In the comic strip Bloom County, Oliver Wendell Jones was the child prodigy who would sit on his roof and ponder the cosmos when he wasn't busy hacking into computers.
One night the stars suddenly formed the words, "REPENT OLIVER."
Oliver said to himself, "Bloody difficult being an agnostic these days."
Difficult, maybe . . . but not impossible.
A skeptic asked me to do a post about rational steps to faith, and the Bloom County comic reminded me of something not to do: If we start out with a philosophy that excludes the possibility of the supernatural, it is impossible to find evidence for God's existence. This may seem self-evident, but it's easy to lose sight of, and if we do we will commit the fallacy of begging the question without even realizing it.
We may decide that we will not believe without evidence, but whenever "evidence" comes along, we'll interpret it in light of a naturalistic philosophy (the belief that nature is all that exists). So if we start out with the conviction that nature is everything, we will always reach the conclusion that everything, no matter how vanishingly small the odds, has a natural explanation. The issue of whether God exists is a yes/no question, but if we operate from this conceptual framework, the answer will always be no, even if He does in fact exist. It is circular reasoning.
In our scientific age, this is a very easy mistake to make because we are used to explaining things by science, but its scope is limited to nature--it cannot tell us whether anything exists beyond nature. Science never gives "God" as an answer. It tells us how the world came into existence but not why we are here. So the dichotomy is never between theism and science, but between theism and atheism. Science is simply an explanation of how things are, but it doesn't tell us whether it happened by design or as a result of a cosmic accident. If we allow science to become synonymous with atheism in our minds, we posit a false dichotomy: science versus religion. But the Creator of this universe would have used quarks, genomes, and the elements of the periodic table as His building blocks, leaving us with the task of discovering and naming it all. He has to be the Great Scientist. Everything around us would reflect His qualities, and the natural world and its laws would be one great miracle even though it operates in highly organized ways.
This doesn't mean that we cannot look to science to make the determination whether the Bible is true, but we have to keep two things in mind: First, we may have a faulty image of God as a distant, alien deity who occasionally intervenes by breaking the laws of nature, and if we do, we will never find evidence of such a deity because he doesn't exist. The biblical God is always present in His creation and He never breaks the laws of nature; He only redeems nature and exercises dominion over it. In the Gospel accounts, He restored the brokenness in nature by healing the sick, and He exercised dominion over it by walking on water, turning water into wine, multiplying bread, and calming the storm. This was in keeping with His mission as Redeemer and as the Second Adam who would have full dominion over nature (Genesis 1:28). But He refused the suggestion of Satan that He turn rocks into bread (Matthew 4:3-4). That would have been a radical breach of the laws of nature. Still, the works of Jesus were true miracles by any definition; they superseded the laws of nature. So although God created nature and declared it "good," He is not limited by its laws.
Second, instead of looking for "evidence" without defining what we would consider evidence, we would be better off asking two thing: whether the Bible is logical and whether it is consistent with reality. This is a question that takes a while to answer because it means asking a lot of different questions within this framework. But this is the general approach I take when I comment on Atheist Central. In my opinion it is the only way to prove that the Bible is more likely true than not. We cannot conclusively prove that the Bible is true any more than we can conclusively prove a scientific theory. But we can determine whether the evidence fits.
Everything we can experience with our senses or test scientifically is within space and time, and the Bible tells us that God exists outside of that (1 Corinthians 2:7, Titus 1:2, Jude 1:25, 2 Timothy 1:9). So the universe is like the underside of a dome that contains all of nature, and all the rest of reality is outside of the dome--unknowable except through revelation. But never fear; since this blog post is about a rational approach to faith, we will examine the revelation of the Bible critically to see whether it lines up with science.
And in making this determination, it makes sense to start at the beginning and look at the greatest miracle of them all: creation (or if you prefer--the origin of the universe). And then we can examine the revelation of the Bible (the outside of the dome) and science (the inside) and see if they match up.
Genesis 1:1-3 says about creation, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light."
