explaining how this world works and how we can control it. But it has its limits – and good scientists recognise those limits. Science has not disproved the supernatural. Science does not, and cannot, prove God doesn’t exist. Science will never ultimately be able to explain how the world began. Science cannot give us any answers about things in the universe which we cannot see or touch, the whole spiritual realm. When it comes to science and Christian faith, it is not a matter of either/or. There is only conflict between bad science and bad religion. We need both science and Christian faith. We all only need to open our eyes and we will see that God is there.
1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
4 … their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.