Has Science Killed God?

Dr Giles Cattermole

March 8th 2007

Intro: Conflict between science and theology

If you visit the Millennium stadium, you’ll see that the stadium is just the right size to fit a rugby pitch. You’ll see that the roof that slides across, covers the whole of the stadium – it doesn’t leave a gap. The players arrive in their buses on a special road underneath the stadium that takes them straight to their dressing rooms, and they leave their dressing rooms straight onto the pitch – they don’t have to walk through the crowds. When you have a ticket, it will say what area you sit in, and the areas of the stadium are signposted so you can find your seat. All the different parts of the stadium fit together, so that people can watch a game of rugby. If the stadium was too small, or the roof didn’t fit, or players could get to the pitch, or people couldn’t get to their seats – then it wouldn’t work. The obvious conclusion is that the stadium was designed with a purpose.

The universe also seems to have been carefully designed so it works, and makes life possible. The basic physical constants of the universe must be within very narrow limits for life to be possible. If gravity, for example, were just slightly stronger, all stars would be too big for life to exist. If gravity were just slightly weaker, all stars would be too small for life to exist. Stephen Hawking, who is a world famous scientist, and is not a Christian, said that if at one particular moment, the universe had expanded by a rate of just 99.9% of the rate it did actually expand, then the universe would later have collapsed before it reached 1/3000th of its present size – in otherwords, a change in speed of 0.1% would have meant there would be no universe for us to live in! Even more amazing, at the earliest moment in time imaginable, the balance between gravity and expansion had to be accurate to one part in 10 to the power of 60! The universe is extremely “fine-tuned”.  The chance of this happening without someone designing it is impossibly small. Jacques Monod, the French Nobel winning biologist said “life is so improbable, it’s just a cosmic joke”.

We don’t imagine that the Millennium Stadium just came about by chance. It had to be designed.

And it seems obvious to Christians that a universe that seems to be so much more precisely designed, really was designed! That a universe that just couldn’t happen by accident, didn’t happen by accident! That it was designed and created by an intelligent God.

But if it’s so obvious, why is there a conflict between science and God?

Nietzsche, a German philosopher, said “God is dead. Man has killed him.” And some scientists think that science has killed God, or at least made him unnecessary. LaPlace (18thC Fr. astronomer and mathematician) wrote a book on astronomy. Napoleon asked him why he didn’t mention God. He replied: “I had no need of that hypothesis”. Carl Sagan, another astronomer, said that science leaves “nothing for God to do”.

Richard Dawkins, an Oxford zoologist and professor, argues that God is not just unnecessary and untrue, but that belief in God leads to evil, that the God of the Bible is “the most unpleasant character in all fiction... racist... bully”.

There is a popular idea that theology and science are in conflict with each other. But is there really a conflict? A survey in the journal “Nature” in 1997 showed that 40% of all scientists personally believed in a personal God – the same figure as when the survey was done in 1916! For many thousands of scientists today, it is perfectly reasonable to believe in God, and to be a scientist. So who is God, and what is science?

Who is God?

We’re talking about the God of the Bible. The God who made the whole universe, and continues to be involved in the universe that he made. He is the only God, and is infinitely powerful and knowledgeable. He is “outside” of time, and was not created and is not part of creation.

Imagine a box which holds the whole of space. The box is time. All of space exists within time. God made that box, he is not inside the box. To ask “who created” God, implies that there was something before God, that implies that God is within time. But God is not inside the “box” of time, so there is no such thing as “before” God. God was not created.

He is spiritual and personal, and not just a “force” or “energy”. He is wise, and loving, and made human beings for a relationship with him. He has communicated with people in history, in Jesus Christ, in the Bible.

What is science?

Science is a method of studying the world around us. It’s empirical – we observe what happens, we make theories that fit what we see and predict what should happen, we test those hypotheses and make general theories about the way the world works.

It’s popular tradition that Isaac Newton watched an apple fall off a tree, and then made a theory of gravity. The theory of gravity can then be tested by predicting what should happen when things fall, and measuring what actually happens when we do an experiment. Newton’s theory works very well for most things – but at extremes – for very small objects, or at very fast speeds, his theory doesn’t work, and Einstein’s theories work better.

Medicine is a science. I work in an Emergency Department. Imagine Mr Jones comes in with a sore throat. I examine him, I observe his illness. I make a theory about what’s wrong – the diagnosis: “I think it’s just a virus”. I then test my theory, by an experiment: “you’ll feel better in a few days”. If my theory is true, it will predict the result of the experiment –Mr Jones will get better. If I’m wrong, and the patient doesn’t get better, I may need to think of another a different diagnosis. So Mr Jones comes back, rather miserable. I examine him again, and decide on a new theory: it’s a bacterial infection. So I try another experiment, and give him antibiotics. This time he gets better.

It’s possible of course we can get our observations wrong, which means that our theories may be wrong too. It’s also possible that two different theories could explain what we see just as well as each other and so we can’t tell which one is “right”. Science is “inductive”: it makes general rules from specific observations, and can therefore sometimes get it wrong: it is “falsifiable”. So lots of experiments might confirm our theory, and so we have a good reason to believe it. But the next experiment we do might disprove the theory, and a new theory will be needed instead. Real science is always aware that another theory might be developed which works even better.

