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Where is God in Science Chemistry Department Seminar, Calvin College, Oct' 9, 2003 Loren Haarsma Car


Might or might not be unexplainable in terms of natural processes. ... God could have chosen to create biological complexity via miracles or natural processes. ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Where is God in Science Chemistry Department Seminar, Calvin College, Oct' 9, 2003 Loren Haarsma Car

Where is God in Science?Chemistry Department
Seminar, Calvin College, Oct. 9, 2003Loren
Haarsma (Cartoon by Berke Breathed, Bloom
County Tales Too Ticklish to Tell.)
Where is God in Science?
  • Natural Laws, Random Events,
  • Miracles and Design, as
  • Viewed from Both Science and Theology
  • Loren Haarsma
  • Chemistry Department Seminar, Calvin College,
    Oct. 9, 2003
  • http//www.calvin.edu/lhaarsma/WhereIsGodInScienc
  • http//www.calvin.edu/lhaarsma/NatLawChanceMiracl
  • http//www.calvin.edu/lhaarsma/SelfOrgComplexity2

1. Natural Laws
  • Sir Isaac Newton discovered that a simple law
    could explain both
  • the behavior of falling objects on Earth
  • the orbits of planets and stars

  • Newton believed the universality and simplicity
    of this Law of Gravity was evidence for Gods
  • When Newton calculated planetary orbits, he
    thought they would become unstable after a few
    hundred years due to mutual planetary attraction.
  • One proposal was that God occasionally sent
    through the solar system a comet with just the
    right mass and trajectory to keep planetary
    orbits stable.

  • Some years later, Pierre de Laplace showed that
    planetary orbits were stable for much, much
    longer periods of time.
  • An often-repeated anecdote
  • Napoleon asked "Monsieur Laplace, why wasn't the
    Creator mentioned in your book on Celestial
  • Laplace replied "Sir, I have no need for that

If the anecdote is true, what might Laplace have
  • Some possibilities
  • I dont need God at all. (doubtful)
  • Im a better scientist than Newton. I
    calculated the planetary orbits better than he
    did. (perhaps)
  • Once we have a scientific, mechanistic
    explanation for a natural event, we dont need
    God to explain it. (the most common

  • Suppose you were alive when planetary orbit
    stability was still not understood, so that it
    was still unknown whether or not it was necessary
    for God to occasionally correct planetary orbits
    with precisely-timed comets.
  • Would your rather have planetary orbits proved to
    be unstable, and therefore have evidence for
    God's occasional remarkable intervention?
  • Or would you rather have planetary orbits proved
    to be stable over long periods of time?
  • Why?

Would your rather have had planetary orbits
proved to be stable or unstable?
  • In my experience, few Christians choose
    unstable. (Why not? After all, it would look
    like evidence for Gods existence.)
  • Most Christians answer stable. (Typically say,
    It seems like a better design.)
  • If natural laws such as Newtons Law of Gravity
    seem to run for thousands or millions of years
    without apparent need for intervention, then
    where is God in science?

Science is more than just the search for
natural laws. More broadly, it includes
  • The process of science (scientific method)
  • Discoveries of science (how nature works, the
    laws of nature)
  • Basis for science (why science is possible)
  • Philosophical, ethical, religious inferences of
    science (meta-scientific questions)
  • Motives, ethics, goals of doing science
  • Ones worldview, ones beliefs about God, can
    strongly affect ones approach to the latter
    three categories.
  • But where is God in the first two categories?

  • One common answer God isnt in those parts of
  • These natural laws may have originally been
    decreed by God, but it appears that he has since
    left the universe to evolve according to them and
    does not now intervene in it. --Stephen
    Hawking, A Brief History of Time
  • Hawking describes a very common, but unbiblical,
    view of natural laws.

  • (Psalm 10419-21, NIV)
  • The moon marks off the seasons
  • and the sun knows when to go down.
  • You bring darkness, it becomes night,
  • and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
  • The lions roar for their prey
  • and seek their food from God.
  • The sun rises and they steal away
  • they return and lie down in their dens.
  • Note the same events are described both in terms
    of natural events and divine action.

