Scientists must strain to construct any comprehensive world view that excludes God.
When presidential candidate Ronald Reagan was with several thousand evangelical ministers in Dallas, he admitted to some doubts about the “theory of evolution.” Predictably, this was followed by agonized shrieks from people throughout the news media, as though a new Dark Age were about to descend. Recently Bill Moyers, a former Southern Baptist minister turned journalist, characterized evangelicals as fighting the “discoveries of science.” (Incidentally, he threw in an attack on Israel for basing policies on “Scriptures from the Bronze Age.” Would he have preferred ones from the Plastic Age?) The major “discovery of science” to which Moyers refers is, in all likelihood, the theory of evolution.
There is a widespread feeling that modern science has made traditional Christian doctrine—Moyers graciously terms it “enslavement in theology”—so untenable that it can only be retained as a nostalgic curio having no bearing on reality. Indeed, this was the direction science seemed headed as recently as 1910 or so, when such “modern” theologians as the late Rudolf Bultmann were consolidating their ideas. But since then, and increasingly so since midcentury, it is growing more evident that while modern science cannot necessarily bring us to God, it is becoming less able to get along without him.
John Baillie wrote in 1951 that the view that man is only “part of nature” would prove destructive not only “of the very foundations of my humanity,” but also “in the end, of my very science itself.” We direct our attention to Baillie’s second point: a narrowly naturalistic scientism that sees man as part of nature and nature as complete in itself, without reference to a Creator, will ultimately destroy itself.
Scientists in growing numbers are once again facing the question of First Cause and are postulating—some even confessing—that the First Cause is the personal God of Scripture. This awareness was illustrated at the April 1980 meeting of the Philadelphia Society, a prestigious group of largely conservative economists and political scientists and others interested in those areas. A featured speaker was the Benedictine monk and physicist Stanley L. Jaki. His monumental contributions in the philosophy of science have been recognized by an invitation to deliver the Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh.
Jaki’s theses are simple, but monumental. He contends, in effect, that both science and morality will become chaotic and irrational unless we can confidently assume that there is an ordered universe that represents the deliberate, purposeful handiwork of an all-wise Creator. He proceeds by showing first that refusal to conceive that the world has an origin (that is, that it was created—with all that that means) leads, in the present state of our physical and astronomical knowledge, to totally impossible conclusions. It leads, for example, to the so-called infinite catastrophe and Olber’s paradox, which indicate that if the universe were infinite and homogeneous, there would be infinite gravity and infinite light at every point in it—and that evidently is not the case. It follows that the universe must be limited and non-homogeneous, which makes it look rather arbitrary and “wrought”; in other words, as though it were the result of someone’s deliberate will and work.
The interesting thing about Jaki’s work is his illustration of the conviction that these views are not just the pious wishes of scientists who desire somehow to retain the idea of God, but the inescapable implication of our present scientific knowledge. It is indeed as the psalmist says, “The firmament showeth his handiwork.”
Jaki’s second second line of approach is to show that present reality points with increasing clarity to an instantaneous origin in time: the “big bang” theory of the astronomers now places Creation several billions of years earlier than the 4004 B.C. calculated by Archbishop Usher, but—and this is extremely important—it does describe a creation, not an eternally existing universe, and certainly not a fortuitous “happening.” Although Jaki is a theistic evolutionist, he is bitterly at odds with the assumption—which he shows to be daring if not downright foolish—that evolution could simply have “happened” without the direction of a divine Mind.
The connection between one’s theory of origins and one’s practical morality is becoming increasingly evident in the United States, where traditional moral views are lampooned, and usually discarded by legislatures and courts on the grounds that they are totally unscientific. Of course, traditional morality depends on the view that there is a Nature, that is, a coherent, intelligible, created order, and that the “laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” (to borrow Jefferson’s phrase) are both knowable and valid.
People who acknowledge a purposeful Creation—either because they accept the Bible as true or because they recognize the evidence in nature—can readily accept a theological basis for ethics: they can readily acknowledge that beings and things have a purpose, ordained by their Creator and inherent in their nature, and that the laws of society should recognize and foster such a preordained purpose. Indeed, this is precisely what “the laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” implies. For example, the laws and social institutions that favor monogamous marriage are clearly in harmony with a kind of “natural law,” while laws favoring homosexuality are not. Plato, neither a Jew nor a Christian, clearly recognized this, and provided for it in his Laws. It is only late twentieth-century American society that thinks it can with impunity disregard both revealed law and natural law.
Certainly no evangelical should be willing to accept a naturalistic view of evolution that excludes God as First Cause and directing Mind. However, such is the pervasive influence of scientism in our educational and cultural milieu that evangelicals have tended not to protest against naturalistic evolution, fearing that to do so would pit them against science. As a result, they have often been forced to acquiesce, in the predictably immoral consequences of naturalistic evolution in our social and legal structures, to what Mascall calls “The most obstinate fundamentalists,” not wishing to be caught in a conflict with modern science. Now scientists such as Jaki and Robert Jastrow (God and the Astronomers) are showing us that this is to surrender too quickly and to give up too much.
Science may not be capable of “proving” the reality of God any more than even the best archaeology can prove the infallibility of Scripture; but Jaki and others are showing once again that it certainly can do something very worthwhile. It can provide (to borrow Calvin’s expression) great comfort to those who believe, and seems prepared to cause considerable discomfort to those determined, whatever the evidence, not to do so.
Dr. Brown is professor of theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield. Illinois.
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