So science is a really good way to discover how the world works as it develops theories that seem to work best with the knowledge we have at the moment.

What is scientific materialism?

But some scientists, like Dawkins or Carl Sagan, insist that science is more than this. Science is the only way we can learn about reality. The material world is all that there is, and since science is the method by which we learn about the material world, then science is the only method to know about reality.

For them, God is therefore not important. He isn’t true because he isn’t part of the material world. They are atheists, or “scientific materialists”. The only thing that matters is the material world that we can learn about by the scientific method.

Christians and atheists like Dawkins agree that the material world is real and something we can learn about through science. But there is a conflict: however, the conflict is not between science and God, but between scientific materialism and God: between the idea that beyond the material world there is also a spiritual reality, and the idea that there is nothing other than the material world.

The Big Bang – the irrationality of atheism

So lets see what happens if we decide that there is no God, that the only reality is what we can observe scientifically.

Firstly, we are bound by the principle of Cause and Effect. Nothing can happen in our universe without a cause to make it happen. Every event has a cause. It’s a basic first principle, “ex nihilo nihil fit” – nothing comes from nothing.

Secondly, we observe from the behaviour of the universe and from Einstein’s theory of relativity that the universe has not always existed. It began from a single moment – the Big Bang. Every event has a cause, and the first cause that we can observe or theorise from our observations was the Big Bang 13.7 billion years ago.

Einstein’s theory is one of the most well proved theories of all – no-one seriously disagrees with it. And the Big Bang is generally accepted by the vast majority of scientists. It began with a “singularity”: a single, very high-density point of space at enormous temperature and pressure which exploded. After 10-32 seconds, quarks were formed. After a couple of minutes, protons. After about 300000 years, stable atoms. After 100 million years, the first star.

But it all began with a single dot. Now here’s a problem: what caused the dot to explode, what caused the Big Bang? Atheists don’t believe that God could be the cause. So they either have to suggest that there was no cause at all – which means this would be the only event not to have a cause, and to believe that an event could occur without a cause would be a very irrational thing to believe. Or that the Big Bang came about because a previous universe had just collapsed into a singularity, and then bounced back into another Big Bang. But there is no known force that could produce such a bounce, and there’s no evidence of previous universes.

So it is quite irrational to believe that the Big Bang could happen without a God to cause it. But there are bigger problems with the idea that the whole universe came from a single dot of energy/matter without God.

The Big Bang – the implications of atheism

If everything came from a single dot – then everything that came from that dot must be of the same sort of essence as that dot. Nothing can be created out of nothing, so if the dot is made up of matter, then matter is all that the universe can consist of.

And yet when we do observe the world around us, when we study ourselves in that world – we discover that there are things that matter to us far more than matter! We value our individuality as persons, we consider ourselves unique. We value love and relationships. We consider some things as good and some things as bad and we think those sort of judgments are meaningful. We think that honour and truth are real and important.

So what is the implication of scientific materialism for what it means to be a person? We behave as though there is something unique about each of us. We are all different persons. But if everything came from a dot, we are merely the same material essence. There is no possibility of individual souls. No reality in relationship. No meaningful communication.

What about morality? If everything is merely matter from a single dot, where does the idea of “right and wrong” come from? How can “goodness” be created if there was no concept of “goodness” in the dot? It can’t come from nothing, and if it wasn’t there already in the dot – which it couldn’t have been, because the dot was just a dot – then morality isn’t actually real, it’s what is called an “illusion”. Something which seems real, but isn’t. But we behave as though “right” and “wrong”, “good” and “bad” are real things that matter. We get angry at injustice, we want things to be better than they are, we are sad when things go wrong, we’re happy when things go well. But there was no right or wrong in the dot, and since everything came from the dot, then right and wrong, good and bad cannot be real things.

We behave as though ideas like personality and morality are real and important. But if we believe that everything in the universe came from a single dot of matter or energy, then we’re wrong. They are just illusions. Nothing really matters – there is no good, no bad, no persons, no relationships.

God makes sense of reality

But if instead we believe that it was God who was the cause of the universe, that it was God through whom everything was made, then we get a very different idea of what is real.

God is personal. And so right from the beginning of the universe, personality is real. Which means it is not an illusion, it means our personality is real. I am a unique soul. And I am capable of relationship, and relationships are real because from the beginning of the universe relationship has been real. The Christian God is one God, but he is 3 persons in that one God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit – there has always been loving relationship in God himself.

God is good. He defines what it means to be good, morality – what should be done, is at the very origin of the universe. Goodness and rightness and justice are there right at the beginning. And so they are real today.

If God did not make the universe, if the universe came from that single dot of matter, then personal relationships and morality would be illusions because they were not there at the Big Bang, and they can’t come from nothing. Instead, our personal relationships and our sense of right and wrong are not illusions – they are real, because they come from God, and it is God who made the universe.

God makes sense of science

Belief in God makes sense of science

We’ve already seen that God designed the universe to work. He made sure it functions properly. And when we look at the universe, we see that it really does seem to be perfectly designed with a purpose.