What, then, does creation look like from inside the dome, from a scientific perspective? When I said that scientists never give "God" for an answer, I might have lied. After the NASA satellite Cosmic Background Explorer confirmed the Big Bang theory in 1992, George Smoot, who led the thirty American astronomers who made the discovery, said, "What we have found is evidence of the birth of the universe. It's like looking at God." Geoffrey Burbridge, an atheistic member of the team, complained that all his colleagues were rushing off to join the "Church of Jesus Christ of the Big Bang." Psalm 19:1-2 says, "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hand. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge." So it seems rather prophetic that astronomers are the ones flocking to the "Church of Jesus Christ of the Big Bang."
How does the biblical creation account line up with science? First, astronomer Robert Jastrow said that the universe began suddenly "in a flash of light and energy." So this fits with the biblical description of God saying, "Let there be light."
Second, most scientists believe that the Big Bang marked the beginning of time. Since God exists outside of time and created the heavens and the earth "in the beginning," this is also consistent.
Third, cosmologists tell us that the universe emerged out of nothing, and Hebrews 11:3 says, "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible." God created ex nihilo, or out of nothing.
Fourth, the fine-tuning of the laws and constants of the universe is such that it led astrophysicist Michael Turner to say, "The precision is as if one could throw a dart across the entire universe and hit a bulls eye one millimeter in diameter on the other side." I discuss the Big Bang and fine-tuning in more detail here.
Fred Hoyle, the astronomer who is most closely associated with the steady-state model of the universe (which posited that the universe had always existed), said: "A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question." He was an atheist at the time of this statement but was "severely shaken" by the suggestion of a guiding hand, and abandoned his atheism.
And astronomer George Greenstein said, "The thought insistently arises that some supernatural agency--or rather Agency--must be involved. Is it possible that suddenly, without intending to, we have stumbled upon scientific proof of the existence of a Supreme Being?"
Fifth, science tells us that the laws of physics break down at the Big Bang, so this ordered universe was born out of chaos. The split second after the Big Bang was a state of "lawlessness" which is inherently unpredictable. Anything could have emerged out of it. Some say that this evidence goes against the design argument. But does it? It certainly goes against the idea that the universe is wholly deterministic, but that is not the same thing.
In 1799, physicist Pierre Laplace gave copies of his Treatise on Celestial Mechanics to Napoleon Bonaparte, seeking to explain the universe purely in terms of natural gravitational forces. Napoleon asked him what role God played in his theory, and Laplace reportedly replied, "Sire, I have no need of that hypothesis."
Laplace believed that the universe was completely deterministic, an idea that has been overturned by quantum mechanics. Traditional physics said that the laws of nature are fixed, and therefore miracles are impossible. Quantum physics says that nothing is impossible--some things are just very, very improbable. There is a very small, non-zero chance that we can walk through walls. Danish physicist and father of quantum mechanics Niels Bohr has said, "Anyone who is not shocked by quantum mechanics has not understood it." Physicist Alvaro de Rujula of Cern was asked whether there was a possibility that the Large Hadron Collider could produce a world-ending black hole. He replied that it was extremely unlikely but "the random nature of quantum physics means that there is always a minuscule, but nonzero, chance of anything occurring, including that the new collider could spit out man-eating dragons."
So the universe is not wholly predictable and the God hypothesis is back.
If we once again picture the universe as a self-contained dome where the underside represents science and the physical universe, and everything above is eternity, then that moment of "lawlessness" would correspond to God creating by fiat. And physicists hope to someday understand it better by using a combination of general relativity and quantum mechanics called quantum gravity. If quantum mechanics says that nothing is impossible, is it so farfetched to say that the lawlessness may represent the physical properties of the miracle of creation? Physicist Paul Davies said that the Big Bang "represents the instantaneous suspension of physical laws, the sudden, abrupt flash of lawlessness that allowed something to come out of nothing. It represents a true miracle--transcending physical principles."
So the revelation of the Bible tells us that the moment of creation was a divine miracle, and science reveals that the normal laws of physics break down at that moment. Something else was at work in that apparent chaos, but from it emerged a universe that still rests on a razor's edge of finely tuned laws and constants. And science would only be able to detect the lawlessness, but not the Guiding Hand.
The question of creation is of course fundamental, but we should evaluate all theological questions on the basis of whether the Bible is logical and whether it corresponds to reality. It is within this context that I will next discuss what the Bible says about the nature of a soul.