Conflict between science and theology
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.
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”.
don’t imagine that the Millennium Stadium just came
about by chance. It had to be designed.
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.
if it’s so obvious, why is there a conflict between
science and God?
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
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...
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
is scientific materialism?
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.
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.
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.
Big Bang – the irrationality of atheism
lets see what happens if we decide that there is no
God, that the only reality is what we can observe scientifically.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Big Bang – the implications of atheism
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.
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.
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
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.
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,
makes sense of reality
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 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.
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.
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.
makes sense of science
in God makes sense of science
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.
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.
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”.
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.
Bible supports science
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.
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).
the Bible teaches about our universe
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
the ultimate revelation
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.