Looking for God in Nature
by Dr Michael G Strauss
One of the biggest misconceptions in the discussion about science and faith has to do with our ability to explain natural phenomena and what those explanations imply about God’s actions in the universe. This is a misconception that is explicitly held by many who don’t believe in God and implicitly held by many who do believe in God. The result of believing this idea is a complete misunderstanding of God and biblical teaching, and leads to false conclusions about God’s involvement in the natural world. The misconception is the idea that if science has developed a naturalistic explanation for some phenomena then that removes God’s involvement from the process. A closely related corollary to this misconception is the idea that if there is a phenomena that we can’t explain, then God must be the explanation. This latter corollary is called the “god of the gaps”. We invoke God as an explanation for things we don’t understand. Both of these ideas, a god of the gaps argument or the idea that a scientific explanation removes God, are false, unbiblical, poorly reasoned, and lead to incorrect conclusions.
Let me illustrate the two aspects of this misconception with two incidents from my life. In my previous post I talked about how the amount of matter in the universe is precisely tuned to allow life to exist. One time after I gave a talk and mentioned that fact, a Christian physicist from the audience came up to me and informed me that I shouldn’t use the amount of matter in the universe as a fine-tuning argument because a natural process called “inflation” forces the matter density to be the needed critical value. He was basically saying that since there was a natural mechanism that explained the matter density of the universe, then it wasn’t an example of something that appeared fine tuned, so I shouldn’t use that as evidence for God’s actions. He had the misconception that if science has developed a naturalistic explanation for some phenomena then that removes God’s involvement from the process and that it doesn’t give evidence for a designer. Don’t mechanisms that work extremely well to accomplish some purpose also give evidence for a designer?
The other incident in my life occurred when I was in elementary school and I attended a week-long summer camp. One day, our camp counselor was talking about evidence for God from science. He said that inside of the nucleus of every atom were positively charged protons and since positively charged objects were repelled by other positively charged objects, the protons in the nucleus should just all fly apart. He went on to say, however, that Colossians 1:7 explains why the nucleus doesn’t fall apart because it says, “in Him all things hold together.” The counselor was implying that God supernaturally holds the nucleus together. He was, of course, appealing to a god of the gaps argument. Since he didn’t know why the protons stayed confined to the nucleus, then God must do it. I find it ironic that I still remember that incident and that I have subsequently spent much of my life studying the force that actually overcomes the electromagnetic repulsion and binds the protons together in the nucleus…
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