And God is faithful and consistent, he has a purpose, he communicates with people. And so it makes sense to believe that science will teach us real knowledge about a universe that works in a regular way.

If there is no God, then all our knowledge is merely the interaction of molecules in our brains, determined by the laws of cause and effect. Everything we think is just a product of the moving around of atoms throughout the history of the universe. There is no reason to believe our knowledge is true. It’s merely a chemical reaction. But if God is real, and God knows everything, and God is faithful and reliable, and God chooses to communicate with people – then we have a reason to believe that knowledge is real. Which means we have a reason to believe that what we discover by observing the universe is also real: because it was made by a reliable, communicating God. Otherwise we have no reason to believe that what we observe is actually “true” – or indeed, that there is such a thing as “truth” any more than there is such a thing as “goodness”.

And because God is a God of order, a God who is continually involved in creation, we have a reason to believe that science will show us that the universe also works according to an ordered pattern. We will be able to observe a regular way that the universe works, so we can make theories and we can act on the discoveries we make. If God was not real, or God was random, we’d have no reason to believe we could ever make sense of what we observed, and no reason to try to do so. So atheist scientists simply have to assume that the universe is ordered. But they have no reason to do so – it is irrational.

The Bible supports science

And so when we read the Bible, we see that God wants us to study his universe. He tells us that as we look at the world around us we can see what a powerful God he is and what a wonderful world he has made (Ps 19). We see how the wise King, Solomon studied biology – he described plant life, and taught about animals (1 Kings 4.33). We see how God wants us to look after the world and control it – and to control it we’ll need to learn about it. The Bible is not anti-science, the Bible expects us to enjoy, study, value and use the good world that God has made for us.

And when we read the Bible we see that God expects us to believe in him because we have reason to believe in him. Like science, faith is based on evidence. It is not “blind”, it is not “believing something that isn’t true”. It is trusting and relying on something because we have reason to believe it is trustworthy and reliable (Luke 1, Acts 26.25, 1 Cor 15.5-8).

What the Bible teaches about our universe

We learn that God made everything out of nothing, and keeps it going constantly. He usually keeps it going in the same, regular ways that we can observe and describe with ideas like gravity, or electromagnetic forces.

We learn that God made everything for a purpose – and that purpose is partly to make a world that is habitable for human beings. He made humans the pinnacle of creation, which is what we observe when we look around the world. It is what science observes, but atheists have no reason to explain it because for the atheist, there is purpose is an illusion.

We learn how to live in God’s world, the Bible tells us how we should live. Again, atheism cannot really tell us how we “should” live, because for the atheist, morality is an illusion.

But we see that the world is not perfect. Although we feel that the world should be good, which is how the Bible tells us God made it, we see that there are huge problems. There is suffering and pain, death and disease. Atheism makes no sense of this – after all, it has no reason to believe that good and evil are real anyway. But the Bible tells us that the world is the way it is, because people are bad – because people have rebelled against God. They’ve ignored him, ignored his way of living in his world. We should look after the world under God’s authority, but instead we spoil it and hurt each other by rejecting him.

We learn that this rejection is serious – it deserves punishment from God. And that from what we can see of the world around us, we have no excuse (Rom 1.18-20).

But God is a loving God, and wants to restore that relationship with people that was the purpose of his creation. And so he sent Jesus, his son, to die on a cross to take the punishment we deserved, so that all who trust in him can be forgiven and have new life with God, life as it was meant to be, forever.

Jesus the ultimate revelation

John 1.1 (book of the Bible, biography of Jesus) describes Jesus as “the Word”. In the beginning was the Word – communication is at the beginning of the universe. He was with God – relationship is at the beginning of the universe. He was God – a person. Our universe began with a God who communicates, a God who is personal, a God who is about relationship. It did not begin with merely a dot of matter, a dot without meaning or personhood or relationship or purpose. It began with Jesus, for whom the whole universe was made, and through people can have relationship with God.

Conclusion

Science works! It’s a practical method for finding things out, although we need to remember that its conclusions can sometimes be wrong and need to be changed. It is not science, but scientific materialists who believe that science has made God unnecessary. But in fact the opposite is true: God makes science possible.

We need to remember that it is because there is God that science makes any sense at all: because we know that there is a God who is powerful and intelligent and has a purpose for his creation, a God who is personal and loving, who wants relationship with humans, a God who tells us about himself and what he’s done for us, a God who sent Jesus to die for us so we could know God and follow him.

We have a choice. We can believe that the world has no creator. No reason for existence. No reason to believe what we discover about the universe. We would live in a universe which is so unlikely that perhaps the universe itself isn’t real. We would live in a universe in which the things we think are really important – things like love and meaning, personality and relationships, right and wrong – all those things would also not be real.

Or we can believe that God made the universe for a purpose. That God makes sense of our universe and makes sense of us trying to learn about our universe. That God’s purpose is to have relationship with us, because it is God’s nature to have loving relationship between persons. That God tells us in the Bible how we can enjoy that relationship with him. That God has made that relationship possible because Jesus died on the cross so we can be forgiven, and can be welcomed into a living and loving relationship with God himself.