Friday, 21 August 2009

Searching For God Through Science

The study of science is one of the triumphs of mankind; it has been behind the explosive progress of the recent centuries, driving industry and discovery to new peaks on an almost regular basis. It has revolutionised our living and understanding, it is a very tangible endeavour, one which importantly produces results. It is therefore no surprise that those seeking God will look for scientific pointers and those wishing to spread the Word often use science as a starting point.

The strength of science can cause positivism in its abilities, leading people instead away from God; its methodological materialist values seem to some to be a pointer to the metaphysical claim that all that is worth discovering can be found by science. Science does not invoke supernatural agency in its explanations, as expressed by Pierre Simon Laplace when he declared, “I have no need of that hypothesis” when asked where God fit into his equations. Despite Laplace being a Catholic, many Christians are worried by this apparent absence and seek signs of deus ex machina.

Such a view often leads to rejection of scientific discoveries in favour of views which can mesh (or mash) a highly active creator God with science. The main verse cited in support of such a view is Romans 1:20 where we read, “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse.” Taken alone this verse seems to almost scream that one need only look at nature in order to find evidence of God.

A look at this verse in context is revealing, Paul proceeds to say, “For though they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.” This verse is not about proving God through nature, Paul is addressing a culture which perceived divine action regularly, his motive is to show that the One True God is the one acting and idolatry is without excuse.

Clearly Paul was addressing those who accepted divine action, not those who denied it. His statement is not a scientific one. In Isaiah 45.15 it declares, “Truly, you are a God who hides himself, O God of Israel, the Saviour.” Isaiah’s view of God is different to that of those who seek His indelible stamp on nature. This raises a question; is God an ostentatious deity who can be found through scientific evidence? Or is He a hidden creator who should by His nature appear absent from science?

To make sense of this we must turn to the place all Christians should turn in order to understand. God’s most profound revelation to mankind came in the person of Christ and the Easter mystery. Christ’s entry to the world was not one of pomp and bombast, but a humble affair said to have occurred in a lowly stable, born in a manger. Throughout Christ’s life he lived as a humble carpenter’s son, indistinguishable from the average Galilean.

Christ’s temptation in the wilderness should be most illuminating. Satan tempted Christ to start his ministry in a way which none could deny, one of triumph and fanfare. He had the power to present himself in a way which none could ignore and would cause every knee to bow and tongue confess. Christ remained humble. He chose the path to the cross, one which would go unnoticed by many and even lead to rejection and condemnation from those he loved.

Through his teachings he engaged with the every-man. To him his teachings and his love were the gifts he gave, not miracles that none could deny (John 6:26). Miracles have their place in being signs and fulfilling prophecies, but the importance we can gain from them is that they exemplify the outpouring of God’s love and can teach us more about Him.

For Christians it is the death and resurrection that is the culmination of Christ’s ministry, an act of redemption and forgiveness; the ultimate link between Creator and created. Yet again it was a subtle affair, one in which God’s presence was not conspicuous. He was taunted by onlookers at this great moment and Christ’s cries even confirmed that he wasn’t God for some. To know of this and seek God explicitly through science seems to miss the point of God’s nature. He is not a god who would leave fingerprints in the earth, but one who people of faith can find in the humblest and most unlikely of places.

With this in mind the positions of creationism and intelligent design seem empty, naïve and desperate. The view I have presented is ostensibly bleak, so it is no surprise that many still seek scientific ‘proof’ of God. Many do accept that science is accurate in not pointing to God, instead brushing away all science by embracing the Omphalos hypothesis, the idea that God created things which only look aged, many mid-process. Such a position is not satisfactory for Christians honestly engaging with science or Scripture.

The Omphalos position does not allow us to properly study and understand God’s creation; this is distasteful to most scientifically minded Christians and does not sit well with historic Christian views. Psalm 111.2 clearly shows us that “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.” Adam was told to name the animals, implying he understand and study them. Traditionally there has always been a ‘two-book’ view of God’s revelation; God wrote a Book of Works (creation) and a Book of Words (Scripture).

Tertullian held this view, “Nature is schoolmistress, the soul the pupil; and whatever one has taught or the other has learned has come from God – the Teacher of the teacher.”

Augustine believed nature should be studied as a revelation of God, “Some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things, Look above you! Look below you! Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead, He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?”

John of Damascus stated that “The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.”

It was most clearly stated by John Scotus Eriugena in the 9th century; “Christ wears ‘two shoes’ in the world: Scripture and nature. Both are necessary to understand the Lord, and at no stage can creation be seen as a separation of things from God.”

Aquinas declared, “Any error about creation also leads to an error about God.”

Martin Luther also held this view; “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”

These traditionally held views must be ignored in order to support the idea that God made a world we cannot study. The study of creation is instead fruitful and encouraged. These views are encouraging to any seeking to engage with science.

Many Christians who reject creationism and ID will still turn to science as a signpost. Anthropic principle, the observation that the universe has certain properties which support the existence of life, is the signpost for them (see the Language of God by Francis Collins). It is an error to see the fundamental constants as this pointer. Instead they are what Christians should seek from science – a creation which is consistent with a divine creator who formed a universe which we can comprehend, one which is capable of sustaining life and itself.

So how does scientific discovery fit into a Christian view? Both Augustine and Aquinas saw God’s work in nature as working through causalities. God in this sense is never the answer to the unknowns in science; He does not fill the gaps of scientific knowledge. God is the bigger picture, a picture which science fills only a small part of, one which encompasses other disciplines such as philosophy, theology and ethics; they all contribute a small amount of understanding to the bigger picture of an infinite God.

A Christian can observe the beauty and intricacy of nature and rejoice that through their faith they can find the hidden God, seeing the unseen. God’s love extends throughout creation so we can declare with the psalmist,
“O LORD, how manifold are your works!” (Ps. 104.24)
A proper understanding of God’s relationship with creation can allow for theophany, but we must not go searching for explicit signs, they are not to be expected. Through Christ we know that His apparent absence is not something that should lead us away, but one which can bring us closer.

Christ’s death and resurrection is the perfect model to make sense of this. His resurrection is symbolic of the New Creation which is to come, when all is redeemed and made anew in Christ, but we are not yet at that point. We are between Good Friday (the Fall) and Easter Sunday (the New Creation). This is a time where God’s presence is hidden, not absent. This teaches us that science will never point explicitly at God, but it can and should hold prominence in a Christian world-view.

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