1. Natural Laws
  • Scientific View
  • Understandable, universal, predictable patterns
    of cause and effect in nature which we discover
    through experiment and theory.
  • Theological View
  • God is just as much in charge of events which
    happen naturally as miracles.
  • God is not absent from events which we can
    explain scientifically rather, natural laws
    describe how God typically governs creation.

2. Random Events
  • Many events have outcomes which include an
    element of randomness. They are modeled
    probabilistically, not deterministically. For
  • Throwing dice
  • The weather
  • Progression of a disease
  • Genetic mutations
  • Quantum-mechanical events

The god Chance
  • In popular culture ? and in many debates about
    science and religion ? the term chance is used
    to argue that an event was undirected, that the
    event must lack meaning or purpose.
  • Some shrink from the conclusion that the human
    species was not designed, has no purpose, and is
    the product of mere mechanical mechanisms ? but
    this seems to be the message of evolution.
  • --Douglas Futuyma, Science on Trial The Case
    for Evolution

Scientific usage of chance
  • The final outcome cannot be completely predicted
    in terms of initial conditions and natural laws.
  • Unpredictable in practice
  • Throwing dice
  • The weather
  • Progression of a disease
  • Unpredictable in principle
  • Quantum-mechanical events

The Bible on chance
  • The lot is cast into the lap, but its every
    decision is from the Lord.
  • Proverbs 1633 (NIV)

2. Random Events
  • Scientific View
  • In complex or quantum mechanical systems, initial
    conditions and natural laws only allow us to
    specify the final outcome probabilistically, not
    fully deterministically.
  • Theological View
  • God is still in charge.
  • May be one way God can subtly interact with
    creation. (e.g. by selecting an outcome)
  • May also indicate Gods gift of capabilities and
    perhaps a gift of limited freedom to creation.
  • Analogies to genetic algorithms used in
    engineering and art.

3. Miracles
  • In the Bible, the term is used for
  • Unusual events with special timing and purpose
  • Theological significance explained to witnesses
  • Might or might not be unexplainable in terms of
    natural processes.
  • In science-and-religion discussions, typically
    refers to (This is how I will use the term.)
  • An event unexplainable in terms of natural
  • Presumed supernatural activity.

  • Some people argue that science disproves the
    possibility of miracles.
  • Some people try to use science to prove that
    miracles exist.

  • Some people argue that science disproves the
    possibility of miracles.
  • Some people try to use science to prove that
    miracles exist.
  • A realistic understanding of science avoids
    either extreme.

  • Scientists try to build empirical models of past
    and present events based on known natural laws
    plus information about the conditions before,
    during, and after the event.
  • Attempts to build empirical models meet with
    varying degrees of success. For example
  • Explained events (e.g. supernovae)
  • Partially explained events (e.g. zygotic
  • Unexplainable events, with good reasons to rule
    out models employing only known natural laws.
    (e.g. source of the Big Bang)

How do scientists deal with unexplainable
  • No consensus. Individual scientists could reach
    one of (at least) five meta-scientific
  • Unknown natural law
  • Supernatural event
  • Super-human technology
  • Improbable event simply occurred
  • Improbable event in one of Many Universes
  • These five are very different from each other
    philosophically and religiously, but play
    virtually identical roles in scientific

Unexplainable events
  • Historical example
  • Late 1800s ? unknown energy source of the sun.
    (Later discovered to be nuclear fusion.)
  • Modern examples
  • The source of the Big Bang.
  • The apparent fine tuning of the laws of nature
    for life.
  • There are some cosmologists today advocating each
    of those five meta-scientific conclusions.
  • Most scientists classify first life on earth as
    partially explained, although a few argue that
    it should be considered unexplainable.

