Has science squeezed God out?
Julian Baggini, editor of ‘The Philosophers’ Magazine’ claims that “If science has not actually killed God, it has rendered Him unrecognisable.” He refers to the Chief Rabbis opinion that science is about the how and religion the why of the universe. But he says that it is not as simple as that.
He accepts that science leaves room for a God who “kick-started the whole universe off in the first place.” But he adds that science “does leave presumed dead in the water anything like the God most people over history have believed in: one who is closely involved in his creation, who intervenes in our lives, and with whom we can have a personal relationship. In short, there is no room in the universe of Hawking or most other scientists for the activist God of the Bible.
He points out that Stephen Hawking said in Channel 4 “You can call the laws of science ‘God’ if you like,” he told Channel 4 earlier this year, “but it wouldn’t be a personal God that you could meet, and ask questions.” Also Antony Flew, a famous, life-long atheist who came to believe in God in his eighties, believed in a Deist God, i.e. one who started the universe then left it, and us, to get on with it without him.
Baggini concludes: “In the scientific universe, God is squeezed until his pips squeak. If he survives, then he can’t do so without changing his form. Only faith makes it possible to look at such a distorted, scientifically respectable deity and claim to recognise the same chap depicted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. For those without faith, that God is clearly dead, and, yes, science helped to kill him.”
Well, I’m not going to defend the Sistine Chapel ceiling as literal! It illustrates the problem of Christians projecting caricatures of God, including the implication that God is some elderly Santa Claus figure sitting on a literal throne somewhere in a vertical direction from earth. Then there are creationists who claim God created the universe in six days 6000 years ago. Some Christians have projected a “God of the gaps,” claiming God as the explanation for anything science can’t explain. This god retreats as science fills the gaps in its knowledge.
But I don’t believe for a moment that Baggini has proved his point. He is attacking a caricature of the God of the Bible. He accepts the idea of God initiating the universe. But he then bases his comments on a crude view of God’s sovereignty over and relationship with the world. God’s sovereignty is not human dictatorship and control writ large. It is much more sophisticated and subtle than that.
The New Testament states that the Son of God, incarnate as Jesus, was the one “through whom also he made the universe” (Heb 1:2). Elsewhere Jesus is called the Word. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” (John 1:1-3).
The universe was created by God’s command – he spoke it into being through his infinite majesty and sovereignty. Scientifically, that involved the Big Bang and development over the last 13.7 billion years.
It adds: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Heb 1:3). St Paul said: “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. ….. he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:24-28). Similarly Paul writes: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible …. all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:15-17).
God sustains all things in existence by his word, otherwise they would be annihilated. He holds everything together in mutually beneficial relationship, otherwise the created order would fall apart.
However, God’s sovereignty is exercised subtly. He works through what we see as natural processes, just as he works out his purposes through the free choices of human beings. Paul writes to the Philippians: “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose” (Php 2:12-13). In other words, God acts as people work on the process of “being saved.”
So the God of the Bible is not the caricature god of Baggini. He is not only the God who initiated the universe, but the one who subtly, but with infinite power, sustains everything in existence and holds everything together in mutually beneficial relationship. In addition, as the huge amount of evidence of religious experience indicates, he is a God who is love and who reaches out to individuals in that love, inviting a loving response.
Apparently, Richard Dawkins would like to start an atheist school which would teach children “to ask for evidence, to be sceptical, critical, open-minded”. He adds: “If children understand that beliefs should be substantiated with evidence, as opposed to tradition, authority, revelation or faith, they will automatically work out for themselves that they are atheists.” His school would teach about ancient Greek religions and Norse gods. Also he said: “The Bible should be taught, but emphatically not as reality. It is fiction, myth, poetry, anything but reality. As such it needs to be taught because it underlies so much of our literature and our culture.” I have no problem with children being critical and open-minded, but if they are not taught about the awesome concept of God described in the New Testament, the God constantly behind the existence and development of the universe, they will be impoverished, as, sadly, Dawkins is himself.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for copying on the Home Page