God and Science Do Mix
By Tom Gilson
In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that is replete with unintended irony, cosmologist Lawrence Krauss says, “Science and God Don’t Mix.”
His message centers on this quote from geneticist J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964):
My practice as a scientist is atheistic. That is to say, when I set up an experiment I assume that no god, angel or devil is going to interfere with its course; and this assumption has been justified by such success as I have achieved in my professional career. I should therefore be intellectually dishonest if I were not also atheistic in the affairs of the world.
As it relates to biblical religion, Krauss’s point could be paraphrased, “Christianity is all about miracles and other such interfering-God nonsense. Science could never make sense under conditions like that.”
He is right to a certain extent—science depends on nature generally behaving itself. But he is wrong to think this is incompatible with Christianity. It is, in fact, essential to the Christian faith, for several reasons.
Ironically, as a scientist, Krauss ought to recognize the first reason, for it is one that can be explained more readily in scientific terms than theological. Perhaps he may not know enough about God and His purposes to see it clearly. The God of the Bible seeks relationship with the humans he created, which requires communication. A central concept in scientific communication theory is signal-to-noise ratio. Simply stated, if there’s too much chaos (“noise”) in a transmission, the message or “signal” can’t get through to be understood.
If God kept arbitrarily interfering in nature as Haldane and Krauss imagine, we could never distinguish His message, the signal, from the noise of nature’s irregularities. To reveal Himself to humans—to communicate—He must break into nature sometimes, but He must do so rarely. There must be an ordinary course of events, so that we can discern what is out of the ordinary. If miracles happened everywhere every day, they would not be miracles at all. They would communicate nothing, and thus they would not serve God’s relational purposes.
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Further, God intended for humans to be responsible moral agents, for which we must be able to judge in advance the likely results of our actions. That would be quite impossible in a world of constant chaotic supernatural intervention.
Suppose that on a few random days every decade, every vegetable were poison. Could we be held accountable for poisoning our children on one of those days? If we could not predict the results of our actions, we could hardly be responsible for them. This, too, would not serve God’s purposes.
God intends also that humans be able to learn from experience—that if we drop a seed, it will fall; that if we cultivate it properly, it will grow; that if we eat good things, we will thrive; that if we eat poisons, we will get sick or die.
This ties in with God’s intention that we be responsible moral agents. We need to learn that if we feed another person good foods, that will be good for them; but if we give them poison, they will quite predictably get sick or die. Again, chaos of the sort Krauss envisions would clearly work against God’s purposes.
With that in mind, the irony deepens. For what is science but systematized learning from experience? God made the world friendly for science, not for the sake of science alone, but to accomplish the whole scope of His purposes for us…