Consider the origin of first life on earth.
  • Which way do you hope the research will
    eventually turn out?
  • Would you rather have first life on earth
    convincingly placed in the unexplainable
    category (with strong arguments against any model
    employing known natural laws)?
  • Or would your rather have first life on earth
    eventually be explained (or at least convincingly
    partially explained) in terms of natural laws?
  • Why?

3. Miracles
  • Scientific View
  • Science makes progress by trying to build
    empirical models for events based on known
    natural laws (or hypothesizing new extensions of
    natural laws).
  • Events which are unexplainable via known
    natural laws admit several possible meta-physical
    explanations (not just supernatural).
  • Science cannot prove supernatural activity took
  • Science cannot rule out supernatural activity as

3. Miracles
  • Theological View
  • God can do miracles, which could be per-ceived as
    scientifically unexplainable events.
  • An unexplainable event might be a miracle, but
    might also be God creating and governing by
    as-yet-unknown natural laws.
  • Scientifically explaining a previously
    unexplainable event does not diminish Gods
  • It might be tempting to look for scientifically
    unexplainable events, but it can just as
    God-glorifying ? and sometimes may even be more
    theologically defensible ? to look for new
    explanations in terms of natural laws.

4. Design
  • Intuitively, and religiously, when we look at
    creation, it seems beautiful and well-designed.
  • What we learn from science generally reinforces
    those feelings.

  • The modern Intelligent Design (ID) movement
    makes two types of arguments
  • The apparent fine-tuning of natural laws is
    argued as evidence that the entire universe was
  • The complexity of biological life is argued to be
    unexplainable in terms of (unaided) natural

Fine-tuning of Natural Laws
  • If the fundamental particle masses, force
    strengths, or initial conditions of the universe
    were just a little different, there would be no
    stars, or no atoms, or no complex molecules no
  • The laws of nature are fine-tuned not only for
    life to exist, but also for atoms, stars, and
    planets with oceans and atmospheres to
    self-assemble via natural processes.

4. Fine-tuning of Natural Laws
  • Scientific View
  • Currently unexplainable. For now, we dont
    have a more fundamental scientific theory which
    determines these physical values.
  • An area of interest and ongoing research.
  • Theological View
  • Fits well with biblical picture of God the
    creator as unconstrained, powerful, purposeful.
    Leads believers to a response of awe and worship.
  • Unwise to hang too much evangelistic weight on
    the argument, but its a great thought-provoker.

4. Biological Complexity and Design
  • Philosophical View
  • The ID community makes a plausibility argument
    (not a proof) that we should conclude an event or
    object is designed if
  • It is high improbable that it could have happened
    via purely natural processes .
  • It has a pattern or payoff which leads us to
    conclude that it was not purely random.
  • (Any particular long string of random characters
    is low-probability, but an apparently random
    string of characters which, when run through a
    decoder ring, gives the location of a treasure,
    was probably designed.)

4. Biological Complexity and Design
  • Scientific View
  • ID community has published arguments and
    calculations that it is highly improbable for
    biological complexity to evolve via natural
    processes. (Specified- or irreducible-complex
  • The scientific community generally considers
    these published calculations to be simplistic and
    flawed. Consensus is that complexity can evolve
    under various conditions.
  • However, the evolution of complexity is a
    challenging scientific problem ? some recent
    progress, but many remaining questions.

4. Biological Complexity and Design
  • Theological View
  • God could have chosen to create biological
    complexity via miracles or natural processes.
  • For various reasons, some Christians have a
    strong preference for one answer or the other.
  • Scientific progress eventually should classify
    biological complexity explained or
  • The word design should not be equated with the
    claim that complexity could not have evolved.
    God formed atoms, stars and planets via natural
    processes, and we are correct to call them
  • Apologetically, design points to a God, but not
    necessarily to Jesus Christ.

Possible tension between two ID arguments
  • The laws of nature are fine-tuned for atoms,
    stars, and planets with oceans and atmospheres to
    self-assemble via natural processes. This is
    taken as evidence in favor of design.
  • If the laws of nature are fine-tuned for
    biological cells and biological complexity to
    self-assemble via natural evolutionary
    processes, should this be taken as evidence for,
    or against, design?

