Some of my favorite spiritual conversations are the ones I have with atheists, agnostics, religious skeptics, and other “science first” kinds of thinkers. And, as you’d expect, the conversation typically turns at some point to the relationship between God and science. When I ask them to explain this relationship, one particular idea seems to come out pretty consistently. Here’s what it sounds like:
“When science progresses far enough, we won’t need God anymore.”
“I think religion is less useful now that technology has come so far.”
“Scientific discoveries make faith less and less necessary.”
“We once used ‘God’ to explain the unexplainable. Now, there’s no need for that.”
Each of these comments is voicing the same viewpoint: that religion was created by humans due to an information gap that science is now closing. In other words, the reasoning goes something like this: Once upon a time long ago, humans had questions we couldn’t answer, so we retreated to our emotional sensations of wonder, awe, and amazement to answer them for us. But now (the thinking goes) the need for such things has passed. Wonder, awe, and amazement were just worthy fill-in actors until our real hero – Knowledge – could finally arrive on the scene and save us from our now-obsolete emotional projections (like God). Religion is seen as sensation; scientific fact is sensibility.
This is the attitude of our day, no question. It is applied in some small ways (like denying that God has to do with sunsets and calling them mere “color refractions”) and some big ways (like refusing to define sex in anything but purely anatomical terms and denying that it carries any kind of spiritual significance). But the philosophy behind all these things is the same: Why should we let our jaws drop as we look at a world whose mysteries have been removed? Why should we be transfixed by our world when we have such a high understanding of it (and can manipulate it to our benefit)? We’ve got explanations and technology now; being impressed is outdated. Thus, science is seen as the great bubble-burster of the faith community.
Do you hear the lurking assumption behind all of these things? The assumption is that as discoveries of our world increase, our natural sense of wonder at it should decrease. As facts accumulate, awe is disposed of. As understanding grows, amazement shrinks. As knowledge and technology go up, being entranced by beauty goes down.
I disagree with all this on three grounds.
First, belief in God is not an emotional “projection”. It is the only logical, sane, and right-minded response to real historical events (meaning the death, burial, and physical resurrection of Jesus; see 1 Cor 15:3-4). Humans did not create God out of our need; God created humans out of his freedom (Gen 1:27; Psalm 115:3).
Secondly, the Bible describes science as a road sign that points _ toward God’s existence, not away from it. _ Consider this Scripture: “[God’s] invisible attributes…have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made” (Rom 1:19-20; emphasis added).
Question: What does it mean that “the things that have been made” reveal “God’s invisible attributes”? Answer: It means that every single naturally occurring object in the universe, from stars to shellfish, shouts that there is a supernatural Cause for its existence. Go “science” your brains out, and you’ll never discover one thing that contradicts God’s existence. Accurate science is not a path away from God’s presence; it is his trail of bread crumbs that will lead you to it.
Science’s self-admitted goal is to unravel every mystery of the natural world until every part is understood. This is not combative toward Christianity. If Romans 1:19-20 is true, it means that the closer science gets to exposing the universe’s fabric, the closer it gets to its Weaver. Study away, scientists. Our joy has only to rise.
Thirdly, scientific knowledge does not decrease our sense of wonder at the world, but increases it. Ask a 75 year-old man who’s been faithfully and healthily married for 50 years if his bride garners more of his appreciation today compared to the first year of his marriage. After half a century with her, does he have more complete knowledge of her than ever before? You bet he does. But is she any less worthy of acknowledgement in his eyes because of it? Does his intimate awareness of her lessen his appreciation for her? Is she less praiseworthy to him? I doubt it.
Added knowledge is not amazement’s termination; it is its genesis. Don’t just study God’s Word, go study his world, too, and your sense of mystery will grow as you learn, not fade. (Think I’m crazy? Go read the Bible where the wisest man in the world tells you to go study an ant and be made wise for it.)
To conclude, neither science nor technology can undo or make life’s miracles boring, big or small. The fact that you understand photosynthesis and own a lawn mower doesn’t change the fact that a blade of grass has power to spark your sense of wonder. Being able to look down on clouds from an airplane window doesn’t mean they are any less impressive than when viewed from below.
My counsel to you is this. The next time you leave your house, ask God to convince you of the truth that you are not living in world where man’s knowledge is master, but one where God’s design is governor. Ask him to remind you that earth is not man’s construction site; it is God’s theater. Ask him to replace your information-age boredom with simple, Edenic joys. And pray that he will show you a world of which you’ve learned plenty, but appreciated little.
What do you think? Does scientific understanding stir your affections for God, or limit them?