Where is God in science?
  • Partial answer
  • Predictable events God created consistently
    governs natural processes, which makes science
  • Random events God can control God can use them
    to let creation explore its possibilities.
  • Surprising events God can do miracles, science
    does not exclude them, but neither can science
    prove miracles, and surprising events arent
    always miracles.
  • Design God set up fundamental laws and particles
    that develop into an abundant array of physical
    and biological structures.

(No Transcript)
Appendix I II slides
  • I. Christianity as a foundation for science
  • II. A way to approach apparent conflicts
    between science and theology

Scientists of different religious worldviews can
work side-by-side.
  • To do science, you must make certain worldview
  • These worldview assumptions cannot be deduced
    from science itself, but arise from culture and
  • Worldviews which are very different from each
    other can sometimes share a subset of assumptions
    which are a foundation for doing science

Some worldview assumptions are NOT helpful for
science(Bill Waterson, Calvin and Hobbes)
Some worldview assumptions necessary to do
  • Events in natural world typically have
    (immediate) natural causes.
  • Linear (not circular) view of time
  • These natural causes and effects have regular,
    repeatable, universal patterns.
  • We can, at least partly, understand these
  • Logic and theory are not enough experiments are
  • Science is worth doing.

Worldview assumptions Christian
necessary for science beliefs
  • Natural events have natural causes.
  • Linear view of time
  • Causes and effects have regular, universal
  • We can understand these patterns.
  • Experiments are needed.
  • Science is worth doing.
  • Creation is not pantheistic.
  • Time is linear, not circular.
  • God governs in ways consistent, not capricious.
  • We are made in Gods image, suitable for this
  • Gods creativity is free we are limited and
  • Nature is Gods creation we are called to study

Christianity as a foundation for science
  • A Christian does not have to pretend to be an
    atheist to do science. Science arises naturally
    from a Christian worldview.
  • Christianity is not a separate realm from
    science, but provides a fundamental foundation
    for how and why we do science.
  • A scientist does not have to be a Christian to do
    science, but does hold a subset of
    philosophical/worldview assumptions in common
    with Christians.
  • Scientists of many religions can work
    side-by-side to study the properties,
    functioning, and history of the natural world.

Science and religion in conflict?
  • Yes, there have been, and are, conflicts of
    ideas, but it is too simplistic to see these as
    conflicts between science and religion per se.
  • Scientific and religious ideas always have
    philosophical, cultural and historical contexts
  • Some apparent conflicts are due to faulty logic.

Some apparent conflicts are due to faulty logic
  • requires or implies
  • a religion a scientific
  • Example
  • Christianity requires the Earth to be fixed
  • Science proves the Earth moves
  • Therefore, Christianity is false
  • Possible responses to the flawed conclusion
  • Reject the scientific claim
  • Reject the arrow (the requires line of

Christian framework for approaching apparent
conflicts the Two Books metaphor Nature
  • Belgic Confession Article 2
  • The Means by Which We Know God
  • We know him by two means
  • First, by the creation, preservation, and
    government of the universe, since that universe
    is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which
    all creatures, great and small, are as letters to
    make us ponder the invisible things of God his
    eternal power and his divinity
  • Second, he makes himself known to us more openly
    by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need
    in this life, for his glory and for the salvation
    of his own.

The Two Books metaphor Nature Scripture
The Two Books metaphor Nature Scripture
  • A tool for resolving apparent conflicts between
    science theology
  • Hope
  • Nature and Scripture are both from God and must
    agree (all truth is Gods truth)
  • Strategy
  • Dont throw out one and keep the other (dont
    ignore some of Gods revelation).
  • Keep pursuing both science and theology until the
    underlying unity of Nature and Scripture becomes

Science and religion in conflict?
  • While specific scientific claims (or
    philosophical claims motivated by science) might
    conflict with specific religious claims, there is
    no general conflict between science and religion.
  • The Two Books metaphor provides Christian
    framework for dealing with specific conflicts.
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